7 Rootin Tootin Top-Down Run-and-Shootin Nintendo Entertainment System Games

Last week I was in the mood for blasting 8-bit baddies with a 6-shooter, so I dug up the 7 NES games I have that bear at least a very loose, passing resemblance to a top-down run-and-gun, and pieced together this little video. It also offers a glimpse into the insane, illogical, tightass-collectability factor lens through which I look at all my goodies!

My YouTube channel is itty bitty, but every once in a while I get the itch to make a video, and I'd love your feedback on my (more recent) work! You can also easily get to my two podcasts - PokéMalarkey and Avatar: The Last Podcasters - there! Actually, I post audio-only versions of most of my standard YouTube videos to another podcast called "Cheap Physical Games" that you can find on Spotify, Stitcher, iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon Podcasts.


Just for fun, here's the very rough script I used for this video. Again, I use a pretty rough draft that bears little resemblance to the final product.

Hey my name’s Shawn Schaller, and I’m on a quest to play and document every single video game in my humble little collection! I’m a stubborn old cheapskate so it’s mostly common retro physical stuff, and I’m really bad at most video games and at media editing so I’ll have to work on the details as I go. But the point is that, if I own it, I’m gonna to try it.

Today I’m looking at the few top-down run-and-gun games I own the Nintendo Entertainment System. The N-E-S provided me my first video game memories, so I want it to host my first few episodes, and I’m going with top-down run-and-guns because sometimes I just stop whatever I’m doing to think about Heavy Barrel.

SEGUE! Heavy Barrel, developed and published by Data East as an arcade-to-N-E-S port in 1990, is a top-down run-and-gun where you’re armed with unlimited bullets, a few grenades, and plenty of weapon powerups – including the titular Heavy Barrel gun itself – on a mission to reclaim a nuclear missile or silo or something or other from some slightly sci-fi terrorists. The audiovisuals are all good, especially relative to other Data East games on the console; I’ve always liked the nice-sized sprites and vivid color palate, and have always felt like the music is a little underappreciated. It has a bad case of the character-too-close-to-the-edge-of-the-screen-to-scrollies, though. The typical review for this game would probably put it at a 3-out-of-5, but I would personally recommend it to most N-E-S owners at its going rate of $11 per pricecharting-dot-com. I’ve got fond memories of playing 2-player Heavy Barrel with my younger brother, and it’s my favorite example of over-the-top-80’s-action-movie-energy packaged in an excessively armed N-E-S run-and-gun.

Unlike those other games where you’re not running at all, like Jackal, another port of an arcade game – called Top Gunner – developed and published by Konami in 1988 for the N-E-S. You and a friend become part of the elite Jackal force, where you and your military jeep are literally dumped into enemy territory to rescue P-O-Ws and gun down every baddie in sight. You’re in a vehicle for narrative reasons, but it functions like the system’s other top-down run-and-guns, though the levels feel a little less linear and there’s almost some exploration involved. It successfully pulls off a more serious audiovisual aesthetic than its competition, which combine with the jeep and P-O-W-rescuing elements to make it feel very unique. I’m not a fan of the music at all, though. I’d say the average review is 4-out-of-5 territory and it’s potentially the N-E-S’s best game in this subgenre, and at $12 it’s again something I would recommend for most N-E-S owners.

Next up is Ikari Warriors, this one originally an SNK arcade cabinet then developed by Micronics and published by SNK for the N-E-S in 1987. Unlike Jackal, though, this one is not GOOD-iconic. One or two shirtless, headbanded commandos are dropped into enemy territory with sad-sounding little pea shooters and a few grenades in a painfully slow and repetitive slog, with few redeeming qualities. The best advice I can give you for fun or success in this game is find a tank and go fast. The average review probably falls into the 2-out-of-5 range, and even at $7 I think only N-E-S enthusiasts need to consider it. Unfortunately it’s one of the first N-E-S games I remember having, so I do have some misplaced nostalgia, but I think the best thing you can do for this game is listen to the Minibosses’ cover of the solid, recognizable stage-1 theme.

Sticking with SNK, they did get better. Ikari Warriors II Victory Road is a fever dream, and Ikari Warriors III is more like a run-and-melee, but both seem to gain meaningful functional improvements… at least according to the internet, at least, as I’ve never played either. Somewhere in there SNK had time to develop and publish Guerrilla War from the arcade to the N-E-S in 1988, which is probably the best of the bunch. It’s basically a faster, frantic, amped-up improvement upon Ikari Warriors in every way, with some added variety in the form of saving P-O-Ws, and unique terrain, obstacles, and vehicle segments. It also comes with the added bonus of obviously being a 100% accurate history lesson about Che Guevara and Fidel Castro’s defeat of the Batista regime in 1950s Cuba. I’d say the average review is 4-out-of-5 and it’s comfortably in the N-E-S subgenre’s-best race, so at $13 it’s another that most system owners would enjoy. It’s probably the game in this list I’ve acquired most recently, but it’s so solid and interesting that I became fond of it quickly after buying a tattered copy at a CD Tradepost store-closing sale with no prior knowledge of its existence.

The last game I have that fits the category neatly is kinda the O-G of the genre. Commando was developed and published by Capcom for the N-E-S in 1986, and it’s pretty simple and pretty solid. It’s basically the same look, feel, and story as SNK’s Ikari Warriors – a game I imagine it directly inspired – but overall feels a little more enjoyable and polished than its imitator despite coming out a little earlier. I think someone more talented than me can organically enjoy it from more than just a historical perspective, but it’s worth noting I did find it a little harder than the other “good” games here. I’d put the average review at a 3-out-of-5, and at $6 and being one of the most common games here, I’d probably recommend this game to N-E-S owners a little more often than not. I personally think Heavy Barrel is objectively better, but I probably have the least amount of nostalgia for this one so I’m sure I’m biased.

I thought I had Commando and Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road, but it’s likely I’m confusing what I have with what’s in my parents’ basement. I do have some things that are close; The Lone Ranger, Gun-dot-Smoke, Smash TV, et cetera, but none of them fit the subgenre as well as what I’ve got here, and 4-6 games per episode is my goal. I’ve listed each game in an excel sheet with some data – this will ultimately be my overarching master list – and just for fun I’ve ranked and listed each by how much I LOVE them, and literally by no logical measure whatsoever. For me, that means Heavy Barrel, Guerrilla War, Jackal, and Ikari Warriors in that order. Heavy Barrel might be my favorite, but based on universal feelings and price Guerrilla War and Jackal are certainly the easiest to recommend, and frankly I don’t even hate Ikari Warriors. Some obvious ones I know I’m missing would be Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road, and Commando, which is sort of the O-G of the genre. Ikari Warriors III would be cool, but costs more than I’d want to spend, and I’m sure there’s others of which I’m totally unaware.