Top 100 NES Games For Collectors (and a TON of Honorable Mentions)

Let's say you've got a little money and nothing better to do, so you decide to start an NES collection. You do a quick Google search for "best NES games" only to be disappointed by handfuls of top-### lists based on nothing in particular, full of nostalgia goggles and high price tags. This list has that fictional person in mind.

This is not a one-by-one list based solely on quality. It's logical(-ish) groups of licensed North American releases prioritized by how I'd recommend a new collector pursue them. I did make a meager attempt to order games by importance within their respective tiers. It's based (unscientifically) on a combination of quality, popularity, value and iconic importance to the system. It's literally subjective, because it's how I would recommend them. Here goes...

Nintendo Gold: Mandatory
They're the best, most iconic and most common games on the system. They're not literally the five best games, but if you own an NES you literally need to own these. You could be very happy with little else.

1. Super Mario Bros 3
2. The Legend of Zelda
3. Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt
4. Super Mario Bros 2
5. Tetris

Third Party Gold: Capcom v. Konami
Capcom and Konami were nearly as important to the success of the NES as Nintendo. These fantastic achievements in gaming are slightly less common than the first tier, but they're absolutely amazing and worth every penny.

6. Mega Man 2
7. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
8. Contra
9. Duck Tales
10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game
11. Bionic Commando
12. Life Force
Nintendo Silver: The Outliers
This tier is weird. These Nintendo(-published) gems don't belong in the first tier, but they're also two of the most completely polished, charming home console experiences available and can't be any lower.

13. Kirby's Adventure
14. Punch-Out

Third Party Silver: The Best of the Rest
They're only the tiniest sliver less iconic than their Capcom and Konami betters. River City Ransom is my personal favorite NES game. Put loyalty aside to see that Crystalis is nearly as good as Zelda. Batman, Blaster Master and Ninja Gaiden are aesthetic masterpieces. The perfectly strategic Bubble Bobble precious enough to offset some of the violence here.

15. River City Ransom
16. Batman
17. Blaster Master
18. Double Dragon II: The Revenge
19. Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos
20. Bubble Bobble
21. Crystalis

Nintendo Bronze: A For Almost Everyone
Everything Nintendo-published game here has notable flaws, but forgive them as bi-products of innovation, and buy them because they're fairly common. Metroid and Link are prime examples; they're equal parts massive/ambitious and infuriating (Metroid just did it earlier and better). If you feel they're all overrated... you're probably right. See my next entry.

22. Metroid
23. Excitebike
24. Final Fantasy
25. Star Tropics
26. Dragon Warrior
27. Faxanadu
28. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Third Party Silver Part II: The Sequel(s)
These are all probably better than the previous tier, but for fresh collections I recommend breadth over width. Every series here is already represented. Whether you have this entry or the previous, you're fine, but get both if you can. The first Castlevania is more popular than its threequel, while the third Turtles entry adds unique special attacks that make it my series-favorite for the NES.

29. Castlevania
30. Mega Man 3
31. Double Dragon
32. Ninja Gaiden
33. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project
34. Super Contra
35. Gradius

Sportsball & Puzzle-ish
Is racing a sport? Get R.C. Pro-Am regardless. Baseball Stars and Tecmo Super Bowl are surprisingly deep, Blades of Steel is silky smooth, and the combo cart combines two games that might make the list individually. Dr. Mario is too popular to neglect any longer.

36. R.C. Pro-Am
37. Baseball Stars
38. Tecmo Super Bowl
39. The Adventures of Lolo
40. Blades of Steel
41. Super Spike V'ball/Nintendo World Cup
42. Dr. Mario

Third Party Bronze: Capcom v. Konami Licensed Gems
For too long we've forgotten licensed titles as anything more than mobile games. Capcom was the King - Rescue Rangers' co-op is amazing, and Little Nemo is the picture of polish - but Konami deserves praise for its brave, wide approach. Willow feels out of place, but it's a big, beautiful RPG.

43. Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers
44. Little Nemo: The Dream Master
45. The Lone Ranger
46. Tiny Toon Adventures
47. Willow

Top-Down Run'n'Guns
These games make great use of NES hardware in a subgenre not ideal for it (unless you like using both controllers for Smash TV, which I still recommend you try at least once). Heavy Barrel is underappreciated and awesome, and Guerrilla War is way better than Ikari Warriors, but no one does the subgenre better than Jackal (coincidentally a drive'n'gun).

48. Jackal
49. Heavy Barrel
50. Guerrilla War
51. Gun.Smoke
52. Smash TV

Let's Get Weird
Weird names, developers, gameplay, labels, stories, backstories and weapons are part of what makes the NES library special. You'd be forgiven for overlooking them before the internet, but now we know better, and you need a few excellent, common weirdos in your library. Clash and Xexyz may be the wildest and most overlooked of the bunch. Vice: Project Doom isn't common, but it's stellar and there's nothing else like it.

53. Snake Rattle 'n' Roll
54. The Guardian Legend
55. Vice: Project Doom
56. Rygar
57. Journey to Silius
58. Monster Party
59. Xexyz
60. Clash at Demonhead

Let's Get Tame (Nintendo-Published Style)
Now let's get back to basics; your collection needs old-school staples. This tier is more about charm than quality, though if Kid Icarus weren't so infuriating it would be in the Nintendo Bronze tier.

61. Kid Icarus
62. Donkey Kong Classics
63. Kung-Fu
64. Balloon Fight
65. Rad Racer

PC on NES
Impress your PC-elitist friends by showing them the power of the NES! These PC-esque games make the best of the necessary sacrifices to fit on carts, except Maniac Mansion which scarcely sacrifices anything. Ultima IV was a tough choice from the remaining old-school RPGs.

66. Maniac Mansion
67. Pirates!
68. Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
69. Shadowgate
70. Uncharted Waters
71. North and South

Divisive Mandatory
Love them or hate them (I hate them), they're important to the NES. Play Metal Gear and Battletoads once to admire their innovation (and the Dark Queen). Compare Castlevania II to Zelda II if you must, but the latter is a better game and Castlevania already has two entries listed.

72. Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
73. Metal Gear
74. Battletoads

Sportsball & Puzzle-ish II
I lament the lack of a great basketball game in the library, and most would omit all wrestling, but Tecmo NBA has no serious flaws and Pro Wrestling is a good early entry in a challenging-but-beloved genre. I struggled between Solomon's Key and the addictive level-editor of Lode Runner, but the former is better-liked and is the predecessor to the excellent Fire 'n Ice.

75. Super Dodge Ball
76. Kickle Cubicle
77. Adventures of Lolo 2
78. Tecmo NBA Basketball
79. Solomon's Key
80. Pro Wrestling

Top 10 Remaining Loose Ends
They're the last at-large bids in this bracket. Don't let Zanac's stupid name and label fool you either. I'm not sure why more people don't love the rocking aesthetics of Wizards and Warriors or the ambitious adventure of the Goonies II, our last two at-large recipients.

81. Adventure Island 2
82. Zoda's Revenge: Star Tropics II
83. Zanac
84. The Battle of Olympus
85. Dragon Spirit: The New Legend
86. Cobra Triangle
87. Strider
88. Stinger
89. Solstice
90. Wizards and Warriors

Top 10 (Relatively) Pricey Splurge Buys
I recommend you stop at number 90. However, if you have everything else on this list and several dollars to spare, the following games are excellent. They're some of the best pure quality available, and I still took price tag into account. The first four are the best for your money. Dragon Warrior III is the deepest RPG on the system. There are a lot of anthropomorphic creatures here for some reason...

91. Shatter Hand
92. Whomp 'Em
93. Darkwing Duck
94. Power Blade
95. Kick Master
96. Bucky O'Hare
97. Ufouria: The Saga
98. Dragon Warrior III
99. Shadow of the Ninja
100. Rockin' Kats

***

HONORABLE MENTIONS
Here's a bunch of the next best stuff, loosely grouped into more tiers but it no real order.

Literally Just Missed Out
A good case could be made for any of these to make the list. I don't love them all, but I recommend every collector at least try them all if possible.

-Astyanax
-Ironsword: Wizards and Warriors II
-Adventure Island 1 and 3
-Ghosts 'n Goblins
-Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones
-A Boy and his Blog: Trouble on Blobolonia
-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
-Mickey Mousecapade
-Spy Hunter
-Legendary Wings
-Section Z
-Kid Niki: Radical Ninja
-The Little Mermaid
-Gyruss
-Galaga: Demons of Death
-Kabuki Quantum Fighter
-Gremlins 2: The New Batch
-Gauntlet 1 and 2
-Paperboy
-Commando
-The Goonies II
-Many, many more I'm sure...

The Super Expensive
Some of the absolute best games for the system are right here, but their value proposition just isn't as good as those in the final tier. Metal Storm was the hardest to omit; it's amazing.

-Little Samson
-Gun Nac
-Bubble Bobble 2
-Zombie Nation
-Fire 'n Ice
-Mighty Final Fight
-Cowboy Kid
-Metal Storm
-Zombie Nation
-Mr. Gimmick
-Battletoads and Double Dragon
-Gargoyle's Quest II: The Demon Darkness
-Gradius II
-G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
-Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu
-Snow Brothers

Super-Close Expensive Sequels
These just missed the final tier because they come with a big spike in rarity relative to their series counterparts already listed. Not having a third Mega Man game on the list feels like scandal; 4 would have been my next choice.

-Mega Man 1, 4, 5 and 6
-Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom
-Adventures of Lolo 3
-Dragon Warrior IV
-R.C. Pro-Am II
-Rescue Rangers 2
-Duck Tales 2

Nintendo's Next Best
If you want more first-party representation, here are some of the most charming classics. Original Nintendo black-box games can be hard to enjoy today, but try these.

-Ice Climber
-Mario Bros
-Dance Aerobics (just kidding, checking to see if you're paying attention)
-Tetris 2
-Golf
-Ice Hockey

Sports and Puzzle Participation Trophies
It's hard to include too many games from polarizing genres, but so many deserve credit. Seriously, try the level editor in Lode Runner. I don't know where else to put Arkanoid.

-Tecmo World Wrestling
-Lode Runner
-Tecmo Bowl
-Arch Rivals
-Ring King
-Qix
-Track and Field II
-Baseball Simulator 1000
-Arkanoid

The Other RPGs
Ditto to the previous group's note, but for RPGs. Swords and Serpents might have my second-favorite NES label art (right behind Ironsword, of course).

-Dragon Warrior II
-Destiny of an Emporer
-Swords and Serpents
-The Magic of Scheherazade
-Legacy of the Wizard

They're Actually Pretty Bad Games
Some people defend these games so much so that they actually appear on some top-### lists, but I promise they're bad. Pinball and trackball games just don't do well on the NES. I could list a number of Nintendo black-box games here, but I'm trying to draw a line between bad and limited. Touchdown Fever is actually on here for me; I love that game.

-Snake's Revenge
-Touchdown Fever
-Ikari Warriors
-Fester's Quest
-Wizards and Warriors III: Kuros: Visions of Power
-Demon Sword
-Bad Dudes
-Marble Madness
-Pin Bot