14. StarTropics (NES)

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).

13. EarthBound Beginnings (NES)

Much of the significance of EarthBound Beginnings — of Mother — lies in its spirit and the influence of such on subsequent games. It has to be said that EarthBound (its 16-bit sequel) is by far the overall better title, and those who have yet to play either should definitely start with that. If you do enjoy EarthBound, however, then Beginnings is well worth investigating. Sticking through its older style of play, with high difficulty and occasional fluctuations in balance, will reveal a fine story and a strangely transcendental sense of nostalgia, like a letter of love written to a child who hadn't even been born yet.

12. Blaster Master (NES)

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).

11. R.C. Pro-Am (NES)

Arguably the game that put Rare on the map for Nintendo gamers, R.C. Pro-Am sets itself apart from other NES racing games with its isometric viewpoint. But it's also a fantastic racing game in its own right, immersing you in the full 'radio-controlled' experience, with excellent visuals, catching sound effects, and a continuous loop of tracks that you'll want to master. It may lack multiplayer on NES, but Rare's racer is absolutely worth checking out.

10. River City Ransom (NES)

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 (or Super Mario USA when this famously reskinned, plumberised form of Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic made its way back to Japan), was the follow-up to Super Mario Bros., with platforming mechanics quite different from the original. It introduced the ability to lift and throw objects and a screen that scrolled left and right and up and down.

The verticality of levels and ability to play as different characters was a profound change from the first game, but 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. 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 from what came before and after.

8. Solar Jetman (NES)

Solar Jetman feels like a natural evolution of Lunar Lander, utilising similar mechanics that require you to carefully position your craft to pick up objects while blasting away any ensuing enemies. There's a great use of colour with the environments, and there's more than enough variety on offer to keep you engaged throughout its runtime. It's a tough game, but one worth the effort.

7. Dr. Mario (NES)

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.

6. Ninja Gaiden (NES)

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.

5. Super Mario Bros. (NES)

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, has passed into the popular cultural consciousness and would go on to influence countless developers since 1985. Artifacts like this delineate epochs; when it comes to video games, there was 'Before SMB' and 'After SMB'.

Going back after all Mario's other 2D adventures shows that it has aged, naturally, and it doesn't control quite as tightly as the Super Mario Bros. theme in the Mario Maker games. But it's still the original and, some would say, the best. Not us, but some.

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 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)

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 — outrageous comical stereotypes that wouldn't fly these days — 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)

What is there left to say about The Legend of Zelda? The game that started it all holds up 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 trusted the player and had faith in its own strengths enough to let you miss things. It was a very unique prospect back in 1987, offering an unparalleled sense of adventure, clever combat mechanics, and a world ripe for exploration. Decades later, developers of titles big and small are still borrowing from it.

A landmark game that still feels fresh. Definitely worth revisiting.

1. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

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, and secrets that many fans never 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 video games ever made. 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.

Further reading:

This article is one of our Switch Essentials guides which cover a wide variety of genres, including the Best Switch FPS Games, the Best Switch RPGs, the Best Switch Games For Kids, the Best Switch Couch Co-Op Games and the Best Switch Fitness and Exercise Games. We can also help out hunting down the Best Switch Horror Games, the Best Switch Racing Games, the Best Switch Action-RPGs, the Best Nintendo Switch Roguelikes, Roguelites and Run-Based Games, the Best Free Switch Games, the Best Remakes And Remasters, the Best Switch Music And Rhythm Games, Best Feel-Good Switch Games, Best Switch Open-World Games, Best Switch Soulslike Games, Best LGBTQ+ Switch Games, and even Games to Play After You've Finished Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Whatever your favourite genre, we've got you covered: Strategy Games, Metroidvanias, Puzzle Games, Party Games, Online Multiplayer Games, Local Wireless Multiplayer Games, Shmups, Twin-Stick Shooters, Visual Novels, Kart Racers, Fighting Games, Football Games, Funny Games, Golf Games, 'Walking Sims' And Narrative Games, Switch Games For Lovers And Lonely Hearts, Detective Games, Hidden Gems, 2D Platformers, 3D Platformers, Puzzle Platformers, Tabletop Mode Games, Run and Gun Games, LEGO Games, Sports Games, Survival Games, Beat 'Em Ups, Camera Games, Chill Games, Family Games, Retro-Inspired Games, Short Games, Card Games and Deck-Builders, and Life Sims And Farming Games.

Still hungry for more? Elsewhere we look at Wholesome Games, TATE Mode Games, Flight Sim and Space Combat, Point and Click Adventure Games, and the Best Switch Exclusives, as well as Every Arcade Archives Game, Every ACA Neo Geo Game, Every SEGA AGES Game On Switch, plus the Best Switch Ports, Best Wii U-To-Switch Ports, Best Switch Collections And Compilations, Best Cheap Switch Games, Best Switch Demos, Games That Are Better On Switch OLED, Switch Games Under $10, $20, $50, and Switch games with the Best Soundtracks and the Best Graphics. Phew!

If you're looking for the best Switch games regardless of genre, our reader-voted selection of the Best Nintendo Switch Games should help you out, and you can also find the Best Nintendo Switch Games of 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023. And finally, if you're interested in other Nintendo consoles and retro games, check out the Best Game Boy Games, Best GBC Games, Best GBA Games, Best Nintendo DS Games, Best Nintendo 3DS Games, Best NES Games, Best SNES Games, Best N64 Games, Best GameCube Games, and Best Wii Games, and Best Wii U Games, as well as Every Available Nintendo Switch Online Retro Game, and ranked lists of Every Nintendo Switch Online NES, SNES, N64 and Sega Genesis / Mega Drive Game.