#20 – 1

20 Blaster Master
North American Release Date: November 1988
Genre: Action / Adventure
Developer: Sunsoft
Publisher: Sunsoft
The plot of this game makes no sense.  Basically some kid loses his frog, the frog gets into some radioactive goop, the frogs falls in a hole, the kid jumps in after it, the kid discovers this amazing armored tank that blasts everything in sight…and then the game starts.  Where’d the frog go?  Where did this tank come from?  Did the frog turn into the tank?  What motivation does the kid have for risking his life piloting this tank and killing a bunch of dangerous monsters? 
Anyway, this game rules.  It’s kind of like Goonies II or Metroid where you wander around a huge world where doors take you from place to place.  You do all of this in your super tank until you get to a ladder or small door at which point your guy can jump out of the tank and run around as this tiny little character.  He must take up like 1/1000th of the screen.  That is until you enter a cave and then your guy is fucking huge <SEXUAL METAPHOR>!  Also, this section of the game switches from side-scrolling to overhead style shoot-em up like those stages in Super C.  It’s here that you’ll fight bosses and earn upgrades for your tank and gun.
The music is badass, the graphics are awesome, and the control is excellent.  It’s also confusing as all fuck.  I could really use a Nintendo Power right about now.
Sydlexia – #39 Review
IGN – #22 Review
Gamefaqs – #30 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #24 Review
Complex – #34 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #44 Review

19 Castlevania
North American Release Date: September 1986
Genre: Action / Platformer
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Castlevania is kind of the grown-up take on Super Mario Bros.  The gameplay is pretty similar, but the atmosphere is way spookier and the cutesy enemies of SMB have been replaced by zombies, bats, and other standards of classic horror films.  And, just like in real life, being a grown-up is a thousand times harder than being a kid because unlike SMB, Castlevania is not fucking around in it’s difficulty.
Alternately, the progression of the Castlevania series on NES is pretty similar to Super Mario Bros: the original is classic and lays the groundwork, the second game drastically changes the formula but is still pretty fun, and the third game returns to the style of the first while adding new elements and improving on it in every way.  Also both series still have games coming out to this day that are constantly tweaking and innovating their iconic source material.
I’ve tried not to reference the Angry Video Game Nerd in these notes (because I could almost do it for every entry and that would get redundant), but the best rundown of the Castlevania series was done by him so if you’re a fan of the Belmont clan definitely give it a watch.
Sydlexia – #23 Review
IGN – #19 Review
Gamefaqs – #17 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #60 Review
Complex – #18 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #27 Review

18 Crystalis
North American Release Date: July 1990
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: SNK
Publisher: SNK
Crystalis is a very ambitious action RPG that’s kind of like an 8-Bit version of Secret of Mana for the SNES.  It’s one of several games I consider crossovers.  Basically they’re impressive 8-bit games made to compete with the 16-bit era and if the graphics were slightly improved they’d be right at home on the Super Nintendo. 
Other examples include:
Galaxy 5000 (NES) – Rock N’ Roll Racing (SNES)
Kirby’s Dream Land (NES)- Super Mario World (SNES)
In gameplay, it works just like Legend of Zelda but with more variety of environments and enemies.  Like Zelda, you can upgrade your weapons and find new items that let you progress to new areas.  You collect swords that apply to each element and certain enemies can only be hurt by the Wind Sword or Water Sword etc.  There’s tons of areas to explore, items to find, character leveling-up, and bad guys to fuck up.  It’s pretty damn fun and would probably be top 10 if more people had played it back in the day.
When I first started reading these lists a few years ago while in search for hidden classics, Crystalis distinctly stood out as a game I thought would be awesome.  And it is.  There are a ton of cool hidden gem kind of games that appeared on the NES that none of us played at the time they were released and Crystalis is the crown jewel of them all.
Sydlexia – 18 Review
IGN – #42 Review
Gamefaqs – #19 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #15 Review
Complex – #22 Review
Satoshi Matrix –#43 Review

17 Bionic Commando
North American Release Date: December 1988
Genre: Action / Platformer
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Bionic Commando takes away the most common convention of every other platform video game: jumping.  You cannot jump.  It’s incredibly off-putting when you first fire it up and you realize you can’t jump.  Seriously, if you haven’t played it or know someone who hasn’t played it, pop it in and watch the confusion begin.  It’s like teaching a gorilla sign language.
So you don’t jump, instead you shoot out a Doctor Octopus arm and swing from place to place.  Once you figure out the mechanics of using the bionic arm you’ll find that Bionic Commando is a very fun, surprising complex, and incredibly challenging game.  Personally I find it incredibly difficult, although not quite Ghosts N’ Goblins / Ninja Gaiden level hard.
Don’t get me wrong, Bionic Commando is a very cool and original game.  If I’d owned this as a kid, I would’ve played it til I mastered it.  Playing it for the first time years later I found the controls and difficulty a bit daunting.  As much as a video game can be I guess.
Sydlexia – #30 Review
IGN – #9 Review
Gamefaqs – #25 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #9 Review
Complex – #7 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #75 Review

16 Super Mario 2
North American Release Date: October 1988
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
The oddball of the three Mario games, people are quick to point out that Super Mario Bros 2 is not actually Super Mario Bros 2 but Doki Doki Panic, a Arabian themed game released only in Japan.  The character sprites were changed to Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess and voila here’s the new Mario game!  The original Super Mario Bros 2 was actually an almost exact replica of the original Super Mario Bros, just harder.  So hard in fact that Nintendo decided not to release it in the USA and instead converted Doki Doki Panic into a Mario game.
And thank God for that.  Super Mario Bros 2 (USA!  USA!) is fucking awesome.  Even as kids we thought it was weird that this game played nothing like Mario 1 or Mario 3 but we were too busy floating around, grabbing keys, bombing mice…it’s got everything!  Personally, I rock Luigi.  He’s the epitome of easy to use difficult to master but once you do you’re golden!
There are certain games I pop in every once in a while that I’ve played so many times that it’s almost effortless to beat.  But those games, like Mario 2, are so damn fun to play and the nostalgia factor so strong that they’re still a blast to pop in anytime.  Like if someone said to me “Hey James!  You can only play one game for the rest of your life and it’s Mario 2!”, I’d say “OK!  I mean that’s kind of a weird command but it’s all good.  I was probably going to just do that anyway.”
Sydlexia – #21 Review
IGN – #18 Review
Gamefaqs – #9 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #46 Review
Complex – #13 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #47 Review

15 Zelda 2
North American Release Date: December 1988
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
If anyone says they were disappointed in this game, please tell them to go fuck themselves.  Well let’s not be harsh…maybe just rent a hotel room, pop on the Storage Wars marathon, and sweetly make love to themselves. 
Zelda II: Link’s Adventure is the jam.  It’s hard, sure, but once you get the gist of it it’s super fun.  As a kid, my buddy Dean had Zelda 2 and even as eight year olds we’d diligently stay up all night and try to beat this game with no success.  I remember trying endlessly to get the hammer and even though it happens right at the beginning of the game it’s possibly the most difficult part.  But holy shit, there’s nothing more gratifying in this world then getting the hammer.  Fuck acing the SATs, fuck your first born, fuck being the first explorer to discover America.  THE HAMMER IS THE BEST THING EVER IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND!!!!  Once you get that, the Zelda world gets much larger and the dungeons become way more interesting. 
Zelda II is for sure challenging, but the save feature makes it a lot less frustrating then say Willow or Faxanadu with their obnoxious password systems.  It’s kind of a shame that it gets passed over because it’s just as good as the other Zelda games.  Well, not as good as the original Legend of Zelda, Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker…ok fuck it, it’s not as good as the other Zelda games but it is still way better than 99% of the games on the NES.
Sydlexia – #25 Review
IGN – #21 Review
Gamefaqs – #13 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #20 Review
Complex – #26 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #48 Review

14 Bubble Bobble
North American Release Date: 1986
Genre: Arcade / Platformer
Developer: Taito
Publisher: Taito
FUCK YES.  In my opinion, Bubble Bobble is the greatest 2-Player game of all time. 
You and a buddy traverse level after level of simple yet satisfying arcade style fun.  There’s tons of enemies, weird level designs, and unexpected upgrades along the way that keep the game fresh.  Even after playing it a million times, I still manage to trigger some new, extremely japanesey thing to happen every time I play it.  Like you’re just jumping around and then whoah!  Did I just eat a cross and lightning rained down on my enemies?  Is this how Christianity works?  Sign me up!
I can’t believe how many nights I’ve stayed up til sunrise playing this game with a lady friend.  I’m not saying it’ll get you laid out of the blue, I mean you can’t just tell a girl you have Bubble Bobble and expect her to drop trau for ya.  If the world were a better place, simply holding Bubble Bobble would make any man, woman, or animal fall madly in love with you.  But in this world, at best Bubble Bobble is the video game equivalent of the third Velvet Underground album: it’ll set the mood, but the rest is up to you.     
Beware though, the game only has one song for 99 levels.  At first it’s pretty catchy, then it gets a little annoying, then it starts to sink into your psyche like it was something you wanted to hear then and every minute for the rest of your life.  If I were recruiting for a cult, I’d use this music during the sleep-deprivation part of the indoctrination rituals.  Then we’d eat the barbiturate laden applesauce and ride Hale-Bop into the next millennium!
Sydlexia – #6 Review
IGN – #23 Review
Gamefaqs – #21 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #31 Review
Complex – #17 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #42 Review

13 River City Ransom
North American Release Date: April 1989
Genre: Beat Em’ Up / Action RPG
Developer: Technos Japan
Publisher: Technos Japan
Playing this game for the first time was a revelation.  A REVELATION.
The bizarre combination of an RPG and a fighting game, River City Ransom is one of the most original and funny games on the NES.  Basically, the plot is a high school version of Double Dragon: some asshole named Slick form a rival school took your girl and now you and your buddy have to destroy and humiliate everyone in sight in order to get her back.  But, you’re gonna get hungry along the way so you’d better stop at the mall and get some grub or else you won’t be strong enough for the Outsiders style brawling.
I’m not sure what it is, but gleefully shopping for sushi or dropping by the spa is somehow equally as entertaining as beating the shit out of the various foul-mouthed gangs.  It’s kinda like the designers were super stoned while playing Double Dragon, got the munchies, and so they decided to switch gears and make River City Ransom.  I assume the same scenario occurred when those guys were playing poker while also watching porn and then they decided to make Peek-A-Boo Poker.  Inspiration comes when it comes.
Sydlexia – #22 Review
IGN – #15 Review
Gamefaqs – #11 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #27 Review
Complex – #28 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #28 Review

12 Kirbys Adventure
North American Release Date: May 1993
Genre: Action / Platformer
Developer: Hal Laboratory
Publisher: Nintendo
I realize in reviewing all these games that I throw out the words “difficult” or “hard” or “challenging” quite a bit, but it’s for a reason.  When the Atari came out, the objective was to make each level harder than the next because all you were going for was the high score.  Then the NES came along with longer games where the high score was for the most part useless.  So how do you compensate for this convention while still giving a very storage limited game (NES games ranged from 8kb to 1mb total) replay value?  You make the games hard as shit.  Or in the case of Kirby’s Adventure, you pack in so much that it doesn’t matter how hard the game is.
While extremely easy for a Nintendo game, Kirby’s Aventure makes up for the lack of challenge by being one of the most colorful and graphically impressive games for the NES.  The format is simple: beat all the levels until you reach the end.  However, along the way you’ll find minigames, levels with multiple exits, and a variety of awesomely designed boss fights.  All this combines to make a very enjoyable and technically impressive game that’s kind of like a primer for Super Mario World on the SNES.
I didn’t even mention the unique aspect of this game which makes it so great: Kirby can suck in and swallow enemies thus taking their power.  There are tons of different powers to absorb like Spark, Fireball, and Freeze.  Even though it’s probably the simplest and least effectual, my favorite is the Stone power where you fly above the enemies, become a stone, and then drop down and rock the shit out of anyone below you.  Truly it is almost completely useless, but when it does work there is nothing more satisfying then dropping the Stone of the Lord on the infidels of Dream Land.  Amen, hallelujah!
Sydlexia – #46 Review
IGN – #27 Review
Gamefaqs – #14 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #4 Review
Complex – #16 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #10 Review

11: MEGA MAN 3
11 Mega Man 3
North American Release Date: September 1990
Genre: Action / Platformer
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Mega Man 3 takes the improvements of Mega Man 2 and add a few more bells and whistles most notably an expanded final series of stages where you re-fight all the bosses from earlier.  However, the real addition to this game is Proto Man, the Racer X to Mega Man’s Speed Racer.  If you were born in the nineties or later I’m not going to bother explaining that reference. 
No wait, Proto Man is fucking lame.  You know what really makes this game great?  Sliding.  Slide, slide, slide, I can do that alllllllllllll day.  It’s one of those weird NES moves like the pogo stick in Duck Tales or the gravity shifting in Metal Storm that’s hard to describe why exactly it’s so fucking satisfying to do.  Trust me, it’s surprisingly thrilling.
Other than sliding, the music’s awesome, the enemies and bosses are super creative, and overall it’s still a ton of fun to play even today.  It’s just as good if not better than Mega Man 2 but since 2 pretty much perfected the action platformer genre, Mega Man 3 is kind of like the second Matrix movie: flashier visuals, bigger ideas, expanded story, but not quite as enjoyable as the one that came before it.  Unlike the second Matrix movie, Mega Man 3 is actually worth another look.
Sydlexia – #4 Review
IGN – #16 Review
Gamefaqs – #12 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #49 Review
Complex – #20 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #11 Review

10 Tetris
North American Release Date: 1989
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
It’s odd to think that a game as prevalent nowadays as Tetris was something people paid $50 bucks for back in the day.  I mean adjust that from 1989 to present and we’re talking $96.07.  That’s fucking crazy!  Aside from the price, think about how insane that is.  Nowadays you’d practically have to pay someone not to make you play Tetris.  I mean every cell phone, microwave, elevator, and vibrator has a version of Tetris built into it…for free! 
It’s a classic, without a doubt one of the most iconic games ever made.  Sure there are later puzzle games that improve on it’s gameplay, but even now it’s still super fun to play. 
The only debate on it’s NES ranking is whether the official version (with it’s awesome color and graphics) or the Tengen version (with it’s 2-player functionality) is better.  If you’re not familiar, there’s a pretty crazy patent battle that took place between Nintendo and Tengen.  I’m not going to go into it here, but basically the end result was that there were two versions of Tetris for the NES, and the main difference was that one was 2-Player co-op.  Personally, they’re both Tetris and neither version really beats the one I had on my TI-86 calculator that got me through Senior year of high school.
Sydlexia – #14 Review
IGN – #48 Review
Gamefaqs – #15 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #7 Review
Complex – #12 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #7 Review

9 Final Fantasy
North American Release Date: December 1987
Genre: RPG
Developer: Square
Publisher: Nintendo
Look, I talked a lot of shit about the Dragon Warrior games earlier and yes they are boring as hell for sure.  The other big RPG for the NES, Final Fantasy, is…well…just as boring. 
It looks better, the music is catchier, the gameplay is smoother and more varied, but fuck if I wouldn’t rather alphabetize the items in my fridge than play this game.  And some of those items are straight up vomit inducing they’ve been in there so long.  If you played this as a kid I’m sure you have a much deeper appreciation than I ever will but I didn’t play it as a kid and in my opinion it’s a total snoozefest. 
Unless you’re having trouble sleeping.  I mean I take Nyquil (or abuse it rather) but if you’re looking for something au naturale you should definitely pop in the original Final Fantasy. It is truly the Ambien of NES games.
Sydlexia – #2 Review
IGN – #11 Review
Gamefaqs – #7 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #69 Review
Complex – #4 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #6 Review

8 Contra
North American Release Date: February 1987
Genre: Run and Gun
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
I’d say Contra is the game I get asked about the most when I mention my NES obsession, and for good reason.  It’s as iconic as Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Bros, but more commonly it was the game you played with your friends when you were kids so it has a very different kind of nostalgia than those titles.  Plus it’s about Rambo knock offs murdering a million enemies, personifying all the macho characteristics young males aspire toward.  At least that’s what we admired in the 80s, these days I have no idea who the kids look up to.  Jason Beaver?  That’s a guy right?
Anyway, if you’ve never played Contra (and why you’d be reading this list if you haven’t played Contra is beyond me) you and your friend shoot terrorist bad guys and big machines and other awesome exploding stuff.  Eventually you fight aliens which is kind of a weird segue from human guerrilla fighters and Terminator style robots to fucking straight out of Aliens aliens.  I mean a game like this definitely needs no plot to be fun, but I’m a little lost on what our objective is.  Oh and you read that right, it’s “you and your friend” because just like Bubble Bobble you are not allowed to play this game solo.  EVER.  Go find some friends you fucking loser!
Trust me though, if you’ve ever got a girl over at the house and you want to play an NES 2-Player game with her DO NOT turn to Contra.  You’ll play for 30 seconds before she gets killed and you say “Awww, that sucks” before going on without her and buddy that’s no going to work out well for ya.  Throw in Bubble Bobble instead; that’s the real baby-maker right there.  Then again, if she’d rather play Contra and is really awesome at it, you should probably just marry her.  You’ll spend the rest of your lives drinking whiskey, quoting Predator, and having sex while watching football highlights and eating pizza.  When people use the term “American Dream”, I don’t know about you but that is the exact scenario I picture.
Sydlexia – #7 Review
IGN – #12 Review
Gamefaqs – #6 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #8 Review
Complex – #11 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #25 Review

7 Super Mario
North American Release Date: 1985
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
If you read a lot of lists online (and if you’re a super cool guy like me you read a ton) then you’d see Super Mario Bros appear first on not just the top 100 NES games lists but the lists of the top 100 video games of all time.  This is deservedly so.  Not only did it create one of the most iconic characters and franchises in pop culture history, but it almost single handily re-popularized video games after the North American Video Game Crash of 1983.  If you’ve never read about it, it’s kind of a fascinating look at the consequences of over-saturation without any quality control.  I assume Libertarians ignore it completely when they talk about free-market economies. 
On top of that, it’s also the game that took the idea of what games could do and threw it out the window.  Before Super Mario Bros, most games took place on one screen and the objectives were points based.  When Mario started running right and the screen moved with him it was a major mindfuck.  It doesn’t sound like much nowadays, but at the time it was very revolutionary.  This in turn completely changed the way video games were designed.  It’s hard to play it today and see the link between Super Mario Bros and say Borderlands, but in truth almost all the ideas that inform modern games come from this game.  Just magnified by 100x.
It’s still plenty fun to play today, but if I’m sitting around thinking “Maybe I’ll play a Mario Game, but which one?”  We all know it’s 3 on a normal day and 2 on a day when you’re feeling saucy.  I feel like one afternoon, I’ll be super depressed because it ‘s raining, and I forgot call my mother, and my dog just died and then and only then will I’ll pop in the original Super Mario Bros again.  And it’ll be magical.
Check out the My First Games section for more on Super Mario Bros.
Sydlexia – #10 Review
IGN – #3 Review
Gamefaqs – #3 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #30 Review
Complex – #5 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #15 Review

6 Punch Out
North American Release Date: October 1987
Genre: Sports
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Mike Tyson’s Punch Out is probably my favorite game to just pop in at any time.  After years of playing it, it’s still super fun to go through the motions of beating each guy and since it’s so second nature the whole thing takes about 20 minutes to beat.  And by beat, I mean get all the way to Mike Tyson and then cry deeply. 
Many people have commented that MTPO is actually a puzzle game and not a boxing game and I tend to agree.  The gameplay is less about blind luck in throwing a jab or an uppercut and more about knowing your opponents patterns and being able to react accordingly.  As the game progresses the boxers get quicker and their movements become less predictable.  Like early in the game you can punch Glass Joe once and he gets completely annihilated, but Super Macho Man isn’t so easy.  You gotta buy that dude dinner and a movie before he lies down for your amusement.
One of my favorite parts of the game is where you train by running Rocky style with the New York skyline in the background. You’re either celebrating beating Piston Honda or you’re celebrating about to fight him for the second time.  Speaking of Piston Honda, what does it mean that the Japanese guys who programmed Punch Out made a pretty racist caricature of Japanese people?  At one point he just spouts off all these stereotypes: “Sushi, Kamikaze, Fujiyama, Nipponichi…” I mean every character in this game is pretty damn racist, but maybe they thought “if we mock our own culture it’ll make the other portrayals less racist?”  These are thoughts and questions for the ages people.
Sydlexia – #13 Review
IGN – #7 Review
Gamefaqs – #4 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #16 Review
Complex – #9 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #14 Review

5 Metroid
North American Release Date: August 1986
Genre: Action / Adventure
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Metroid is an incredibly innovative game with atmosphere in spades.   I mean listen to the opening theme, it’s fucking eerie!  Aside from maybe Faxanadu, no game for the NES has music that so perfectly sets the mood for the dark and foreboding game you’re about to play.
The backgrounds and enemies look awesome, the music is amazing, and everything about the gameplay is intuitive.  It is still, however, extremely hard to navigate.  Most adventure RPGs like Zelda II or Crystalis are kind of similar in exploratory gameplay, but there’s non-playable characters you can talk to who give you hints on where to go.  Metroid on the other hand is all about walking around and blowing up every spot on the screen to make sure you didn’t miss anything.  When Super Metroid came out, it added the most important thing the original missed: a map.  Now you could tell where you’d been and where that weird door might go if you backtracked from later on in the game.  I mean it’s equally obtuse, but it removes a lot of the frustration factor of the original.
Metroid is also the first twist ending I can think of in games where at the end it’s revealed that the character you’ve been using this whole time is actually a woman.  Well actually that’s only half true.  The ending of the game changes based on how fast you beat it.  If you’re slow as hell, Samus is in the normal suit waving at you (if you take waaaaaay too long she’s looking away from you with her head down).  If you’re kind of fast, you’ll see her with her helmet on.  If you’re really fast, she’ll appear wearing a purple onesie.  And then if you’re insanely ridiculously fast, she’ll appear in a bikini.  Hubba hubba!  I find all of this to be especially interesting in retrospect because at the time Metroid came out there was no internet and thus no way you could know that if you beat the game even faster with a special code you still wouldn’t be able to see Samus naked.  So for years adolescent boys and girls were playing this game over and over and over again with the slim glimmering hope that maybe, just maybe, this would be the time that Samus would show of her 8-bit nipples.  Be grateful that today you can just Google “Metroid NES endings” and save yourself years of disappointment and misplaced sexual frustration. 
Sydlexia – #12 Review
IGN – #6 Review
Gamefaqs – #8 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #23 Review
Complex – #6 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #5 Review

4 Castlevania 3
North American Release Date: September 1990
Genre: Action / Platformer
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
I feel like although Konami knew they’d fucked up on Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, they also realized that they’d come up with some pretty cool ideas to shake up the formula from the first game.  So when they made Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, they went back to what made the original so great while adding new innovations like diverging paths and multiple playable characters.
Also, they must’ve realized that Simon’s Quest was much easier than the original Castlevania so they made III im-fucking-possible.  It’s not quite Ninja Gaiden / Battletoads hard, but it’s no slouch.  While it is insane how difficult this game is it’s also challenging in a way that keeps you coming back to play more.  You have as many continues as you want so with a little persistence you can make it pretty far.  Granted I’ve still broken a few controllers playing it, but once you finally beat that seemingly insurmountable level?  Fuck me it’s like doing coke on the 50 yard line of the Super Bowl. 
The most memorable aspect of this game is by far the music, some of the best on the NES.  In fact, I feel like here’s a good place to list my 10 favorite NES soundtracks:
10. Super Mario Bros 2
9. That first song from Solstice
8. Battletoads
7.  Faxanadu
6.  Metroid
5.  Contra
4.  Ninja Gaiden
3. Duck Tales
2. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
1. Mega Man 2
Check out more on Castlevania III in the My First Games section.
Sydlexia – #8 Review
IGN – #5 Review
Gamefaqs – #18 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #5 Review
Complex – #8 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #16 Review

3 Mega Man 3
North American Release Date: December 1988
Genre: Action / Platformer
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Now that we’ve covered five Mega Man games on this list, we come to number 2 and for sure it’s the best Mega Man game for the NES.  They’re all pretty damn good, but after Mega Man 2 they all seem like they’re just copying the formula of this game with only minor improvements or additions.  For the most part though, the Mega Man series on NES are six of the best games for the system and it’s only in discussing them against each other that I would even be picky enough to say that for instance Mega Man 6 is not that great of a game.  Actually, it’s a pretty awesome game and if I’d never played the other ones I’d say it deserves the #3 spot on this list instead.  However, play Mega Man 2 and you’ll quickly see why it’s the best of them all.
It’s got all the staples of the series: great music and sound, awesome graphics, fun gameplay, excellent level design.  The Quick Man stage in particular is one of the best levels ever, where you have to drop Mega Man down from platform to platform as soul destroying lasers travel horizontally across his path.  One touch and your blue buddy is toast, so it requires extremely precise timing to make it through intact.  Check it out on Youtube if you’ve never played it. 
There’s a chemical enhancement gradient for success and failure on this level:
SUCCESS = Cocaine > Caffeine > a really great first date
Alcohol > Going to the Laundromat with no detergent > Heroin = FAILURE
There’s definitely a reason so many video game bands cover Mega Man 2, because the soundtrack to this game is the best on the NES.  My personal favorite is Project X, “Quick Man” and “Air Man” are the jams!   Also, let’s contemplate the idea of a “video game band” for a minute.  Sure there’s chiptune and other sub genres of music that use sounds from video games to make original music like this guy, but there are also full bands that make a living touring around playing music from classic Nintendo games.  That’s amazing!  That’s like saying people would pay to see your stamp collection or drink your pomegranate micro-brew.  I’m not saying there’s not a market for it, but the chances of it being successful would seem infinitesimal and yet they’re not!  Truly this is the land of opportunity!  USA USA USA!
Sydlexia – #5 Review
IGN – #4 Review
Gamefaqs – #5 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #3 Review
Complex – #3 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #2 Review

2 Legend of Zelda
North American Release Date: February 1986
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Coming to the end of this list, I actually find I have more trouble talking about the blue chip games like Legend of Zelda or Metroid than I do discussing say Metal Storm or Kickle Cubicle.  There’s just so much weight and history involved with the classic NES games that unless you’ve got a dissenting opinion it’s hard to add anything new to the conversation.  I mean I love Legend of Zelda, I’ve beat it like a million times, but it’s taken me a couple of months to think of anything more interesting than “Yah, this is a tight game brahhhhh! <bong rip> Have you ever played this game while listening to Yes – Close to the Edge?  Holy shit, that sweet combo changed my life forever brosef.”  Seriously though, it goes great with that album.  It’s the perfect combination of renaissance frolicking through the fields set to lutes and impending apocalypse “oh shit I stabbed you in the head Gannon you fucker!” style prog-rock awesomeness.
All that being said, the original Legend of Zelda game is still one of the best games of all time.  Extremely innovative and iconic, Legend of Zelda led to many more excellent games that took the formula and ran with it.  I’m still a big fan of the sequel Zelda 2: Link to the Past, but my personal favorites are Link to the Past (SNES) and Ocarina of Time (N64).   The original Zelda definitely has it’s cryptic elements that take a trip to the internet to figure out but the overworld map is tons of fun to explore and the dungeons are still really a blast to beat.  The graphics are nothing too flashy, but they’re offset by the scale and format of this expansive and very well designed game. 
While it’s not my favorite NES soundtrack mostly because it’s just two songs over and over and over, Zelda’s music is still very much awesome.  Other than the Super Mario Bros music, I can’t think of any video game tune more iconic than the Legend of Zelda theme.  Mediocre orchestras across the globe have been getting attendance mileage for years off this bad boy.  Even one of our Djs at the bar plays an electronic remix of the Zelda song in his set and while I have lots of 21 year old kids say “Hey, what’s this from?” they still go and dance to it nonetheless.  Why?  Because even if you’ve never played this game, you’ve heard that song and in the same way, young kids will recognize Mario even if they’ve never played one of his games.  People definitely tend to underestimate the cultural presence of video games, but it’s really not far off to place Nintendo side by side with Disney in terms of influence on the 80s and 90s generations.  Y’know, the Coke and Pepsi generations.
Sydlexia – #3 Review
IGN – #2 Review
Gamefaqs – #2 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #2 Review
Complex – #1 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #4 Review

01 Super Mario 3
North American Release Date: February 1990
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Most of the games in the top 20 I didn’t even bother to play again in order to add my comments.  They’re all so iconic and so permanently etched into my brain that there’s honestly no need.  On memory alone I can recall every boss battle from Mega Man 2 or 3, the impossible level 57 in Bubble Bobble, the UFO power-up in Kirby’s Adventure, the drum and bass pause music of Super Mario Bros 2, etc.  So when I got to Super Mario Bros 3, which I and most everyone my age has played infinitum, I thought “Well, no need to pop that one in, this’ll write itself!”  Two hours later, I’m still playing one of my favorite games of all time.
Super Mario Bros 3 is filled with so many awesome levels, power-ups, and secrets that it’s replay value is unparalleled amongst other NES titles (save maybe Legend of Zelda).  There’s almost too many memorable aspects to count but I’ve listed some of my favorites, one for each world:
1) Kuribo’s Shoe.  You beautiful, bizarre windup piece of footwear.
2) Sliding down hills in level 1-2.  There’s nothing more satisfying.
3) Whenever the coin ship shows up.  Where the fuck did that come from and why is it so awesome?
4) TANOOKI SUIT!!!!  Oh word, you think you got me?  Blam!  Statue time bitch!
5)  This glorious human being beating Mario 3 in 11 minutes.  Good god.
6) Killing the sun in level 2-Quicksand.  Oh my god did that just happen?  Did I just KILL the SUN?  I AM GOD, DESTROYER OF WORLDS!!
7)  The Big World aka World 4.  You know what I’m talking about, it’s every Napoleon Complex ridden nerd’s dream come true.
8) Three stars equals five extra lives?  Mario math rules!
Super Mario Bros 3 is the Godfather / Abbey Road / 1991 World Series of NES games.  It’s often listed among the greatest games ever made and it is completely deserving of that status.  It’s also the only game I can think of that was leaked to the world via a full length Hollywood feature.  Can you imagine something like that happening for the new Halo or Call of Duty 6: Customizing the Color Patterns of Your Camouflage for Hours on End Before Masturbating Vigorously and Falling Asleep Controller in Hand?  No, of course not.  In case you were wondering, the hardcore gamers refer to that game by it’s abbreviated title, Call of Duty: CCPYCHEBMVFAC.  Coming to theaters near you in the Vin Diesel feature “The Magician“, summer 2016!  
Sydlexia – #1 Review
IGN – #1 Review
Gamefaqs – #1 Review
Retro Sanctuary – #1 Review
Complex – #2 Review
Satoshi Matrix – #3 Review

13 responses to “#20 – 1

  1. Pingback: The End: #20 – #1 | Snow Way Bro's Top 100 NES Games List

  2. Joe

    Wow. I just spent the better part of 4 days scouring the internet for NES top 100 lists. Tallying those lists to create an ultimate top 100 list, only to find out it was already done by you. However, I think our methods differ when deciding where each game ranked. I’d like to compare notes, or maybe add a section where you explain the formula for ranking a game.

    • Joe

      Did I mention this probably the best list I have seen yet!?

    • Haha that’s awesome, I thought I was the only super obsessive! I took all the source lists and put them into Excel and then gave each game points based on their rankings (#1 = 100 points, #100 = 1 point). The ones with the most points across 6 lists dictated the order of the lists, so for instance Super Mario Bros 3 had four #1 spots, one #2, and one #3 which equals 597 points, the highest total of any game. The Outliers section and the Random Notes section cover the statistical breakdown of which games were considered and what not.

      Thanks for checking out the site! Send me a link of your site man, I’d love to check it out.

      • Joe

        I also used excell but my scoring was different. Instead of giving games points I gave them ranks. Super Mario 3 ranked #1 3x and #2 once. A score of 5 then I divided by 4 (number of web sites) for average rank of 1.25. The games with lower scores were placed higher. I actually like your method better. However I continued on that if a game fell outside of the top 100 on any list I added a pentaly. So a game ranked 100 got a score of 100 but a game that didn’t place at all got a score of 150. This way if games missed lists they were pushed way down the top 100 overall rank. I didnt get far enough to make a website but I’d share the excel file I created if you want to send me an email I can reply to.

  3. Excellent list.. about the coin ship in SMB3. There is a particular level in every world to get it.. I don´t remember all but for instance in world 1 you can get it on the first level.. the way to make it apear has to be with your score and coins.. if your score ends in 10 and you have 11 coins it will appear. Or if your score ends in 20 and you have 22 coins it will show up too.. and so on… score 30, 33 coins, score 40, 44 coins.. try it out.

    • Thanks! It’s such a funny little easter egg, very similar to the fireworks in SMB1. I probably played that game 50 times before I ever saw the coin ship, and I just remember that it blew my mind!

  4. Ah, to keep your score ending the same after taking the card at the end of the level take the card exactly when the time remaining ends in “0” (I think all pair numbers will do) so after you take the time bonus score the ending of your score remain the same… good luck 😉

  5. gorby1980

    Wow ! Great job ! I’m an obsessive myself and I made an Excel based on rankings you give. And I found games with less points, but better ranked than others !??? So I check all 6 lists. And if I find errors that change nothing for the 60 first places (for example, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is #13 on Satoshi Matrix list, not #14), but beyond the 60th place…


    • I see the MTPO error, but yeah that doesn’t affect the overall rankings. Feel free to send me more if you see them, hopefully any errors are in me adding them to the site and not in the original tallying.

  6. Gnadu

    Great List and very helpful. I like, that you linked the other Top List, like from retro sanctuary or IGN.
    But what I dont like is your typical arrogant USA kind of writing. Get adult.

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