Top 5 NES Games


Burkey’s Top 5 NES Games (2019)

The NES, the first bastion of retro goodness – its lively 8-bit chiptunes are as homely as tea by the fire and an Easy Sunday roast. The NES has almost become the retro badge of honour, or even the acid test: you may remember playing Streets of Rage or Tekken against friends, and laugh with a trace of embarrassment to others about it years later. But those games simply don’t dig deep enough into the retro enclaves. A question has to be asked to separate the retro-enthusiast wheat from the chaff: are u old skool enuf for NES?

With its limited graphics, palettes, sound effects and memory, NES games had to be sold on just fun. In the absence of fun, games had to at least be tough enough to spank you silly and make you love it – and more than a few games elected to take this option, leading to the fairly high amount of clag on the system. The Angry Video Game Nerd and his legions of hopeless copycats can attest to that.

But it’s certainly not all doom and gloom where this machine is concerned: here, we look at 5 of the very best, the type of games that any proud retro-game lover should be able to recognise at a glance. These are the kind of games that make you wonder why you ever bothered with Grand Theft Auto V (maybe).

5. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!

Top 5 NES Punch Out Mario
Yeah, thanks a bunch, Mario. Get used to seeing this


Simply an awesome premise for a game: you are Little Mac, a knock-kneed underage slugger from the Bronx, still not tall enough to ride on certain carnival amusements. You take on several outrageous stereotypes from countries around the world – a perma-drunk Soviet, a Genie-esque Indian and a French boxer only too happy to surrender and retire… until finally, you come up against possibly the most frightful final boss in any game (spoilers, it’s Mike Tyson). This was a bit before his conviction for rape, of course, and longer still before his ear biting.

But isn’t an 8-bit Iron Mike the maddest and baddest boss you could ever think of? More games should have Tyson as your final enemy – even Final Fantasy VII would have been better off that way. Later versions of the game wimped out and brought in some cleanshirt named Mr. Dream. What was the point in playing after that?

4. The Legend of Zelda

Top 5 NES Zelda Old Man
Doddery Old Man for Smash Bros?


I’ve seen this game described as “a game for people who love the Zelda series but who hate themselves”. Having quaffed the award-winning champagne of Link to the Past and sampled this century’s best contemporary in Breath of the Wild, you might initially think of the original Legend of Zelda game as being like the dregs of a pint of Fosters. Well, it’s true that without a guide you’ll spend about 60% of your time walking around wondering which rock to bomb or tree to burn or Zora to bugger. Some of the leaps in logic required are just incredible, but puppy-and-candy-store-advocator Shigeru Miyamoto says that this was intentional, so I suppose we must believe him.

But it was unlike anything released at the time: a large overworld; 9 dungeons, each more complex than the last; a variety of monsters and bosses to take out; interesting items and weapons; all manner of secrets; and even a Second Quest with redux dungeons to rejig the game a little. You could even save your progress, rather than suffer through passwords every time. Isn’t that nifty? It’s easy to stay in a comfort zone of the very best Zeldas. After all, Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time and Link’s Awakening could potentially do you for life. But you need to get past the idiosyncrasies of this game and acquire the taste for it – Zelda fans will not be disappointed.

3. Mega Man 2

Top 5 NES Megaman 2
Look how cheerful Mega Man is, in spite of it all

When Capcom games rain, they really end up pouring – I could have picked one of six Mega Man games for this entry. The unfortunate fact is that there’s not much to differentiate the six, and as classic as Mega Man is, he was never really good enough to warrant six short games on the NES alone. Still, after a shaky, harder-than-Honours-Maths opener to the series (the funnest part of the game being its box-art), Capcom redoubled their efforts for Mega Man 2.

Its soundtrack ranks among the very best, possibly even ahead of any of the Mega Man X games. The ideas for Robot Masters hadn’t yet become hackneyed (Centaur Man? Sheep Man?!) and Mega Man’s weapons were still new, varied and exciting. It’s not particularly surprising that Mega Man took most of his cues from Mega Man 2 for his appearance in Super Smash Bros. Grab yourself a copy and GET EQUIPPED WITH BUBBLE LEAD – when it comes to 2D Mega Man action, you’ll scarcely do better.

2. Probotector/Contra


Top 5 NES Contra Alien
Just because it’s not coming out of someone’s chest doesn’t mean it’s not Copyright Infringement, guys


Even with there being 3 exclusively single-player games on this list already, the co-operative, action-packed, Konami-backed Probotector (fine, we’ll call it Contra) easily gets a mention here on its own merits, whether you bring a buddy along or not. If you didn’t already know the rules, here they are: you’ve got 3 lives, a few continues if you’re lucky, one enemy shot kills you and there’s bullets flying at you from all angles, even if your weakling eyes aren’t good enough to pick them up.

Sound easy? Well, it ain’t – but you can use the famous Konami code to bag yourself 30 lives, and even so, you still better not get careless. You can gather some powerful artillery on your way through the 8 stages, and also bring a hapless friend with you to use as a human shield. After all, your grisly death isn’t as humiliating if you’re not the first one to go, right? If one or both of you manage to get to the very end of the game, you’ll get the chance to take down the Alien Queen Red Falcon, and consider yourself a hero! Then, the game starts again and therefore the entire struggle against the not-Xenomorphs repeats itself. Doesn’t it always?

1. Super Mario Bros. 3

Top 5 NES SMB3 Mega Goomba
No wonder that Mega Goomba looks so ticked off. He’s not got much of a walk, has he?


What else could it be? That’s not to say that the other 2 Super Mario Bros games aren’t good enough to be mentioned – they’re timeless as well (yes, even 2). To be honest, if I wanted to be extra lazy I could just tell you to watch “popular” 1989 “film” ‘The Wizard’ and that’d tell you everything you need to know about this game. But since I suppose I must tell you why it tops this particular list, here goes: 8 massive worlds, a whole host of items you can keep in reserve, lively music, the ability to play or skip certain levels thanks to the excellent overworld system… I’m still discovering little secrets, nooks and crannies in the game, and I’ve been playing it since my checkered childhood.

With levels short and sweet enough to be spedrun (speedran?) for fun, it’s Mario action in its purest form, or just about – you’ll always want to stick on another level before you take that momentous decision: do you turn the console off and partake in less enjoyable activities? Or do you Warp Whistle your way right over to Bowser’s patch, boot him right out of there and bring the Princess home? I wouldn’t say you’d have to be heartless not to enjoy this game, because I’m sure the Internet plays home to people with far more e-clout than I… but if I were you, I wouldn’t mention it in polite conversation.

22 November 2019

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