If you’re into video games then you have probably heard by now about the NES Classic, the plug and play gaming device that resembles a mini Nintendo Entertainment System. You’ve also probably heard about how Nintendo shipped a minuscule amount of the units for the system’s launch date and now it’s impossible to find at retail. It’s a cute product that’s going to be popular due to the nostalgia factor and low price ($60), but if properly stocked it’s probably not flying off the shelves in mass quantities like the current shortage would indicate. It’s a particularly great device for those who do not still own, or never owned, an actual NES and want to get a retro gaming fix. The NES Classic comes pre-loaded with 30 games and each one has four save state slots making hard to beat classics like Zelda II that much more manageable.
This isn’t a post about the NES Classic on the whole though. If you want my opinion on it, it’s definitely a neat little device worthy of your hard-earned sixty dollars. It’s definitely not worth six times that amount which is what some people are paying on the secondary market right now for one. And I also expect the console will be re-stocked in the coming weeks in greater numbers, so if you want one just be patient. The only real knocks against the device are the much maligned short controller wires and the lack of a way to add to the game’s library. Which brings me to the topic of this post: the 30 pre-loaded games of the NES Classic.
There were over 500 titles released for the NES. That number rises if you include Famicom games never released outside of Japan. A lot of those games are forgettable and not worth anyone’s time in the year 2016, but there’s enough quality on that console to make even narrowing things down to thirty a difficult endeavor. And when it comes to crafting that list, what takes precedent? The games the system was known for? The ones that were the most revolutionary? The ones that sold the most? There’s also a financial and legal component as well. Nintendo could load the thing with thirty games it self-published to save money on royalties, but then you would be missing out on the classics released by Konami, Capcom, and others. And if you want to include a Konami Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, well then you have to compensate Nickelodeon who holds the rights to TMNT in 2016. Obviously, that makes things messy and Nintendo had a lot of factors to weigh when selecting these thirty games. I’m not going to hold myself to those standards though as I’m going to rank all thirty for you, and where I deem it necessary, suggest an alternate title that should have been included instead. Let’s start with number 30:
30. Ice Climber (Nintendo 1985) – Most probably know Ice Climber as that weird double-character controlled by a single player in the Super Smash Bros. series. Older folks remember it as an NES launch title that the unlucky ones received instead of one of the better games. Ice Climber represents the early, primitive NES games that were little more than better looking Atari 2600 games. Some of these games were worthwhile because they first existed in the arcade and were just now getting home versions on par with those arcade originals. Ice Climber is not one of those games though, but it costs Nintendo nothing to include it here. As a title for the NES Classic, the only thing it has going for it is that it features 2-player simultaneous play.
What Nintendo Should have included: Blades of Steel, Konami’s excellent hockey game that was mostly known for its fighting mini-games ahead of its hockey. It features an ice element and simultaneous play for 2 players, and the simple game of hockey can be enjoyed by anyone when experiencing it via video games. If Nintendo wanted to stick with an ice motif but save money, they could have just gone with their own Ice Hockey, also a very good game.
29. Balloon Fight (Nintendo 1986) – Another early Nintendo game, this one first appeared in arcades before making it home. It’s slightly more interesting than Ice Climber, but isn’t a game you will have much interest in returning to over and over. It’s been re-released a ton over the years, and including it here is just overkill.
What Nintendo Should have included: Battle Toads, the relentlessly difficult brawler featuring TMNT knock-offs Rash and Zits (gross). With save states, the game might actually be beatable, though Turbo Tunnel would still be a nightmare.
28. Mario Bros. (Nintendo 1983) – Super Mario Bros. is the game most synonymous with the NES, the original Mario Bros. is not. If you had a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 (and you probably did) then you experienced all you needed to from this game. It was never a popular NES title and Nintendo is basically only including it because it has Mario in the title.
What Nintendo should have included: DuckTales, one of the best platforming games released for the NES. There’s really not much debating that, and it’s likely not featured on this set because of licensing costs, or because Nintendo wants to save a few games for a second edition of the NES Classic.
27. Donkey Kong Jr. (Nintendo 1982) – Donkey Kong Jr is another arcade classic (I’m using that term liberally here) that was never really all that popular on the NES, but Nintendo obviously felt the old arcade games needed (significant) representation on the NES Classic. Donkey Kong Jr. is most notable for putting Mario in the role of villain as the player takes control of Kid Kong and tries to save his old man, I mean, ape. It’s fine, but lack replay value outside of just shooting for a high score isn’t much of a home console experience.
What Nintendo should have included: Bucky O’Hare, Konami’s unofficial take on the Mega Man franchise. My love affair with Bucky has been fairly well documented on this blog, but my opinion is not clouded by that affection. Bucky O’Hare is an awesome game, and I can’t imagine it would have cost Nintendo much of anything to include it.
26. Galaga (Namco 1981) – a slightly younger generation maybe familiar with Galaga not as an arcade classic, but as a popular loading screen diversion of Playstation era Namco games. Galaga is another arcade great that never had much of a life on the NES. Tastes had moved on, and Galaga really doesn’t need to be included in a set of great NES games.
What Nintendo should have included: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game is what was most representative of the arcade scene when the NES was popular and would have made for a much better option within this set.
25. Pac-Man (Namco 1980) – Pac-Man was Mario before Mario. Unlike a lot of the other games on this list so far, there actually was some appetite for an arcade perfect version of Pac-Man on the NES. It’s a game almost everyone is familiar with, but still not really one that people are clamoring to play.
What Nintendo should have included: Dragon Warrior II, or Dragon Quest II for you purists. It’s the classic RPG series that started it all, and not including at least one title from the series is pretty lame.
24. Donkey Kong (Nintendo 1981) – Donkey Kong, like Pac-Man, is another game that consumers did have some appetite for when the NES made it to retail. And since DK is one of Nintendo’s most popular characters, it’s not surprising that he’s included. Still, there’s a lot of arcade games on this set, too many if you ask me.
What Nintendo should have included: How about Faxanadu, a relatively obscure game that still holds up really well. A device like the NES Classic should in part be utilized to give new life to games that were overlooked.
23. Tecmo Bowl (Tecmo 1987) – More known for how game-breaking Bo Jackson was, Tecmo Bowl was the first great football game of its kind. It’s pretty dated at this point, but is a top 50 NES title, and for diehard sports fans, probably a top 30 one too.
What Nintendo should have included: You could argue a game like Double Dribble has held up better than Tecmo Bowl, but for the most part, I have no issues with Nintendo including it here.
22. Final Fantasy (Square 1987) – Few franchises are as synonymous with gaming as Final Fantasy. The first title is also known as the game that saved Square, now Square-Enix, hence why it was called Final Fantasy since there was a very real chance it was the publisher’s final title. It was a Dragon Quest clone that did a few interesting things on its own, but played today it’s quite clear that Father Time has not taken a liking to it. Only the truly dedicated NES Classic owners will see this title to the end.
What Nintendo should have included: I already mentioned Dragon Quest II, and this set doesn’t need another Dragon Quest title. Final Fantasy is pretty important, so it’s place is earned based on that, though if some people think it should have been passed over I won’t argue.
21. Dr. Mario (Nintendo 1990) – One of the first examples of Nintendo realizing it could just slap Mario on anything and boost sales, Dr. Mario is a Tetris clone that does enough to separate itself from its predecessor, but not enough to better it.
What Nintendo should have included: Tetris! Duh!
20. Excitebike (Nintendo 1984) – Excitebike has been re-released so many times it hardly seems worth talking about anymore, let alone including it here. It’s an okay racing game, and the level editor was pretty cool, but dated by today’s standards. It’s not the best racer on the NES though, and if Nintendo was only going to include one racing game on the NES Classic it picked the wrong one.
What Nintendo should have included: R.C. Pro-Am, another Nintendo published title though one that was developed by Rare. It holds up as one of the best racing games for the system, and likely wouldn’t have affected Nintendo’s bottomline to include it.
19. Gradius (Konami, 1985) – Gradius is a classic on-rails shooter by Konami known for its difficulty. The on-rails shooter genre has actually aged really well, because there isn’t really much better technology can do for it aside from make it look better. So from that standpoint, it holds up.
What Nintendo should have included: I’m not really an on-rails shooter fan, and it feels like River City Ransom should have been included somewhere on this set, doesn’t it?
18. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (Nintendo 1987) – I’ve talked about this one a lot already, but to keep things short, I appreciate that Zelda II tries something different but the execution was lackluster. I rank it as high as a I do here because the longer gameplay experience offered by it will likely feel pretty rewarding among these other games. And the save state feature will make it a lot easier for players to actually beat the game.
What Nintendo should have included: If you love Gradius, then kick this one out for River City Ransom. Otherwise, I really don’t see an issue with Nintendo including Zelda II.
17. Double Dragon II (Acclaim 1989) – The arcade beat-em-up most synonymous with the NES. It was a good debate over which was superior, Double Dragon II or TMNT II, but both were fun games, particularly for two-players. Double Dragon II is also miles ahead of the original so good call by Nintendo for being able to recognize that including it over the original was the right move.
What Nintendo should have included: Nothing, Double Dragon II belongs as the only knock against it is that the NES version wasn’t as good as the arcade one.
16. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (Konami 1987) – The sequel to the smash-hit original, Castlevania II, like Zelda II, is known mostly for its big shift in gameplay. Simon Belmont still handles the same way, but the RPG mechanics make for a vastly different experience. Some people loved it, some people hated it, everyone was frustrated by it’s cryptic puzzles. That last part isn’t really an issue today thanks to the wonderful invention known as the internet, making this game actually more playable now than it was in 1987.
What Nintendo should have included: You could argue that Castlevania III is the better game, and I wouldn’t disagree, but it’s also really similar to the original Castlevania which is also included on this set. For that reason, I like Castlevania II being on here over that. If you think one Castlevania title is enough, then maybe Nintendo should have raided Konami’s library and selected Jackal in its place.
15. Bubble Bobble (Taito 1986) – A simple, but challenging, two-player experience is how I remember Bubble Bobble. It strangely holds up really well, and its timeless gameplay plus two-player simultaneous play makes for a worthy selection.
What Nintendo should have included: I have an admitted soft spot for this title, and I’m not sure why. Naturally, I don’t see a reason to kick it out of the NES Classic.
14. Super C (Konami 1988) – Also known as Super Contra, it’s the sequel to Contra and features the same basic run n’ gun gameplay. For whatever reason, no one seems to remember this game even though the first Contra was mega popular. As an aside, it’s pretty amazing how many Konami games made this release.
What Nintendo should have included: Contra, obviously. I’m pretty sure everyone who picks up the NES Classic will wonder why Super C was included instead.
13. Super Mario Bros (Nintendo 1985) – Obviously, this one was going to be included because it’s probably the most important game that Nintendo ever released, and it could be considered the most important and famous game of all time.
What Nintendo should have included: All that being said, am I the only one who is just really sick of this game? I have no desire to play it again and would have preferred The Lost Levels for the simple reason that I’m less familiar with it.
12. Ghosts ‘N Goblins (Capcom 1986) – Finally, a Capcom game! It surprised me how many Konami games made this release vs Capcom as I always viewed the two as equal during the NES days. Ghosts ‘N Goblins was a hard, but fun, game and gamers will really appreciate the save states on the NES Classic when they tackle this one. It’s another run n’ gun styled game, a genre that has held up really well.
What Nintendo should have included: Nothing, this one belongs, as do all of the rest of the games to follow thus eliminating the need for this postscript on each release.
11. Castlevania (Konami 1986) – A no doubt classic. I don’t think I really need to say much about this one, right? It’s hard, but fair (mostly), and it’s style of play is still rewarding today. None of the NES sequels really did enough to warrant consideration over it either (and Nintendo included Castlevania II anyways) making this selection completely warranted.
10. Metroid (Nintendo 1986) – It’s a good thing games were so expensive in the 80s, otherwise how would anyone have gotten anything done in ’86 and ’87 with so many killer releases on the NES? Metroid is a bit of a tough one to rank as it hasn’t aged too well, but the game’s mood is still so captivatingly barren and lonesome that I find it charming even today. Obviously, future games in the series were able to vastly improve upon the original formula, but since none of them were NES games it makes Metroid’s inclusion a no-(mother)brainer.
9. Kirby’s Adventure (Nintendo 1993) – Kirby is a character who peaked early. Kirby’s Adventure, only his second outing, is probably second only to his outing on the SNES among all of the Kirby games. Kirby’s Adventure is a great inclusion here because not only is it a fun and unique platformer, but it was also a late release for the NES when a lot of gamers had moved onto the Genesis and SNES. The NES Classic gives those gamers who missed it the first time a second chance to experience it.
8. Kid Icarus (Nintendo 1986) – Poor Pit has been mistreated for years by Nintendo, but at least he gets to be among the 3o games on the NES Classic. His original outing was a difficult platforming/RPG hybrid that may be more appreciated today than it was in 1986. The controls aren’t the best, but they work, and the save state feature gives this one new life. Since it is so often cited as a forgotten Nintendo classic it has probably ceased to be one, but many gamers will probably still get their first taste of Kid Icarus with this set.
7. Punch-Out!! (Nintendo 1990) – Obviously, this is the version featuring Mr. Dream and not Mike Tyson. It’s the same game though, and while one could argue that this one has been re-released too much, it’s harder still to argue it’s not one of the most fun games released for the NES. It’s timing based gameplay also means it’s held up well in the age department. It’s challenge has always been fair and rewarding, though people will still probably abuse save states to beat it.
6. Super Mario Bros. 2 (Nintendo 1988) – Ever notice how no one, and I mean no one, ever acknowledges the box art’s Mario Madness subtitle? What was that even supposed to mean? Anyways, you probably know all about Super Mario Bros. 2’s odd path to release, so I won’t bore you here. It’s a great game, even if it’s very different from its predecessor, and Nintendo wasn’t going to exclude it from this release.
5. StarTropics (Nintendo 1990) – StarTropics is an often overlooked game from the NES era that feels like the spiritual sequel to Zelda, since Zelda II felt so different. It improves on the original Legend of Zelda in some ways, and it’s use of contemporary items as weapons definitely feels a lot like Earthbound. It’s a really good game, and one you probably haven’t played, so go ahead and play this one first. You have my permission. Just be warned that you will need to consult the internet to make it through one particular part.
4. Ninja Gaiden (Tecmo 1990) – Few characters on the NES are as fun to control as Ryu Hayabusa. It’s just too bad the world around our badass ninja Ryu makes him feel not so badass since everything can kill him. Ninja Gaiden is a brutal game, but it still manages to be a fun one. Some of the stuff it does seems unfair, but it always manages to bring gamers back after some rage-induced quiting. Just remember, the chord on that NES Classic controller is really short before you throw it.
3. Mega Man 2 (Capcom 1988) – Naturally, you can’t have a collection of thirty of the best NES games ever created and not include Mega Man. And if Nintendo was limiting itself to just one Mega Man, then Mega Man 2 is probably the best option. Yeah, future games introduced elements like the slide and Rush, but Mega Man 2 is iconic for its boss selection, music, and stage setup. It’s considered the best in the franchise by many still to this day. The only real argument is why did Nintendo include one Mega Man game but two Castlevania titles? The easy answer is that Simon’s Quest is pretty different from its predecessor, while all of the Mega Man games are very similar. It still feels odd, though.
2. The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo 1986) – It’s The Legend of Zelda.
Okay, and it’s a great game. Really though, there isn’t a whole lot more I can say about this one. If you’ve never played it because you were born after A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, or even later, then go back and play the original. Once you get accustomed to the visuals (which were never considered good, to be honest) you’ll likely find that the core Zelda gameplay is present here and it’s captivating even at its most primitive.
1.Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo 1990) – Super Mario Bros. 3 is among the greatest games ever made, and it’s the best game on the NES, so obviously it was going to be included. There’s no argument against it, other than maybe that everyone has already played it before. The only negative thing I can even say about it is that Mario has brown sideburns but a black mustache on the box art, which makes no sense. Then again, Nintendo really hasn’t mined the Mario back catalogue like it has some other games so it really doesn’t feel exploited. I may have suggested playing StarTropics first, but come on, you’ll play this one first. Just about everyone will.