22. Double Dragon (NES)

Double Dragon (NES)Double Dragon (NES)
Publisher: Aksys Games / Developer: Technōs Japan
Release Date: Jun 1988 (USA) / 1990 (UK/EU)

Double Dragon might have been superseded many times over in the street brawling genre (and arguably by its sequels), but Billy Lee's first outing is still a fun nostalgia trip, and worth the hour or two it'll take you to breeze through it.

21. VS. Excitebike (NES)

VS. Excitebike (NES)VS. Excitebike (NES)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: 31st Aug 2015 (USA)

Offering an improved track editor over the original Excitebike along with various other bells and whistles, you probably know what to expect from VS. Excitebike. It's a decent ride and definitely the pick of the 8-bit Excitebikes, although even with the improvements of this version (which originally released for the Famicom Disk System), it will probably struggle to hold your attention beyond a single evening.

20. Donkey Kong (NES)

Donkey Kong (NES)Donkey Kong (NES)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Release Date: Jun 1986 (USA) / 15th Oct 1986 (UK/EU)

While the NES version might not compare favourably side-by-side with the arcade original, this Donkey Kong port captured the spirit of the cabinet version very well indeed. Back in the day this was a remarkable feat, and for many kids who may not have been old enough to venture into arcades, it was here that they first met DK and the plucky plumber. Best enjoyed in short and sweet bursts.

19. Kid Icarus (NES)

Kid Icarus (NES)Kid Icarus (NES)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Release Date: 1st Jul 1987 (USA) / 15th Feb 1987 (UK/EU)

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.

18. Gradius (NES)

Gradius (NES)Gradius (NES)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami
Release Date: Dec 1986 (USA) / Dec 1986 (UK/EU)

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.

17. Metroid (NES)

Metroid (NES)Metroid (NES)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Release Date: 1st Aug 1987 (USA) / 15th Jan 1988 (UK/EU)

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.

16. Crystalis (NES)

Crystalis (NES)Crystalis (NES)
Publisher: SNK / Developer: SNK
Release Date: Jul 1990 (USA)

This was one of the best Zelda-eqsue games on the NES back in the day. It’s a more linear experience than you might expect, but it features a cracking soundtrack and mixes the faux-medieval fantasy of Hyrule with a dose of sci-fi. If you’re after some authentically 8-bit action RPG adventuring, this is an excellent option.

15. Excitebike (NES)

Excitebike (NES)Excitebike (NES)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date: 18th Oct 1985 (USA) / 1st Sep 1986 (UK/EU)

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.

14. Double Dragon II: The Revenge (NES)

Double Dragon II: The Revenge (NES)Double Dragon II: The Revenge (NES)
Publisher: Aksys Games / Developer: Technōs Japan
Release Date: 15th Jan 1990 (USA) / 1990 (UK/EU)

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.

13. StarTropics (NES)

StarTropics (NES)StarTropics (NES)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: Dec 1990 (USA) / 20th Aug 1992 (UK/EU)

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).

12. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES)

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES)Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date: 1st Dec 1988 (USA) / 26th Sep 1988 (UK/EU)

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.

11. Blaster Master (NES)

Blaster Master (NES)Blaster Master (NES)
Publisher: Sunsoft / Developer: Sunsoft
Release Date: Nov 1988 (USA) / 25th Apr 1991 (UK/EU)

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).