What are the ten best NES games to play now?

September 25, 2011

Everyone does Top 10 Games lists. The problem with those? Usually, they’re full of games that earn a place because of nostalgia or industry significance. Here at Snackbar Games, we like being a little more practical: if you’re looking to just have fun, what games should you pick up a controller and play today? Our new series, Best To Play Now, explores these games that hold up better than the rest. In our inaugural installment, we’re looking at the venerable Nintendo Entertainment System.

Andrew Passafiume: More than any other game on this list, Punch-Out!! is almost entirely about mechanics. And when an old game is all about mechanics, it will either work or it won’t. Thankfully, the game’s mechanics have aged wonderfully, allowing for it to become less of a boxing game and more of a puzzle game. It’s about timing and memorization and all of these functions still perform wonderfully today, perhaps even arguably more so than any other game on this list. This is still one of the best games on Nintendo’s first home console for a reason.

Matthew Jay: Sometimes a formula just works. Mega Man helped popularize the run n’ gun/platformer genre on the NES, but it was Mega Man 2 that perfected it with tighter controls and pushing the limits of the NES hardware. In fact it broke this type of gameplay down to such a science that we’re still happy with getting practically the same thing with the most recent entries in the series Mega Man 9 and 10. Even though the series has stayed around for such an incredibly long time, no Mega Man game has been able to top the Blue Bomber’s second adventure.

Graham Russell: The beat-em-up genre had several fine representatives on the NES, but River City Ransom has just a bit more depth than its peers. With the teamwork aspects, the shops and that signature visual style, it’s a lot more fun to go back to than Double Dragon and Battletoads. If you’ve been fond of the title for a while (or you’re just discovering it now), you may want to check out two other Kunio-kun games to release in the West: Super Dodge Ball and Nintendo World Cup. This is definitely the cream of the crop, though.

Andrew Passafiume: Kirby has had many different adventures, but his first on a console is still fondly remembered as the one that established most of what we think of today when we think of a Kirby game. Memorable enemies, cool powers, and a mechanic that, even today, can be used in unique ways. Sure, Kirby’s Adventure may have just laid the foundation for the series, but that doesn’t make it any less of a great game today. You won’t find another game like it on the NES.

Matthew Jay: Going back to the first Super Mario Bros. game now can be a little underwhelming. It’s easy to see why it was such a success and helped skyrocket Nintendo to gaming godliness, but Mario 3 is where things really kicked into gear. In Mario 3, the seeds were planted to take a simple platforming series and turn it into an adventure. With additions like an overworld map, minigames, new bosses and powerups and even an inventory, all Mario 3 was missing was a save function to be perfect. (Luckily, that was added in the Mario All-Stars collection on SNES.)

Andrew Passafiume: Striking a very delicate balance between difficulty and pure fun value, Ninja Gaiden II accomplishes something its predecessor completely fails at: becoming a game that is as much about challenge as it is pure entertainment. The game doesn’t feel cheap or difficult just to be difficult; there is legitimacy to how each platform is placed and where each enemy spawns that was lacking in the original. It becomes more forgiving than the first, but doesn’t lose the challenge that the series is famous for. The first may have established a lot of groundwork for future iterations in the series (and for action platformers in general), but the sequel improves upon that basic formula in the best ways possible.

Gerry Pagan: A title that often goes unnoticed when compared to Capcom’s other hallmark NES series, Bionic Commando did many right things when it comes to keeping things fresh in a crowded genre. Because most movement is entirely dependent on swinging instead of jumping, they managed to set some incredibly clever platforming segments which require a great deal of twitch-based reactions, momentum and, in some cases, patience.

Graham Russell: Most have followed Link on his quest to save Hyrule, but not many have enjoyed the saga of Mike Jones and his adventures on C-Island. It’s a peculiar game; developed by Japanese living in the U.S. and intended for only an American release, it plays like a true successor to the original Zelda’s simple puzzle-dungeon gameplay. Oh, and there’s jumping. So, you know, take that. (Want to dig deeper? The game got a 1994 sequel, Zoda’s Revenge.)

Gerry Pagan: Metal Storm was released in 1991 to total obscurity, as developer Irem was never a popular company in the US. Its main gameplay feature, the ability to reverse gravity at will (which wasn’t popularized until 2010’s VVVVVV), added an interesting change to the typical action platformer formula most NES games followed, with platforming that requiring some quick thinking and on the fly puzzle solving. The game is also beatifully animated, with fluid sprite movement and detailed moving stage backgrounds which get more intense as you progress in the game. It’s unfortunately remained as obscure today as it was when it was released, but it’s still one of the better action experiences on the platform.

Matthew Jay: One of the hallmarks of classic gaming is insane difficulty. In order to progress through most games, players would have to memorize a level after repeating it over and over and over again. No game is remembered and beloved for this design style more than Castlevania. It’s not hard because it’s cheap. Castlevania is crafted to give the player something more than just moving forward and hitting the A button when appropriate. In Castlevania, you must stop and think about your strategy rather than blindly running into a situation and flailing your whip. Sequences like the hallway to Death filled with Medusa heads and undead knights haunt gamers after they’ve been burned into our brains from hours of repetition. But something about this game keeps you coming back. You can get mad all you want, but it’s never the game itself angering you. You just need to get better.

Those are our picks. Agree? Disagree? Let us know your thoughts!