The 20 Best NES Games That Still Deserve Playtime Today

Some of Nintendo's best games ever created were on the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

The Super Mario Bros. and Zelda franchises originated as NES games and continue to have new additions on current consoles.

There is something gratifying about those old-school game cartridges versus playing these games online. However, many of them are available for online play now.

These twenty NES games are my favorite of all time. I spent hours leaning my body into twists and turns, jumping up and down, screaming at the TV, and gripping my controller until my hands went white.

There may also have been a time or two when I threw the controller out of frustration. As we speak, I'm having Final Fantasy, Double Dragon, Dragon Warrior, Donkey Kong, and Kirby's Adventure flashbacks of frustration.

You know what it is. So check out these fantastic NES games that still deserve playtime today.

20. California Games

California Games wasn't a massive NES success, but it provided hours of entertainment as you attempted to master each of the six sporting events.

It made my list because of the time spent playing California Games with my sister and childhood friends. It's one of the more underrated NES games, in my opinion.

You could compete in some or all of the six sports events. Additionally, you could pick one event and practice it.

Finally, after naming your player, you choose a brand sponsor such as Ocean Pacific (OP) or Santa Cruz skateboards to support your play.

The six sporting events include Half-Pipe, Foot-Bag, Surfing, Skating, BMX, and Flying Disk. The latter is the worst of the bunch.

Nonetheless, the foot-bag, skating, and BMX were a blast. Surfing was the thorn in my side, but it was always fun trying. The music is infectious, as is with many classic NES games.

19. Duck Hunt

Duck Hunt is a classic light gun shooter game that came as part of the Action Set on a dual cartridge with Super Mario Bros.

It featured an NES Zapper (plastic gun) with sensor technology that enabled you to shoot ducks as they flew up from the grass on the screen. Sounds simple, right?

Surprisingly, those stupid ducks could get away even when you cheated and put the gun against the television screen. As you progress through the levels, the ducks begin flying faster, increasing the game's difficulty.

Perhaps, its most memorable component is the hunting dog that pops out of the bushes to laugh at you when you miss the ducks. I think we all tried shooting that dog but to no avail.

Although, the later-released arcade game allowed you to take a shot at him in the bonus round. If you shot him, he appeared bandaged with crutches on the screen. Who's laughing now, dog?!

18. Tecmo Bowl

Tecmo Bowl is one of the greatest sports video games of all time. The NES version was the first video console game to feature real players in the National Football League (NFL).

In addition, it included six National Football Conference (NFC) teams and six American Football Conference (AFC) teams, unlike the arcade versions', two fictional team options. So it was an exciting time for football fans.

There were three player modes: one-player, two-player, or coach. Additionally, the playbooks consisted of four offensive plays (two running and two passing).

So it wasn't too complicated, and if the defense correctly identified the offense's play, it would collapse the offensive line and well-covered receivers.

Bo Jackson was that man; my dad didn't appreciate his ten-year-old, who knew nothing about football, annihilating the field with him!

17. MS. Pacman

Ms. Pacman is one of the greatest video games of all time, spanning several arcade and game console releases. The objective is to avoid ghosts while earning points by eating pellets and fruit while running through a maze.

However, the power (energizer) pellets enable you to eat the ghosts by turning them blue for a brief window of time. You receive bonus points for chomping down on them.

As the rounds increase, so do the speed and difficulty. There are fewer energizers to help eat the ghosts until, eventually, you're left to duck, dodge, and outrun them.

It's an addicting game that will demand hours of your attention. And it's far superior to the original Pac-Man, in my opinion.

16. Rad Racer

Rad Racer is a game where you race through different locations, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Athens. My favorite part of the game is the three fantastic radio stations and the ability to change them while driving.

Rad Racer is a behind-the-vehicle perspective with the road and different terrains ahead. You choose between two cars that perform the same and allow you to accelerate to 100 km/h.

When the turbo is activated, you can accelerate to 255 km/h. However, controlling the car becomes nearly impossible at that speed.

There are eight stages with checkpoints that add additional time to the course. You don't complete the course if you don't hit the checkpoints.

One of its best features is the coasting after your time has run out. It saved you so many times! If you coasted over the checkpoint, you got more time.

So if you weren't jumping up and down while screaming, “Come on, let's go,” you weren't playing the game at its full potential.

15. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Based on the 1987 cartoon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) is one of the most challenging NES games to complete. But, it's also one of the most fun games available for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The swimming level with the electric shockers was when many people of my generation first experienced genuine anxiety. However, the Turtle van level was also a beast! TMNT is a single-player game with six stages.

First, you have to choose which Turtle and weapon to use. Each Turtle's unique primary weapon has a different reach, power, and speed. Then, after your first Turtle runs out of health, you cycle through the others to complete the game.

If all four Turtles are captured, you lose the game. However, after the third stage, you have a chance to rescue a captured Turtle for extended play.

14. Paperboy

Paperboy is one of the most addicting and maddening NES games ever invented. You assume the role of a paperboy and are assigned a paper route.

The game spans a week, and each day is a course. However, it looks and sounds a lot simpler than it is. You start ten newspapers and ride your bicycle to deliver them, picking up refills throughout the course.

Obstacles, including dogs, break-dancers, and remote control cars, attempt to take you down.

Additionally, the game is a moving sidescroller, so you're constantly being pushed forward, making it more difficult to avoid things as the levels become more intense.

13. Life Force

Life Force is ported from the arcade game Salamander and has many similarities and differences. Life Force is a one or two-player game that moves across the screen.

You operate an aircraft that flies through six stages of difficult terrain filled with new alien life forms. You start with a single-fire weapon but can collect four more powerful weapons along the way.

For example, certain enemies leave a jewel you collect after killing them. You trade the treasures for those weapons, including missiles, ripples, and lasers.

You can also get a force field that allows you to come into contact with enemies a couple of times before wearing off.

Additionally, you can exchange them for up to two options: circles that follow you and shoots with you at your enemies. Life Force is a blast if you have a second player to navigate the play through.

12. Adventure Island II

Adventure Island II is a Hudson Soft game that eliminates the side-scrolling pushing you along, like in the first Adventure Island—no more missing the fruit!

There are eight dangerous islands filled with various monsters and minions. However, there are also four different dinosaurs you can ride to get through the islands.

Nintendo eliminated the checkpoints, so you start at the beginning if you die. Instead, the game features underwater stages, as well as vertical-scrolling stages.

Also, when you complete a course while riding your skateboard, you don't get to take it to the next stage like before. Keys are inside eggs that sometimes allow you to take shortcuts to the next island or transport you into an item room to pick up goodies.

11. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse is the third installment of the Castlevania video game series, and by far, it's the best. It has the best musical score to accompany gameplay.

But, it also had one of the most challenging bosses to beat, and sadly, I could not defeat the final Dracula. Nonetheless, I spent hours trying.

It is a non-linear game, so you have options on your path to the main boss. For example, there are multiple places within the game where you can choose a direction on branching paths.

So you have numerous ending possibilities. After the first level, you also can garner assistance from one of three possible companions. It's a top-tier NES old-school game.

10. Kid Icarus

Kid Icarus is a retro game cult classic with side-scrolling and role-playing elements. You play Pit, a Cherubim with an unlimited supply of arrows for defense.

However, you can purchase weapons and armor upgrades. There are three stages to Kid Icarus: the Underworld, the Overworld (Earth), and the Skyworld.

Each course has three unidirectional area levels and a fortress. In addition, you access several chambers and doors during play that lead to black markets with items to trade for hearts you collect from killing the monsters.

In the gods' chamber, you can increase your bow and arrow strength pending enemy kills and the amount of health you lose battling bad guys.

Finally, you receive one of three power items in the training chamber once you pass the endurance test.

As you navigate up the screen, there are ample opportunities to fall, forcing you to start your climb from the bottom. So it's one of the most entertaining but frustrating of the classic NES games.

9. Dr. Mario

Dr. Mario is a falling block puzzle game that resembles Tetris but incorporates Mario into the mix. Instead of placing puzzle pieces together to clear rows, you drop vitamin pills on viruses on the screen.

You can rotate the capsules to align the proper color matches to the colored viruses. Each level has a different number of viruses and difficulties.

There are 20 levels. However, if you complete level 20, you continue playing that level repeatedly while racking up a top score.

Additionally, there are three-speed levels and two catchy music types. Or, you can opt not to have music while clearing the pill bottle game board.

Finally, Dr. Mario has a two-player mode where you compete against each other on separate playing fields. Whoever clears the board three times first wins the game.

8. Mike Tyson's Punch-out!!

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! It is a boxing game that puts you into Little Mac's shoes and has you competing through the World Video Boxing Association ranks.

Mario is the referee as you face 14 opponents in three circuits: Short Circuit, Major Circuit, and World Circuit. Compared to your opponents, you are limited to left and right jabs, and left and right body blows.

Although, you pack a powerful uppercut punch after earning and using a star. Stars are achieved by counter-punching your opponent directly before or after targeted attacks.

All of the opponents have a unique fighting style and persona. Some opponents include Glass Joe, Piston Honda, Great Tiger, Bald Bull, and Soda Popinski.

The final competitor is a large and speedy Mike Tyson that drives you to the breaking point of insanity until you finally knock him out! The game is mainly about offense and timing.

7. The Battle of Olympus

The Battle of Olympus takes place in ancient Greece and is full of Greek mythological creatures. It is a role-playing game with one of the best musical scores from the classic NES games.

The dark ruler of the underworld, Hades, has kidnapped your girlfriend, Helene. To survive the journey, you must meet the Greek gods and gain their favor.

Zeus is the gods' leader encouraging the other Olympian gods to grant you powers along the way.

These powers include offensive and defensive tools, upgraded weapons, shields, and other equipment with specific purposes. For example, the Harp of Apollo calls for Pegasus to sweep you up and fly you to distant locations.

Additional items depicted in Greek mythology are acquired, including the Staff of Prometheus, the Sandals of Hermes, and the Sword of Hephaestus.

Furthermore, it has several Greek mythological creatures, such as a Siren, Centaur, Minotaur, Cyclops, and Cerberus. So it is a very cool game, especially if you're into Greek mythology.

6. Contra

Contra is the most incredible run-and-gun shooter game of NES time. It features one-player and two-player options. However, the two-player teaming-up option is my preferred method of playing.

Part of the thrill of Contra is the resemblance to action movies at the time, even featuring characters with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger appearances.

You have a small arsenal of weapons you cycle through, including a machine gun, rapid-fire, the spread gun, laser, and useless fire.

There are eight stages of varying playing perspectives, including the standard side view, pseudo-3D view, and fixed screen format. Contra is one of the more difficult Nintendo games to beat.

5. The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda is the first of many Zelda games to come. Zelda's set in the fantasy land of Hyrule.

You play Link, an elf-like boy on a mission to collect the eight fragments of the Triforce of Wisdom.

Eight large mazed dungeons filled with enemies guard the fragments. You need them to rescue Princess Zelda from the enemy, Ganon.

The Legend of Zelda is a top-down view or flip-screen overhead perspective. You acquire various items along your journey that increase your strength and abilities.

For example, there are Heart Containers that improve your life and magic rings that make you stronger against enemy attacks.

Additionally, you find stronger swords and other treasures hidden in caves and beneath obstacles such as trees, rocks, and waterfalls. The music is spectacular.

4. Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros. is one of the greatest video games of all time. Additionally, it's cited frequently as reviving the video game industry crash of 1983. Super Mario Bros. is a one-to-two-player game.

The music is iconic and easily identifiable. You control Mario or Luigi (2nd player) as he races through the Mushroom Kingdom to defeat Bowser and save Princess Toadstool.

There are eight different lands with four courses in each. It is a side-scrolling platform game where you move to the right to reach the flagpole at the end of each level.

Also, if you time it right, you can cause fireworks to go off (1,3,6, and 9 ending on the clock). Finally, the worlds include question mark boxes and coins that give you extra guys, make you big, or grant you firepower.

When you are in big mode and hit an enemy, it allows you to shrink for a second chance versus killing you immediately when you are small.

This classic video game has swimming levels, warping tubes, and flying fish that launched an entire series of Mario games.

3. Bubble Bobble

Bubble Bobble is my all-time favorite Nintendo game to play today still. It's available in the Playstation store and is almost identical to the original.

Fortunately, the Playstation version opted for a different level 57, and the game is a better play. The original level 57 was brutal and nearly impossible without a second player to assist.

Baron Von Blubba kidnaps Bub and Bob's girlfriends before turning them into dragons. So you fight through 100 levels in the Cave of Monsters to defeat Baron Von Blubba and rescue the damsels in distress.

Each level is a limited single-screen without left and right scrolling. However, you can fall through the bottom and drop through the top.

After completing each one, a bubble sweeps you to the next course. To trap your enemies, you blow them into bubbles and burst them by jumping into the cluster.

If you allow them to group before bursting them, you can get things that help you, including letters that, once you spell out “EXTEND,” gives you an extra life.

2. Zelda II: The Adventures of Link

Zelda II: The Adventures of Link is my all-time favorite role-playing game (RPG). I spent hours mastering the game and have beaten it more than any other video game, except for the Mario games, possibly.

However, unlike The Legend of Zelda, it's a side-scrolling game with a top-down perspective only when navigating the map. Zelda II: The Adventures of Link is one of the more challenging Zelda games with many hidden areas with treasures.

For example, there is a hidden heart for your life bar in the middle of the ocean on a secret path you can walk after obtaining the Boots. But, several gameplayers missed it.

Remember, this was during the time of the Nintendo hotline and before the internet or accompanying magazines for completing RPGs.

Therefore, to rescue the Princess, you needed to find special tools to help you complete missions by communicating with the townspeople, exploring the map, and spending hours of dedicated frustration.

You collect extra hearts and magics to add to your bar until you max out at eight. You use the magic to increase the strength of your sword by leveling up.

Additionally, you can use magic for potions that give you special abilities needed to complete levels. The enemies in the dungeons were difficult, but the maze challenges were unforgettable. Again, this is one of the best musical scores for classic NES games.

1. Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario Bros. 3 is a two-dimensional, side-scrolling platform game where you control either Mario or Luigi. You navigate through eight kingdoms, divided into several courses, before battling Bowser to rescue Princess Toadstool again.

Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced the world map for transitioning levels, Mario suits, sliding, flying, and the Koopalings, Bowser's children.

In Super Mario Bros. 3, you defeat Bowser's seven children on their seven ships flying around the world map.

The eight worlds are fantastic and have distinct visual themes, such as the fourth world, Giant Land. Giant Land was populated with enemies and obstacles twice their standard size while you remained your tiny self.

Power-ups from the previous games are available, but several new power-ups exist. For example, the Super Leaf gives you a raccoon tail that allows you to fly!

The Frog Suit makes swimming levels a breeze. And the Tanooki Suit will enable you to avoid enemies by turning to stone. Additionally, you can stomp on the ground in the suit and kill the enemies around you.

Finally, the Hammer Suit allows you to throw hammers and crouch to avoid fire attacks. Without a doubt, Super Mario Bros. 3 is the best NES game of all time for Mario fans like myself.

Check out Nintendo Switch online to see which classic NES games are available to download and play today. Of course, the new Nintendo Switch games are fun to play too!

Alternatively, check out these classic SNES games and N64 games to help you relive your childhood.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.