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The Best NES Games of All Time

Nintendo logo over spooky Castlevania scene

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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). Gamers were finally able to experience the magic of 8-bit graphics on their home television screens.

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 10 best NES games that captured the hearts of players worldwide.

Be sure to also check out our best game rankings for the Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, and GameCube consoles. We’ve also ranked games for the Wii and Wii U systems. If you enjoy handheld gaming, check out our best Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, and Nintendo 3DS game rankings. Whew! That’s a lot of amazing games to play!

Without further ado, let’s dig in!

10. Ninja Gaiden

Cover art of Ninja Gaiden for NES

Game Info – Ninja Gaiden

U.S. Release: NES (1989)
Developer: Tecmo
Game Type: Platformer
Multiplayer: No

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.

Ninja Gaiden may be best known for its brutal difficulty. Without precise timing, Ryu will certainly meet an untimely end.

With its stylish cinematic cutscenes, tight controls, and challenging gameplay, Ninja Gaiden left an indelible mark on the NES library.

Ninja Gaiden Classic T-Shirt

9. Super Mario Bros. 3

Cover art of Super Mario Bros 3 for NES

Game Info – Super Mario Bros. 3

U.S. Release: NES (1989)
Developer: Nintendo
Game Type: Platformer
Multiplayer: Yes (Hand-Off)

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.

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

8. Punch-Out!!

Cover art of Punch-Out!! for NES

Game Info – Punch-Out!!

U.S. Release: NES (1987)
Developer: Nintendo
Game Type: Boxing
Multiplayer: No

Punch-Out!! brought the world of boxing to the NES, placing players in the shoes of Little Mac as he climbed the ranks of the boxing circuit. Players learned their opponents’ patterns, dodged and countered their attacks, and aimed for the perfect knockout.

Another reason that Punch-Out!! captured the hearts of gamers and boxing fans was the Mike Tyson version of the game. Instead of Mr. Dream, you have to face off against Mike Tyson. After his conviction, Tyson was dropped from the franchise.

With its memorable characters, strategic gameplay, and addictive challenge, Punch-Out!! remains a beloved NES sports game.

Punch Out!! Socks

Punch Out Socks

7. Contra

Cover art of Contra for NES

Game Info – Contra

U.S. Release: NES (1987)
Developer: Konami
Game Type: Platform Shooter
Multiplayer: Yes

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.

Contra Classic T-Shirt

Contra t-shirt

6. DuckTales

Cover art of Ducktales for NES

Game Info – DuckTales

U.S. Release: NES (1989)
Developer: Capcom
Game Type: Platformer
Multiplayer: No

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 — it’s also one of the hardest!

With its tight controls, clever level design, and catchy soundtrack, DuckTales combined platforming action with a nostalgic dose of Disney charm.

DuckTales Coffee Mug

Duck Tales coffee mug

5. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

Cover art of Castlevania 3 Dracula's Curse for NES

Game Info – Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

U.S. Release: NES (1989)
Developer: Konami
Game Type: Platform
Multiplayer: No

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.

Castlevania Pixel Frame

Castlevania Pixel Frame

4. Mega Man 2

Cover art of Mega Man 2 for NES

Game Info – Mega Man 2

U.S. Release: NES (1988)
Developer: Capcom
Game Type: Platform Shooter
Multiplayer: No

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.

Mega Man Classic T-Shirt

Mega Man t-shirt

3. Metroid

Cover art of Metroid for NES

Game Info – Metroid

U.S. Release: NES (1986)
Developer: Nintendo
Game Type: Platform Shooter
Multiplayer: No

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 non-linear gameplay and iconic twist ending captivated players and inspired countless future games. Not surprising at all to find it in the top 5 best NES games of all time.

2. The Legend of Zelda

Cover art of The Legend of Zelda for NES

Game Info – The Legend of Zelda

U.S. Release: NES (1987)
Developer: Nintendo
Game Type: ARPG
Multiplayer: No

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.

With its non-linear gameplay and immersive storytelling, The Legend of Zelda set a new standard for the genre and spawned a legendary franchise. You may be surprised that The Legend of Zelda didn’t make our number one pick for best NES games of all time, but a certain plumber just managed to eek out ahead.

Legend of Zelda Classic T-Shirt

1. Super Mario Bros.

The Best NES Game of All Time

Cover art of Super Mario Bros for NES

Game Info – Super Mario Bros.

U.S. Release: NES (1985)
Developer: Nintendo
Game Type: Platformer
Multiplayer: No

Super Mario Bros. catapulted the NES to stratospheric heights with its revolutionary platforming gameplay. Players guide Mario through colorful levels, overcoming obstacles and enemies to rescue Princess Peach from the villainous Bowser.

With its tight controls, imaginative level design, and unforgettable soundtrack, Super Mario Bros. became an instant hit and laid the foundation for future platformers.

Super Mario Bros. Lamp

Super Mario lamp

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