The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), affectionately known as the NES for many old school gamers, still holds a very dear place in the heart of many children of the 1980s. It was a large step forward in technology at the time, providing gamers with a home console that could offer great graphics, interesting and immersive sound and music, and a variety of genres to choose from.
From these humble beginnings, Nintendo would one day become a household name and the most constant force in video game history.
Swords, Spells, Dragons, and Elves – Great Roleplaying Games on the NES
While the Dragon Warrior series (Dragon Quest in Japan) was always very popular amongst classic gamers, no better example of the power of the NES speaks volumes about the capability of the system more loudly than Dragon Warrior IV.
Filled to the brim with five chapters of content and a storyline that blew any contemporaries out of the water – Dragon Warrior IV was truly a hallmark of 8-bit gaming. A deep and complex plot complimented by a slew of well-crafted characters and locales truly showed the earliest spark of what the genre would later become.
Final Fantasy, the very first in a series that now awaits it’s thirteenth installment, also bears mentioning. While the gameplay could be slow at times, the ability to customize one’s party to include any combination of warriors, mages, thieves, and martial artists was innovative and interesting.
Lovely music and brightly coloured sprites became iconic of the generation as a whole. The Warriors of Light would embark on a quest not only to defeat Garland, but a roster of nefarious, super challenging opponents.
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar also deserves a brief mention – not only for it’s depth of play and attention to detail but more importantly for it’s completely unique character creation system – based entirely on hypothetical questions of morality and virtue. The deeper philosophy behind the virtue based system of Ultima is intelligent and was influential in many series to follow (ex. Elder Scrolls).
Guns, Bullets, and Brawn – Great Action Games, Side Scrollers, and Platformers on the NES
Super Mario Bros. 3 needs very little introduction, being one of the most popular games released on the Nintendo Entertainment System and surely one of the most memorable. Introducing Mario to the ability to don super-powered suits (who doesn’t love the Frog Suit, or perhaps the Raccoon Suit allowing you to take flight?) and returning to the roots of the franchise, Super Mario Bros. 3 was a beautifully executed game that was great to play with a friend for the thousandth time without being bored in the least.
When one is in the mood for the chatter of the rapid fire rifle or the wave of death put forth by the infamous spread gun, Contra is just what the doctor ordered. Serving up mounds of action and a never ending hail of bullets, Contra was a pulse pounding exercise in difficulty and memorization.
The neat feature of the game allowing the player to race through a three-dimensional base at the end of many stages was well executed and gave Contra a great deal of added replayability. The Konami code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A) was discovered by many excited gamers while playing Contra and went on to be useful in many other Konami releases.
Nearly every kid on the block owned a copy of Mega Man 2 – and for good reason. Not as insanely difficult as its predecessor, Mega Man 2 was entirely beatable, if still difficult, and featured some of the more memorable bosses during its era. Who doesn’t remember that you were supposed to tackle Metal Man first, and use his blades to cut Wood Man down to size? Great controls, fantastic music, and excellent replay value all in one.
Lastly, an often under-rated and unknown gem of a title, Shatterhand, is quite honestly one of the best action games on the system. Through a blend of tight play control, a challenging but beatable difficulty setting, diverse robot assistants and a simply cool musical score and titular protagonist – Shatterhand stands head and shoulders above many other titles in a genre filled with disposable copies and revisions.
The Last of the Lot – NES Puzzle & Racing Games
Tetris, one of the most popular games for the NES and to this day one of the largest commercial successes to have been spawned by the earliest days of video gaming, is surely amongst the best titles available for the system. The maddening difficulty of arranging oddly shaped, oddly coloured blocks to frenetic, Russian music was addictive to many; though frustrating for some. Tetris – you either love it, or you can’t stand it.
Those who dream of owning a fire-engine red Ferrari and blazing down a tropical beach surrounded by luscious palm trees could do no better than playing Rad Racer – one of the earliest racing games introduced for the NES. A steep difficulty curve to promote replay value alongside some of the best music ever arranged for the system made Rad Racer into an instant hit. A “3D” mode required 3D glasses – packaged with the game – and could be activated by pressing select.
The last best entrant into the Best of the NES race is Excitebike, another early first-party effort by Nintendo that showed just how little graphics meant in the face of a lot of fun. The player could compete against 3 CPU racers, pulling tricks and even crashing into one other. The track editor in Excitebike allowed creative players to make challenging new tracks – or even just a track composed entirely of speed bumps or that enormous ledge.