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.
Double Dragon might have been superseded many times over in the street brawling genre (and arguably by its sequels), but Billy Lee's first outing is still a fun nostalgia trip, and worth the hour or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.
The first Dragon Quest title, Dragon Warrior set the template that the heroic series would follow. A huge success in Japan from the get-go, it took many years (and many games) for this classic JRPG series to achieve mainstream success in the West. Fortunately, publisher Enix didn't give up and these days it's odd to see the word 'Warrior' in this game's title.
48. Crystalis (NES)
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.
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.
46. 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.
45. 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.
44. 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.
43. 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.
42. 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.
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.