Friday, November 11, 2016

All 30 NES Classic Edition Games RANKED

Ranking the 8-bit offerings on Nintendo's retro-console, from the crap to the classics.

By: Jimbo X

Unless you've been living under a rock since last spring, you've no doubt heard about Nintendo's newfangled NES Classic Edition mini-console, which - fittingly enough - just dropped on U.S store shelves today (hell, it's almost like I timed this article to coincide with its release, no?) For the uninitiated, the $60 piece of hardware comes with a stock NES control pad and 30 built-in games. Ever the 8-bit connoisseur, I am quite familiar with all of the games on the unit, and by and large, I'd reckon the assortment is a really nice jumble of titles. Alas, there is certainly a pecking order when it comes to overall game quality, and for those of you looking for a quick rundown of which games on the system are hits and which ones are shit, well, what do you know, I've already gone on ahead and ranked every singe game included on the mini-console in order from least to best.

Pondering whether or not the assortment of 8-bit games on the unit are worthy of your investment or a neophyte retro gamer wondering which games on the unit you ought to hop into first? Well, wonder no more, folks - my rankings will tell you absolutely everything you need to know...

Yeah, it's about as retarded as it looks. 

Balloon Fight

This game, as the Brits say, is utter rubbish. The graphics are terrible, the controls are atrocious, the music is irritating and the core gameplay mechanics just plain shitty. Nintendo’s failed attempt to recreate the arcade classic Joust (yes, the one with the ostrich) is definitely one of the worst first party games on the NES, and something you’re guaranteed to get bored with in about 10 minutes. A calculator app – with most of the numbers missing – still would’ve been a more welcome addition to the line-up.

Ice Climber

Nobody ever played this game when it was first released, and that’s for a reason. Despite the retroactive appeal from the titular characters’ inclusion in Super Smash Bros. Melee, there really isn’t much to enjoy about this one. The slippery controls are frustrating, the visuals are uninteresting and the soundtrack will make you want to club a baby seal to death (which, believe it or not, was an aspect of the original Japanese game that had to be excised for American audiences.)

Donkey Kong, Jr.

The original Donkey Kong was a great arcade game with simple, but addictive, gameplay. This sequel is far less enjoyable, with a totally different gameplay hook that has you climbing from rope to rope to rescue your simian daddy from the clutches of a fairly familiar looking mustachioed plumber. It’s not a terrible game, per se, but it sure is slow-paced, with really clumsy controls. The unsung Donkey Kong 3 – which had you playing a bug exterminator trying to spray pesticide up the eponymous ape’s butt hole (no, for real) – would have been a far better selection.

Mario Bros.

Sometime after Mario stopped harassing gorillas but a little bit before he became “super,” he and Luigi starred in a fairly forgettable arcade game where you ran around a static screen bumping blocks underneath turtles over and over again. And yeah, this arcade port is about as ennui-inducing as it sounds. It’s also a pretty big waste of disk space, since the entire game is included as a “mini-game” in another title in the line-up, Super Mario Bros. 3.

Donkey Kong

It’s pretty hard to hate on Donkey Kong, and all these years later, it’s still a fun and challenging experience. Still, we’ve played this one a million, billion times before on other collections, and the NES version is nonetheless a very watered down port of the arcade classic. You can wrench some amusement out of it, but it won’t keep you enthralled for too long.

The original survival-horror video game. 


Pretty much the same deal as Donkey Kong. Yeah, it’s fun, instantly accessible and hard to put down, but it’s just so damn ubiquitous that you have to wonder why it was included. I mean, you can play this anytime you want on Google for free, can’t you?

Link: The Legend of Zelda II

Now here’s a polarizing tile. A big departure from the original, Link is a weird side-scrolling action game with some light role playing game elements. Frankly, I’ve always thought this was a vastly disappointing title, with weak graphics, poor controls and some astoundingly cheap enemies. Your mileage may vary, but I can’t say I’ve ever been an admirer of this one.


Some people will be mighty miffed I ranked this one so low, but to be honest, I’ve always thought this was a wildly overrated game. Yeah, the exploration dynamic is cool and the music is memorable, but the graphics are ugly and there is WAY too much backtracking. Plus, if you map the level layout old school with a sheet of notebook paper and a Magic Marker, you can tear through the whole thing in under an hour – maybe even a half hour, if you are really good at it.


The obligatory Konami code reference aside, this is a fairly rudimentary space shooter that, while enjoyable, doesn’t really do too much to stand out from a crowded field of similar titles. If we’re going to go the whole scrolling-shooter route, why not include something less mainstream and WAY more awesome, like Gun Nac or the insanely great Japanese only offerings Summer Carnival 92 – Recca and Crisis Force?

Bubble Bobble

Another sacred cow I was never that fond of. Granted, the later stages get pretty intense and the co-op play is fun, but the Sega Master System version still makes this one look like crap. Why couldn’t we have gotten Bomberman II instead, guys?

Sigh ... kids today will never understand the simple joy of having two spaceships at once. Buncha' entitled motherfuckers.


Yeah, I know it’s another one of those hyper-ubiquitous arcade ports (I guarantee either your local Wal-Mart or movie theater has one of those 20th anniversary  machines in it somewhere), but you know what? It’s still a really enjoyable, super addictive game that, all these years later, still packs a considerable amount of challenge. It’s about as simplistic as gaming gets, but why complain about it being uncomplicated when it’s this much fun?

Super Mario Bros. 2

The cracked out sequel to the NES classic (which is actually an entirely different game with the Mario characters slapped on it) remains a contentious title three decades down the road. Some people dig it for its wild divergence from the original, whereas others criticize it for straying too far from the fundamental elements that made the pack-in game such an enjoyable romp. No matter where you stand, it’s still a game that lets you chunk giant onions at pink Ku Klux Klan midgets, though, and it’s hard to find too many faults with that.

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Opinions vary on this one. Some people enjoy its more exploration-based mechanics (complete with one of the first “day and night” cycles in any video game) while others lament its backtracking, constant grinding, unchallenging boss battles and downright abstruse puzzles. If you are an old school gamer, you already know how you feel about it; Castle-virgins, you’ll just have to play it and draw your own conclusions.

Super Mario Bros.

The torchbearer for every NES game that followed, the immortal pack-in classic – despite its minimalistic design – remains a surprisingly intuitive and enjoyable game 30 years down the road. Really, what more can be said? It’s simple, solid, no-frills old-school proto-platforming fun, even if you can beat the whole thing in 20 minutes by now.


This was a day one release when the NES first hit store shelves in October 1985, and if you ask me, it was easily the best launch title (yes, even better than Super Mario Bros.) The gameplay is technically simple (go fast, but not so fast your motor bike explodes), but surprisingly nuanced, with plenty of game modes and the ability to create your own death-trap filled courses – which, thanks to the miracle of this newfangled technology called "a hard drive," you can finally save and replay!

Surprisingly, parents groups raised little fuss about a Nintendo game that begins with a cartoon character receiving a blow job in a graveyard.

Ghosts 'n Goblins

Thirty years later, I STILL haven’t been able to beat this game. A port of the ultra-hard arcade favorite, Ghosts 'n Goblins is rightfully considered one of the most challenging – and frustrating – games ever made. Hardcore purists love it for its remorseless challenge while lesser players tend to write it off as a poorly designed action platformer. There is no in-between: either you are going to love this game’s kooky atmosphere and hard as nails gameplay or you are going to absolutely loathe its steep learning curve and cheap enemies.

Ninja Gaiden

While this stellar Tecmo offering is probably most noteworthy for being one of the first video games with cinematic, story-propelling cutscenes, it really ought to be celebrated for being such a fast-paced, fluid and most importantly, fun action-platformer. Via an inventive wall-scaling mechanic, you hop, bop, jump and somersault your way across a diverse game-scape, as a steady stream of enemies pursue you from every direction. It’s no doubt a challenging (and at times, irritating) experience, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives here – although it should be noted that Ninja Gaiden II is even more awesome game than this one.

Final Fantasy

Yes, there are better role playing games to be found on the NES. The Japan-exclusive Final Fantasies II and III are superior sequels, as are the American-released Dragon Warriors III and IV. Still, the first Fantasy remains a rock-solid, traditional RPG that – despite a few outdated components – still provides a lengthy and satisfying story-driven experience. It may not hold up as well as the all-time masterpieces that came out later on the Super Nintendo, but if you can overlook the dated visuals and prerequisite grinding, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how engaging the game still is.


Castlevania III is my second favorite NES game ever; alas, that’s the ONLY Nintendo-era Castlevania game that isn’t included in the lineup. Regardless, the first ‘Vania is nonetheless a fun and challenging experience, with excellent level design, unforgettable music and some of the best atmospherics of any game to be found on the venerated 8-bit unit. This is just old school, linear action-platforming goodness in its rawest essence; if you can’t wring enjoyment out of that, perhaps this whole “retro gaming” thing just ain’t for you.

Tecmo Bowl

And if you are wondering what my all-time favorite NES game is, it’s Tecmo Super Bowl. Unfortunately, since that game includes official NFL teams and player likenesses, Nintendo would have spent a million bajillion dollars to include it on the list, so instead we are appeased with its forerunner, the much, much pared back Tecmo Bowl. While this game is certainly less feature-packed than its sublime sequel, you can still get plenty of fun out of this one, especially in competitive match-ups that pit NOT THE DENVER BRONCOS up AGAINST NOT THE LOS ANGELES RAIDERS. A tip for neophytes: learn how to “zig-zag,” and learn it early.

The game gets WAY darker when you realize the virus he's treating is actually anthropomorphized AIDS.

Dr. Mario

Now this is a game a lot of people unwisely sleep on. At first glance, it just seems so … bland. OK, so we’ve got Mario trading in his plunger to dispense pharmaceuticals? Well, that just seems random. And you mean to tell me the entire game play consists of dropping color-coded pills on similarly hued germs, over and over again? What sounds like about as much fun as a hysterectomy on paper actually translates into a surprisingly addictive puzzler that, in many ways, is even more enjoyable and engaging than Tetris. And if there has ever been a catchier theme song in any video game, I have yet to hear it.

Double Dragon II: The Revenge

While it’s not the best game in the lineup, this has to be the selection that impressed me the most. A lot of people would’ve picked the first Double Dragon game out of sheer nostalgia, but thankfully, the Big N did us a kindness and instead opted for its even better (yet oddly unsung) sequel, which literally doubles the fun by including a fantastic co-op mode so you and a buddy can clean the streets, Charles Bronson style, together. The combat system takes some time to get used to, but once you figure it out, it’s an absolute blast. Oh, and don’t think this is just a brainless beat-em-up; as the game progresses, don’t be surprised when you get hit by some really, really tricky platform jumping, seemingly out of nowhere…

Kid Icarus

Now this is the game that I think ought to be celebrated instead of Metroid. While there is a certain exploration component, Kid Icarus is a game that never eschews the action for backtracking and second-guessing whether or not you’ve been in a totally empty room for the four millionth time. Indeed, it’s pretty hard to get lost at all in Kid Icarus, seeing as how the entire game space, you know, obviously spirals upward or left to right in a linear pattern like Mario. All in all, this is a really enjoyable fusion platformer that combines pretty much everything you love about Zelda, Mario and Metroid while cutting out all the excess fat. You’ve got item collecting, you’ve got plenty of shootin’ and you’ve got plenty of death defying jumps; just as long as you don’t bump into that eggplant monster, there isn’t a moment in the game you won’t be grinning from ear to ear.

Kirby’s Adventure

The last truly great first party game on the NES, pretty much everybody agrees that Kirby’s Adventure is the console’s best-looking game. However, even on a platform absolutely glutted with stellar platformers, Kirby manages to stand out as one of the absolute best genre games on the system, thanks to some exquisitely designed levels, mini-games out the yin-yang and so many secrets to uncover, you pretty much have to play it a good three or four times before you unlock everything the game has to show you. If you missed out on this one the first time around, you definitely need to give it a try; the titular protagonist may be known for sucking, but I assure you this game most certainly does not.

The Legend of Zelda

The golden cartridge classic is definitely one of the best games to grace the NES, and although its visuals are very, very dated, the core gameplay is so good that the cruddy graphics don’t detract from the fun whatsoever. As one of the first “open-ended” console games, the first Zelda pretty much gave you free rein to explore the totality of the massive game space, which at the time, really was a revolutionary idea. Although intentionally befuddling at first, this is a game built for the long haul. Relatively light on the puzzles and heavy on the exploration and dungeon crawling, this is a rock solid adventure game that definitely doesn’t skimp out on the action – Father Time, thankfully, hasn’t ravaged this one a bit.

Is it just me, or does anybody else think the Blue Bomber always kinda' looked like he had Down Syndrome?

Mega Man 2

Although I’m in the camp that firmly believes Mega Man 3 is the one Mega Man to rule them all, you really can’t quibble over the inclusion of the Blue Bombers’s second outing on the NES. With beautiful graphics, outstanding music, top notch level design and some of the most iconic power-ups in the annals of 8-bit gaming, there’s plenty of stuff to not just like, but flat out love about Mega Man 2. And if you’re wondering about the proper level order? It’s Metal Man, Bubble Man, Heat Man, Wood Man, Air Man, Crash Man, Flash Man and Quick Man, and anybody who says otherwise as a bold faced liar.


As good as Zelda may be, I’ve long thought there were at least two Zelda imitators on the NES that did an even better job than the original inspiration source: Crystalis and this game, StarTropics. For my money, this HAS to be the most underrated first party Nintendo game of all-time, and in a just world, it would’ve spawned like three or four SNES sequels and still be going strong as a standalone license on the 3DS today. Alas, the adventures of yo-yo slinging Mike Jones have regrettably been swept under the carpets of time, and you definitely do not want to miss out on this long overdue opportunity to relive one of the great hidden treasures of the 8-bit age. No spoilers here: just play it and revel in its awesomeness.

Punch-Out!! Starring Mr. Dream

Yes, even without Iron Mike as the end boss (I’m not 100 percent, but I’m pretty sure getting convicted of rape is a really good way to lose an endorsement deal) Punch-Out!! remains one of the most enjoyable games in the pantheon of NES titles. Although conceptually simplistic – you wail on a dizzying array of ethnic stereotypes, waiting for subtle cues like their pants falling down to wallop ‘em into a temporary coma – there is a surprising amount of depth to the experience, and very, very few things in all of gaming can match the sheer joy of getting the proper “rhythm” down against the likes of Soda Popinski and Bald Bull. A lot of games boast of being timeless, but Punch-Out!! is one of the rare few we KNOW will still be just as much fun in 2087 as it was in 1987.

Super C

Seeing this game listed on the back of the box almost made me drop it in the middle of the aisle and start applauding. It would’ve been so easy to just wedge the much more famous Contra into the lineup, but Nintendo did us one better and slipped in its even more awesome sequel Super C instead. Never played it? Well, it’s basically the same thing as Contra, except MORE. More explosions, more enemies, more insane scaling levels, more firepower, more testosterone, more pulse pounding gameplay, more action, more, more, more of everything that made the first game such a classic, only cranked up to 11. This may very well be the best co-op game on the NES – if you love old school, twitch-action video gaming, you will be in absolute nirvana with this one.

Ask anybody who grew up between 1985 and 1995 ... this was as close as any of us have felt to being Jesus himself.

Super Mario Bros. 3

I’ve read several “best NES game” lists over the years, and Super Mario Bros. 3 is almost always the game at the very top. While I personally feel that there are maybe half a dozen games on the console that are better, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a.) one of the best NES games ever b.) one of the best games ever, period and c.) definitely, without question, 100 percent the best game included in the mini NES collection. In fact, there’s so much awesomeness in SMB3, that to explain just how great it is, I have to give it its very own countdown within a countdown. Ahem! Super Mario Bros. 3 is the best game on the unit, for the following reasons:

10.                  The main bad guys are named after, among other real life celebrities, Lemmy from Motorhead, Wendy O. Williams and Morton Downey, Jr.

09.                  Donning the hammer suit makes you feel like an immortal, ghost killing demigod.

08.                  The sheer surrealism of seeing Mario dwarfed by the humongous goombas in the Giant World levels.

07.                  Trying to figure out why the Japanese think raccoons can fly.

06.                  Not knowing what a tanooki is but being forever grateful the enigmatic mammal has the ability to turn into a statue when in danger.

05.                  The music in the Ice World map is one of the most haunting pieces of music you will ever hear.

04.                  Finding all of the “hidden” warp whistles. Thanks a lot, failed Kevin Arnold vehicles!

03.                  Getting like, 25 P-Wings after beating the game and feeling like the kingdom of heaven had been personally opened for you.

01.                  Two words: Kuribo's shoe, ya'll motherfuckers. Kuribo's goddamn fuckin' shoe.

And it's for all those reasons - plus, probably another 30 or 40 I'm too lazy to list - that Super Mario Bros. 3 is not only the creme of the NES Classic crop, but really, one of the single greatest 8-bit games ever made. Hell, as far as I am concerned, it's still the best Mario game ever, and a title that holds up just as well now as it did way back in 1990. A lot of games get praised as "timeless" masterpieces, but SMB 3 truly is a game that deserves such a highfalutin title - it's fuckin' great, and if for some stupid ass reason you've never gotten your hands on it before? Buddy, what have you been doing with your life, exactly?

Yes, you should be very jealous, indeed, that Japanese consumers got this and we didn't.

s a final footnote, I do believe it is worth mentioning that the library of games included on the mini-console are actually quite a bit different in Japan. Their little Famicom nostalgia grab omits eight of the games listed above and replaces them with eight totally different games. While the N.A. and PAL iteration of the unit does win out by keeping Punch-Out!!, Kid Icarus and StarTropics, the Japan-only setlist does have quite a few stellar games of their own, including arguably the greatest 8-bit RPG ever (Final Fantasy III) and ... wait for it... RIVER CITY MOTHERFUCKING RANSOM, which is easily one of my five favorite NES games ever. Before you get too jealous, though, the rest of the Japan-only games are fairly boring, unless of course, you REALLY like sumo wrestling games that never got ported stateside and cruddy Pitfall variations that probably never got translated into English because the people who made Indiana Jones likely would've sued the shit out of the game developers. 

All in all, I'm pretty satisfied with the core lineup of the NES Classic, although to be 100 percent honest, it's pretty much a waste of money seeing as how I can play all of the games included on the unit for free online anytime I want. In that, whether or not the purchase is worthy of $59.99 hinges on just how much you are willing to pay for the HDMI components (and before you answer, just remember that there are cloneware units on the market for roughly the same price that you can play multiple old school console games on - and in high definition, no less. ) Furthermore, it would be a lot easier to justify the price tag if you could play old NES cartidges on the unit, a'la some of the Genesis clone-models out there. Alas, you're stuck with the same 30 games indefinitely, and as good as those games may be, eventually you will grow tired of the selection contained therein. 

Regardless, I can't deny the simple joy of curling up on the floor and booting up a game of Mega Man 2 with an NES control pad in hand just as God intended, and if someone stuffs this into your stocking, you'll probably get at least a month or two of enjoyment out of the experience. Rumors are already swirling about the possibility of similar SNES and N64 mini-units, so depending on how successful this test run is (and I'd venture to guess it's going to be pretty successful), this might just be the beginning of a full scale retro console revival.

And if you think I'm going to protest anything that I believe may goad Sega into reissuing the notoriously hard to emulate Saturn on the market, you clearly haven't been paying attention to anything I've been writing about over the last five years.


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