10. Double Dragon II: The Revenge
After the loose interpretation Double Dragon fans saw for the first game on NES, this sequel made for a welcome sight. Featuring great graphics, uncomplicated and faithful gameplay, and—best of all—cooperative play, it was a spot-on adaptation of a brilliant arcade game, packed with both challenge and memorable scenes.
9. Bubble Bobble
As long as you don't mind its earworm musical theme, this cooperative platformer can be one of the most enjoyable games ever. Only by teaming up with a friend or loved one will you reach the true ending — but even if you play solo, it's still tons of fun. The seemingly simple action of Bubble Bobble contains remarkable hidden depths, from its unique bubble physics to the enigmatic secrets that define the appearance and rules of its power-ups.
We'll probably never fully unravel Bubble Bobble, we'll have a fine time trying. Especially if we can talk someone cool into tackling its 100 memorable stages with us!
8. Ninja Gaiden
One of the most radical arcade-to-NES overhauls ever, Ninja Gaiden went from mundane brawler to blazing fast platformer when it came to Nintendo's console. It's ridiculously hard, and you'll definitely want to make liberal use of the mini-console's save state feature. Don't be intimidated, though! The brutal action is balanced out by beautifully rendered manga-style cutscenes which tell a story that... well, it's not exactly high art, but it's an entertaining sci-fi-fantasy tale of ninja, demons, and American secret agents. Great stuff.
7. Super Mario Bros. 2
Regardless of its origins, the second Mario game for American fans helped shape the series' future: Not only did it provide definition for the differences between the core Mario cast (something that's become a key element for the likes of Mario Kart and all those sport spinoffs), it also introduced a cast of monsters that appear regularly in core and side Mario adventures — most recently in the form of the colorthirsty Shy Guys that populated Paper Mario: Color Splash. A fun, charming game that can be more challenging than you may remember!
6. Final Fantasy
The original Final Fantasy defined a lot of elements that remain standards in the franchise even now. Final Fantasy XV barely resembles this turn-based 8-bit role-player, but even so, where would FFXV be without elements like airships and Bahamut the king of dragons? While completing this adventure requires a bit of grinding in places, and the interface definitely needs updating, you'll be pleasantly surprised by how substantial and sophisticated it is, despite its vintage.
5. Kirby's Adventure
A technical high water mark for the NES, what Kirby's Adventure lacks for raw challenge it more than makes up for with visual splendor, variety of gameplay, and sheer size. Every level feels different than the last, from complex labyrinths to rotating towers into the sky to a monochromatic throwback to the original Game Boy game. It's not hard to see why Kirby has become a Nintendo mainstay — when you have a game this spectacular under your belt, it's hard for anyone to deny you a place in the upper echelons.
While not the best Castlevania game for NES (that would be Castlevania III, maddeningly absent in this collection), the original is still a hell of an adventure. Short and sweet, but incredibly challenging, Castlevania presents its daunting journey through Dracula's castle with visual panache, brilliant music, and taut gameplay that will remind you unschooled whippersnappers of Dark Souls. Every action counts, and every enemy and jump is placed to create the greatest possible challenge without being unfair or unbeatable. An action masterpiece that launched a franchise that endured for one brilliant quarter-century.
3. The Legend of Zelda
While perhaps more open-ended than modern Zelda fans are used to, so much of what the series contains got its start here. From basic weapons like the coin-grabbing boomerang and the evil-piercing silver arrow to distinctive enemies like the smoke-hating Dodongo, it's truly amazing to look back at Nintendo's first foray into role-playing and see how much they got right. In any case, Breath of the Wild draws heavily on the spirit of this NES classic, so you'll absolutely want to learn its in and outs so as to be better-equipped to deal with Link's next adventure.
2. Super Mario Bros. 3
Regarded by many as the greatest NES game ever, this missed the top slot of our rankings by just a few meager points. And is it any wonder? If Super Mario Bros. was a catchy pop song, Super Mario Bros. 3 was the two-record concept album that explored every possible permutation of the original. Featuring twice as many stages as the original game spread across a variety of themed worlds, Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced a wild menagerie of power-ups, the memorable Koopalings, and the intrinsic notion that Super Mario should be defined by sheer variety. Aside from fortresses and airships, no two stages of this odyssey are exactly alike, and Mario's journey spans deserts, oceans, islands full of giant enemies, and even a blasted wasteland patrolled by Bowser's war machines. Truly an incredible game.
1. Mega Man 2
We may have broken some rule of "greatest NES game" countdowns, but here it is anyway: Mega Man 2 is our favorite NES game. What's not to love about this amazing sequel? It features a brilliant mix of stage themes, a huge array of versatile weapons (there's so much to discover if you don't just lean on the Metal Blade!), stunning music, jaw-dropping graphics, and a memorable finale against one of the most clever fake-outs ever seen in a game.
While fan debates will rage eternally over Mega Man 2 vs. Mega Man 3 (just as they will Super Mario Bros. 3 vs. Super Mario World), there's no question that this is one of the all-time greats — the standard against which all its sequels, and all platform-shooters as a genre, must be judged. [Thanks for VG Museum for the screenshots used in this feature]