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Feature: Nintendo Life's Staff Favourites - NES

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Let's begin at the beginning

One thing you may have noticed, if you're a regular visitor to Nintendo Life, is that we're more than happy to wear our retro-enthusiast, rose-tinted spectacles as often as possible. A merger with VC-Reviews in April 2009 is an important part of our history, and we often share entertaining blasts from the past and wax lyrical on retro classics. It's also one of the big appeals of being a Nintendo gamer, in that there's a lot of history to call upon, providing a significant context to why some of us are such keen gamers on the big N's consoles.

Of course, thanks to the Wii and 3DS Virtual Consoles, you don't need to be of a certain age — or a dedicated retro collector — to enjoy the best of what Nintendo's older systems have to offer. With that in mind, this is the first of a new series where our increasingly diverse and sizable team votes on its favourites from a variety of retro games systems. There'll be a focus on Nintendo hardware, of course, but we will indulge ourselves and dive off into other Virtual Console territories as well.

All members of staff were invited to submit their favourite 10 NES games, in order; there were no limits on sequels — no "one game per franchise" rule here — and we've tallied up the scores for the results below. In total 47 games were nominated by 14 staffers, showing that we weren't short of contenders.

Below are the results, and in some cases the scoring was close enough to prompt tied positions; it was a fierce contest.


Kicking off our countdown is the final part of the NES Castlevania trilogy, a title that moved back to the action-focus of the series debut, but threw in multiple playable characters to shake things up. It's a gruelling, challenging title, and is in our view the best of the NES titles in the franchise.

Very much a representation of arcade action/puzzle gameplay at its best. It's simple but challenging, with power-ups for variety, along with a catchy audio loop to drive you slightly mad when you can't get it out of your head...

Although this one has had the 3D Classics treatment on Nintendo's latest handheld, its NES original was still angelic enough to earn some votes. A rather tough platform puzzler that'll take every chance to seize your lives, it had plenty of references in the recent Kid Icarus: Uprising — quite right, too.

A few Mega Man titles were in the running, but it was the first sequel that blasted its way into the top 10. It was a marked step up from the series debut — which was nevertheless excellent — and set the tone for the series as a whole. Packed with classic robot monsters and memorable moments, it's a welcome place in the list for the Blue Bomber.

With this we refer, of course, to the sequel that we received in the West, not what would become Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, which was the Japanese sequel. Its origins as Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic are evident in just how different this is from all other Super Mario Bros. titles, but that does nothing to stop it being an excellent NES game.

The title that started a major franchise and introduced the world to a new heroine, which was a surprise in a time when female lead characters weren't exactly common. Its successors on more powerful hardware are perhaps regarded with more fondness, but that says nothing against what's still a worthwhile experience on the 8-bit system.

Considering the votes were taken before news of Ducktales: Remastered emerged, it shows that this title is there on merit rather than as a result of keeping up with the times. Its non-linear action platforming and classic music make it a must for those yet to dive in.

Kirby as a character may not have originally been considered a potential star when first conceived — the story goes that he was a placeholder, initally — but he's become an iconic Nintendo mascot. This NES adventure has also had the 3D Classics treatment, and though some may consider it "easy", it has an effortless charm and fun factor that fully merits its status as our fifth favourite NES title.

While its original title had the name of infamous boxer Mike Tyson, his misdemeanors led to a rebrand as Punch Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream; its name isn't particularly important, but what matters is the fact that this is a compulsive, addictive game that demands quick reflexes and sharp "twitch" memory. Easy-peasy at the start, brutally difficult by the time you go for the big prize, and full of iconic characters and moments,

A title that arguably, like no other, solidified the early success and appeal of the NES when it was released in the West. It can easily be used as a Platforming 101, which went a long way to define the sidescrolling genre that would take over gaming for multiple generations of consoles. It's the game that made Mario a star, and is still a blast to play today.

A classic that started one of Nintendo's best-loved and prominent franchises, The Legend of Zelda needs no introduction. In an era where many games took place over a few screens, it provided gamers with a large, fantastical world to explore. Its place in gaming and pop-culture lore is guaranteed due to its various quirks and memorable moments, while laying the foundations for diverse, bold adventure titles on the system.

If Super Mario Bros. is the iconic beginning of the famous franchise, this title came along to take that starting point and expand it with a large set of worlds, diverse level designs and a whole new outlook on the genre. With levels going left, right, up and down at will, secrets to discover and a significant list of innovative and delightful power ups, this truly is a game that defined the 8-bit generation. Typically rated as one of the very best Mario games, of any kind, and a runaway winner in this staff poll.


So there you have it, our favourite NES games here on Nintendo Life. You can vote for your own choice from this list in the poll below; be sure to keep an eye on the site in the coming days, as you may very well get a chance to vote for your own community favourites in the near future.

Which of the NL Staff's NES list is your favourite? (263 votes)

Super Mario Bros. 3

39%

The Legend of Zelda

22%

Super Mario Bros.

7%

Punch-Out!!

  2%

Kirby's Adventure

  2%

DuckTales

  3%

Metroid

5%

Super Mario Bros. 2

  3%

Mega Man 2

7%

Kid Icarus

  2%

Bubble Bobble

  3%

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse

  3%

Sorry, I can't vote for any of these...

  2%

Please login to vote in this poll.

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User Comments (93)

Squashie

#1

Squashie said:

It's great to see Bubble Bobble on there! It's a great game, still, SMB. 3 deserves it's top spot.

Tertis

#3

Tertis said:

I like how I was the first one to vote for a gane that isn't SMB3.

Kevin

#4

Kevin said:

Good list despite Mega Man II being on instead of III (II is overrated IMO), Contra not being picked and SMB3 being ranked above Zelda. (Yawn) Here's my Top 10 NES Games:
1. The Legend of Zelda
2. Super Mario Bros.
3. Super Mario Bros. 3
4. Contra
5. Punch-Out!!
6. The Guardian Legend
7. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
8. Dragon Warrior III
9. Metroid
10. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse

Deathgaze

#5

Deathgaze said:

Great list, SMB3 gets my vote. My top 10:

10. Wizards and Warriors III
9. Mega Man 2
8. Zelda
7. Castlevania III
6. Battletoads
5. SMB
4. Contra/Probotector
3. Punch Out!!
2. Zelda II
1. SMB3

CapnPancakes

#6

CapnPancakes said:

People still like the original Legend of Zelda? It's aged horribly in my opinion, I much prefer the second game but each to their own.

Deathgaze

#8

Deathgaze said:

@CapnPancakes No disrespect but your profile says you're 16. You're an N64 kid not a NES kid. You would have never played NES in it's prime so you cannot state how it's "aged" from an objective point of view.

rezyac

#9

rezyac said:

1.Castlevania III
2.Castlevania III
3.Castlevania III
4.Castlevania III
5.Castlevania III
6.Castlevania III
7.Castlevania III
8.Castlevania III
9.Castlevania III
10.Castlevania III
11Castlevania one

rezyac

#10

rezyac said:

im 31 and its aged lol, nar i didn't like it then and i don't like it know, and i collect zelda games :)

rezyac

#11

rezyac said:

i thin its just me but i dont like any of the main games Mario, zelda, thinkgs like that i much rather play ninja gaiden, castlevania, turtles 2, then zelda when it started on the game boy color from then on not one bad game in the whole colection, i know it was great for people at the time but for me meeeee and i have 5 copys lol

alandd

#12

alandd said:

Swap smb 2 for rc pro am or cobra triangle
Bought smb 2 on release back in 89..
Awful...no hidden items.

baba_944

#13

baba_944 said:

Ah Super Mario Bros. 3. With it's Raccoon suit, Fire Flower, cool secrets, powerful enemies, multiple pathways, you just can't do that with Mario anymore. (Besides Super Mario World.) SMB3's my 2nd all time favorite game. First is Rayman 2

retro_player_22

#14

retro_player_22 said:

My top 10 are these:

10. Princess Tomato in Salad Kingdom
9. Castlevania III
8. Dragon Warrior IV
7. Contra
6. Ninja Gaiden
5. Rygar
4. Super Mario Bros. 3
3. Kirby's Adventure
2. Mega Man II
1. Crystalis

Deathgaze

#17

Deathgaze said:

@rezyac There's a difference between aged and aged poorly. I'm not defending Zelda at all saying it hasn't aged badly. Simply put I said he word doesn't hold much merit considering he wasn't around at the time.

I love popping in my original Zelda, I think it's a great game still to this day and an absolute classic. Yeah sure it's aged some-what-poorly in my opinion, but so has 99% of the NES library.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#19

Philip_J_Reed said:

I'd just like to mention that it was absolute torture to narrow this down to 10! The NES was such a brilliant system...and probably in my top 3 systems ever. Fantastic library.

Hunter-D

#21

Hunter-D said:

Never had a NES, nor have I played Castlevania III, Bubble Bobble, Mega Man II & Duck Tales, but I still agree with top 5.

SparkOfSpirit

#23

SparkOfSpirit said:

Great picks, the NES is one of my favorite systems. Other favorites:

River City Ransom
Mega Man 3
Rockin' Kats
Little Samson
Double Dragon II
Contra
Chip n Dale Rescue Rangers
GUN NAC
Contra
Ninja Gaiden II

There are too many classics.

theberrage

#25

theberrage said:

And now for The Top 10 Worst NES Games
10) The Black Bass
9) Mappy-Land
8) Robodemons
7) Barbie
6) Tagin' Dragon
5) Star Voyager
4) Cliffhanger
3) Monster Truck Rally
2) Shockwave
1) Tag Team Wrestling

seronja

#26

seronja said:

my top 10 fav. goes like this:
1) metroid
2) super mario bros. 3
3) the legend of zelda
4) mega man 2
5) castlevania 3
6) DuckTales
7) battle toads
8) double dragon 2
9) kyrbie's adventure
10) contra

Shiryu

#28

Shiryu said:

My first Nintendo console (besides the Donkey Kong Game & Watch) was the Game Boy followed by the SNES. This is mostly because I had a Commodore amiga before that, so I missed the NES entirely during my childhood. I was glad to be able to experience it later in life, via both emulation and the real hardware. Those are some very fine choices and like I beleive everyone voted for "Super Mario Bros 3" because it summons brilliantly what could be done with the system at it's peak. Here are some more games I've spent way more time playing then I spend playing games of today:

  • Ice hockey
  • Ninja Gaiden
  • Blades of Steel
  • Gradius
  • River City Ransom (scratch that, every game with Kunio in it)
  • Blaster Master
  • Strider
  • Shadow of the Ninja
  • Bionic Command
  • Battle City
  • Excite Bike

Wow, I better stop right there, because this list could go on and on...

LDXD

#30

LDXD said:

1- The Legend of Zelda
2- Metroid
3-Battle of Olympus
4- Crystalis
5- kid Icarus
6- Castlevania 2 Simons Quest
7- Castlevania 3 Dracuala's Curse
8- Faxanadu
9- Star Tropics
10-Final Fantasy

Kirk

#32

Kirk said:

If there was ever a platform where the best game on the system is clear-cut it would be the NES and Super Mario Bros 3.

Classic system along with a timeless gaming masterpiece.

LDXD

#34

LDXD said:

@retro_player_22 have you ever played or herd of a game called evil quest on pc or Xbox live? If you love crystalis you will love that game, great story also it's like $1 well worth it

Tasuki

#35

Tasuki said:

Nice picks there. So many choices to choose from but in the end I had to go with Mega Man 2, since it seems that whenever I dont know what I want to play that game ends up being the one I pick out to run through again.

WaveWarlock

#36

WaveWarlock said:

SMB.2 > SMB.3 ;)

The only title i don't feel that's worthy of being on the list is Kirby's Adventure.
Anyhoo, the Nes still remains as my favorite console of all time. It was my first, and it gave birth to so many amazing franchises. Super Mario, Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, Punch-Out!!, Metroid, Contra, Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden ect ect. :D This is the console that started it all, and it was part of the most amazing decade ever that i hold dearly to my heart. tee hee.

aaronsullivan

#40

aaronsullivan said:

@Ryno
Bubble Bobble, Kirby's Adventure and Punch Out surprised me by being on the list or how high on the list they were. Seems like an honest list which I'll take over needlessly controversial any day.

SuperKMx

#41

SuperKMx said:

@aaronsullivan @Ryno - Seconded, Aaron. Why run with controversy when you're supposed to be showing what people actually think? I think the list is interesting, even though I voted on it. :)

KAHN

#43

KAHN said:

i'm disappointed we got such a crappy selection of NES games for the ambassador program. we could have easily gotten a list like this.

hydeks

#48

hydeks said:

completely agree with this list, my favourite out of the ones you guys picked is Super Mario Bros 3, of course

@sym1 I love StarTropics, I'm still one of those people hoping for a third game, but we have to face it, it only has a cult following.

SparkOfSpirit

#49

SparkOfSpirit said:

How are you supposed to surprise with a best of NES list? The best games have been well known for decades now.

Geonjaha

#50

Geonjaha said:

There are just too many good games for the NES. I'd agree with this list to an extent - but Metroid has aged so much compared to games of other franchises it just plays terribly nowadays, and I haven't actually tried Bubble Bobble.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#51

Philip_J_Reed said:

Errrrrr where is Startropics?

It was represented on several of our individual lists, mine included, but I guess it didn't rack up quite enough points. Still a great game, though!

Rerun

#52

Rerun said:

Glad to see Mega Man 2 is there not 3. IMHO 2 had the best powers and usable in game (Metal Blade, anyone?)

CastleVania 3 was better on the FAMICOM. Grant's daggers were projectiles!

Why no Ninja Gaiden? That was had one of the tightest controls and best cutscenes on the NES?

No Love for Contra either.

Gamesake

#53

Gamesake said:

Metal Storm? Wizards and Warriors II? Solar Jetman?

I agree with the top two at least.

idork99

#54

idork99 said:

Voted for Super Mario Bros. This title didn't save Nintendo like Donkey Kong did, but it took them to the next level and hasn't looked back since.

CapnPancakes

#55

CapnPancakes said:

@Deathgaze
I can't say how I felt about the game back when it came out, but from a modern perspective I just don't think the game is that fun to play. If is one of the most influential games out there for sure, but I'm just saying I don't see the appeal. This is coming from someone who legitimately likes Zelda II so i'ts not like I hate Retro games either.

WaveWarlock

#57

WaveWarlock said:

Kirby's Adventure(severely overrated) and Bubble Bobble(magical, yet boring) OUT.
TMNT II: The Arcade Game and Contra IN.

With Ninja Gaiden taking the #11 spot. ;)

RantingThespian

#58

RantingThespian said:

Super Mario Bros. 3 is the GREATEST game ever made. The second greatest being MYST (with RIVEN: The Sequel To MYST being 3rd).

JMDS

#59

JMDS said:

I've got ONE WORD for you...one word...that sounds like two words...

Shatterhand.

RevolverLink

#60

RevolverLink said:

That list is in dire need of some Bionic Commando and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, but you did get #1 right, at least. :p

Zombie_Barioth

#61

Zombie_Barioth said:

What, no love for Ice Climber?:p
Can't say I'm too surprised by the result, not that its a bad thing. NES games haven't aged too well graphically (not counting art style) but they're still fun to play and thats what counts.

Emaan

#63

Emaan said:

Super Mario Bros. 3 was my first game, albeit in its GBA remake form, but I still am glad to have started my video game journey with such a masterpiece. Kirby's Adventure is a stellar game as well.

Bones00

#64

Bones00 said:

I would love to see a NintendoLife staffer or even a member such as myself post a let's play video of some of these games. I personally would love to see a Castlevania III run.

Ren

#65

Ren said:

I think this needs more like a top 50. These are all well deserved titles here, nice to see Bubble Bobble there. Someone beat me to my Rare favorites, RC Pro Am and Cobra Triangle. I'd pay a mint to play Cobra Triangle again now. Also the Wizards and Warriors games, Blaster master, Contra, Super Dodge Ball, 4-player Super Off-Road. Seems I'm the only one who loved the original Ninja Turtles despite it's problems. About 3/4's of all the Capcom NES games were Brilliant too. Also Shadow of the Ninja, Ninja Gaiden 2, Double Dragon 2, Adventure Island, the Tengen Tetris (best version), Strider, Gradius/ Life Force, Golgo 13, A Boy and his Blob, Blaster Master, River City Ransom. oh, god there are more. So much goodness, so much lost in time and license land. My sister got a Wii when I told her you could download "any of" the old NES games and then was really mad when she said theres nothing on there but mario games and dumb stuff. It's silly she thought it really meant all of them but I can understand if I thought I could have all that stuff again for a minute I'd be upset to just see mario and Zelda too. It's crazy but I really liked something about Dr Jekyl and Mr. Hyde too; horrible game, maybe I should have gotten out more.

Ren

#66

Ren said:

Agreed with the people who ask now and again if you guys would do some videos. Be nice to do some retro reviews or fun comparison videos or something. I'd be glad to help in any way (graphics, production, etc.)

Zeldalover

#69

Zeldalover said:

#1 Super Mario Bros. 3 (is of SNES quality!)
#2 Mega Man 3 (The sliding ability, the four Doc Robot stages, Proto Man, Rush)
#3 Mega Man 2 (No comment needed)
#4 Metroid (Required constant exploration combined with good platforming skills)
#5 Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (Branching paths, atmospheric soundtrack, multiple characters with unique abilities...)
#6 Contra / Super C
#7 Mega Man 4
#8 Super Mario Bros. (Those high-jumps, low-jumps, mid-jumps..)
#9 The Legend of Zeda (Created a good sense of progression and featured a second quest option)
#10 Kirby's Adventure

Gameday

#70

Gameday said:

Man put Super Street Fighter 2010 "The Final Fight"
Then we are talking lol but yea mario 3 is just too classic and memorable for its own good had to vote for that one.

JJtheTexan

#71

JJtheTexan said:

1. Super Mario Bros. 3
2. Crystalis
3. Tetris
4. The Legend of Zelda
5. Final Fantasy
6. Kirby's Adventure
7. Mega Man 2
8. Golf
9. Super Mario Bros.
10. DuckTales

Inazuma_Pikpik

#72

Inazuma_Pikpik said:

1. The Legend of Zelda
2. Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link
3. Kid Icarus
4. Super Mario Bros. 3
5. Metroid
6. Kirby's Adventure
7. Ninja Gaiden
8. Ice Climber
9. Punch Out!!
10. StarTropics

IrishCatholic

#75

IrishCatholic said:

It was hard for me to choose between Metroid and Legend of Zelda. Such great memories of being in 8th grade and playing on my 13" color RCA, lol.
Btw, you guys (NL staff) incorrectly stated that Mike Tyson's name was removed due to legal trouble (rape conviction), but it actually was because the contract expired. The rape occurred a few years later. See ^ "Bulletin Board – Nintendo Classics Reissued!". Nintendo Power (18): 96. November–December 1990.

Ryno

#76

Ryno said:

1) Gargoyle's Quest II: Demon Darkness
2) Castlevania III
3) Mega Man 2
4) Ninja Gaiden
5) Crystalis
6) Metroid
7) Bionic Commando
8) The Legend of Zelda
9) Startropics
10) The Magic of Scheherazade

NintyMan

#77

NintyMan said:

Super Mario Bros. 3 is easily my favorite NES game, and also my favorite 2D Mario game. The pick-up-and-play feel, the diverse worlds and enemies, the power-ups, the introduction of Koopalings, and the music are all notable.

Tornado

#78

Tornado said:

I'm very glad Kid Icarus made the list! Wish StarTropics 2 had appeared, though.

WOLFER

#79

WOLFER said:

No Contra..!?? I would switch SMB2 in place... but other than that the list looks fine... Haha... But for real, Contra, a game port that was better than the arcade port itself is not on the list... COME ON....

Shade_Man

#80

Shade_Man said:

10. Darkwing Duck
9. Double Dragon 2: The Revenge
8. Little Nemo: The Dream Master
7. Contra
6. Ducktales
5. Castlevania
4. Mega Man 3
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: The Manhattan Project
2. Super Mario Bros. 3
1. The Legend of Zelda

Honorable Mentions:

Zoda's Revenge: Startropics 2 (secretly way better than its more remembered predecessor)
Mega Man 6 (secretly the most ambitious and fun Mega Man game after 3)

rodoubleb

#82

rodoubleb said:

I find Kid Icarus to be a very strange choice for any one's NES top ten list. It's not a bad game but there are so many other really great games.

Duck Tales is a great game but it kind of seems like people are influenced by whats in the news lately.

advance_melee

#83

advance_melee said:

good top 10 list!

heres mine

1. Super Mario Bros 3
2. Punch out
3. adventure island 2
4. G.I. Joe
5. Super Mario Bros
6. Super Mario Bros 2
7. Double Dragon
8. World Class Track Meet/ Duck Hunt
9. Kung Fu
10. Bases Loaded

cbrian5

#85

cbrian5 said:

The games listed on the list are all great games that I would play if I had the gaming systems for them:)

MrL1193

#86

MrL1193 said:

I have to agree that the list was predictable, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. Super Mario Bros. 3 is certainly a good choice for #1, and you can't go wrong with classics like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., and Kirby.

On the other hand, I am rather tired of seeing Mega Man 2 hog all the glory on lists like these; it's honestly one of my least favorite Mega Man games. Perhaps it's partly because Mega Man 2 was one of the games I didn't get to play as a kid (I only had 3, 4, and 6), but when I finally got to play it on VC, I really wasn't that impressed. I'd rather take Mega Man 4 any day.

xj0462

#88

xj0462 said:

10:super mario bros.3
9:xevious
8:zanac
7:donkey kong
6:gradius
5:SMB:the lost levels
4:metroid
3:kid icarus
2:legend of zelda
1:super mario bros.

SirQuincealot

#90

SirQuincealot said:

i dunno super mario bros raccoon edition, kinda just felt lie mario on easy mode, they already had a game where you couldjst fly over all the hard parts... it was called kirby

SirQuincealot

#91

SirQuincealot said:

@Peacock yeah i got the aniversery collection, and i def prefer the later ones (4/5) they did some coolstuff and the levels werent super clihed at that point
mega man 2 and 3 were probobly really good for there time but since every platformer since than has taken cues from them they seem kinda old and re hashed (which i know is unfair but whatevs)

ACK

#93

ACK said:

Way late, bit that won't stop me from chiming in:
1. Contra, 2. SMB3, 3. Zanac, 4. Punchout!!, 5. Castlevania 3, 6. Mega Man 2, 7. Crystalis, 8. DuckTales, 9. The Guardian Legend, 10. Little Nemo, 11. Kid Icarus, 12. TMNT 2 13. Strider

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