Guys, do not do your list like this.
This is quite an interesting thought exercise you’ve put forward here. What are the 30 NES games I most enjoy playing today… hmmm…. You’ve given me an excellent opportunity to ramble for a little bit… try to explain to the young-un’s of today why the stuff that came before them was better than anything they have now… I hope you don’t mind….
Tier 1 (Listed in no particular order)
Even after all these years, I can’t seem to bring myself to stop playing this game. On my better days (which are becoming less and less common as the years go on and my reflexes get poorer and poorer), I can practically beat the whole game without dying. Even on my not-so-good days, I can beat it without ever having to see the continue screen. I think I enjoy this game so much because I invested so much time in mastering it. There’s a legitimate feeling of pride in being able to say that I can beat Battletoads whenever and wherever I want, be it original hardware, emulator, original controller, third-party controller, old tv, new tv, whatever. Not too many people can say that. It’s like being one of the best in the world at a particular sport, and knowing you’re one of the best.
Plus, I just love the feeling of masculine aggression that pervades every inch of this game (and its sequels, especially the arcade one). Yeah, I know our characters are humanoid toads, but there’s just something about the whole “we’ll settle our problems with our enemies by ramming our fists into their faces until they leave us alone” that never gets old to me.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 (&3)
Now this is what I’m talking about! These are the sorts of games that shaped and molded me as I grew up. Nearly twenty-five years later, I still love the Turtles, and I still love the Turtles Nintendo games. Actually, I just love beat-’em-ups, period. There’s just nothing like taking to the streets to settle your disputes with your enemies via intense physical combat. I mean, I’m glad I don’t actually have to do that in my daily life (at least, not anymore…), but I sure love experiencing it vicariously through these old games.
This is the classic example of the type of game that simply does not get made today. I think a lot of our modern game developers are simply too effeminate and too interested in making intellectual brainteasers that no one cares about to deliver a hard-hitting, smash-mouth, multiplayer beat-’em-up like these. Shame.
The Legend of Zelda
I’d honestly have to question why anybody wouldn’t have the original Zelda near the top of his list. It is just so much fun to play. I still play through it a few times every year. Yes, deciphering the cryptic clues about where to go next is annoying, but just running around the overworld and fighting monsters is so damn fun. Playing this game, Zelda 2, and A Link to the Past in consecutive order (which I just did back in June) really spotlights how far away the Zelda series has come from where it started. It also raised the eternal question: why, exactly, is Aonuma allowed to keep destroying this series time after time?
Unlike the first Zelda game, I can understand why some people (especially modern-day gamers who are experiencing the NES era through the Virtual Console or PC emulation) wouldn’t be too high on this one. It is a vastly different experience than the first Zelda game, or any other Zelda for that matter (despite many of its mechanics and inventions persisting later into the series through different forms–seriously, Zelda 2 contributed more to the basic Zelda formula than Zelda 1 did!), and there are certain aspects of its difficulty curve that are legitimately unfair. But I still love this game, and I still have a desire to play through it every so often. In fact, I just like this style of game, period. You know, the type that switch between huge overhead maps and smaller, side-scrolling zones or single screens? This style allows for a larger, more comprehensive fictional world (which is why Zelda’s 2 version of Hyrule is by far the biggest ever seen in the series) while still letting players see the important things up close and personal. More than a few of these types of games will show up on my list. And one of them is…
I got into Final Fantasy before Dragon Warrior, and I’ve never been able to enjoy any Dragon Warrior game because of that. In my opinion, Dragon Warrior sucks, and can’t hold a candle to Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy, like Zelda, is another one of those series that used to be just mind-bogglingly good… and is now so bad it’s basically a parody of itself. There is just something timeless about good Final Fantasy. I don’t think people will ever get tired of fashioning themselves into the image of a fantasy warrior (whether it be physical fighter, mage, or what have you), and going out and fighting monsters and the forces of evil. I mean, seriously. Final Fantasy, at the end of the day, is nothing but Dungeons and Dragons on a TV screen. And there is just nothing better than that. Certainly not interactive anime, which is what it’s become. Ugh. Puke. Wretch!
I have never gotten my fill of Maniac Mansion. Every year around Halloween, I bust it out and play through it a bunch of times. I love it. I love everything about it. I love the cheesy, save-the-cheerleader-from-getting-her-brains-sucked-out-by-aliens plot. I love the characters and their interactions with each other. And I love the mansion itself. And I find myself wondering, why can’t all graphic adventure games be like this? I know it has its problems, but still! So many of these types of games do all these weird things and put in weird, illogical crap that nobody cares about, and nobody can relate to. They focus so much on being “quirky” that they forget about being “good.” Maniac Mansion has its obscurities, sure, but at the end of the day, it does a better job than the vast majority of its brethren at Keeping it Simple, Stupid.
I’m going to lump these all together as a group. Some of the fondest memories of my adolescence come from the time when my classmates and I worked together to solve these games, one after another after another (we finally finished off with Myst). This was back before the Internet, before GameFAQs and Wiki and message forums (God, how I miss those days). This was even before the advent of Strategy Guides (whatever printed guides we did have back then were usually called Hint Books). It was just a bunch of teenagers lumped around a computer trying to figure out how to win these games. Some of these games definitely have a “Guess what the Developer is Thinking” sort of feel to them, but I’m so nostalgic for these experiences that I will gladly, consciously overlook some of their flaws. Plus, as you said, Shadowgate in particular has the best Game Over screen ever.
I don’t think a modern Shadowgate will work. First of all, we already know that the N64 version sucked, and I don’t have high hopes for any new iterations of this property. So much of its appeal is rooted in the spark it created in players’ imaginations. Increasing the graphical and audio fidelity will actually hinder that, and will likely expose all the flaws (and yes, there are flaws) hidden underneath.
(In case you were wondering, I did play these games on the NES, too. In fact, that’s the only way I can play them today. So they count!)
Tombs & Treasure
This is another one of those multiple-perspective-type games that I just find so appealing. The game itself actually isn’t as good as I’d like, however. This is one of those cases where the idea behind the game is more fun than the game itself. But it left a powerful impression on me, one that continues to this very day, and I still find myself giving it a whirl every now and then, usually sometime around mid-summer and again in late fall (even though I rarely manage to finish it).
Mighty Bomb Jack
Mighty Bomb Jack was one of the first NES games I ever rented, and I still haven’t beaten it fairly (meaning, on original hardware, without the use of save-states). Seriously, this game is super-duper hard! I don’t think any other game has ever caused me so much frustration, for so long, as this one. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most addictive run-‘n’-jump games I know of. Over the years I have made many vows never to play this game again, and yet, a few months later, I inevitably find myself crawling right back….
I feel a special bond with the Kirby character, since he’s the first example of a character that I predicted would be a big hit even before his first game released, which marked an important moment in my development as a content creator, promoter, and salesman (even though, with him being an official Nintendo character, it wasn’t exactly a difficult call). The moment I saw Kirby’s Dream Land previewed in Nintendo Power, I wanted it, and I expected there to be more Kirby games to come. To this day, I still hold his NES game to be one of his best ones. Whenever I want to play a Kirby game (which is often, especially now that I have seven 6-and-unders running around), this tends to be the one I gravitate to (although the two Kirby games on Wii were both very good).
Mega Man 1 – 6
Personally, I think the Mega Man games are the best non-Nintendo action/platform games ever. I’ve played these games so many times–played them in order, played them out of order, played them back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back, played them in reverse, played them interchangeably, played levels of one, then levels of another, played parts of one game on a Saturday morning, played parts of another game on a Sunday evening, etc.–that I can no longer separate them in my brain. They’re just “Mega Man” to me. And I still think Mega Man is one of the coolest concepts ever created by the mind of man. It’s basically a boy’s dream series. A kid from the near future gets turned into a super-robot and saves the world by blasting enemies with his arm cannon before absorbing their powers? How much more appealing to a kid’s imagination can a single idea be? The only reason why these games didn’t make the cut for my first tier is that I actually like the Super NES and Playstation 1 Mega Man games better, and I go back to those even more often than I do the original six. The extra buttons on those controllers grant a greater versatility to the controls (especially changing weapons) that makes the overall experience much more fluid and more enjoyable, since you don’t have to go to the menu every time you want to change items. But the NES ones are so damn good, too….
Super Mario Bros.
I don’t know if there is a better game out there to just pop in and play whenever I feel like it. I can play through the whole thing in a handful of minutes, so it’s pretty much the perfect fallback game for when I can’t decide what else I want to play. Playing Super Mario Bros. reminds me of just how essential this game (and this series) is to Nintendo’s entire existence. With all due respect to RPG’s, shooters, fighters, and everything else, the 2D platformer is simply the quintessential type of video game, and Super Mario Bros. is the quintessential 2D platformer. Why Nintendo doesn’t want to make these games is unfathomable beyond all words.
Super Mario Bros. 2
Everything I said about Super Mario Bros. also applies here, except for two things: 1) it takes longer to play through this game, so I don’t do it quite as often; and 2) the whole Sub-Con area is such an interesting take on the Mario Universe and I can’t help wishing Nintendo hadn’t explained it all away as being just a dream, thus giving themselves a reason never to go back to it. The ability to choose characters who each had functional differences should’ve become standard in all future Mario games. It’s astounding that it took over twenty-five years for Nintendo to do that again.
I went back recently and watched all the DuckTales episodes (at least, the ones available on DVD). Over the last twenty years I have remembered DuckTales primarily through the first NES game. DuckTales the Game is such a good representation of DuckTales the Show. It’s another one of those games where I can just sit back and play it whenever I feel like it. And the music is so good. Not just the Moon music, all of it. It’s one of very few games that I would play just to hear the music (I’m as tone-deaf as anyone who has ever walked the earth).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
There is just something about this style of game–large overhead map with zoomed-in side-scrolling areas–that I cannot resist. Even though the first NES Turtles game isn’t even close to being in the same league as the other two, and even though it does a pretty piss-poor job of actually being a Turtles game (despite the sprites and a couple of the cutscenes), I still find myself strangely drawn to it. I’ve only ever beaten it once in my life, and that happened many moons ago. But I don’t care. I usually never even make it past the first level (saving April is the only goal in that game that I actually feel motivated to do–nothing quite gets this red-blooded male’s heart racing quite like a damsel in distress), but I still can’t keep from playing it every once in a while.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m a sucker for these types of perspective-switching games. I like this one especially because it’s set in a modern-day city (albeit a toon one), where you can go into apartment buildings and night clubs and things like that. The game itself isn’t very good, and I never got any enjoyment out of the franchise tie-in because I’ve never seen the movie, but I just like starting the game up every now and then and walking around town like I’m an old-fashioned private eye. When I play this game, I usually make up the case as I go. I wish there were more games like this. Better ones, too.
Personally, I think this is the coolest spy game ever made. It’s hard as hell, but hey, no one ever said life as a spy was easy. And there’s no way I can resist rushing to the rescue of a sexy secret agent girl who’s been kidnapped, tied up, and tortured. That’s the sort of motivation that compels me to beat the bad guys and finish the game, no matter how damn tough it may be.
Super Mario Bros. 3
This one goes below the previous two since it’s so much longer and it’s harder to play through it in a single sitting. In fact, prior to the release of Mario All-Stars on the SNES, which added a save feature to all the games, I only ever played the game through completely once. Every other time I needed the warp whistle to skip large chunks of the game, which annoyed me, because I wanted to play all the levels, but it simply took too long. This game really needed password support, in my opinion. Still, SMB 3 added so much to the Mario mythos that I personally believe it’s still the primary reason why Super Mario is so popular. Expanding the Mushroom Kingdom into the Mushroom World, which was made up of many different kingdoms, and then giving Bowser a crew to conquer each world (and yes, they are still his kids, dammit!) is such a good idea. I honestly don’t believe anybody who wasn’t there in 1990 can truly comprehend just how much of a milestone Super Mario Bros. 3 really was. It’s such a shame that Nintendo never properly expanded on the Mushroom Kingdom. My guess is that, deep down, they knew they could never top it, and thus they never bothered to try.
Mike Tyson’s Punch Out
On some level, I don’t really need this one anymore since Punch-Out Wii is so far superior, but I would be remiss in my duties not to include it on the list for one simple reason: I have still never beaten Mike Tyson. This is the only video game in the history of the world that I could never beat, but that my older brother could. He still likes bringing this humiliation up every now and then. Even today, he can still beat Mike Tyson, and I still can’t. Until I beat Mike Tyson, I cannot put this one up for good.
Clash at Demonhead
One of the most inscrutable games ever. I have never finished this game. I have never “cracked its code,” so to speak. I still don’t what the hell it’s about, or what’s going on. I have no idea what any of the moves do. I have no idea how to make my way across the map properly. I have no idea what sort of nonsense the characters keep babbling in all the cutscenes that keep randomly popping up. I don’t know what my problem is, what’s keeping me from figuring this game out. But I don’t care. All I need to know is that it’s good, solid fun. Even the game’s title, “Clash at Demonhead,” grabs my attention and won’t let go. The game itself has a hold on me that I’ve never been able to properly articulate. So it has to go on the list.
I’ve spent the last twenty years reminding myself this game exists. By the time it was out, I had long since stopped paying attention to DuckTales, and I never felt compelled to track this game down until relatively recently. Now I alternate between this and the first DuckTales in my rotation. It’s not really as good as the first one, but there’s just something about a good, clean NES game that controls solidly and can be finished cleanly in one sitting that I’ll never pass up.
This is kind of a tough game for me to play these days, since I spot so many problems with it that it’s distracting. But it was one of my first NES games, and it’s still one I play through with regularity. The biggest thing I like about this game, ironically, is the part that most people seem to dislike: Minnie. As with many other games on this list, the redblooded male in me gets a kick out of the idea of having to lead a somewhat helpless female through a dangerous, enemy-filled, combat zone with creatures that are actively out to kidnap her… even if said female is a cartoon mouse.
I’ll be the first to admit this game isn’t very good. And yet, nearly every year, sometime around late May or early June, I find myself drawn to it. Like Tombs and Treasure from Tier 1, the premise of this game is more intriguing than the actual game is good, and I put up with it for a few weeks every year solely because of that. The box art alone had me hooked as a child. What can I say? I like saving damsels in distress.
Back to the Future Parts 2 & 3
Another example of a not-so-good game that has managed to imprint itself permanently in my consciousness. It seems like I am bound to this game by invisible chains. No matter how many times I swear I am done with it, I find myself booting it back up and giving it another go-round a few months later. There’s something about navigating the streets of Hill Valley that I find compelling. It’s hard for me to say exactly what it is. I don’t even think of it as a Back to the Future game. I just look at it as a game where a dude has to find his way through the streets of his city to find his goal (whatever that may be). I’ve finished Part 2 a grand total of one time, and I’ve never finished Part 3 at all. I doubt the ending is worth it. And yet, I can assure you that sometime this October, I’ll find myself playing it yet again….
There were a bunch of games that were all competing for the last spot on my list, but in the end, I went with the mother of all beat-’em-ups, Double Dragon. This game, perhaps more than any other, captures the spirit of everything I want in my testosterone-laden video games. A rival gang punches your girlfriend in the stomach and makes off with her? This isn’t a job for the police; it’s a job for your fists and feet! And whatever weapons you can grab along the way. Although there are a ton of beat-’em-ups that I think are better than this one, I have never been able to put Double Dragon away for good.
Whew! That was tough. I had to say no to a bunch of games I really enjoy (including, but by no means limited to, Little Nemo, Skate or Die 2, Kid Icarus, VICE: Project Doom, and more), but these would be my top 30 most played NES games today in 2014. I hope this list, and the blurbs behind each game, was informative and instructional, both to you and to whoever might read this email, assuming you decide to post it.
Some nice thoughts on the games.
For those reading…
-Do not use multiple emails to send one list.
-Do not list multiple games for one slot (If you want all the Mega Man games, then you use six slots).
-Explaining why is fine. Just don’t let it get too long.