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. Kid Icarus (NES)
Kid Icarus is a game filled with idiosyncrasies (like several first-party NES titles which didn't spawn a series with dozens of entries) and while it's got its share of flaws, this game still has a certain spark despite its missteps. It makes you wonder what could have been if Nintendo doubled down on Kid Icarus rather than, say, Zelda. Check it out.
49. 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.
48. Excitebike (NES)
The existence of VS. Excitebike on Famicom Disk System made the original Excitebike somewhat superfluous, but this was the base version of the game we got in the West. Providing a deceptively deep 8-bit ride that plays beautifully with acceleration and the pitch of your bike as you land, we'd say it's definitely worth a spin. We just like VS. and its expanded modes a bit better.
47. 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.
46. 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.
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.
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.
43. 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.
42. 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 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.