Ahh, the NES, that iconic console that once brought pure joy and excitement to gamers around the world!
Overview: NES console
The Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES for short, was released in 1983 as the Family Computer in Japan and made it to North America in 1985. It was freaking awesome! The NES had some all-time classics in its lineup, such as Super Mario Bros., Zelda, and Metroid. It rescued the video game industry from a slump after the market crash in 1983 and became a cultural phenomenon. It was a game-changer, shaping the future of gaming as we know it today.
The Famicom disk system, developed by Nintendo, allowed players to insert game cartridges into the console and play a wide variety of games. This feature was a significant advancement at the time, as it provided gamers with the flexibility to choose from a growing library of titles—the ability to change cartridges allowed for a diverse gaming experience.
Retro games: Bringing back the nostalgia
The NES, also known as the Nintendo Entertainment System, holds a special place in the hearts of gamers around the world. It revolutionized the gaming industry and laid the foundation for the success of Nintendo as a leading video game company. The console may have been a simple gray box but it brought pure magic.
As we reminisce about the top 25 NES games, memories come flooding back. From the unforgettable adventures of Zelda and the epic battles of Super Mario Bros. to the pixelated excitement of Mega Man and the strategic challenges of Final Fantasy, each game transported us to a world of imagination and excitement.
The NES – more than just a console
The NES was more than just a console; it was a gateway to new worlds, a source of endless entertainment, and a catalyst for lifelong friendships. In an era before online multiplayer, we gathered around the TV, passing the controller and taking turns, sharing the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It was a time when defeating that one challenging level or discovering a hidden secret felt like a major achievement.
And who can forget the quirks of the NES? Blowing into a cartridge, hoping it would magically fix any glitches or loading issues, became its own ritual. It was a small desperation and determination to keep the gameplay going. And more often than not, it worked like a charm. With a library of games that catered to all tastes and genres, the NES created a foundation for gaming that continues to inspire and shape the industry today. It was a testament to the power of simplicity and gameplay, where graphics took a backseat to engaging storytelling and addictive mechanics.
Long live the NES and the legacy it left behind. May new generations of gamers continue to cherish and enjoy its games as we carry the torch of nostalgia and appreciation for this remarkable console that shaped our love for gaming.
Top 25 NES Games of All Time
Now, let’s dive into the real reason you’re here – the games!
Brace yourself for a wave of memories and emotions as we count down the best of the era.
25. A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia
Embark on a heartwarming adventure with a boy and his strange jelly-like friend.
A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia brought innovative gameplay ideas to the NES in 1989. Developed by David Crane, the game combined classic elements with a unique transformation system, where players had to feed the blob jellybeans to navigate areas. With two worlds to explore and 14 jellybean flavors, the game offered varied challenges and required patience to master. The 8-bit graphics presented some vibrant colors, but the audio effects were slightly repetitive.
24. Duck Hunt
Who could forget the classic duo of the Nintendo Zapper and a pack of ducks?
Despite its age, this shooting game still offers engaging gameplay that stands the test of time. The objective is simple: shoot ducks down from the sky in three shots or less while your trusty hound retrieves them for display. Duck Hunt brought the joy of hunting to the living room with three game modes, including multiplayer options. Aiming your trusty light gun at the screen was always an exhilarating challenge.
23. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project
Join Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo in their quest to save New York City from the evil Shredder. The third game in the series is very similar to the second one, being a Double Dragon-style brawler. The player selects one of the turtle protagonists who must then fight his way through the stages, taking out as many Foot Soldiers as possible, confronting and defeating the bosses, and finally facing Shredder. As opposed to the previous game, the turtle protagonists have each their unique powers. It is a blast from the past that will have you craving pizza and practicing your ninja skills.
22. Kid Icarus
Fly high with Pit, the angelic hero of Kid Icarus.Get ready to spread your wings and conquer the underworld. That game blends together elements from Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid, stating that Pit can “jump like Mario, collect items like Link, and shoot enemies like Samus.”
Kid Icarus takes place in a world divided into three stages: the underworld, the surface world, and the sky world. Each stage consists of three unidirectional area levels and a fortress. The underworld and sky world stages require Pit to climb to the top, while the surface world stages are side-scrolling levels.
At each stage’s end is a labyrinthine fortress filled with non-scrolling rooms. Here, the player must defeat a gatekeeper boss and obtain one of the Three Sacred Treasures.
Get ready for scrolling shooter-style gameplay that will put your skills to the test!
Reviewers praised the game for its music and varied gameplay elements but criticized its graphics and high difficulty level.
21. Tecmo Bowl
Step onto the virtual gridiron and experience the thrill of American football with Tecmo Bowl.
It allows gamers to play as one of twelve teams in three different modes; A single-game elimination against the other 11 teams culminating in the “Tecmo Bowl”, two player exhibition game, or a two-player coach mode where you just call the plays. Tecmo Bowl is appreciated for its nostalgic value, as it was one of the first football games to feature real NFL teams and players. Team names are done by city; Indianapolis, Miami, Cleveland, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington, San Francisco, Dallas, New York, Chicago, and Minnesota. Players on the team were real player names statistically based loosely on the 1987 season with rosters for the 1988 Season.
The game seems almost absurdly simple today but was impressive for its time, thanks to its roster of real players and limited selection of plays.
Choose your favorite team and lead them to victory with strategic plays and lightning-fast reflexes. Touchdown!
20. Dr. Mario
When you’re under the weather, there’s nothing like a dose of Dr. Mario to cure what ails you.
Dr. Mario is a falling block puzzle game where the objective is to defeat different colored germs using vitamins of the same color. It is four in a row, just like Tetris (row or column counts), or to put it another way, to defeat each germ, three halves of the same color must be next to the embryo. These halves do not need to be on the same pill. The germs will multiply as the levels progress: they come in three colors: red, yellow, and blue. The red and blue ones are named Fever and Chill (respectively) after the two music tracks provided, while the yellow is called Weird.
Dr. Mario offers a multiplayer gaming mode in which two players compete in separate fields.
Note: Dr. Mario was a commercial success, with more than 10 million copies sold worldwide across all platforms. It received generally positive reviews, appearing on several lists of “Best Nintendo Games of All Time”.
Match colored pills to eliminate pesky viruses in this addictive puzzle game that will have you hooked for hours.
19. Adventure Island II
Adventure Island II was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1991 as a sequel to Adventure Island.
Unlike the first game, which was an adaptation of Sega’s Wonder Boy arcade game, Adventure Island II is an original work and one of the few original entries in the Adventure Island series.
Join Master Higgins on his tropical adventure and rescue his girlfriend Tina, who the followers of the Evil Witch Doctor kidnaped. The game’s setting is an archipelago of eight islands ruled by various monsters. However, four friendly dinosaurs will assist Master Higgins in his quest to defeat these oppressors and reunite with his beloved.
It’s like a vacation in your living room (minus the sunburn).
Dust off your cape and become the Dark Knight in Batman.
In this side-scrolling action game, you can be Batman as he battles iconic bosses and enemies like Killer Moth, The Electrocutioner, and the Joker.
One of the standout features of Batman for the NES is its impressive graphics for the time. The dark and gritty atmosphere is expertly conveyed through detailed backgrounds, atmospheric lighting, and well-designed character sprites. Game’s visuals truly immerse players in Gotham City and its various locations, adding to the overall experience.
Batman strikes a good balance between combat and platforming sections, keeping the gameplay engaging and varied. Each level presents unique challenges and boss battles that require players to observe patterns and come up with effective strategies. The difficulty level is fair but still offers a satisfying challenge, making it a game that casual and more experienced gamers can enjoy.
Gotham City needs you!
Rev up your engines and prepare for some high-speed thrills in Excitebike.
In this retro racing game, you have two options – race against the clock or go head-to-head with other racers. As you zoom down the track, you’ll need to skillfully maneuver your motorcycle by moving right, dodging obstacles, passing rival drivers, and catching some air on those epic ramps. It’s not just about winning the race, though.
Acceleration is controlled by pressing the A button on the NES controller, while an extra burst of speed can be unleashed with the B button. However, caution must be exercised to prevent overheating, as excessive speed leads to a temporary halt while the motorcycle cools down.
Zoom across dirt tracks, conquer challenging jumps, and try not to wipe out as you race against the clock.
Excitebike is here to take you on a nostalgia-fueled ride, where you’ll chase high scores, outmaneuver rivals, and master every jump.
Happy racing, my fellow speedsters!
Life is like a hurricane here in Duckburg!
DuckTales for the NES features five levels: African mines, The Amazon, The Himalayas, Transylvania, and the Moon. Players can embark on their treasure-hunting journey in any order they choose. However, the African mines and Transylvania require revisiting to acquire the necessary items. Two secret treasures are hidden in each of the five destinations throughout the game. Each treasure is guarded by a boss that Scrooge must defeat to claim it.
Once all five main treasures are collected, the player faces off against Transylvania’s final boss, Dracula Duck. After besting Dracula Duck, players must confront Flintheart Glomgold and Magica DeSpell for the ultimate treasure.
DuckTales saw great success commercially. The NES version sold approximately 1.67 million copies worldwide, while the Game Boy version sold around 1.43 million. These sales figures made DuckTales the best-selling title for Capcom on both platforms.
Join Scrooge McDuck as he hunts for treasure and dives into perilous caves. Woo-oo!
15. Bionic Commando
Forget about jumping — it’s all about swinging with your bionic arm in Bionic Commando.
Bionic Commando is an NES video game created by Capcom and released in 1988. A Game Boy version was released in 1992. The game’s protagonist wields a bionic arm that allows him to swing on virtually anything in a similar fashion to the comic book superhero Spider-Man. As a bionic commando named Nathan “R.A.D.” Spencer, players must navigate a dangerous, war-torn world to rescue their comrade, Super Joe. The game was an entirely innovative platformer, unique in a sea of Mario clones.
The levels in Bionic Commando are diverse and engaging. From urban areas to enemy bases, players will encounter a wide variety of environments. Each level is well-designed, with multiple paths, secrets, and hidden areas to discover. The game also features intense boss battles that require strategy and quick reflexes to defeat.
Note: the Game Boy version was ranked #3 in the Top 10 Game Boy Games 1992.
Traverse hazardous landscapes, rescue POWs, and take down enemies with your trusty grappling hook.
Swing into action!
14. Life Force
Prepare to blast off into outer space with Life Force.
Life Force for the NES is an exhilarating and action-packed space shooter that will have you gripping your controller tightly. Developed by Konami, this game is a true gem of the NES era and a standout in the shoot ’em-up genre.
The game takes you on a pulsating journey through the depths of space as you pilot a spacecraft equipped with powerful weaponry. You’ll face off against waves of enemy ships, dodge colorful bullet patterns, and navigate treacherous obstacles in a frantic battle for survival. Each boss has its own attack patterns and weak points, requiring careful strategy and mastery to defeat.
One of the highlights of Life Force is its two-player co-op mode, allowing you and a friend to team up and conquer the galaxy together. The cooperative gameplay adds a layer of excitement and camaraderie, making it even more enjoyable to blast through the alien hordes as a team.
This mesmerizing shoot ”em-up game takes you through colorful, alien-infested worlds.
Aim, upgrade your spaceship, and save the galaxy!
Immerse yourself in the post-apocalyptic world of Crystalis.
Developed by SNK, this gem takes players on an epic quest in a world devastated by a cataclysmic event.
The game’s plot is captivating from the start, involving an ancient prophecy, a mysterious tower, and the fate of humanity. As the hero awakens from a long slumber, players must uncover the secrets of the past, retrieve powerful elemental swords, and defeat the evil Dragonia Empire.
Players can switch between four swords, each representing one of the four elements: wind, fire, water, and thunder. Mastering the elemental powers adds depth and strategy to the intense battles against a wide variety of enemies.
With its deep storyline and engaging gameplay, Crystalis will keep you hooked until the end.
12. Kirby’s Adventure
One morning, Kirby wakes up to find that all Dream Land citizens have lost their dream abilities…
Kirby’s Adventure is a side-scrolling action platformer. In each level, you must walk or fly to the end of a group. Each level of the dungeon has a door leading to another; to move on, you must go through this door.
The game’s core mechanics are simple but effective – Kirby can swallow enemies and copy their powers, allowing him to use a vast array of abilities, such as flying, shooting lasers, or turning into stone.
In the game, Kirby’s health bar consists of six segments, each taking damage individually. No attack can eliminate more than one segment at a time.
Kirby is a force with the unique ability to inhale enemies and steal their powers. Get ready for a charming journey through dreamland.
11. Dragon Quest III
Dragon Quest 3 is a legendary adventure developed by Chunsoft, and it is a true gem of the NES era that continues to captivate gamers with its timeless gameplay. Prepare to be transported back to 1988, when this iconic role-playing game took the gaming world by storm.
Experience a vivid day-night cycle that adds depth and immersion to your adventure. Shape your characters’ destinies with the revolutionary class system, granting you the freedom to customize each hero to your heart’s content.
Will you become a valiant warrior, a mystical mage, or a cunning thief? The choice is yours!
10. River City Ransom
Get ready to rumble in River City Ransom!
River City Ransom, Street Gangs in PAL regions, is a cult classic open-world action role-playing video game originally released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1989.
This epic retro game puts you in the shoes of high school students Alex and Ryan as they embark on a quest to rescue Ryan’s girlfriend and restore peace to the chaotic city. Talk about the ultimate high school adventure, am I right?
But that’s not all, folks. River City Ransom is all about freedom and exploration! The entire city is at your fingertips, ready to be discovered. Explore every nook and cranny, uncover hidden secrets, and make your way through different parts of River City. It’s like being a kid set loose in an amusement park – pure bliss!
River City Ransom is the game that effortlessly blends beat ’em-up action with RPG mechanics, giving you the best of both worlds.
Ah, Contra…the game that taught us all the value of teamwork and the importance of looking cool while doing it.
Get ready to suit up, soldier, because Contra is all about saving the world from invading aliens and looking like a total boss.
In the game, players control either Bill or Lance (or both in two-player mode) as they make their way through hordes of enemies, obstacles, and challenging boss battles. Armed with a variety of weapons, from machine guns to flamethrowers, the dynamic duo must navigate through different levels and ultimately defeat the alien leader, Red Falcon.
But what makes Contra truly special is the co-op mode. Playing with a friend doubles the fun and unlocks a new level of strategy and coordination.
And let’s not forget the legendary cheat code that’s become synonymous with the game – Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start.
This infamous code, the Konami Code, grants players extra lives and other perks, making the game even more exciting.
With its classic run-and-gun gameplay, challenging levels, and epic boss battles, this game has stood the test of time and continues to be a favorite.
So, prepare to relive the glory days of 8-bit gaming with Contra.
8. Ninja Gaiden
Ninja Gaiden, also known as Ninja Ryukenden in Japan and Shadow Warriors in Europe, is an action-platform game released by Tecmo for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1988. The game features the adventures of Ryu Hayabusa, a ninja warrior who sets out to avenge his father’s death.
One of the game’s defining features is its difficulty. Ninja Gaiden has a high degree of challenge, requiring precision platforming, quick reflexes, and strategic use of Ryu’s moves and weapons. The game’s final boss, Jaquio, is known for being particularly challenging.
Ryu’s life bar is always displayed at the top right of the screen, next to his opponent’s (if he is battling one). The level, score, and timer are also seen here.
Ninja Gaiden hailed for its challenging gameplay and memorable music as well as the iconic protagonist Ryu Hayabusa, remains a favorite among gamers around the world.
Get ready to step into the virtual ring with the legendary boxing game that has taken swings and delivered knockout punches in the hearts of gamers for decades: Punch-Out!!
Picture this: you step into the ring with the clumsy yet lovable Glass Joe, who’s more interested in polishing his gloves than landing a punch. And just when you think things couldn’t get any weirder, you find yourself face to face with the mighty King Hippo, whose weak spot is…wait for it…a bandage on his belly! Now, that’s what I call crazy boxing tactics!
Punch-Out!! It wasn’t just a hit on the NES. It made its way to arcades, the Wii, and even the Nintendo Switch, ensuring that new generations of gamers could experience the thrill of the ring.
It’s a testament to the timeless appeal of this classic game.
6. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
Prepare to enter the dark and gothic world of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, released for the NES, marks a return to the series’ traditional action-platforming roots after the experimental Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Many diehard fans consider it the best Castlevania title of them all.
As Trevor Belmont, you’ll face off against the Prince of Darkness and his army of supernatural creatures. With its hauntingly beautiful soundtrack and challenging gameplay,
The game introduces new elements, including the ability to have companions join the main character. There are three additional characters to choose from, each with their own unique powers: Grant the pirate excels at climbing, Syfa the Magician is skilled in casting powerful magic spells, and Alucard, Dracula’s son, can transform into a bat and fly.
Another notable feature is the inclusion of multiple paths, allowing players to choose between different levels as they progress. This adds replay value, as players can make other choices in subsequent playthroughs.
Levels are longer than in previous games, and boss fights are more challenging.
Castlevania III will surely keep you on the edge of your seat.
5. The Legend of Zelda
It is a true masterpiece, from its iconic golden cartridge to its unforgettable soundtrack.
The game that started it all and still stands strong. Unraveling the secrets of puzzles will require your utmost exploration and dedication.
It invites you to venture into uncharted lands, conquer treacherous dungeons, and rescue Princess Zelda from the clutches of evil Ganon.
Unlike today’s games that guide you with neon signs and arrows, The Legend of Zelda trusts in your abilities and rewards your curiosity. Who would have thought setting a random bush ablaze could uncover a hidden passageway?
This unique approach set it apart in 1987 and continues to inspire developers today, shaping the landscape of gaming for decades to come.
4. Mega Man 2
Join the pint-sized hero, Mega Man, on an action-packed journey to defeat Dr. Wily in Mega Man 2.
Released in 1988, this action-packed sequel has cemented its status as a classic among gamers.
As the heroic Mega Man, it’s your mission to defeat the evil Dr. Wily and his army of menacing robot masters. Each robot master possesses unique abilities and is protected by their carefully designed stage. Prepare for thrilling and challenging boss battles as you strategically choose which stages to tackle first.
With the ability to choose between Normal and Difficult modes and the versatility of the weapons available, there are countless ways to play through the game and approach its challenges. The addition of E-Tanks as one-time use items to refill health is also praised, though completing the game without them is a true feat.
The soundtrack of Mega Man 2 is a work of art, full of catchy tunes that still manage to give us chills to this day. Who can resist humming along to the pulsating beats of Dr. Wily’s Castle theme or the uplifting melodies of Bubble Man’s stage? If you find yourself unaffected by these musical masterpieces, you might be missing a vital part of your gamer spirit!
Mega Man 2 is the textbook example of a sequel done right.
Picture it: the year is 1986. The NES has taken over living rooms across the globe, and Metroid bursts onto the scene, introducing us to the formidable bounty hunter, Samus Aran.
Armed with a powerful arm cannon and clad in an iconic power suit, Samus embarks on a mission to defeat the Space Pirates and eradicate the parasitic threat of the Metroids.
The screen scrolls from left to right, revealing a desolate alien planet begging to be explored. The world of Metroid is a labyrinthine maze of interconnected areas, filled with enemies to blast, secrets to uncover, and upgrades to enhance Samus’ abilities.
Game’s non-linear nature was groundbreaking at the time. Unlike the linear side-scrollers of its era, Metroid encouraged exploration and rewarded players who dared to delve deeper into its intricate world.
The lack of a traditional map may have caused some frustration (I can still recall getting lost countless times!), but it also heightened the sense of adventure and discovery. You had to rely on your memory, meticulously mapping out the different areas, remembering which doors led where, and feeling a rush of excitement when you finally stumbled upon that hidden power-up you’d been desperately searching for.
The galaxy awaits, my friends. Suit up and save the day!
2. Super Mario Bros.
The game that started it all – Super Mario Bros.
The game’s opening screen alone triggers a wave of nostalgia – the iconic 8-bit soundtrack, the title screen, the pixelated Mario, and the blocks. Super Mario Bros. is the embodiment of retro gaming at its finest.
This iconic platformer introduced us to the heroic plumber, Mario, and his quest to rescue Princess Peach from the clutches of the evil Bowser. Super Mario Bros. transcends generations of gamers, captivating new and old-school gamers with its unmatched gameplay, charming characters, and vibrant worlds.
More than three decades have elapsed since the release of the game, and players are still discovering new hidden secrets and shortcuts to this day. And who could forget the world-famous Warp Zones, the secret levels that allowed players to traverse great distances in the game, making it easier to rescue Princess Peach and acquire endless playtime?
So let’s join Mario on his quest to save the Mushroom Kingdom. After all, as the game reminds us, “Our princess is in another castle!”
1. Super Mario Bros. 3
And finally, the crown jewel of the NES Classic Edition – Super Mario Bros. 3.
This game needs no introduction. Step into your Tanooki suits, grab your trusty controllers and get ready to experience gaming greatness.
Embark on a whimsical journey through eight vibrant worlds, each with its own unique theme and challenges. It’s a masterpiece of level design, creativity, and pure fun. Make it this if you only play one game on the NES Classic Edition.
Out of the top 25 NES games, Super Mario Bros. 3 stands head and shoulders above the rest. It’s the epitome of everything a platformer should be – exciting, innovative, and chock-full of captivating gameplay that keeps us glued to our screens for hours. Developed by Nintendo’s legendary creative genius, Shigeru Miyamoto, this game pushed the boundaries of what we thought was possible on our 8-bit console.
The seamless transition from one level to the next made the entire Mushroom Kingdom feel like a living, breathing world waiting to be explored.
So dust off your NES, grab your iPhone, or fire up your favorite emulator because it’s time to experience a game that reminds us why we fell in love with gaming in the first place.
Happy adventuring, dear gamers! May the power of the Tanooki suit be with you!
Emulating Nintendo’s 8-bit console on Apple devices
Its high-quality graphics, smooth gameplay, and faithful emulation of the original console’s hardware set a new standard for NES games on iOS devices.
You’ll feel like playing on an old Nintendo – only better!
How to play console games on your iPhone?
If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch and want to play console games on it, here’s what you can do:
- Download the emulator app from BuildStore
- Download your favorite console game ROMs — the digital copy of console games.
- Open the emulator app and load your ROM files!
- Enjoy playing your favorite console games on your iOS device!
Emulators allow you to play games from the early 90s on your iPhone today. Some emulators also come with hacks for specific games, which would enable players to unlock unique content that wasn’t initially available.
There’s no need to carry around a bulky console or TV set-up, as all you need is an iPhone, an emulator app, and ROMs of all your fav apps.
Join BuildStore and re-experience your most incredible childhood memories!
Happy gaming, my friend, and may the power-ups be forever in your favor!