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.
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.
49. 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.
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.
47. Mega Man 6 (NES)
Probably the worst thing you can say about Mega Man 6 is that it plays it safe. It follows the same basic idea of eight Robot Master stages followed by castle stages and doesn't really bring any big new gameplay features to the 8-bit Mega Man formula. The level design (save for Plant Man's stage), music and everything else are all pretty good, but if you've played all the previous entries, you can't help feeling that the sixth game is a bit by-the-numbers.
Capcom didn't really go out with a bang with this final NES Mega Man game, then, but it did create one final enjoyable entry on the console which birthed the series. And a 'just good' Mega Man is still better than most other video games, so mustn't grumble.
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.
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).
43. Mega Man 5 (NES)
When people ask about the best Mega Man game on the NES, Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3 tend to get the lion's share of love. However, Mega Man 5 deserves attention, too. It doesn't quite reach the stellar highs of the blue bomber's earlier outings, but with a host of novel additions to its levels — gravity switching, and even a vehicular section — it's another fine entry in Capcom's series. Yes, it might be 'just' more Mega Man, but who doesn't fancy a bit of that?
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 follow-up famously reskinned another game entirely with Mario and co. for release in the West (where Nintendo of America feared gamers wouldn't be able to cope with the punishment of The Lost Levels). Despite being the odd-one-out in its homeland, Super Mario Bros. 2 ended up having an enormous influence on the iconography of the series as a whole. The game is definitely worth revisiting (Nintendo Switch Online is the easiest place to find it these days), if only to remind yourself just how different it is to what came before and after. With four playable (and very different) characters to choose from, we highly recommend a playthrough.