10. River City Ransom (NES)

River City Ransom (NES)River City Ransom (NES)
Publisher: Aksys Games / Developer: Technōs Japan
Release Date: Jan 1990 (USA) / 1992 (UK/EU)

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.

9. Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)

Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date: 9th Oct 1988 (USA) / 28th Apr 1989 (UK/EU)

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.

8. Dr. Mario (NES)

Dr. Mario (NES)Dr. Mario (NES)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Release Date: 1st Oct 1990 (USA) / 27th Jun 1991 (UK/EU)

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 over thirty years: it's simple and addictive.

7. Ninja Gaiden (NES)

Ninja Gaiden (NES)Ninja Gaiden (NES)
Publisher: Tecmo / Developer: Tecmo
Release Date: Mar 1989 (USA) / 15th Aug 1991 (UK/EU)

Known as Shadow Warriors in Europe (because the word 'ninja' was considered far too violent and controversial at the time), 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 Ninja Gaiden a try.

6. Fire 'n Ice (NES)

Fire 'n Ice (NES)Fire 'n Ice (NES)
Publisher: Tecmo / Developer: Tecmo
Release Date: 11th Mar 1993 (USA) / 18th Mar 1993 (UK/EU)

Enjoyment in Fire ‘n Ice is largely dependent on how much you enjoy logic puzzles, but while the game lacks a hint function, it does its best to ease you into the basic concepts, before eventually introducing new mechanics, like the jars that can be ignited. The framework around all of this is well done – there’s a cutesy story of an old woman telling her grandkids the story of Dana like a fairy tale, and while the visuals are simple, they’re extremely well animated. There are also an extra fifty stages beyond the initial one hundred, plus an option to make your own levels.

5. Super Mario Bros. (NES)

Super Mario Bros. (NES)Super Mario Bros. (NES)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date: 17th Nov 1985 (USA) / 15th May 1987 (UK/EU)

So much of the foundation of the series — and the medium of video games at large — was put down in Super Mario Bros. that it's tough to evaluate all these years later without considering its historical importance. This game, perhaps more than any other in history, has passed into the popular cultural consciousness and would go on to influence countless other games and developers since 1985. It's the kind of release you use to delineate historical eras; when it comes to video games, there was 'Before SMB' and 'After SMB'.

You've played this many, many times before, no doubt, and you'll play it many, many times again. Good game.

4. Kirby's Adventure (NES)

Kirby's Adventure (NES)Kirby's Adventure (NES)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: HAL Laboratory
Release Date: 1st May 1993 (USA) / 12th Sep 1993 (UK/EU)

Kirby's Adventure is a vibrant masterclass of NES platforming whether you've got the 3D slider set to max in the 3D Classics version on 3DS or you're enjoying it old-school-style with just the two dimensions on NES or as part of the Nintendo Switch Online NES library offering. It's a high point in the pink puffball's illustrious career and its 8-bit visuals still look great all these years later. Even if you don't consider yourself a Kirby fan, this adventure will win you over. You might say... it sucks you in.

3. Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream (NES)

Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream (NES)Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream (NES)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: 1st Oct 1987 (USA) / 15th Dec 1987 (UK/EU)

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!

2. The Legend of Zelda (NES)

The Legend of Zelda (NES)The Legend of Zelda (NES)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date: 22nd Aug 1987 (USA) / 15th Nov 1987 (UK/EU)

What is there left to say about The Legend of Zelda? The game that started it all holds up very well, although be prepared to explore and really work for the answers to puzzles here. A modern game would never ask you to try setting random bushes alight to reveal a hidden passageway without signalling it with a huge neon 'SECRET HERE!' sign. The Legend of Zelda trusts the player and has faith in its own strengths enough to let you miss things. It's a fine game that still feels fresh, and is definitely worth revisiting.

1. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date: 12th Feb 1990 (USA) / 29th Aug 1991 (UK/EU)

As toweringly important as the original Super Mario Bros. was, Super Mario Bros. 3 was a colossal leap forward in practically every way. It refined the basics, switched up the visuals and added more mechanical variety and one-and-done elements than any video game to that point; so many that even today there are certain suits, stages or secrets that fans of the game may never have found.

So many ‘old’ games are best approached with historical context in mind, or come with caveats when playing them years after release, but SMB3 needs none. It's just as boundingly inventive and fresh as the day it was released, and easily one of the very finest games ever made, let alone on its host system. Play it, now.


Surprised by Numero Uno, or was it a foregone conclusion? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section, and remember — if you haven't rated your favourite games from the list, you can still do so and influence the overall ranking yourself.

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