Since the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are currently the most powerful consoles on the market, one might expect game studios to only develop for those current-gen platforms. While many companies do indeed focus their efforts on the latest consoles, many more are still creating games for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. That isn’t entirely due to stock shortages that plagued the Series X and PS5 at launch and still linger today; it’s an ancient tradition dating back to earlier generations of gaming consoles. Even the Nintendo Entertainment System officially lasted for a lot longer than you probably think it did.
The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is arguably one of the most important consoles in gaming history and one of the most important devices in the history of entertainment. The platform launched stateside in 1986 and helped revitalize the gaming industry after the disastrous video game crash of 1983. The beginnings of countless beloved franchises premiered on the NES, including The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Metroid, and Mega Man. In 1991, Nintendo followed up the NES’ success with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), but even though the company had a new product, it still supported and even published games for the NES. Sure, these games didn’t look or sound as good as the SNES’ offerings, but they were still available for anyone who wanted them.
However, what kinds of games did Nintendo publish on the NES after the SNES hit the market? More importantly, what was the final game sold on store shelves before Nintendo packed up shop and stopped supporting the NES altogether? That question is harder to answer than you might think.
What Was The Last Official NES Game Ever Released?
Movie tie-in games still tend to get a bit of a bad rap. Yes, most are of inferior quality — the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial game was so bad it essentially caused the video game recession — but many diamonds hide in the rough. One such title was Disney’s The Lion King.
The Lion King movie hit theaters in 1994, and it was a box office and critic darling. A tie-in game of the same name was released the same year on the SNES and the Sega Genesis, which most players loved. While other lesser-known platforms, such as the Amiga and Sega Master System, also received ports, the worst was certainly saved for last.
In 1995, Nintendo approved an NES version of The Lion King game exclusive to Europe. This version was a downgrade in every sense of the word; it looked and sounded worse, and was slower and choppier to boot. The game demonstrated just how far gaming hardware had come and why the SNES was superior to the NES. This version of The Lion King has the dubious honor of being the last official NES game ever released, and it was not worth the wait.
As for North America, it strangely seems that Wario’s Woods was the last NES game released in that region (it debuted in Japan in February of 1994, but wasn’t ported to the NA until December of that year). The strange thing about that fascinating fact is that Wario’s Woods was actually developed by Nintendo. That means that Nintendo was not only still releasing first-party NES games well into the SNES lifecycle but was still releasing NES games less than two years before the N64’s Japanese debut. That just goes to show you how popular the console was. Wario Woods‘ late release date means that it’s also the only NES game to be officially rated by the ESRB.
What about the Famicom, though? That one is a little trickier to pin down simply because the records of old-school release dates can be a little…off, and there were a few Famicom games that were released in relatively close proximity to each other. However, Adventure Island IV is generally regarded as the “last” licensed Famicom game. Of course, unlicensed games were still being released for the console well after that.
Speaking of which…
What Was The Last Unofficial NES Game Ever Released?
Even though Nintendo stopped supporting the NES in 1995, other companies didn’t get the memo. Not only did developers continue creating NES games independently after the SNES, and even the Nintendo 64, were released, but some still produced NES games without Nintendo’s support or blessing. Not like that’s anything new, mind you.
The NES homebrew market has been thriving for a very long time and technically started when the console was still in production. While most NES cartridges are ribbed, gray squares with an indent at the top for gripping, others are smoother and come in colors such as silver, black, and blue. Those unusual cartridges typically contain unlicensed NES games that were published without Nintendo’s approval and were essentially the first homebrewed NES titles.
So, since the NES was officially discontinued on August 14, 1995, it seems that the last unlicensed NES game to sneak into the console’s official lifespan would have been the infamous religious skateboarding game, Sunday Funday. There doesn’t seem to be an official record of that game’s exact release date, but context clues suggest it just snuck in before the NES’ discontinuation. Of course, studios were still making unlicensed games after that. There was an unlicensed NES version of Super Mario World released towards the end of 1995, and even a very unlicensed version of Toy Story that was released for the console in 1997.
Actually, while the number of creators who make homebrew games has shrunk considerably, that scene hasn’t disappeared completely.
Most modern unofficial NES games are developed by indie companies and are usually funded through Kickstarter. Spoony Bard Productions, for instance, ran Kickstarter projects in 2017 and 2018 to develop the retro-themed titles Eskimo Bob and Alfonzo’s Arctic Adventure, and NES cartridges were among their rewards. Many other titles and their unlicensed-yet-functional NES cartridges, including Micro Mages, The Adventures of Panzer, and Dungeons and Doomknights were also made possible thanks to Kickstarter.
Another major source of modern unlicensed NES cartridges is Limited Run Games. While the company is primarily known for producing physical copies of otherwise digital titles, it has delved into ancient formats such as the NES cart. In 2018, Limited Run teamed up with Spoony Bard Productions to create a standalone version of Golf Story’s game within a game, Galf. Limited Run Games then went on to port the original Star Wars game to a new run of unofficial (but pretty) carts, and in 2021, the company also produced a physical version of Alwa’s Awakening. And yes, all of these games work on actual NES consoles.
So long as retro game enthusiasts are willing to make homebrew NES games, the format will never die, and more importantly, there may never be such a thing as the truly final “last NES game.”