16 – Game: Bonk’s Adventure, Publisher: Hudson, Originally Released: 1993
Originally released in 1989 on a console that was, in many ways, Hudson Soft’s own console (they made many of the big hits for it), the Turbografx-16 (known in Japan as the “PC Engine”), Bonk’s Adventure was a fun and unique platformer. Bonk himself became something of a mascot for the TG16 in NA, as he would go on to have a trilogy of games for the console. But in 1993, Hudson, who had maintained friendly relations with Nintendo for most of their history, and had continued making games for their consoles as well, decided to release a slightly downsized (but still awesome) port of the game for NES. This version is missing a bit of content, but overall, it’s a very faithful port, and wall-biting, head-bonking action is every bit as fun.
One of the best arcade ports ever made, right up there with the SNES port of it’s sequel, “Turtles in Time”. Right in line with a lot of other weirdness of my childhood, directly to do with my grandmother and her inconsistent views, I was not allowed to watch the classic TMNT cartoon as a kid, which is a damn shame, because I likely would have loved it. But I DID get to experience the arcade game, both at a local Pizza Hut, and a local skating rink. And from what little I got to play it, I thought it was awesome. And this NES port, while certainly downsized, is very true to the arcade, even adding an extra level and boss or two. The final boss, Shredder, is an absolute son-of-a-bitch, but this game rocks. And FYI, I’m a Donnie guy.
18 – Game: Monster Party, Publisher: Bandai, Originally Released: 1989
That one picture pretty much encapsulates everything this game is. An odd, obscure, out-of-left-field experience at every turn, and all the better for it. In this game, you play a young baseball playing boy named Mark, who is approached by a gargoyle looking alien (because why not), to come help him save his world. The alien melt-melds with the poor kid, and whisks him away. This game was a rental for me, never owning it till adulthood, but I fell in love with it based on the first level alone. The game starts very bright, cute, bouncy and colorful, with smiles everywhere and happy music. And then midway through, BOOM, the entire level transforms into blood, and darkness, and monsters, and creepy music.
It shocked me, but it also got me hooked. The game features a ton of little boss fights, almost all of them weird as hell, from killer Tempura, to dancing zombies that you don’t actually have to fight (spoilers), to an already-dead corpse that you literally don’t have to fight. The game’s difficulty isn’t too tough for much of it, as you shift between baseball kid and gargoyle with special pill power-ups. But lemme warn ya, late in the game, the last level especially, becomes a very special brand of f***ed.
19 – Game: Felix the Cat, Publisher: Hudson , Originally Released: 1992
Another rental of mine, this is another Hudson classic. And let me just take this opportunity to point out, that Hudson Soft really was one of the best developers of all time. Not just in anyone’s personal opinion, but objectively, beyond one of the most popular franchises of all time in “Bomberman”, they made such a high volume of quality games over the years (including the original “Mario Party” games). That said, this game is no different, cashing in on a slight Felix revival that was happening in the early 90s, and featuring his awesome magic bag from the old 50s cartoon, this is a very solid platformer, in which you can upgrade his bad into all sorts of powers, including a tank, plane, etc.
20 – Game: Duck Tales, Publisher: Capcom, Originally Released: 1989
A game that I either never had the opportunity or just for some reason never chose to rent as a kid, and I really wish I would have. I loved the cartoon growing up, and this game is honestly one of the Capcom’s best works. If you’ve ever played the recent hit indie game “Shovel Knight”, you’ll immediately recognize where the “pogo stick” action originated from, as Scrooge McDuck uses his ever-present cane to bounce around levels, on enemies, crushing blocks, you name it. Another fun, and for it’s time fairly unique game, that later got an equally great sequel, that happens to be one of the rarest NES games to collect nowadays.
21 – Game: Godzilla, Publisher: Toho, Originally Released: 1988 (’89 in NA)
Now this was a game I both rented, and later owned as a kid. Considering that around the same time that I got my NES, I was also REALLY getting into Godzilla movies (thanks to us getting a VCR, and marathons on TV), it was a no brainer that one of the first games I would ever choose to rent, would be a Godzilla one. This game is a childhood favorite of mine, even though the gameplay itself does admittedly get rather monotonous and repetitive. You play as Godzilla and Mothra, going through the planets of the solar system on your way to Planet X, battling through levels so that you can get to the important stuff: the monster fights (same as the movies). Not a GREAT game, by any measure, but it has a kick ass soundtrack, and I’m rather nostalgic for it because of my Godzilla love.
22 – Game: Xexyz, Publisher: Hudson, Originally Released: 1988 (’90 in NA)
Probably one of the most obscure games, and certainly the most obscure Hudson game on my list, this was a game that I’m pretty sure I just somehow randomly came to own. There were multiple stores that went out of business in the early 90s in the town I grew up in, and I reaped the benefit of them having clearance sales. This may have been one of those. But regardless, it is a very unique sort of game, not fully comparable to anything else. It alternates between side-scrolling action/platformer levels, in which you must earn money to upgrade your weapons and abilities, and horizontal space shooter levels. Both of which task you with some pretty epic boss fights. And it’s all in the name of saving your love, and the world. Naturally. It’s a very little known, but really great game.
23 – Game: Zelda 2, Publisher: Nintendo, Originally Released: 1987 (1988)
This game got (and gets) a lot of flack, for being radically different than the original hit Zelda game. I’m sure the same was probably said, somewhat, of SMB2. But at least with that, it was still somewhat “Mario-like”. But for some gamers, Zelda 2 was too different for their tastes, going from an overhead to a side-scrolling view (at least for the levels, the map is overhead). Even the music is different, replacing the classic Zelda music with some wonky (but great) new tunes. The game also happens to be VERY hard, I would honestly call this one of the hardest games ever made. But unlike many other hard games (Ghosts n Goblins, Ninja Gaiden, etc.), that are hard in large part because of wonky controls of bullshit enemy respawns, Zelda 2, while very hard, is totally master-able. It’s even “fair”, in a way. You just have to REALLY master it’s precision-based attack/block system. And be able to take cryptic clues to figure out where to go or what the hell to do at times.
But for it’s flaws (it probably would have benefited from a longer development cycle), it is still a classic game, and in many ways was very ahead of it’s time. For one thing, it is one of the rare games that allows Link to manually JUMP. And it’s also the only Zelda to have real “rpg-like” stat systems, where you get experience for slaying enemies, and gain levels which you can use to boost your health, magic and strength. If you’re looking for the classic Zelda experience, this certainly ain’t it. But this game DOES have a lot to offer, if you’ve got the patience to master it.
24 – Game: Little Nemo, Publisher: Capcom, Originally Released: 1990
Another 8-bit Capcom classic (back when THEY made great games), and another odd-ball title. This game was somewhat a tie-in to an ’89/90 animated Nemo film that came out (which, by the way, is a really great film), though only somewhat. You still play Nemo, a little boy who was invited to Slumberland to be a friend (and future husband) to the Princess Camille. You still have to go after King Morpheus, who has been taken by the Nightmare, a force you accidentally set free. And in this game, similar to the movie, Nemo has the King’s magic scepter, but doesn’t know how to use it, so for most of the game, you can’t. Instead, you don’t attack enemies directly at all, instead feeding candy to certain monsters in the levels, and this allows you to take them over, as “suits”, similar to SMB3, which give you different powers. Very odd, but a very cool game.
25 – Game: Star Tropics 2, Publisher: Nintendo, Originally Released: 1994
The NES was such a popular console in it’s day, that unlike most systems, it actually enjoyed basically a full 10 years on the market. It’s last new game in North America, was “Wario’s Woods”, which came out in December of 1994. The second to last Nintendo published NES game, was this little beauty. For some reason not as highly regarded as the original, it is actually in some ways superior. I would say that, personally, ST1 is an overall better game, with a cooler story, etc., but when I got ST2 in 94, I still loved it. It has a corny kind of “time travel” story going on, but that lends itself for some great, cheesy encounters with historical figures.
The game still has some truly devious puzzles to solve, and they actually upgraded your abilities a bit, such as giving you 8-directional walking, instead of 4, which can be very helpful in fighting monsters, but not always convenient when accidentally falling into water or things like that. If NES was going to have a “swan song”, shy of a new Mario or Zelda game, I would say that Star Tropics 2 is a fitting and respectable one. It’s a graphically beautiful game, and retains the same kind of charm and humor of the original.
It’s kind of like Ghostbusters 2 (to me): The original is better, but it’s nice to have more adventures.
26 – Game: Bugs Bunny’s Birthday Blowout, Publisher: Kemco, Originally Released: 1990
Not AS great a Kemco classic as Kid Klown, I will say that this is, to date, still the best Looney Tunes game I’ve ever played. I rented Kemco’s older “Crazy Castle” game as well, and while it has it’s own old school charm, it doesn’t hold a candle to this one. This was a title that I first rented, and wound up later owning, thanks to that awesome Christmas box that included Dr. Mario and SMB3 I mentioned earlier. The game stars Bugs, on his way to a birthday party (the game is celebrating his 50th anniversary), and his “friends”, the other Looney Tunes, seem to suddenly be out to get him, trying to stop his progress. You eventually face off against most of the LT greats, like Daffy, Elmer, Tweety, Sylvester, Pepe Le Pew, Foghorn Leghorn and Yosemite Sam. And you do get to bash everything with a huge hammer, so there’s that. Far from a genius classic, but still an underrated gem that I still enjoy.
27 – Game: Flying Warriors, Publisher: Culture Brain, Originally Released: 1991
Yet another to put on the “What the hell?” obscure games list, and another game that I wound up discovering thanks to those clearance sales. Part of the greater, loosely connected (or sometimes not at all) Hiryu no Ken franchise in Japan, in America this game was called “Flying Warriors”. I actually came to own a kinda-but-not-really prequel to this, called “Flying Dragon”, which honestly kind of sucks by comparison.
Whereas Dragon was more of a straight up martial arts game, Warriors was transformed into more of a Power Rangers, super-hero type deal. It still retains a lot of the martial arts elements, including the awkward-but-kinda-cool, one on one fighting system. The game alternates between side-scrolling levels, tournament fights, and later, transforming into a bad ass superhero, and eventually even getting into weird rpg-like battles. Really getting into superheroes in the early 90s, mainly thanks to my love of the X-Men cartoon, this element of Warriors really sold me, and while it has some rougher edges, I quite enjoyed it.
28 – Game: Totally Rad, Publisher: Jaleco, Originally Released: 1990 (’91 in NA)
Another random childhood rental, like Monster Party, this game released in the early 90s, but totally bleeds 80s. Originally a slightly more serious game called “Magic John” in Japan, for the NA port they decided to go HEAVY on that “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” vibe, especially the dialogue, as seen above. The game itself is really fun, and features a fairly unique magic system, wherein you start the game with access to pretty much all the spells you can use, but they’re all pretty weak, because you need to train and become better at magic.
As the game progresses, act by act, you progressively grow stronger, to the point that your elemental magic attacks, for example, are SUPER strong and take up the entire screen. The game is a side-scroller, and a damn hard one at that. But the magic system makes it pretty fun, once you get the hang of it. Though I’m not ashamed to admit, that a little Game Genie action for infinite magic (it runs out quick sometimes), is pretty damn helpful.
29 – Game: Metroid, Publisher: Nintendo, Originally Released: 1986 (’87 in NA)
In many ways, this game deserves to be MUCH higher on my list. While not as starkly innovative and genre-defining as Mario and Zelda, the original Metroid was still incredibly influential to the future of game design. It was a side-scrolling version, in some ways, of Zelda, as it was one of the first games to allow a more free-roaming, open-world environment, where you could explore at your leisure (provided you had the right items), and it featured, like Zelda, a progressive upgrade system, where power-ups were permanent, unlike Mario. This is a genuine classic, and the only real reason it doesn’t sit higher on my list, is because I didn’t really play it much as a kid. I played the hell out of Super Metroid (aka “Metroid III”) in my teens, and that game is still in my Top 10 favorites of all time. The original Metroid is fantastic, I simply don’t have the emotional connection to it that I got from Super Metroid at a young age. But it absolutely deserves mad kudos and respect, for the great game it is, and all the things it established.
30 – Game: Quattro Arcade, Publisher: Camerica, Originally Released: 1992
For the 30th and final entry, while there were many I could have included, I decided to go with another obscure, oddball choice. This little compilation, was by the great UK developer Codemasters, and came in one of those weird, unlicensed gold carts that had a little switch for channels in the back. The collection itself, featured four games, and as a kid, let me tell you, getting four games for the price of one seemed like a major steal to me. I thought I made out big. And luckily for me, unlike the poor bastards that probably bought “Action 52”, this little set is actually pretty good.
The four games featured are: Go, Dizzy Go!, a Pac-Man type game featuring Codemasters mascot egg-hero, Dizzy. F-16 Renegade, a very decent shoot ’em up that alternates between vertical scrolling stages, and forward view “Afterburner” type stages. Stunt Buggies, a weird top-down game where you have to navigate mazes with a little buggy. And the game shown above, C.J.’S Elephant Antics, a cute little platformer where you play a circus Elephant trying to get back to Africa. The games, individually, are somewhat short, and not worth full-price, but as a collection, it’s pretty solid, and I was quite happy with these games as a kid.
Well that’s the Top 30 list that I’ve concocted. I probably “went all out” a little too much, as is sometimes my way. And there are MANY good NES games I could have included, that definitely deserve honorable mentions, but I chose what I chose because they were the games that stood out the most to me. I also chose a few based simply on the fact that I owned them as a kid, and played them a lot. Honorable mentions include but are not limited to:
Castlevania, Gargoyle’s Quest II, Dragon Warrior, Gauntlet, Rampage, Battletoads, Battletoads-Double Dragon, Ninja Gaiden, Power Blade, Super Spy Hunter, Super Dodge Ball, Shatterhand, Kickmaster, Breakthru, Kid Niki, Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers, Tiny Toon Adventures, Shadow of the Ninja, Clash at Demonhead, Rygar, Astynax, Contra, River City Ransom, Punch Out, Crystalis, RC Pro Am, MC Kids, Joe & Mac, Double Dragon, Mega Man 6, etc. etc. etc.
Hope you enjoyed the list, and feel free to let me know what you think of the list, or comment on individual games. I’d love to hear some of your own favorite NES games as well. Cheers!