The Games That Pushed The Limits Of The NES

Pushing The Limits of the NES With Impressive Graphics and Sound

Thinking back to most of the games you played on the NES, it’s easy to remember the 8-bit library as being simple and possibly even primitive. However, if you dig deep into the library, there is a surprising amount of games that maxed out the NES hardware to produce some impressive graphics and sound (See the rest of our Games That Pushed The Limits series). With the Famicom / NES hardware remaining popular and active on the retail scene for over a decade, game developers had a lot of time to perfect their programming techniques and squeeze every last bit of power out of the iconic console. Below, RadarScope1 and racketboy team up to review some of the most demanding NES games in terms of hardware resources

Kirby’s Adventure

Kirby Adventure NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1993
See Game In Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Amazing use of color
  • Smooth animation
  • Largest licensed NES game at 6 Mbit

What Makes The Game Special:
Kirby was another one of those games that came out for the NES as many Nintendo fans already had started building their SNES libraries. It’s a cute and fun-filled game that, like Super Mario Bros 3, looked like an early SNES game with a smaller color palette. Kirby had an advantage on Mario 3, however, as it was the largest licensed NES cart at 6 Mbit (and it shows).

Rather than make some piece of trash as the last great NES game, the makers polished it and polished it until you can almost see your face in it. The graphics stretch the 8-bit format to its absolute limit. It is the aesthetic equivalent of painting the Lord’s Prayer on a grain of rice – the beauty is that of working within the limitations.

Kirby himself is a beautiful vibrant pink, the worlds he passes through are delicious lime greens, ice blues, chocolate browns – the rich colors do not attempt to emulate 16 bit, but instead try to make 8 bit as beautiful as possible. The attention to detail incredible as Kirby’s character animations are about as good as they get on the NES.

The backgrounds’ graphics may be The biggest strength of the game. In relation to most other NES games, the backgrounds in Kirby’s Adventure are superb. There’s one level that takes place in a forest and you can see an ocean in the distance. There is also some nifty parallax scrolling in the tower stages of the game. If all that wasn’t enough, the game has smooth animation as well. Even the intros to each level were nifty. All these little elements come together to create one “dreamy” gaming experience.

Battletoads

Battletoads NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1991
See Game In Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Large sprites with impressive animations
  • Scrolling and rotating backgrounds
  • Large number of levels
  • Creative use of graphical techniques to create 16-bit-like experience

What Makes The Game Special:
This innovative beatemup from Rare was one of the most impressive games on the NES. Clearly ripping off the Ninja Turtles craze and mashing it up with the game play of Double Dragon, Battletoads did introduce some fresh gameplay mechanics, including vertical scrolling stages that featured cylindrical backgrounds rotating in pseudo-3D. The hover bike sequences are some of the fastest (and most frustrating) bits of game play the NES ever saw.

The originality of each Battletoads stage (I believe there were around 12 back in the day when 8 was considered huge) made you believe it was a 16 bit game all the way. From descending deep chasms on a rope to going at the speed of light on racer bikes to climbing on the backs of snakes to a literal rat race to climbing a giant tower that tracks in 3D as you walk around it, this game was and still is amazing.

Another characteristic that made BattleToads memorable was its stylized look and exaggerated ways of finishing off enemies. These include a headbutt that would have the battletoad sprout ram’s horns or a football helmet, a punch with an extremely enlarged fist, and on climbing/falling levels, the ability to transform into a boulder and act as a wrecking ball. Each of these effects showed off some graphical techniques that had never really been explored by anyone else.

It is also worth nothing that a follow-up, Battletoads & Double Dragon, was released two years later in 1993, but I don’t think it really even reaches the level of the original in terms of graphics. (Perhaps the developers were too busy with the 16-bit ports)

Crisis Force

Crisis Force NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1991
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Insane amount of action and movement on the screen
  • Parallax scrolling galore
  • Great sprite animation effect include pseudo 3D rotations
  • Huge boss battles
  • Nice cinematic screen animations

What Makes The Game Special:
If you think the TurboGrafx-16 was the only 8-bit machine that could have fun with shmups, you need to take a look at Crisis Force. This classic has often been called “the Axelay of the Famicom”, and has the graphical muscle to back the claim up.

Konami pulled out all the stops with graphics that are almost at a 16-bit level in terms of multiple-scrolling backgrounds and large sprites. The first time I saw it in action, I was shocked… I’d never seen a Famicom/NES pull off those kinds of tricks. Some of the parallax and other effects are truly on the level of a Genesis shooter.

Recca Summer Carnival ‘92

Recca NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1992
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Jaw-dropping fast gameplay
  • Tons of simultaneous on-screen action
  • Some trippy background effects
  • Great sound with 4 channels of 8-bit sampled loops

What Makes The Game Special:
This shmup is insane. It isn’t very often than I see a game fling sprites around as quickly as Recca. This Japan-only Famicom game

The actual game sprites are pretty basic, but some of the backgrounds and bosses are quite colorful. There are other levels that have some trippy graphical effects going on to wow onlookers and make your eyes go even crazier while trying to dodge bullets.

Further completing the technical powerhouse, Recca also uses 4 channels of 8-bit sampled sound loops to deliver some audio that is rarely achieved on the Famicom/NES. Its trance/techno-style soundtrack is cutting edge for the early 90’s an fits right in with the action.

Metal Storm

Metal Storm NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1991
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Smooth and stylistic animations
  • Realistic gravity effects
  • Multi-layers backgrounds
  • Lots of parallax scrolling without slowdown

What Makes The Game Special:
Before you write this game off because of the screenshots, let me assure you that you need to see Metal Storm in action to appreciate its graphical prowess. A single frame of the mech sprite isn’t overly impressive, but one you see it walking around and engaging in combat, it’s really quite impressive.

Irem, the developers behind R-Type, pieced together this mech-based run-n-gun that I looks like an early version of the Assault Suit Leynos series in terms of both gameplay and graphics.

One of the coolest little gimmicks of Metal Storm is your little mech’s ability to play with gravity in order to walk upside on ceilings. This is very similar to certain levels in Megaman and Gunstar Heroes, but Metal Storm pulled it off years before them and animated changes in gravity more realistically than any 8-bit game I have seen.

I know this is a small detail, but the anime-inspired explosion animations on Metal Storm rival some of the coolest of the 16-bit generation. There are also two different layers of backgrounds, as well as the foreground, which gives a nice perspective view as you move along. It wasn’t until the SNES that layered backgrounds became common. There can be occasional flickering when many objects are on the screen at once. However this is rare and barely noticeable when it does occur, and there is no gameplay slowdown.

Batman: Return of the Joker

Batman: Return of the Joker NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1991
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Could pass for a 16-bit game
  • Large sprites and bosses
  • Excellent use of color
  • Fast and Fluid animation

What Makes The Game Special:
If you watch this game in action, but aren’t looking very closely at the density of the pixels, you would think Return of the Joker is an early Genesis game (there is a Genesis port, BTW)

Just by watching this final boss battle of the game, you can see that the developers at Sunsoft knew how to effectively use the NES’s limited color palate to create a dark, but engaging atmosphere. You can also see how quickly Batman can move around while there is a good deal of subtle animations going on.

Even the standard level gameplay looks like something would see in a 16-bit title. The way the enemies drop down and guns fire remind me a bit of Gunstar Heroes. Obviously, it doesn’t have some of the other graphical treats the Gunstar does, but for an NES title, some of the effects are stunning.

Gradius & Gradius II

Gradius 2 NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1986 and 1988 respectively
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Large sprite count due to plenty of enemies and bullets on the screen
  • Minimal amount of slowdown and flicker
  • Detailed graphics from excellent arcade port

What Makes The Game Special:
The NES saw plenty of arcade ports of varying quality throughout its lifespan. Few of those titles pushed the hardware like Konami’s Gradius, and the Japan-only Gradius II.

The archetypal horizontal shooter put a slew of enemies and dozens of bullets on screen at once. Most impressively, Konami’s programmers did it all with only a minimal amount of slowdown or flicker in an era when such chugging and flashing was almost expected. The graphics are detailed enough to put the port of the original game on par with its arcade counterpart and the music, though fairly repetitive, is suitably epic for a space shooter. All this from a title released relatively early in the console’s lifespan. For a truly mind-blowing experience, check out videos of the sequel, Gradius II.

 

Contra

Contra NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1988
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Minimal amount of slowdown despite heavy shooting action
  • Lots of explosion animations
  • Pseudo 3D stages with large number of bullets
  • Huge boss battles
  • Scrolling maps and cutscenses between levels in Famicom version

What Makes The Game Special:
Another Konami title, Contra is notable for being an exception to the norms of the day in that many then (and now) regarded the NES version superior to the arcade title it on which it was based.

The run-and-gun gameplay is fast-paced and is rarely hampered by slowdown – though flicker is a problem. Explosions abound, giving the title the feel of macho actions flicks of the ’80s. The perspective shifts with each of the eight stages, from horizontal scrolling to vertical and back, and in between gamers were treated to pseudo-3D corridor stages where bullets and grenades were poured on in thick waves.

The soundtrack rocks as hard as the action, ranging from driving anthems to slightly more atmospheric tunes. The huge bosses are of special note. Perhaps best of all, two players could tackle everything Contra threw at them at the same time.

Journey to Silius

Journey to Silius NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1990
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Detailed and smooth character animations
  • Screen-filling bosses
  • Detailed backgrounds and environments
  • Unique audio techniques combined with killer soundtrack

What Makes The Game Special:
On a number of occasions, Sunsoft has proven themselves to be one of the most skilled developers for the NES. Journey to Silius is one of Sunsofts finest products in the era due to its well-rounded graphics, audio, and gameplay. The game obviously draws some inspirations for classics such as Megaman and Contra, but it improves on some things to create an experience that is more modern than your typical NES title.

The main character animation is impressive, especially when running and jumping. There is also some decent momentum-based jumping physics in place to add to the realism (and challenge). The bosses are also impressively large, colorful, and well-detailed. The game’s backgrounds are nothing short of beautiful. They portray the environment of a bleak, apocalyptic future with vibrant colors and detail. (The game was originally anticipated to use the Terminator license) For example, in the second level’s underground tunnel, the scene is strongly detailed, right down to the little glowing red lights that line the walls.

There aren’t a lot of NES games that impress me with the musical abilities, but Journey to Silius is one of the few exceptions. One of its unique aspects is that rather than use the Digital channel for the kick or snare (as was usually done), they use the Digital channel for a simple sampled bassline. And then the kick drum uses the Triangle channel which gives it a very different tone. The game’s audio isn’t only extraordinary on a technical level, but it also has one of the best game soundtracks of the decade.

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

Castlevania 3 NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1990
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Heavy doses of rotation effects and parallax faking
  • Detailed background and foreground elements
  • Additional sound channels via Konami’s VRC6 sound chip

What Makes The Game Special:
With the third installment of the NES Castlevanias, Konami packed a very large game into that small cartridge with a couple of custom mappers, which gave the NES very nice graphic effects, such as rotation and parallax faking. The graphics were also revamped and ended up being of the best on the NES. A very large amount of animated tiles in the backgrounds of movement stages fill the game with a haunting atmosphere. Some action stages have some surprises that add to the challenge, such as automatic scrolling, rising water, crumbling bridges, and falling towers.

Konami made the most of the graphical capabilities of the NES to provide intricate details such as stained-glass windows, moss on rocks, eerie swamp fog, ominous shadows, rotting wood, and spectacular lightning flashes. This is a definite step up from Castlevania 2 which often repeated backgrounds. The enemies and bosses look much better than they did in the previous Castlevania games (which were good to start with). The animation is one thing that is much improved, as many of characters now have more than just one or two frames.

The Famicom version, Akumajou Densetsu in Japan, used Konami’s VRC6 chip for additional sound channels. A couple other Konami games use that chip as well. (Only the Famicom supports the extra sound chip)

Blaster Master

Blaster Master NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1988
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • “Tiling” techniques to create impressive environments
  • Detailed explosions and animations
  • Large bosses

What Makes The Game Special:
This game was looked and sounded fantastic at the time of its 1988 release. 16-bit systems were just coming onto the market at the time, and maybe the best compliment that can be given to Master Blaster is that it almost looks like a 16-bit title. Little touches like enemy explosions are highly detailed, and the bosses at the end of the top-down stages are mammoth. The level of detail in the side-scrolling sections goes beyond most any other game of the 8-bit generation.

Developer Sunsoft made perhaps the best use of the “tile” method of creating environments of any game on the NES. Blaster Master felt like two games in one, thanks to its mixture of side-scrolling vehicle-platforming stages and the top-down areas that felt like Mega Man had just been dropped into a Zelda game. The music rocks, too, though it isn’t quite as earth-shattering as that of Mega Man series.

Crystalis

Crystalis NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1990
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Imaginative use of color
  • Detailed environments

What Makes The Game Special:
When you think of SNK, 2D fighters and Metal Slug games probably come to mind. However, you may be surprised to know that one of SNK’s first successes was actually an RPG for the NES that rivaled Zelda in terms of both gameplay and technical prowest.

Despite its quality, Crystalis never became a runaway hit, although it is considered today a cult classic among NES junkies. Even in these early days, you can see SNK’s skill for maxing out limited hardware to create colorful creations that were not only beautiful, but also had solid gameplay.

The sprites were clean and detailed considering they were relatively small to cater to its genre. However, the animation throughout your adventure is enough to make The Legend of Zelda look rather dated. In addition, the environments in Crystalis somehow feel a bit more organic as opposed the the blockiness you might otherwise expect from an NES game.

Little Samson

Little Samson NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1991
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Fluid character sprite animations
  • Amazingly detailed and colorful backgrounds

What Makes The Game Special:
This underrated little action shooter is a fun and frantic that has some graphical flair. Being a late-generation NES game, Little Samson is packed with clean and bright graphics and smooth animation. The actual sprites aren’t impressive on their own, but after seeing them in motion, you can see that the developer prioritized smoothness over detail.

The backgrounds, on the other hand, can be quite detailed and colorful. This more than makes up for the any sprites you might think are boring. Taito also manages keeps the frame rate and flicker under control, which is crucial for some of the frantic firefights.

Prince of Persia

Prince of Persia NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1992
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Very large sprites
  • Fluid animation
  • Detailed animated backgrounds

What Makes The Game Special:
Prince of Persia was a revolutionary game when it was originally released on the Apple II in 1989, but due to its realistic character animation, it was still a technical marvel when the NES port was released three years later.

The NES port looks very similar to the PC version, but some of the screens resort to a bit of scrolling, since they can’t fit entirely on the screen.  Nevertheless, it is still a thrill to see this classic running and looking so good on the good ‘ol NES.

Slalom

Slalom NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1987
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • First NES title to feature splitscreen action
  • Surprising sense of speed
  • Very smooth animation
  • An early attempt at a pseudo 3D experience

What Makes The Game Special:
The most cutting edge racing game ever to grace the NES took place on snow, not pavement. Slalom is another early-cycle title that pushed the console. It was published in 1987, and was the first Rare title published on Nintendo hardware, marking the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship. The snowy setting was key to the technical achievement. By placing a simple white strip between two gray areas on either side, Rare’s programmers were able to create incredibly smooth and speedy gameplay.

Toss in moguls, trees, flagpoles, snowmen, sledders and an unending onslaught of other skiers and you have a white-knuckle ride. Though it used essentially the same kind of programming as other pseudo-3D racers of the day, very few if any NES racers felt as fast as Slalom. This was also the first NES title to use a split-screen view for head-to-head two-player action, which is a distinction in and of itself.

 

3D World Runner

3D World Runner NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1988
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Pseudo 3D experience that is better than the Famicom version of Space Harrier

What Makes The Game Special:
After seeing 3D World Runner in motion, Sega fans will notice a similarities to the Space Harrier games. The graphical style and technique is very similar, but in this game you don’t get to fly around — you just run. Nevertheless, the pseudo 3D effect is well executed considering its running on the NES hardware and was developed in 1987.

There’s also a 3D mode using normal red/blue 3D glasses, which technically beat Space Harrier 3D to the punch. Unfortunately, it’s just not a whole lot of fun.

Cosmic Epsilon

Lagrange Point NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1989
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Beat Space Harrier at its own game on the NES
  • Pseudo 3D  graphics with slick shooting action
  • Smooth animation
  • Nice animated cutscenes

What Makes The Game Special:
One year after 3D World Runner was released, Cosmic Epsilon raised the stakes by bring shooting action to complete the goal Space Harrier clone that is better than the NES Space Harrier Port.

The colors weren’t as interesting as 3D World Runner, nor were the environments as detailed, but at least you could shoot enemies and fly around — and you could do effectively and smoothly.  Cosmic Epsilon also added some animated cinemas to add to the polish.

Moon Crystal

Moon Crystal NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1992
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Detailed and smooth character animations
  • Impressive anime-styled intro sequence

What Makes The Game Special:
By 1992, the Super Nintendo was already over a year into it’s launch, but that didn’t stop some developers from creating games for the ever-popular NES. Of course, by then, most developers were very comfortable with the hardware and were able to squeeze every last bit of power to make them relevant when compared to newer 16-bit games.

Never released in the west, Moon Crystal is a side-scrolling platformer that’s notable for its main character’s silky smooth animation. It’s not on par with the rotoscoped animation of Prince of Persia, but it’s well beyond most 8-bit platformers. Moon Crystal also has an intro sequence featuring Japanese anime characters that looked more like something out of TG-16 title than an NES game. Granted, it was limited to some simple animation, but it is still impressive for the NES.

Super Mario Bros 3.

Super Mario Bros 3 NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1988
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Heavy use of color
  • Detailed sprites
  • Diagonal scrolling

What Makes The Game Special:
Released in 1988 (in Japan, 1989 in the U.S.), the third installment of the Nintendo’s generation-defining series likely went far beyond anything the Big N’s engineers thought possible on the hardware when they designed it. Bursting with color and imaginative settings, Mario 3 set the bar for platformers and games in general with its sheer depth and size. Just about every gamer was blown away by how groundbreaking SMB3 was when it was debuted. (Anyone remember watching The Wizard in 1989?)

There are dozens of playable levels spread across eight worlds that have their own distinct theme and style. While most side-scrolling games of the time scrolled only vertically or horizontally, Mario’s third adventure allowed him to fly and jump in every direction, including diagonally. For another comparison as to how far the NES had come by this time, consider this: the original Mario Bros., an arcade game that was given a full retail release at the NES’s 1983 Japanese launch, was included as a souped-up mini-game in Mario 3.

Thrilla’s Surfari

Thrilla's Surfari NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1992
See Game in Action

Key Techincal Features: 

  • Some impressive physics
  • Vivid color and shading
  • Quick gameplay with lots of obstacles without slowdown
  • Exploding monkeys

What Makes The Game Special:
This is one rather bizarre game (what the opening cutscenes) that involves a gorilla that surfs and skates through a number of tricky situations.  The first thing that caught my eye about Thrilla’s Surfari was the fact that it looks like somebody tried cramming a Donkey Kong Country game into a NES cart (like those pirate releases of days gone by).   The developers apparently made good use of the NES’s available colors to create a vivid and well-animated experience.

The actual gameplay is also rather creative and impressive from a technical standpoint.  I naturally draw comparisons to one of the Gameboy Advance version of Tony Hawk fused with a traditional platforming game.  The physics and tricks Thrilla can pull off obviously aren’t on the same level as Tony Hawk’s, but considering the game’s vintage and it is a platformer, it is impressive.

For instance, depending on Thrilla’s speed and how he lands/crashes, he could have a simple fall or completely explode into pieces like a Mortal Kombat fatality.  Where was  Joe Lieberman when this was released?

Once the game progresses, it will require you to maneuver Thrilla at higher speeds.  On some of the later levels, the NES was sure to be sweating a bit, but it doesn’t seem to display any slowdown.

Solar Jetman

Solar Jetman NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1990
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Incredible gravity physics
  • Smooth animation enabling 3D-like rotations
  • Detailed cutscene animations

What Makes The Game Special:
The gameplay for Solar Jetman was old-school even for an old-school console, but its graphical techniques were still cutting edge, thanks to Zippo Games and Rare. This multi-directional shooter depends heavily on its impressive gravity physics, much like its predecessors, Thrust and Gravitar. As Wikipedia says so eloquently, “The player’s craft is subject to inertia but not drag, so to stop moving in one direction it needs to thrust in the opposite way. The constant pull of gravity makes stable flight impossible and steering a skill in itself.”

As if Solar Jetman’s physics engine was enough of a programming feat, the animations of our Jetman are quite nice as well. Even though the sprite designs are simple, they animate in a way that gives the illusion of rotating in 3D.

 

Lagrange Point

Lagrange Point NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1991
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Utilizes Konami’s VRC7 soundchip
  • Sound quality nearly on par with Sega Genesis games
  • Nice animated cutscenes

What Makes The Game Special:
This Japan-only Famicom title is an RPG from Konami. Since it isn’t a classic in terms of gameplay, it is primarily known for its unique audio capabilities. Lagrange Point is the only game to use Konami’s VRC7 soundchip, which gives it dramatically improved audio capabilities, roughly analogous to Sega Genesis. It is obviously quite impressive. Due to its release late in the 8-bit era and the use of the advanced chip, the game was never localized.

It is also worth mentioning that it has some detailed and animated cutscenes to set the story for this RPG.

Dragon’s Lair

Dragon's Lair NES ScreenshotRelease Date: 1990
See Game in Action

Key Technical Features:

  • Very large sprites
  • Fluid animation
  • Detailed animated backgrounds

What Makes The Game Special:
Ok, so the gameplay of this NES port pretty much sucks, but you have to give the developers credit for making it look good.  (Pretty much the same concept of the arcade original).

Since the NES obviously couldn’t pull off the full motion video of the original game, huge sprites were used in an attempt to re-create the experience.  It didn’t really accomplish its mission, but it is still impressive for the NES hardware.  The jumping animation is pretty dorky-looking, but there are a number of frames of animation throughout the game to ensure some smooth movement.

Honorable Mentions

  • Ninja Gaiden Series – Fast and furious.  Cutscenes were also a sight to behold. (videos)
  • NES to USB Adapter from Amazon.comThe Immortal – nice execution of isometric perspective technique (video)
  • Mighty Final Fight – Large sprites with brilliantly smooth and quick fighting animations (video)
  • Phantom Fighter – some relatively realistic walking and fighting animations
  • Nightshade – Good balance of colors, shading, and animation (video)
  • Wurm: Journey To The Center of the Earth – Interesting side-scrolling shooter that has some colorful environments and fast action (video)
  • Sword Master – has some impressive parallax scrolling and nice cinematic screens (video)
  • Dragon Warrior 4 (lengthy quest, multiple chapters) – 512KB. (video)
  • Baseball Stars – You could climb the wall and it animated right, dive, jump. (video)
  • Ikari III: The Rescue – A cool top-down action title from SNK that has detailed landscapes and cool battle animations (video)
  • Punch-Out – Big sprites bursting with color and character (video)
  • After Burner – Rivals the Sega Master System version, but choppier and not quite and pleasant-looking as 3D World Runner (video)
  • Megaman Series – a classic franchise filled with large, colorful graphic and sweet soundtracks (video)
  • Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers – a two-player platformer with large sprites and lots of action going on with now slow-down (video)
  • Faxanadu – The mist levels are pretty intense for 8-bit (video)
  • Final Fantasy III: This Japan-only release was a killer RPG with a huge scope (video)
  • Marble Madness – the famous title had great physics of its own and a great 3D-like environment (video)
  • Totally Rad – One of the most colorful run-and-gun platformers on the console (video)

Check out the rest of Racketboy’s Games That Pushed The Limits Series

Digg This Article


90 Comments

dudex77 says:

Nice list! Didn’t the sound get messed up on the nes version of Castlevania 3 because of hardware issues? I never got to experience that game in real life but I’ve heard complaints about that or something.

racketboy says:

I’m having way too much fun putting this thing together. In case you are concerned one of your favorites is missing, I have about 10 more games to add either to the main section or honorable mentions. I just wanted to post what I had so far. I’ll be adding more tonight and tomorrow morning.

Hope you enjoy them!

racketboy says:

dudex77, not quite sure… I’m not the Castlevania expert — perhaps it was because of the conversion from the superior Famicom version.

elvis says:

Another excellent article. Well thought out and well written.

I’m interested to see if you ever go back and revisit each console with a “worst games” list. That would be a laugh. 🙂

StarsCream says:

Gotta add “Totally Rad” to the list. It was a so-so game, but the graphics were way beyond normal NES fare.

Ooh, “Little Nemo” too, but you were gonna do that allready right?

jeffx says:

your youtube link to Moon Crystal points to Blaster Master.

elvis: worst game? that would be deadly towers…

racketboy says:

Fixed the link and added Thrilla’s Surfari…

Calibrator says:

Though I believe that you are right with most games, I don’t think that adding a sound chip pushes the original console to its limits. Obviously they were reached or they wouldn’t have added hardware.

Also I think that using a beautiful color selection or using well designed (but standard sized) sprites is pushing the limits of the machine as the strain on the hardware is the same as with ugly colors or sprites.
This doesn’t make the games worse – it only shows what great artists the software companies use.

take care,
Calibrator

racketboy says:

In my mind, I do discount the fact that an extra chip was added. But, technically, they have to get the chip to work with the existing hardware, so I think it’s still worth mentioning.

As for the colors issue, it take some programming skill to creatively use available colors a picture who’s sum is better than its parts (if that makes any sense)

For instance, if you had software downgrade a photographic image down to 32 colors, it probably wouldn’t do as good as a job as a skilled artist arranging 32 different colors to make a more realistic image.

As a programmer myself, I am humbled at what these developers accomplished with such limited resources.

Arion says:

There is nothing wrong with the sound in castlevania 3. But the famicom verison does have better music than the us/pal version

D123456 says:

Thanks for another excelling-ent article.
I remember seeing Batman at a friends house. It was some pirated copy of the game and I was blown away. At that time Genesis games don’t look that good. Also a favorite is Castlevania3, great music and backgrounds!

Animental says:

You forgot Base Wars!

Beautiful, fluid animation.
An entire team of customizable robots.
Street fighting.
Multiple weapons.
Different ‘bot chassis with different strengths/weaknesses.
Decent voice effects.

theefxman says:

If you want to see what the NES is capable of going forward, check out the little publicized game me and Kent Hansen (Snowbro) are working on. http://neotoxin.moccamagic.com/

Neotoxin when complete will be a blend of Metroid, Metal Gear, with RPG elements like Castlevania SOTN. You can also check out videos of it in action. Look on the news page for links to the movies.

Some of the best graphics and music on a nes game to date, coming your way soon. Leave some comments on the youtube page or here if you have questions. Take care!

TheEFXman

mike says:

Wizards and Warriors, anyone?

Mozgus says:

Thanks for the link to NeoToxin. Looks and sounds great.

Jon says:

WHat about 1943? One of the hardest games AND LONG games. It was also a VERY fun game.

tomo says:

No Metroid? That game was boss, fellas!

drbuns says:

I am surprised to see that Street Fighter 2010 is not the list. That is possibly the most visually impressive game on the NES. Not only that, bt this article fails to mention which games used add-on MMX chips to boost memory, visual, etc. Nearly all later (end of life) games for NES had these chips. without those, everything would loko at best like Super Mario Bros 2.

G says:

Captain Skyhawk was one of my favorites. It was great back then, and is in need of a remake now.

The Apprentice says:

Guerrilla war should have been on this list man. Just like Ikari Warriors but several times faster, blowing tanks up, explosions everywhere, blowing up helecopters with grenades and multiple weapons to pick up (like rocket launchers and flame throwers). It was an amazing game and my favorite on the NES.

CC says:

I thought I was the only person on earth who liked Blaster Master and Solar Jetman. The gravitational effects in SJ rocked. I’m reeeeeally holping for both to be made available for Virtual Console, not holding my breath though.

Brian says:

Snake, Rattle, and Roll was the first game to come to my mind when I saw this headline… check it out… LOTS of color use, 3d gameplay, great audio… replayability…

Matt says:

How about Dragon Warrior 4? What a great NES game!

Willy says:

Great list, but your pic of Gradius & Gradius II is a pic of Life Force for the NES, very similar games.

daCuk says:

I think that, if you included Ninja Gaiden on the Honorable Mention list, you need to also include Captain Tsubasa 2 on it. The whole game is comprised of animated cutscenes ONLY, and is a incredible combination of RPG and Sports games.
The obvious limitation is the Japanese language needed to play, but after you learn the basic commands, the game is a blast.
Also, Wai Wai World 2 is an excelent example of multiple game genres in one cartridge, all while giving Konami fans a little bit of fan-service.

Even though, interesting list.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *