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NES Memories - Best of the bunch

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

My father bought me NES around 1989 when I was a kid. That was my first gaming console -- ofcourse that is not totally true. We had Commodore 64 but I didn't play that many games on it and cannot remember the names anymore except Out Run. Father used to buy me loads of NES games, maybe too much, I loved that console. I remember the days getting home from school to play some Contra and Mega Man etc. Preferably with friend or my brother with multiplayer - those were some fun times.

NES age was time when possibilities to create different style of games with a lot of depth were still highly limited. It really pushed best game developers to the limits with their creativity to develop games to simple 8-bit platform to make them still interesting and replayable. Others succeeded better while others lazied out putting out poor games after another. I still have NES console that works but I don't have other than few games anymore sadly. Lets try and refresh my memory which games were the best ever that I owned or had played. So lets have a look - I keep descriptions short:


Developed and published by Sunsoft. The first and original on NES. Sidescrolling platformer. Batman had quite dark themed graphics and music. I always liked the design of this game in terms of level and musical themes (way to go Sunsoft). Batman had ability to wall jump which was kinda cool. This game was freaking hard! Never finished the last level. ***½


Never owned Battletoads myself, but rent it few times. Battletoads had a mix of 2D and 3D levels from regular beat'em up to hover bike riding. Sidescrolling platform had "depth" in it whereas you can walk back-fordward as well as up-down in the field. Tough game, nice music and great with your friend! ****

Bionic Commando

Bionic Commando is definitely one of my top faves! You're set in somewhere at times of World War II. You are soldier equipped with "bionic arm" out to get Hitler himself (if I remember the end boss correctly) and to reach his base you need to travel through various enemy and neutral zones. There's a main map where you advance area by area until you reach the final. These areas are mostly consisted of different military bases and prisons etc. What made gameplay unique was "bionic arm" of our hero which works kinda like Spiderman's web. You can shoot the arm to any wall and climb by it or swing from platform to another. Few great musical scores here too, at least Leap of Faith and the one on that Prison Level where you need to climb all the way up the building in a sunset. Difficulty: quite hard.

Blaster Master

Now this is hard one! The game is quite long and difficulty is much more than "quite hard". The plot is quite silly, you're a boy named Jason, whos pet Frog finds a hole in earth and goes thru it - Jason then decides to follow to find back his Frog. In the earth hole he finds a sort of a tank which he uses to fight radioactive mutants in his journey to find his Frog. While the plot in Blaster Master is stupid the game itself shines. It's much longer than average NES game in terms of length, it has musical score sticking to your head and gameplay is very smooth. Blaster Master combines regular side scrolling platform gaming -- where you can go by foot or use your tank -- with top-down view when entering some buildings. You can get several guns and upgrades to your gear and tank. Level design also shines -- levels are quite large and have special themes like ice-world with slippery surface. Levels are also connected together to one big network. When you've finished level 1 and you find the door to level 2, you can still get back to level 1 from the same door.. there are situations where you actually MUST to get back to certain level because sometimes for example entrance to Level 5 can be hidden in Level 1 to someplace that was unreachable to you before. Nasty game! ****½

Bubble Bobble

Classic non-scrolling platformer where you see the whole game area all the time in one screen. You play with either of those 2 overly cute .. hell I don't even know what they are, dragons or dinosaurs? Well whatever, you are set in the level with some mobsters which you can kill by trapping them in bubble you can shoot from your mouth and then popping the bubbles up with enemy inside. You are similarly required to collect different items like fruits and such to gain score. If you're not fast enough then un-killable ghost will appear to hunt you down 'till you either finish level or die. Bubble Bobble is a simple game with great controls and it's actually great fun with 2 player mode! ****½

Bucky'O Hare

While not probably considered as classic by many, Bucky O'Hare was one of the best action platformers for me. You're set to eliminate your enemy (I don't even remember anymore who that was) and to reach that you first need to set free couple of your imprisoned friends at different planets. When you set someone free you unlock him free to use with his special skills in future. All characters have their weaknesses and strenghts. What I really like this game is rock solid levels, good bosses and one of the smoothest gameplays and controls among all NES games.. Hell.. this comes close to Mega Man. Good graphics for a NES game too. Musical score is very good. One of the later NES games released. ****


Original Castlevania and one of the best NES side-scrolling platformers. The key here are especially interesting hauntingly dark levels and monsters and musical score that sets the tone to whole game. Your hero is a whip wielding vampire hunter set out to kill Dracula adventuring thru his huge castle and it's all sectors, what's better than that? ****½

Castlevania II

You're out to find five bodyparts of Dracula and resurrect him to just to kill him -- only way to remove Dracula's Curse that has infected earth. Gone are the actual "levels" -- whole game is not one big level with different areas connected to each other and basically you could go where ever in which order you want. Second Castlevania in that way is more explore based game. There are neutral town areas where you can barter and talk to townsfolk in middle of your bodypart seeking quest and then head back to forest to whip up some monsters again. Exploration and free roam is memorable thing in this game as is the in-game "clock" -- nights and days take turns. While days are easier, at nights -- I suppose due Dracula's Curse -- otherwise neutral towns roam monsters and other areas just have harder monsters around. Musical score is once again great. Haunting themes of the game still appeals, although level design perhaps does not match the first one -- Castlevania II is still great game on it's own right. ****

Double Dragon II

Double Dragon II is of the best side scrolling beat'em up platformers. You take charge of martial arts fighter Billy or Jimmy and are set to free lady Marion who has been captured. Levels range from town streets to jungle and temples. Nothing that spectacular on there but gameplay is plain fun. There are few basic moves: hit, kick, running kick, roundhouse kick and knee kick. Succeeding to do them is all about timing. Who wouldn't love martial arts sidescroller especially with 2 player mode? ****½

Double Dragon III

Double Dragon III isn't perhaps just as good as first and more than tad harder. More of the same with slightly harder controls and a few new moves. This time you can unlock more characters by finishing them first -- they are end bosses at certain levels. You'll have a chinaman and some sort of a samurai. More good martial arts beat'em up especially with 2 player. ****

Duck Tales

In Duck Tales you take role of Uncle Scrooge and go for a treasure hunt to different locations in earth and even Moon. Some other areas are: African Mines, Amazon, Transylvania and Himalayas. The game is non-linear in terms that you can finish levels in any order you like. Gameplay of this game is plain fun and smooth.. Uncle Scrooge uses his cane as a weapon to jump over enemies bit like Super Mario, and cane is used also to make a more high jump. Level designs are cool. One of the best Disney games around. ****

Goonies II, The

I never fully understood this game as a kid yet it fascinated me a lot, well although I got to admit at first I hated this game, but it caught on bit later. Story is that you are Mikey whos friends have been kidnapped by italian small-time crooks and you're out to rescue them. It's a classic sidescrolling platformer - but the gameplay is dynamic because you can go and explore the world as you like. There are no actual level by level advancing. Levels consists mostly of weird basements and caves. Some levels are connected by 3D levels where you play in first person view. This game has a lot of mazes and unreachable places unless you find an item X (which could be a key for instance). Exploration in Goonies II world is quite fascinating - this game has certain atmosphere in it. Not sure how classic is this games status but for me it was exceptional. ****½

Iron Sword - Wizards & Warriors II

There was three games in the series but for me part two was the best. This game is just great side scrolling platformer whereas you play a knight called Kuros exploring the land of Sindarin to defeat evil wizard.. well eventually. Level themes in this game are top notch and gameplay itself is one of the smoothest. Discovering treasures, spell scrolls and increasing your score in this game is fun. Level bosses are great. ****

Journey To Silius

Challenging gameplay, very good graphics for a NES game and one of -- if not the best music score of all NES games. Well at least most rocking one. Tunes of this game stick to my head for years to come and they still sound great! As I understood this was supposed to be a Terminator game at first but by some reason license was not granted so it became Journey To Silius. Game play is classic sidescrolling platformer like oh so many NES games - where you control a boy who likes to shoot some robots - well actually you're out to avenge your fathers death. Levels consist of space colonies, factories and space ships and you can get a few different guns. Difficulty is high. What sets this game apart is definetely nice theme, graphics and MUSIC. ****½

Kirby's Adventure

Innovation to be found in this game. Although main character might look like stupid - after all it's just a pink ball-like creature with ears and erghh.. well Kirby the main character has ability to swallow.. enemies.. and while he swallows any enemy he is granted the enemy's special powers. That's pretty cool right? Considering there are plenty of different monsters in this game. You can turn into a boot or hammer for example and so on. Having large set of special skills around makes this game just plain innovative fun! Another thing that totally shines here is level design. The world is broken into several big worlds which all have their own theme and several levels. Each "World" has it's final boss, and they are very well executed too. Along the journey there are nice bonus games quite often and if you win you're granted special bonus's. Kirby's Adventure is definetely one of the best developed NES games of all time. Level design and fun factor is phenomenal. *****

The Legend of Zelda

Zelda needs no introduction really. One of the original and best NES games of all times with openly explorable world from top-down view. Item inventory and loot to find. Many areas to unlock and bosses to slay. Just a well designed game and quite advanced for a platform like NES. Great adventure. *****

Life Force: Salamander

Loved this game. Side scrolling space shooter where you control a space ship -- while level scrolls on you'll encounter many different enemies and are able to find numerous power-ups and weapon upgrades. At the end of every level is level-themed main-boss. Life Force is totally classic. 2-player multiplayer doesn't get much better than this either. Very good controls and nicely themed levels. ****

Mega Man II

One of the best NES games definetely. There are eight "robot masters" created by evil Dr. Wily who you must defeat and then advance to Wily's Castle to hunt him down. Each robot master has it's own themed level which you must first complete to face him. Mega Man 2 has one of the best controls in NES history accompanied with some of the best level themes and designs. This game is also nicely long with those eight bosses and if you thought it's over after last one - the hardest part is just ahead when you head to Wily's Castle which has several levels on it's own. Cool innovation in Mega Man 2 was to grant the player the weapon of each levels final boss after you had finished them. Also some weapons works better for other bosses -- it was all trial and error. Also awesome game music to be found here -- perhaps my all time favorite music of all NES games although Journey To Silius comes close. Total classic. *****

Mega Man III

More of the same and then some. This time you can also slide with Mega Man and you have a robot dog there to help you out working as your personal ride or trampoline when making higher jumps. Levels are about as good as in part two. Music is great also in here but I prefer Mega Man 2 just slightly. The cool thing is that after finishing all bosses in the game you'll also face all bosses from Mega Man II before Wily - how cool is that? Mega Man III got everything side scrolling platformer should have and is just up to par with Mega Man II there. *****

Metal Gear

Despite it's flaws very good game and ahead of it's time with freely explorable game world. You take control of a soldier called Solid Snake who weirdly looks like Kyle Reese from The Terminator. This is a top-down view action-adventure game at its core in NES platform. You start your exploration unarmed and are there to discover all your weapons, ammunition and other tools by yourself. To get thru areas you need to be sneaky -- in other words stealth -- might this be the game that invented "stealthing"? Level design is decently good and game is very large, exploring areas is fascinating and discovering something hidden is very cool. To advance you most often need to find a key cards to unlock certain doors at the map. Damn this game is hard, thank god it provides password system to return to certain point of a game. This is where Metal Gear series began.. ****


Classic 2D scrolling platformer with unique atmosphere and themes. You are Samus traveling through caverns of planet Zebes to stop Space Pirates from exploiting the Metroid species for galactic domination. This was also one of the fewer NES games with freely explorable world -- in theory you could go where ever you wanted but in reality some areas were locked way or another and you couldn't reach them till later stage of the game. You had to find for instance a new item which grants you access to certain door. Mystical and dark cavern levels, atmospheric music and free exploration made this game great. ****½

Ninja Gaiden

The original - also known as Shadow Warriors in Europe - was cool already by just the fact that you could play a ninja in 2D sidescrolling action platformer. Levels and bosses in Ninja Gaiden were very cool and controls/gameplay was a top notch. Consists total 20 levels of high difficulty ninja action and some of the best NES tunes ever. Who wouldn't want to swing katana and use throwing stars to take enemies down anyways? Also the main hero Ruy has an ability to jump on and off the walls and ladders like a true ninja (very much like in Batman). Totally cool game. ****½


Shadowgate stuck to my mind like no other. Totally haunting atmosphere and music in this adventure/horror game with early 3D first person platform. Of course the game engine was not anything like real 3D -- but you advance room by room which is always viewed "from your eyes". The room is stilled meaning nothing happens unless you pick/push/touch/use object on screen. You enter sort of a castle and explore through it encountering various puzzles -- and even more various ways to die.. hundreds of different deaths.. tough game! Some of it's haunting music has totally stuck to my head like the one that is played when danger or death is closing by. ***½

Spy Vs. Spy

When I first saw this game I thought it was quite stupid and poor. Graphics didn't impress at all. But actually Spy vs. Spy is great fun in 2 player mode. You're set in mazelike house with several similar looking rooms. Half of the screen is yours and half is your oppopents. You're set to find a suitcase full of money (if I remember correctly) which can be located to any drawer or other place - I think it's always randomized? You can also find different traps and set them to doors or drawers for your opponent to walk on them. He who finds the money case first then needs to find out of building and reach aeroplane. You can booby trap your opponent to death of just hit him with cane till he drops. Very hectic and fun in 2 player mode but not so much vs. computer. ***½

Super Mario Bros 3.

Although first Mario is classic as this -- in my opinion it's Super Mario Bros 3, where things really started to pick up. First of all -- while gameplay and controls are good if not better than in the first and second one -- the game is more dynamic. First time there is actual world map. The game has eight differently themed worlds with their own map and areas, also including bonus areas if you finish certain levels. Each level has a main castle where you go to look for a kidnapped princess and to reach the castle you can go by several routes. That's what makes this game dynamic. Also there are a few power-ups like Leaf which allows you to fly and reach areas otherwise unreachable. Levels are greatly designed with several hidden pipeways and areas. There's just so much hidden treasures and areas to discover in this game it's really big part of fun factor in third Mario. World themes are great from Desert to Could and Water World and they all play a bit differently -- definetely one of the most memorably levels and "worlds" in NES history. *****

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game

Almost forgot about this one. It's side scrolling beat'em up bit like Battletoads except this game focuses only in fightning stages and does it well. While gameplay might be bit repetitive it's compensated by one of the best controls and nice level themes -- and especially awesome 2 player mode. Turtles II is one of the best 2 player games on NES along Double Dragon and Battletoads series just up to par with them. Great stuff! ****½

And so there are shortly the NES games that for me were "best of the bunch" -- list of the worst ones will come later. I only have Double Dragons out of these NES games anymore but I hope to hunt down every each of this list's games in future from auctions and own them again :-) Thanks for reading.


  1. Hi,
    Thank you for your nice article on Thegamers dungeon.
    I like for your good writing.


  2. No problem :-) and thanks for yourself. Still hoping to acquire some of those NES games back, especially the best multiplayer games -- I've the NES system here but only two games left because of selling way back then.