There’s not much to say about the NES Super Mario Bros. games that hasn’t already been said for the last three and a half decades. But as we celebrate the 35th anniversary of the NES, it would absolutely be a disservice to skip over these titles just because everyone constantly fawns over them.
One and three are often heralded as some of the best platformers of all time. The oddest of the bunch is certainly the second game, but it’s still a fantastic platformer. And Lost Levels is just downright hard. If you’re looking for stellar 2D platforming, then you can’t go wrong with a single one of these Super Mario Bros. titles.
Kirby’s Adventure is arguably the best entry in the entire series. It was the first title in the franchise to be in color. But more importantly, this game is the one that introduced the ability to steal powers from enemies by swallowing them.
This is now one of Kirby’s defining abilities and it would be hard to imagine a Kirby game without it. Even back in the early 90s, they had the vision to create puzzles and different obstacles around this ability. Kirby’s Adventure is a fantastic game where this cute pink puffball finally came into it’s own.
In Punch-Out!!, you play as the diminutive boxing hero, Little Mac. This unlikely champion has to duck, dodge, block, and jab his way to the top of the WVBA rankings. All the while, his opponents are no less than double his size. It’s all about patience and striking when the opportunity presents itself.
Back in the day, this game used to feature Mike Tyson as the final boss. Now Mr. Dream is the final opponent you face, but that doesn’t change anything. This game is still just as difficult and rewarding on the Switch as it was back on the NES.
Ghosts & Goblins
If you think Punch-Out!! is tough, then Ghosts & Goblins is undoubtedly going to ruin your day. Sure, the controls in this 2D action platformer are a bit clunky. Imagine Mega Man but he sucks at jumping. It’s definitely not one of the best games on the NES, but it’s sure-fire a must-play just for the experience.
You play as Arthur, a knight on a quest to save Princess Prin Prin from Satan. I’m about to tip toe around some spoilers here, but something happens the first time after you finish the final level that will completely ruin your day. Enjoy.
This is one of the more simplistic games on the list, but there’s no doubt it deserves to be checked out for the NES 35th anniversary. This motocross racing game is filled with mud pits, jumps, and boosts to help mix up the otherwise flat racing surface.
And if you get sick of playing the same tracks over and over again, then you can even create your own tracks using all the same assets that the pre-built courses use. A level creator in a mid-80s game is almost unheard of, but Excitebike pulled it off and did it extremely well.
This franchise has fallen on hard times recently. The most recent entry (Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z), left a lot to be desired. But back in the day, Ninja Gaiden was one of the best action platformers on the NES.
In this game, you play as the deadly ninja, Ryu Hayabusa. You can use a small arsenal of different ninja tools like shuriken, flames, and your trusty dragon sword to fight your way through each level. The movement and gameplay are difficult to master, but it’s worth the effort.
Side-scrolling and top-down shooters quickly became an over-saturated genre on the NES. But looking back now during the NES 35th anniversary, Gradius is the best of the bunch. It’s another tough title that rewards you for skillful play and mastery.
Your ship starts out slow and weak, but as you pick up upgrades you slowly become faster and much more powerful. The satellite ships help you gain extra firepower not only in the front, but also down below by dropping bombs. As long as you can dodge the incoming projectiles, then you’ll tear through enemy ships like they’re not even there.
Sports games are often overlooked these days as contenders for best-of lists. However, Ice Hockey is from a different time where the developers of the game had to work around the limitations of the console. Because of that, we got four-on-four (plus goalkeepers).
Despite that minor concession, the game is still extremely fun and fast-paced. You even get to completely customize each position in your lineup with one of three different players.
One is fast but weak, the other is balanced, and the last one is slow but strong. Even if you don’t care for hockey, it’s worth checking out as it’s just objectively a fun game.
Donkey Kong Jr.
Everyone always gives the NES version of Donkey Kong love, but Donkey Kong Jr. is usually an afterthought. But as we reach the NES 35th anniversary, it’s worth jumping back into it so you can see what you’ve been missing.
This platformer pits the son of Donkey Kong against Mario in four different, gradually more difficult levels. The idea is the same as Donkey Kong where you climb to the top of the level to clear it and move on to the next. It’s not too difficult and the vine climbing adds more varied movement options compared to the original Donkey Kong.
Legend of Zelda 1 & 2
There’s no 2D adventure franchise on the NES quite like the Legend of Zelda. Even the second game that’s often criticized is still a fantastic experience. The idea of being able to explore the entire world right from the start was decades ahead of everyone else.
On top of that, the combat is fun and easy to understand. Some of the hidden secrets can be tough to find, but the liberating feelings of free exploration and seemingly endless discovery all add up to an unmatched adventure experience.