The Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES (ness? nezz? enn-eee-ess?), is the archetypal home video game console. Sure, earlier machines such as the mighty Atari 2600 pioneered the basic concept of an under-the-TV console with interchangeable software and controller accessories, but the utilitarian design and hardware innovations of Nintendo's 8-bit system set the stage for modern console gaming.
Following the video game 'crash' of 1983, the NES (or Famicom in Japan) defied naysayers and singlehandedly brought the industry back stronger than ever thanks to canny marketing and — more significantly — an excellent software library. In the early days, solid ports of hits like Donkey Kong gave players a taste of the arcade in their homes, and game design innovations (and the introduction of on-cartridge chips) further enhanced and expanded the potential for developers making games on the humble NES. Compare 1983's Donkey Kong port to 1988's Super Mario Bros. 3 and it's hard to believe they're running on the same system.
Below you'll find a list of the top 50 NES games ever made. As with many of our other Top 50 system lists, the ranking below is governed by User Ratings submitted by Nintendo Life readers, so this list is not set in stone. The ordering will continue to evolve automatically according to each game's User scores (from 0-10) on the Nintendo Life game database. Disagree with the order? Have your say by scrolling down and rating them now! And if you've rated them already? Thank you kindly — sit back and enjoy.
If there's a game bubbling under the top 50 that you'd like to rate, feel free to find it using the search tool below and give it a score out of 10. Otherwise, scroll down and enjoy our round up of the very best NES games ever...
Note. In order for games to become eligible, they need a minimum of 25 User Ratings in total.
50. Pac-Man (NES)
The simplicity of the concept, coupled with the insane amount of playability, makes Pac-Man one of the all-time greats. Despite its limitations, the layout of the maze and the AI of the ghosts do a fantastic job of mixing things up and keeping the gameplay fresh and challenging. At the time, the NES version was one of the closest to the original arcade titles you could find, and it was a long time coming given some of the lacklustre attempts to bring that experience to a home console (even bad Pac-Man can be pretty good, but have you played the Atari 2600 version recently?). If you feel like taking a wander down memory lane, NES Pac-Man isn't a bad trip.
49. Metroid (NES)
While it set the template of the series and pioneered the delicate mix of exploration and gradual empowerment, we have to be honest here: the original Metroid can be tough to return to, even if you played it back in the day. The audio and atmosphere it conjures remains incredible, but control refinements and quality-of-life features we're used to these days are largely absent from the Famicom Disk System/NES original and going back without the right mindset and context can be jarring.
Its biggest issue is that the fantastic Game Boy Advance remake Metroid: Zero Mission exists — truly the best way to experience Samus' first adventure. The original has its charms, though. You just need to dig a deeper to find them these days.
Battletoads had more than a whiff of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles about it, but with developer Rare at the helm, this side-scrolling beat 'em up had more than enough quality in its art, audio and gameplay to elevate it above the status of 'knock-off'.
In fact, despite their high level of difficulty, we'd say the rough 'n' tumble adventures of Rash, Zitz and Pimple are even more fondly remembered than the 8-bit TMNT games. Insanely unfair hoverbike sections aside, there's still plenty of co-op comedy and fun to be found in this series.
47. Faxanadu (NES)
No, not that '70s film with Sean Connery in a red mankini (that's Zardoz). Faxanadu is a spin-off of Nihon Falcom's Dragon Slayer series and the title melds the words 'Famicom' and 'Xanadu' (that's Dragon Slayer II) into the sort of fun portmanteau we love to say out loud.
Fortunately, the game itself is a thoroughly enjoyable 2D action-RPG and something of an underappreciated gem in the NES library, so we often have cause to speak its name. Developed by Hudson Soft under licence from Falcom, other medieval-feeling side-scrollers might grab all the attention, but Faxanadu is quietly one of the console's best games.
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.
This Rareware / Technos crossover was developed by the Battletoads team and adds Billy and Jimmy to the line up of toad-y brawlers. As you might expect, Battletoads & Double Dragon is far more Battletoads than Double Dragon, but it's a fun little 8-bit beat 'em up experience and we've got very fond memories of it.
44. Duck Hunt (NES)
A cheeky lightgun shooter brimming with personality, many players experienced this as it came bundled with their NES and Zapper (on a dual cart with Super Mario Bros., no less — not a bad deal at all). Duck Hunt offers simple, wholesome lightgun fun for the whole family; that is, as long as the wanton murder of countless digital waterfowl while a sniggering bloodhound watches don't put you off.
Konami's Blades of Steel is better than Nintendo's less imaginatively-named Ice Hockey, and it's held up pretty well compared to Double Dribble, too. If you liked the game back then, or just like ice hockey games in general, this is still worth a look. Even if you're not a hockey fan, there's an approximately 50% chance during the second intermission that you get to play a minigame based on Gradius, which is pretty nifty. You don't get that in Ice Hockey.
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).
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.