10. Life Force (NES)
If you're itching for some cooperative old-school space shooter action, Life Force will scratch your itch like a kind old friend you've known for years. It's a fairly standard side-scrolling shooter with enough twists on the formula – alternating vertical/horizontal levels, a unique stacking item system and some trippy level designs – to make it stand out in the crowd, a natural step up for veterans of the original Gradius. Life Force doesn't have the immediate name recognition of some of its peers, but it's well worth the time for any fan of the genre.
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!
Mega Man 3 was one of the shining jewels in the NES library — a catalogue that's certainly not wanting for sparklers. If we're really searching for imperfections, a touch of slowdown, a glitchy weapon and some careless level design arguably takes the shine off this when compared directly to its predecessor. Then again, MM3 added the slide move and Rush, the titular character's robo-Good Boi.
For our money, arguing between Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3 is much like debating between Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World — they're two sides of the same coin and both utterly essential.
Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos is a fine-looking NES game with some fancy cutscenes and decent music. Wall-jumping and the difficulty curve have been improved from the original game and there's a fun challenge to be found in this sequel (which carried the Shadow Warriors branding in Europe). Being sent flying straight into a pit and respawning enemies is annoying at the best of times, but the game is mostly fair and its plus points combine to overcome its faults and make Ryu's second NES adventure a mighty satisfying one.
If you need to scratch your NES nostalgia itch or you also loved DuckTales as a kid, this game is for you. The gameplay is unique and extremely fun, the presentation is excellent, and the characters you know and love are intact; non-linear exploration and an alternate ending will have you coming back for more. Uncle Scrooge is just as cranky and loveable now as he was decades ago. One of the best licensed games ever made.
5. Contra (NES)
Known as Probotector in Europe — where it arrived two years after its release in North America and Japan with Bill and Lance replaced by robots RD008 and RC011 — Contra is run-and-gun royalty from Konami. Arriving just one year after the arcade original's debut, it brought all the shirt-ripping '80s action of the coin-op to Nintendo's console and gave gamers a cracking two-player game to blast through at home. Classic stuff and no mistake, whether you're rocking metal or muscle.
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.
Mega Man 2 is the textbook example of a sequel done right — perfectly, in fact. It retains the best features of the first game, tightens up the physics, retools the enemy AI, and adds a slew of new features and challenges. Its front-to-back brilliant soundtrack doesn't hurt, either. What else is there to say? It's an absolute all-time classic — one of the finest 8-bit games ever made — and if you only play one Mega Man game (er, why would you do that?)... you should probably toss a coin to decide between this or its sequel.
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.
The final NES/Famicom entry in Chunsoft's seminal RPG series, Dragon Warrior IV (or Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen as it's more commonly known as these days) would be the last title to arrive in the West for some time. It featured five chapters, each of which concentrates on one of the aforementioned 'chosen' characters. It was also the first of the mainline DQ series to get its own spin-off titles — Torneko no Daibōken: Fushigi no Dungeon featured this game's merchant, Taloon, and was the very first game in Chunsoft's Mystery Dungeon series, no less.
So there we are: the top 50 NES (and Famicom) games of all time, as ranked by you lovely people.
Remember, you can still rate any games you like even after publication, and there's every chance they could show up in the rankings above — this is an ever-changing list that reflects the User Ratings assigned each game in the Nintendo Life game database. A minimum of 25 User Ratings are needed for a game to become eligible — once that minimum is achieved, it's game on (we reduced this from 50 to encourage a more varied list).
Is a game missing from our database that you think has a genuine shot at the top 50? Drop us a line in the comments and we'll see about adding it.