The NES Classic Edition is finally here, riding a wave of enthusiasm normally reserved for things like, y’know, new consoles. But there’s good reason for that. A simple, plug n’ play NES emulator at an exceedingly reasonable price launching during the holiday season was a sure thing, and the inclusion of 30 classic games sure didn’t hurt.
So you’ve got your NES Classic. Where do you start? You really can’t go wrong with any of them, but we’ve got our favorites.
Whether you’re in this for the nostalgia or experiencing these retro games for the first time, these are the very best the NES Classic has to offer, and they’re guaranteed to keep you in all weekend.
Let’s do this…
The original Castlevania is to horror games what Bela Lugosi’s performance in Dracula (1931) is to horror movies. It may not be the first, but it’s influence is inescapable. An eerie soundtrack, intricately designed levels, and a parade of spooky monsters and several bosses that were influenced by iconic Universal horror movies, Castlevania is both challenging and endlessly replayable.
The Legend of Zelda
With a slightly faster pace than the more cerebral Metroid (but only slightly), an immersive fairytale world, and the perfect childlike hero in Link, The Legend of Zelda appealed to patient gamers, Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts, and kids who didn’t want to share the controller with anyone else. Defeating Ganon was a badge of honor in those days, and it took far more than fast thumbs. Admit it, you’re already humming the music.
Mega Man 2
Need a challenge? Allow me to introduce you to Mega Man 2. Brighter, faster, and with more bosses to take down and assimilate than its predecessor, Mega Man 2 may be responsible for more “this damn controller is broken” wailing and gnashing of teeth than any other NES game at the time. But Capcom’s trademark play control, spectacular music, and the end level bosses (the real stars of the show), make this one of the most rewarding games on the NES Classic. If you don’t break your controller, of course.
It’s almost impossible to describe what a revelation Metroid felt like for kids in the 1980s. So many games were built on an arcade model, designed to suck as many quarters out of your pockets as possible, with fast-paced action that tested your reflexes and your patience. But here was a game that offered you nearly limitless opportunities to explore a larger world, a mysterious hero (ahem, heroine…but nobody knew that until the end), and a hard sci-fi edge that was more Ridley Scott and HR Giger than George Lucas and Ralph McQuarrie. Metroid revolutionized the way platformers were played.
The game’s non-linear approach to level design helped influence an entire subgenre of platformers known as Metroidvanias. Metroid’s influence is still felt today. Bonus points for the moody, minimalist soundtrack.
I assure you, in 1988 Ninja Gaiden felt like a crowning achievement for home gaming. A fast paced, challenging action-platformer with a wide variety of enemies, weapons, and power-ups, Ninja Gaiden rises to even greater heights with a tremendous soundtrack and its (then) revolutionary cinematic cutscenes.
I promise you, there is no better use of your time than alternating lefts and right with the B and A buttons on your NES controller. Originally known as Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!, back when that particular Heavyweight Champion of the World was the undisputed king of boxing’s 1980s renaissance, Punch-Out! makes the sweet science even sweeter with a parade of opponents who could populate an animated movie. In fact, that’s not such a bad idea.
Super Mario Bros. 3
After the surreal, dreamlike Super Mario Bros. 2, what could the franchise do? Why, get even weirder, of course. Super Mario Bros. 3 is whimsical, even trippy, but offers challenges for even the most experienced gamers. It’s endlessly replayable pixelated joy. A case can be made that Mario 2 is this game’s equal, and depending on our mood we might not argue with you. You can’t go wrong with either of them to be honest.
Look, there are no bad games on the NES Classic, and there are plenty of others worth playing. For those who prefer to play with a partner, there’s always Super C, Bubble Bobble, or the greatest football video game of all time, the original Tecmo Bowl. If you’re looking for more arcade style action, you can’t go wrong with Gradius, Ghosts n’ Goblins, or all-time classic Galaga (a big favorite of ours). And there are gems like Kid Icarus and StarTropics to consider, too. Nintendo was even kind enough to upload the original manuals for all of these!
And you don’t even have to blow on these to make ‘em work right.