Gamer Koala

The Best NES Games of All Time

By the mid-1980s, the video game industry in America had fallen off a cliff. The days of the Atari were over, and 2600 cartridges were ending up in landfills rather than on birthday wishlists. Thankfully, a little Japanese console named Famicom showed up stateside as the Nintendo Entertainment System. Suddenly, the entire video game industry experienced a revitalization (one that has never stopped since).

With its iconic gray box and groundbreaking gamepad, this incredible gaming system introduced a generation of gamers to new and unforgettable characters and experiences. In this article, we delve into the ten best NES games that captured the hearts of players worldwide.

Without further ado, let’s dig in!

10. Ninja Gaiden

Ninja Gaiden for NES

Ninja Gaiden combined fast-paced action, precise platforming, and an engaging storyline to deliver a thrilling ninja adventure. Players took on the role of Ryu Hayabusa, battling through challenging levels, confronting deadly enemies, and uncovering a tale of revenge.

The game had a sort of cinematic maturity that lifted it above many other Nintendo games. I remember feeling like I was playing something “grown up” rather than childlike. But overall, Ninja Gaiden may be best known for its difficulty. Without precise timing, Ryu will certainly meet an untimely end.

With its stylish cinematic cutscenes, tight controls, and brutal gameplay, Ninja Gaiden absolutely deserves its spot in the top 10 NES games.

9. Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario Bros. 3 expanded upon the original formula with new power-ups, diverse levels, and a world map, introducing players to an even grander Mushroom Kingdom adventure. It was a new Mario game with a whole new formula, and we were ready.

The hype around this game’s release in the U.S. was monumental. I was among the kids who begged my parents to see The Wizard in theaters just to get a preview glimpse of Super Mario Bros. 3’s gameplay (and it was totally worth it).

With its inventive level design, charming and polished visuals, and innovative gameplay elements like the iconic Tanooki Suit, Super Mario Bros. 3 became a definitive NES experience.

8. Punch-Out!!

Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!

Punch-Out!! brought the world of boxing to the NES, placing players in the shoes of Little Mac as he climbed the ranks in various competitive boxing circuits. As a player, you had to learn your opponents’ patterns, dodge and counter their attacks, and aim for the perfect knockout.

Depending on the version of the game you find, you’ll either face off against Mr. Dream or Mike Tyson for the top belt. Tyson was certainly a big draw when the game was released, but his 1992 conviction ended his relationship with Nintendo.

With its unique characters, strategic dexterity-based pattern gameplay, and addictive challenge, Punch-Out!! remains one of the best boxing video games ever released.

7. Contra


Contra is a pulse-pounding, run-and-gun shooter that became synonymous with challenging co-op gameplay. Players battled through waves of enemies and epic boss encounters while armed with powerful weapons and power-ups.

With its intense action, iconic “Konami Code” cheat, and cooperative play, Contra offered hours of thrilling entertainment. Sitting on the couch with friends and blasting our way through wave after wave of enemies has seared this game and its soundtrack straight into my brain core.

Does Contra still hold up these days? Absolutely. In fact, I think it is a better game than its 16-bit follow-up, Super Contra. The latter may be prettier, but the level design in the original Contra is hard to beat.

6. DuckTales

Ducktales for NES

DuckTales took players on a treasure-hunting adventure as Scrooge McDuck, navigating through imaginative levels and collecting riches while avoiding enemies. Not only is DuckTales one of the best NES games of all time, but it’s also pretty challenging!

With its tight controls, clever level design, and catchy soundtrack, DuckTales combined platforming action with a dose of Disney charm. And by all accounts, it’s a much better game than anyone expected it to be.

Maybe the fact that Capcom built DuckTales on the same architecture that powered Mega Man helped it achieve better success than it would have otherwise. Having that kind of leg up is a serious bonus!

5. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

Castlevania 3 Dracula's Curse for NES

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse delivered a challenging and atmospheric action-platforming experience. Players assumed the role of Trevor Belmont, battling through treacherous levels filled with monsters and traps, culminating in epic confrontations with Dracula himself.

With its tight controls, haunting visuals, and memorable music, Castlevania III offered a gripping adventure that pushed the NES to its limits. The American version of the game was much harder than the version released in Japan.

After Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest divided the fanbase, Castlevania III stepped in to right all wrongs and take the franchise to a new level. It’s absolutely the best Castlevania game that you can play on NES. I’m not saying the earlier games aren’t classics, but the third time was certainly the charm in this case.

4. Mega Man 2

Mega Man 2 for NES

It’s the sequel that almost didn’t happen! The first Mega Man game released in 1987 wasn’t successful enough to merit a sequel, but the creatives at Capcom pulled some strings and agreed to work on Mega Man 2 as a side project. Thank goodness they did because what they produced is a timeless classic!

Mega Man 2‘s fast-paced action and challenging gameplay elevated the run-and-gun genre. As the robotic hero, Mega Man, players navigated through themed stages, defeating powerful Robot Masters and acquiring their unique weapons.

With its precise controls, memorable boss battles, and an unforgettable soundtrack, Mega Man 2 became a beloved NES classic and solidified the franchise’s legacy. As of this writing, the game continues to be the second highest-selling game in the entire Mega Man franchise.

3. Metroid

Metroid for NES

Metroid immersed players in a sprawling, interconnected world as they assumed the role of Samus Aran, a bounty hunter on a mission to defeat the Mother Brain. This atmospheric side-scrolling platformer introduced players to a unique blend of exploration, intense battles, and the groundbreaking ability to backtrack and unlock new areas with upgrades.

Metroid’s influence on platform shooters released afterward is hard to overstate. Metroid hit all the right notes and created a subgenre along with Castlevania, called the Metroidvania. Game developers to this day are trying to recreate the success of Metroid.

Metroid’s non-linear gameplay and iconic twist ending captivated players and inspired countless future games. It’s a well-deserved Top 3 position on this list.

2. The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda for NES

The Legend of Zelda introduced players to Hyrule’s vast and magical world, embarking on a quest to rescue Princess Zelda and defeat the evil Ganon. This action-adventure game combined exploration, puzzle-solving, and intense combat, allowing players to uncover secrets and conquer dungeons.

Millions of kids have been captivated by its unique gold-plated NES cartridge, and obviously, the series has gone on to astronomical success in the following decades. But the greatest thing about The Legend of Zelda is that you can go all the way back to the beginning and still enjoy the original game immensely. It has aged well and still holds up.

With its non-linear gameplay and challenging puzzles, The Legend of Zelda set a new standard for the genre and spawned a legendary franchise.

1. Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros.

What can we say? Super Mario Bros. catapulted the NES to stratospheric heights with its revolutionary platforming gameplay. It won over legions of kids in the U.S. who had all but given up on home video game systems. The Nintendo revitalized the entire industry and Mario had quite a lot to do with it.

Sure, the game was included in every console. But it was not some half-baked demo trying to spur kids to go buy other cartridges. It was a revolutionary game and secured Mario in pop culture’s upper echelon. Sorry, Pac-Man, your days were numbered to begin with.

With its tight controls, imaginative level design, fun characters, and unforgettable soundtrack, Super Mario Bros. became an instant hit and laid the foundation for too many future games to wrap our heads around.