Best NES Games – Nintendo Life

© Nintendo Life

The Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES (ness? nezz? enn-eee-ess?), is the archetypal home video game console. Sure, earlier machines such as the mighty Atari 2600 pioneered the basic concept of an under-the-TV console with interchangeable software and controller accessories, but the utilitarian design and hardware innovations of Nintendo’s 8-bit system set the stage for modern console gaming.

© Nintendo Life

Following the video game ‘crash’ of 1983, the NES (or Famicom in Japan) defied naysayers and singlehandedly brought the industry back stronger than ever thanks to canny marketing and — more significantly — an excellent software library. In the early days, solid ports of hits like Donkey Kong gave players a taste of the arcade in their homes, and game design innovations (and the introduction of on-cartridge chips) further enhanced and expanded the potential for developers making games on the humble NES. Compare 1983’s Donkey Kong port to 1988’s Super Mario Bros. 3 and it’s hard to believe they’re running on the same system.

Below you’ll find a list of the top 50 NES games ever made. As with many of our other Top 50 system lists, the ranking below is governed by User Ratings submitted by Nintendo Life readers, so this list is not set in stone. The ordering will continue to evolve automatically according to each game’s User scores (from 0-10) on the Nintendo Life game database. Disagree with the order? Have your say by scrolling down and rating them now! And if you’ve rated them already? Thank you kindly — sit back and enjoy.

If there’s a game bubbling under the top 50 that you’d like to rate, feel free to find it using the search tool below and give it a score out of 10. Otherwise, scroll down and enjoy our round up of the very best NES games ever…

Note. In order for games to become eligible, they need a minimum of 50 User Ratings in total.

Release Date: 1st Mar 1987 (Fire Pro Wrestling notwithstanding), you could do much worse than returning to Pro Wrestling for a bout.

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Release Date: 19th Nov 2007 (Wrecking Crew isn’t something we’d recommend spending vast sums on, but it’s definitely worth checking out as part of the Nintendo Switch Online package of NES games. It can be a frustrating experience and it lacks the control finesse players would come to expect from later Nintendo efforts, but as an early 8-bit Mario puzzle-platformer, it certainly warrants investigation.

Release Date: 1st Jun 1992 (Yoshi is hardly the most scintillating of puzzlers, but we’ve played worse tile-matching games in our time and it does have a relatively unique plate/column switching mechanic. We’d recommend firing it up for a moment or two to see if the concept catches on. If so, great! If not, move along.

Release Date: 19th Nov 2006 (Solomon’s Key is nonetheless an enjoyable action-puzzler from Tecmo that’s worth playing today – provided you’ve got the patience for it.

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Release Date: 14th Jul 2008 (Donkey Kong 3 is an odd departure from the previous entries in the series from back when sequels didn’t mean rinsing and repeating the concept from the previous game ad infinitum. It’s certainly not up to the standard of the arcade original but it’s still a fascinating slice of Nintendo history and worth firing up at least once.

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Release Date: 30th Jan 1985 (Ice Climber is a solid concept let down by finicky controls. Scaling its mountains can offer diversion if you can overcome how awkward it feels in a modern context, but anyone checking this out on the strength of the characters’ inclusion in Smash Bros. best prepare themselves for a cold shower.

Release Date: 5th Oct 2009 (Final Fantasy from 1987 came partly from the team’s belief that this was their last-ditch attempt to make a successful game. They may have hoped for it, but few could have predicted quite how successful the series would become.

Going back, you might not guess so either from a vintage RPG which is very bare-bones by modern standards. The kernel is there, though, so although new players will definitely need to wash this down with a strong glass of historical context, series fans will find it worth investigating or revisiting. It’s available in various forms, and is one of the titles on the NES Classic Mini.

Publisher: Aksys Games / Developer: Technōs Japan
Release Date: Jun 1989 (River City Ransom in North America or Street Gangs in Europe), Super Dodge Ball is a silly, shallow little nostalgia trip that’s well worth playing, especially for Kunio fans. It won’t keep you entertained for hours, but it’s a charming, humorous little sports title best enjoyed with a friend.

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo R&D2
Release Date: 18th Jun 2007 (NES Open Tournament Golf might lack the bells, whistles and frills we’ve come to expect from our golf games these days, the core gameplay here is as solid as ever. Eighteen holes might be pushing it, but a swift walk round the back nine will do nicely.

Release Date: Sep 1990 (Journey to Silius, although remnants of its former life are easy enough to pick out. It’s a cracking game with excellent music that would be high on our personal lists of NES titles to check out. If you never got around to playing this in the past, there’s no time like the present.