17. Gradius (NES)
The NES port of Konami's influential shmup, what it lacks in looks it makes up for with gameplay that captures the arcade original well. Shmup fans will have played it to death in better form elsewhere, but for shmup newbies Gradius for NES could be a decent way to start exploring a large and impenetrable genre.
16. Excitebike (NES)
The existence of VS. Excitebike makes the original Excitebike somewhat superfluous, but it's here for completionists. Providing a deceptively deep 8-bit ride that plays with acceleration and the pitch of your bike as you land, we'd say it's definitely worth a spin. We just like VS. a bit better.
This beat 'em up sequel came complete with the all-important two-player component missing from the first game on NES, and while Bimmy and Jimmy's brawling is unlikely to stick with you for long, the ability to get a friend involved in the fight makes Double Dragon II: The Revenge the pick of the pair.
A radical departure from the template of the first game, Zelda II has enjoyed something of a reappraisal in recent years. It's an inscrutable game and one about which we wouldn't feel bad in the slightest using the rewind function, but it's worth persevering with. In a series that, in the past, risked turning into a by-the-numbers adventure through slavishly sticking to a formula, this first sequel was anything but a repetition.
A game which stands apart in Nintendo's back catalogue, StarTropics melds elements of Zelda, the Mother series and classic RPGs to make something different. It isn't entirely successful and is let down by its controls, but it's well worth making a trip to C-Island via Nintendo Switch Online, if only to see a rare game from Nintendo which didn’t get a dozen follow-ups (although it did get a single sequel).
Also known as Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan, this was once ‘the grail’ for gamers in the West who knew the first game back-to-front and wanted more of a challenge. The Lost Levels certainly provides that, and for that reason it’s best enjoyed by Super Mario Bros. veterans - players new to the world of Mario will likely find it bewilderingly, hilariously tough.
Blaster Master is yet another example to prove that Sunsoft was at the very top of its game on NES. With tight controls and eight varied levels, Blaster Master still manages to satisfy in the 21st century (so much so that Inti Creates have brought the series back with two excellent sequels in recent years).
River City Ransom mixes basic brawling with comedy to great effect, and its cute visuals still exude tons of character all these years later. Throw in a second player—plus a delicious frosty beverage or two—and you've got a great Saturday night ahead of you.
This is the game that inspired modern classics like The Messenger. Ryu Hayabusa, the titular ninja, feels as acrobatic and responsive as he did over three decades ago, and if you're interested in finding out about the inspiration behind dozens of today's indie platformers, you owe it to yourself to give this a try.
Mario's first outing as a healthcare professional, this block-falling puzzler might not have the following or cache of the mighty Tetris, but its colour-matching gameplay caught on with puzzle fans. Despite not being able to compete on the level of Alexey Pajitnov's puzzling titan, there's a reason Dr. Mario has stuck around in some form for the past thirty years: it's simple and addictive.
We have to be honest here: the original Metroid can be tough to return to, even if you played it back in the day. Its biggest issue is that the fantastic Game Boy Advance remake Metroid: Zero Mission exists, and that is truly the best way to experience Samus' first adventure. Still, the original has its charms, even if they're a little better hidden these days.
A boxing game that's not really a boxing game, Punch-Out!! is all about reading your opponent's tells and timing your dodges and responses. So maybe it's the perfect boxing game, then? Regardless, it's a great game that's brimming with colourful characters and challenging Mr. Dream (or Mike Tyson) to a duel should be on every NES fan’s bucket list. Fight!