(Originally published May 12, 2008.)
The CDP’s Top 15 NES Games Of All-Time.
Before we get started, it should be noted that this is a list of my favorite NES games, not some be-all-to-end-all list that I think you’ll agree entirely with. Furthermore, if you feel the need to explain in detail why Castlevania was better than Metal Gear, chances are that we’re going to end up being friends anyway. Let’s go.
Pre-Countdown Honorable Mentions go to: Castlevania (for being scary), Contra (for being extremely difficult without the Konami Code), Ghouls-‘N-Ghosts (for being absolutely impossible), Ninja Gaiden (for the kickass storyline), Final Fantasy (for being Final freaking Fantasy) & Double Dragon II (for the Cyclone Spin Kick).
15. Super Mario Bros. 2
SMB2 is hard. Really hard. Interest-rate mortgage calculation over 30 years, adjusted for inflation with PMI included-hard, as far as this guy is concerned. In fact, I’ve never actually won SMB2 without the assistance of a certain Game Genie-esque device that allowed me to leap over levels and attack Wart with Matrix-style bullet-time speed. Furthermore, SMB2 wasn’t even a Mario game until it was repackaged for American audiences in 1988 (and was featured in the first issue of Nintendo Power, which I proudly own).
That all being said, the music, cartoonish boss appeal and multiple-character selection were all fairly groundbreaking at the time (not to mention the bizarre androgeny of Birdo), and I put many a controller through the drywall trying to reiterate myself with the jumping scheme and new Mario features. I played this game so much as a child, that I named my cat at the time ‘Meowser,’ a take-off of the bad-ass SMB2 boss, Mouser.
Don’t laugh, asshole, I was 7. It’s still one of the more clever things I’ve done.
14. Ring King
Where to start with the awesomeness that is Ring King? The fighters that ranged in color from Simpsons yellow to nearly-dead E.T. gray? The knockouts that could literally eject your opponent from the stadium? Or how about the most unintentional sexual act in NES history, the imfamous ‘cornerman bob-n’-weave?’ Ring King was a game that was simple to play (the button-mashing controls assured that first-timers could kick any seasoned pro’s ass), which meant that the multi-player tournaments were always a blast.
An underrated NES party game, especially when two n00bz would duke it out for the first time. It normally looked like a Toughman competition; just two guys teeing off on the other’s face until someone up and died. And what’s more fun than that?
YouTube Goodness – Knocked Out Of The Stadium.
13. R.C. Pro-Am
There are many NES-related moments that we can all, as retro gamers, remember fondly. In my opinion, there was never anything funnier than watching someone attempt to play R.C. Pro-Am for the first time. The control scheme, completely impossible to explain or understand (until it became a permanently ingrained part of your central nervous system), virtually assured that the first 20 attempts at Track 1 would consist of 90-degree pinwheeling into every barrier, wall or oil slick in existence. Once you got it down, you were unstoppable, but when your friend took the reins for the first time, the epic failure was pure bliss.
Special attention goes out to the Yellow Car and its ‘impossible speed’ bursts in later stages of the game; one of the first examples of outright ‘cheating‘ by computer AI. Go to hell, unnamed driver. You’re the reason my trophy room is full of bronze wrenches.
YouTube Goodness – Opening Tracks & The Trophy Room.
12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game
I have an extremely fond memory of attending a birthday party at Aladdin’s Castle in the 3rd Grade (remember when arcades used to be amazing?). Myself and my three closest friends pooled our ridiculously large amount of game tokens into a small mound under the TMNT cabinet and went to town, winning the game two times in a row.
Girls were gently patting the sweat off of our brows and assisting us with generous sips of Mello Yello as we stayed focused and united. I was Donatello; I was always Donatello. It was one of my most treasured video game achievments; I think we pumped $80 into that damn machine.
I can’t even remember who’s birthday it was that day, solidly proving that the best memories aren’t necessarily the ones that you purposely set out to create.
YouTube Goodness – Rocksteady’s Got April!
11. The Legend Of Zelda
If you ever find yourself talking to me at length about something I couldn’t care less about (and chances are that you are), The Legend Of Zelda theme music is probably running through my head on a constant loop. I’m ashamed to admit that I jumped on the Zelda train a little late in my childhood, but the joy and reward was just the same. Summer nights spent in a friend’s garage, drinking copious amounts of Kool-Aid and listening to C+C Music Factory on the boom box. It’s what memories are made of.
Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever got that C+C Music Factory tape back. I have a phone call to make.
YouTube Goodness – One Of The Best Commercials Ever.
The overwhelming frustration of overheating mere inches from the finish line. Creating a custom track that launched you directly into a wall on purpose. Tripping up opponents just before an obstacle that sent them slo-mo tumbling for fifteen seconds straight. Excitebike was one of those games that absolutely everyone had, so we’re mostly united in our gaming experiences.
I was playing Grand Prix for the Atari 2600 a few weeks ago (a game that I called ‘Grand Pricks’ in 1988, because I didn’t know any better), and it made me long for Excitebike; the image of your character standing yards away from the Top 3 finishers, head bowed in shame, is one of the more psychologically damaging moments of failure in early gaming history. They should have just showed me a picture of my mom getting kicked in the stomach by Darth Vader; it may have hurt a little less.
YouTube Goodness – Knocking Out Track 5.
9. Tecmo Super Bowl
Forget Madden. It’s well-documented that Tecmo Super Bowl is the greatest football game in history. Tournaments are still held all over the nation on a weekly basis, and YouTube clips of 500-yard, quarter-length scampers are plentiful. This is the game that will keep the fond memory of Christian ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ Okoye in my head forever, as the game designers simply threw their hands in the air one night and said, “You know what? Screw everything; let’s just make him impossible to tackle.”
That, my friends, is awesome. “No fair; you can’t be the Chiefs!“
YouTube Goodness – Superman Okoye Destroys The Colts.
8. Mega Man 2
Taken from the Mega Man 2 Wikipedia page: “Mega Man 2 was named by GameSpot as one of ‘The Greatest Games of All Time.’ It was also honored in Nintendo Power’s ‘Top 200 Nintendo Games Ever’ list, ranked at number 33. Creator Keiji Inafune claims the success of Mega Man 2 is what made the Mega Man series a hit that continues to spawn sequels.“
I couldn’t have said this better myself. Furthermore, I can’t tell you how many ‘Wood Man’ jokes I’ve made over the years. Heh-heh….‘wood.’
YouTube Goodness – The Timeless Introduction To Mega Man 2.
7. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!
Well, here’s one we can all probably agree on. The cast of characters was comedic and all-encompassing. The ‘Dream Fight’ code is etched in our subconscious until the end of time (right off the top of my head: 007-373-5963). The sweat-drenched survival of the first 90 seconds with Iron Mike. Trailing behind Doc Louis’ bike while jogging in a pink tracksuit past the Statue Of Liberty. King Hippo. It’s all here.
Punch-Out!! is one of those games that I will still be playing and enjoying when I’m 50, and maybe by then I’ll get the timing down with Super Macho Man. I once had to dodge his ‘Super Spin Punch’ 38 damn times in a row.
As a side note, I didn’t actually win this game until I was in my late teens, and as I celebrated this long-awaited accomplishment alone in my bedroom, I became acutely aware that good memories are worthless unless they can be shared. Hours later, however, I lost my virginity, so I’d say it was a pretty good day for me.
YouTube Goodness – Iron Mike Gets Owned.
6. Super Mario Bros.
I once read an IGN or GameSpy article proclaiming that “Super Mario Bros. IS gaming.” This is unquestionably true; it launched a rebirth of video gaming that has been doing nothing but pick up steam and generate billions of profitable dollars from losers like me for the last 22 years. I cannot offer anything that hasn’t already been said in praise of SMB, nor can I properly convey its importance to technology and global culture.
What I can tell you is that the first time I won SMB, I was horribly sick with the flu, and in my overly-hyper celebration, yodeled groceries directly into the box fan whirring in my grandparents’ living room. Whatever splatteriffic result you’re imagining in your head, I can assure you it was actually far worse. It still didn’t deter my celebration; how could it?
YouTube Goodness – Amazing SMB Race.
Metroid has been considered by many to be the greatest NES game ever made, for a number of reasons. The amazing weapons, storyline and unparalleled code system. The weeks of sleepless nights it took to finally take down the Mother Brain. The twist ending of having to escape the lair to avoid death, even after defeating the boss. And of course, the ultimate twist ending, revealing that our main character and bad-ass hero was actually a woman. That revelation alone transcended Metroid into the stratusphere when it comes to games that had a cultural impact, with endless sequels and legions of fans.
The first time I battled a Metroid, I distinctively remember yelping in terror. Those things were a goddamn nightmare, as I’ve always had a problem with things that latched onto other things and sucked their lives dry. Like David Spade.
YouTube Goodness – The Final Battle & Best Ending.
4. Metal Gear
The beginning of what is probably the greatest action franchise in gaming history. This one had it all: Spying. Traitors. Intrigue. Weapons galore. The glorification of cigarettes. The final twist and realization that your trusted boss has been setting you up for the fall from the very beginning, and it’s up to you to take him out once and for all. My ‘Official Metal Gear Map’ is tattered and held together exclusively with Scotch tape and memories, but thinking back to insomniac weekends spent conquering this game is the perfect definition of childhood happiness.
This game is also noted for its ‘Engrish,’ with phrases such as “The truck have started to move!” and “I feel asleep!” Oh, and you get penalized if you shoot the prisoners that you’re trying to capture, so try not to do that, even though they’re sitting there, all tied up and pathetic. Show restraint, Solid Snake (To this day, I’m still baffled that the game designers decided to name their main character after what amounts to nothing more than an erection joke).
YouTube Goodness – The Opening Levels To Metal Gear.
3. River City Ransom
River City Ransom has received a cult following and legions of devoted fans (ironically) after being named the ‘Most Underrated NES Game Of All-Time’ by Nintendo Power magazine. And as far as start-to-finish, vague storyline-driven games go, this was one of the most fun games you’ll probably ever play.
Follow the map, beat the piss out of every gang in River City and save your girlfriend. Rob the thugs, hit the stores to buy goods that will make yourself stronger. Nowadays, most games follow this structure; back in the day, River City Ransom was the only game in town. The music was tight, the locations were great, the weapons and violence were supreme and the replayability factor is off the charts. I still play this game.
YouTube Goodness – Basic Clip That Will Convince You Of RCR’s Awesomeness.
Here it is. The game that gave almost all of its fans Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The game that actually spawned a psychological after-effect known as the ‘Tetris Effect.‘ The game that is so ingrained into our minds and memories that we can actually fantasize about playing a game. Tetris deserves to sit right next to Chess and Poker as one of the greatest games in the history of mankind; a premise so simple and addictive that it changed the lives of arguably billions of people.
It’s f***ing Tetris, man!
YouTube Goodness – You’re Nowhere Near The Best Player On Earth.
1. Super Mario Bros. 3
February 12, 1990. I had just turned 8 years old one week earlier, and pooled every penny I had received as a gift and ran to Toys-R-Us. There, behind the glass, hung the greatest Nintendo game of all-time. Super Mario Bros. 3. After seeing SMB3 for the first time in Fred Savage film The Wizard the year before (and what a brilliant marketing ploy, by the way), I knew that it was my destiny to conquer this game like a five-dollar whore.
I had the strategy guide. I had the maps. I had the entire Summer to hone my craft, and indeed I did. In the Summer of 1990, I won SMB3 an astounding 100 times, something that I’d argue that nobody else has ever done. I’d get up in the morning, eat breakfast, play some basketball and win SMB3. The next day, I did the same; so on and so forth, until school was back in session.
As depressing as that may sound, it was actually quite amazing. Friends would come over and win with me. I’d win with one life. I’d win using no Warp Zones. I even won some levels by looking into a mirror. It was probably the best Summer ever.
YouTube Goodness – Mario! Mario!
Thanks for reading. Sound off in the comments section and let us know what your favorite NES games are.