Ultimate Guide: 30 Iconic Nintendo NES Games You Can't Miss!


The Nintendo NES carved a place in gaming history with its unforgettable library of titles and game-changing innovation. In this guide, we spotlight the 30 iconic games that have made the NES an enduring symbol of ‘80s nostalgia and set the stage for all gaming consoles that followed. Dive in to discover the games that define the Nintendo NES legacy—from Super Mario Bros to The Legend of Zelda.

NES Key Takeaways

  • The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) revolutionized home gaming, introducing iconic franchises and a diverse library of games that influenced the industry.
  • The NES was central to the development of various genres, with memorable RPGs (like Dragon Warrior), action games (like Castlevania), and platformers (like Super Mario Bros).
  • NES classic games remain accessible today through platforms like the NES Classic Edition, emulation, and Nintendo Switch Online and of course on the original hardware of the NES console.

The Dawn of a Gaming Era: The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

A vintage Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console with controllers and game cartridges

The Nintendo Entertainment System, known as the NES, holds a special place in the heart of every gaming enthusiast. This isn’t just because of the countless hours spent rescuing princesses or slaying dragons, but also because the NES redefined what a home gaming console could be. Its impact on the gaming industry was nothing short of revolutionary, introducing us to iconic franchises that continue to captivate players to this day.

A Brief History of the NES

The NES was born out of a tumultuous time in the gaming industry. Following the video game crash of 1983, the future of gaming was uncertain. That all changed when the NES hit North American shores in 1985. The NES, with its impressive library of games, breathed new life into the industry and became a household staple.

This console, originally known as the Family Computer or Famicom in Japan, was an instant hit with gamers, introducing franchises like Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda that are still beloved today.

The NES Renaissance

Move to the present day, and the NES is enjoying a renewed popularity. The reason? A perfect blend of nostalgia and appreciation for the classics.

Games that shaped the NES era, such as the action-filled adventures of Link and the platforming skills of Mario, are being found by a new generation of gamers and re-found by those who first played them on their original NES console.

Legacy and Influence

The legacy of the NES extends far beyond its console lifespan. Its influence can be seen in modern gaming, with many of its most popular franchises still going strong. The NES’s innovative hardware and diverse library of games laid the groundwork for future consoles, proving that the magic of the NES era is here to stay.

Unforgettable Adventures: RPGs and Action Games on NES

Illustration of a medieval fantasy RPG adventure with knights and dragons

The NES was more than just a stage for games; it was a stage for adventures. The console housed a varied collection of RPGs and action games, each providing a distinct journey populated with memorable characters and captivating stories. One such original NES game offered an unforgettable experience that still resonates with players today.

Whether you were defeating dragons in Dragon Warrior, combating Dracula’s minions in Castlevania, or exploring the world of Final Fantasy, these games provided an escape into exhilarating fantasy and action worlds.

Dragon Warrior's Epic Journey

Dragon Warrior, known in Japan as Dragon Quest, is an excellent example of the immersive, detailed RPGs that the NES offered. This game transported players into a fantasy world filled with dangerous monsters and epic quests, paving the way for its successors, Dragon Warrior II & Dragon Warrior III.

The game’s strategic, turn-based combat system and deep narrative set new standards for the genre and paved the way for future RPGs, including the highly anticipated third game in the series.

Castlevania's Haunting Legacy

The NES also hosted action-filled titles such as Castlevania. This game combined gothic horror with fast-paced action, creating a hauntingly fun adventure that still resonates with gamers today. From its challenging platforming levels to its memorable boss fights, Castlevania created a legacy that continues to influence the action-adventure genre. The music is something else! Castlevania's soundtrack is jam packed with hits that were all incredible for their time.

The Legend of Zelda's Timeless Quest

Then, naturally, we have The Legend of Zelda—a title that speaks for itself. This game revolutionized the action-adventure genre with its open-world exploration and engaging story. The Legend of Zelda offered a sense of freedom and adventure that was unparalleled at the time, setting the stage for future titles in the genre.

Platforming Pioneers: Super Mario Bros and More

iconic platforming Mario 3 NES

Platformers occupy a notable position in the NES library. These games, known for their exact jumps and hurdles, tested skills and reflexes. The NES housed some of the most memorable platformers ever, such as Super Mario Bros., Kirby’s Adventure, and Mega Man.

These California games not only offered unlimited fun but also shaped the platforming genre for future generations, with many more games released following their innovative footsteps.

The Original Super Mario Bros Phenomenon

Super Mario Bros., the first game that is instantly recognizable, was an instant hit upon its release and quickly became a cultural phenomenon. The game acquainted players with the adored characters of Mario and Luigi, and their mission to save Princess Peach from the villainous Bowser.

With its creative platforming mechanics, appealing visuals, and unforgettable soundtrack, the original game established a fresh benchmark for the genre.

Kirby's Adventure: A New Twist on Platforming

Kirby’s Adventure brought a fresh angle to the platforming genre. The game introduced players to Kirby, a lovable puffball with the ability to inhale his enemies and take on their abilities. This mechanic added a layer of strategy to the usual platforming gameplay and made Kirby’s Adventure stand out among the crowd of NES games.

Mega Man's Robot Revolution

Mega Man was another notable game in the NES’s collection of platformers. The Mega Man game was set in a future where players controlled Mega Man, a robot with the ability to take on the powers of the Robot Masters he defeated. This unique gameplay mechanic, combined with its challenging level design, made Mega Man a hit among players and cemented its place in gaming history.

The Thrill of the Fight: Beat 'Em Up and Sports Classics

A retro gaming scene with two players engaged in a beat 'em up game

The NES was not solely about fantasy worlds and platforming challenges. It also brought the thrill of the fight into living rooms across the world. Whether you were hitting the streets in the classic beat ‘em up Double Dragon or making touchdowns in Tecmo Bowl, these games stimulated adrenaline and competitive spirit, enticing players to return for more.

Double Dragon's Dynamic Duos

Double Dragon brought a significant change to the beat ‘em up genre, and its sequel, Double Dragon II, continued this legacy. The game’s cooperative gameplay allowed players to team up and take on hordes of enemies together. This dynamic duo of Billy and Jimmy Lee, with their diverse array of moves and attacks, set the standard for future beat ‘em up games and left a lasting impact on the genre.

Punch Out's Knockout Charm

Punch Out introduced the excitement of boxing to the NES. Players took on the role of Little Mac, an underdog boxer with big dreams. With a roster of memorable opponents and addictive gameplay, Punch Out was a knockout hit among players and remains a beloved classic to this day.

Tecmo Bowl: Changing the Game

Tecmo Bowl brought a radical change to NES sports games. The game offered:

  • a realistic simulation of football
  • actual NFL teams and players
  • strategic gameplay
  • competitive multiplayer mode

Tecmo Bowl quickly became a favourite among sports fans and helped define the genre for future games.

Blast from the Past: Arcade Hits and Ports

A nostalgic arcade setting with classic arcade cabinets and neon lights

The NES was also recognized for transporting the thrill of the arcade into the comfort of homes. Many popular arcade titles found new life on the NES, allowing players to experience their favourite games without the need for quarters.

From Bubble Bobble’s frenzied action to Qix’s strategic gameplay, these arcade game successes and ports enriched the NES library.

From the Arcade to the Living Room

The shift from the arcade to the living room wasn’t always straightforward. Developers had to modify their games to function with the NES’s hardware, often leading to alterations in gameplay and visuals. However, these changes often brought a new layer of depth to the games, allowing players to experience their favourite arcade titles in a whole new way.

The NES Port Phenomenon

The NES evolved into a centre for arcade ports, featuring a varied selection of licensed games from across different genres. These ports allowed players to enjoy their favourite arcade games without leaving their homes. The success of these NES ports carved the path for future consoles to incorporate arcade classics in their game libraries, further establishing the NES’s legacy in gaming.

The NES Classic: Reliving the Glory Days

In 2016, Nintendo launched the NES Classic Edition, a compact version of the original console preloaded with 30 of its most favoured games. This release allowed a new generation of gamers to experience the magic of the NES, while also providing a dose of nostalgia for those who grew up with the console.

The NES Classic was a contemporary homage to gaming’s golden age, giving players an opportunity to revisit their most cherished memories and experiences via the convenience of HDMI for use on modern TV's.

A Modern Tribute to Retro Gaming

The NES Classic was more than merely a shrunken version of the original console. It was a tribute to the golden age of gaming, with a carefully curated selection of games that represented the best of what the NES had to offer.

From the platforming marvel of Super Mario Bros. to the grand adventures of The Legend of Zelda, the NES Classic let players re-experience these classic moments of their best games with a contemporary spin, all without the original game pak or console. That experience is good, but not for everyone as some of us prefer the original look, feel and touch of an original NES game pak and original console hardware.

A modern feature that was added to the NES classic console was the ability to save and replay games from a save state. So, at any point in the game you could save you progress and resume the exact position with a click of a button. This is a game changer for beating bosses and difficult levels.

The Miniature Console Craze

The success of the NES Classic ignited a trend for scaled-down retro consoles, including the popular SNES console. Other companies followed suit, releasing miniature versions of their own classic consoles. These consoles offered a perfect blend of nostalgia and modern convenience, allowing players to revisit their favourite games from the past while enjoying the benefits of modern technology.

Playing NES Today: Emulation and Nintendo Switch Online

While the NES Classic enabled players to revisit their favourite NES games, it wasn’t the sole method to enjoy these classics in the present day. Contemporary technology has introduced new avenues for gamers to experience the NES, from emulation to online services such as Nintendo Switch Online.

Whether you’re an experienced gamer looking to replay your favourite games or a newcomer desiring to try these classics for the first time, numerous methods exist to play NES games nowadays.

Emulating the NES Experience

Emulation offers a means for players to enjoy NES games on contemporary devices. By mimicking the NES’s hardware, emulators allow players to play NES games on a variety of devices, from PCs to smartphones. While there may be some differences in how these games play compared to their original versions, emulation provides a convenient and accessible way to experience the classics.

NES on Nintendo Switch Online

Nintendo Switch Online provides an alternative method for players to enjoy NES games. Subscribers to the service have access to a library of classic NES titles, which can be played online with friends or on the go with the Switch’s portable mode.

Whether you’re teaming up in Double Dragon iii or racing to the finish in Super Mario Bros., Nintendo Switch Online brings the fun of the NES to the modern era.

Peripheral Vision: NES Accessories That Changed the Game

NES 1985 release in store

The NES was more than merely a console and a collection of games. It was also home to a wide range of accessories that expanded the possibilities of gameplay. Some of these accessories included:

  • The Zapper, a light gun that allowed players to shoot targets on the screen.
  • The Power Glove, a motion-sensing controller that promised a more immersive gaming experience.
  • The NES Advantage, an arcade-style joystick and button controller
  • The R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy), a robot companion that interacted with certain games.

These accessories added a new dimension to the NES experience and left a lasting impact on the gaming industry.

The Iconic NES Zapper

The NES Zapper was among the most notable accessories for the console. This light gun allowed players to take aim at their TV screens and fire away in games like Duck Hunt. The Zapper brought a new level of interactivity to the NES, turning the living room into a virtual shooting gallery and providing hours of entertainment. The zapper only worked on older Cathode-ray tube (CRT) TV's and not modern TVs, so if you're thinking of picking one up, you'll need to add an old tv to your collection.

Beyond the Controller

There were also many accessories that went beyond the standard controller. These included the Power Glove, which offered a new way to interact with games, and the NES Advantage, an arcade-style joystick that brought the arcade experience to the home. While not all of these accessories were successful, they all contributed to the rich history of the NES and its impact on the gaming industry.

The NES Collectors' Corner: Rare Finds and Valuables

The NES is more than merely a gaming console—it’s a historical artifact. And like any historical artifact, it has become a valuable commodity for collectors. From rare games to unique memorabilia, the world of NES collecting is a treasure trove for fans looking to own a piece of gaming history.

Hunting for Hidden Gems

Collectors always seek hidden treasures within the NES library. These rare retro video games can fetch a high price in the collector’s market due to their rarity and historical significance. Retro Game Stores like us at RetroSales specialise in collectable games and consoles.

Titles on the PAL NES like Snowboard Challenge, Mr. Gimmick and Little Samson are highly sought after, and finding them can be a thrilling adventure.

The Value of Nostalgia

The worth of NES collectibles isn’t solely about their scarcity or condition—it’s also about the nostalgia they inspire. For many collectors, these games and accessories are a tangible link to their childhood, a reminder of simpler times spent exploring digital worlds and embarking on epic quests.

It’s this emotional connection that truly makes NES collectibles priceless.

NES Summary

In the world of gaming, the NES stands as a testament to the power of imagination and the thrill of adventure. From its revolutionary hardware to its iconic games, the NES has left an indelible mark on the gaming industry and continues to captivate players to this day.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Nintendo still sell NES? Does NES still exist?

No, Nintendo discontinued the NES console in 1995 and moved their focus to the Super Nintendo SNES.

How much is a 1985 Nintendo worth?

A 1985 Nintendo can sell for anywhere in the range from $50 for a non-working, broken, cracked and yellowed case to $300 for a console in excellent condition. Complete in box models can go for thousands. Where are you going to find another one from 1985? We consider older gaming systems to be collectible art.

What are some of the most iconic NES games?

The most iconic NES games include Super Mario Bros 3, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Mega Man. These great games are classics that many gamers still enjoy today!

Our pick of the 30 Iconic Nintendo NES Games You Can't Miss!

1. Super Mario Bros. 3
2. The Legend of Zelda
3. Bionic Commando
4. Metroid
5. Mega Man 2
6. Castlevania III
7. Ninja Gaiden
8. Contra
9. Punch-Out!!
10. Super Mario Bros.
11. Crystalis
12. Final Fantasy III
13. Ducktales
14. Blaster Master
15. Kirby’s Adventure
16. River City Ransom
17. Mother
18. Simon’s Quest: Castlevania II
19. Mega Man 3
20. Castlevania
21. Tetris (Tengen version)
22. Super Mario Bros. 2
23. Metal Gear
24. Tecmo Super Bowl
25. Batman
26. Ninja Gaiden II
27. Lode Runner
28. Double Dragon II: The Revenge
29. Tetris (Nintendo)
30. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

(You can browse directly to in stock NES games that are ready to ship here)

We also have to mention Ghosts n Goblins

Nintendo nes games

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