The Best Undiscovered Nintendo NES Games


Usually, when you get a new-to-you console or you boot up an emulator for the first time (try NesterDC, for instance), you can usually find or remember the major games to check out. But what happens when you need something different to play? This is where the “Hidden Gems” come in.
Read More About My Criteria For Hidden Gems
See All The Hidden Gems Articles

This will be a bit of a work-in-progress. I may add to these as I go along and find new games.
If you have some recommendations to add, please do so in the comments section below.

Platformers

Obvious Choices:
Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 2, Super Mario Bros 3, Kid Icarus, Kirby’s Adventure, Adventure Island

Featured Game: Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers
“Games based on children’s cartoon shows haven’t always sucked. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Capcom produced a great deal of entertaining games with licensed Disney themes for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Many of them were quite challenging, but Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers is one of the titles that I feel had the best balance of fun and challenge in a platformer. While it’s not a big challenge if you are a platformer junkie, it is still fun and is a great game for mid-range players…

The most important feature to me is the 2-player simultaneous gameplay. In fact, the game isn’t terribly exciting when you play it by yourself. However, you have a buddy team up with you, the game can be a blast. Not only are you able to pick up and throw objects, but you can also pick up and throw your partner if you so choose — and that is when much of the hilarity ensues. Aside from hijinks that tossing your partner can bring, picking them up and carrying them can be part of your strategy — which may be helpful at times if your partner is a newbie. Bottom line is that teamwork can be both fun and strategic.”
Racketboy’sReview of Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers
Find Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers on eBay

More Great Games:
Duck Tales
Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout
Little Nemo: The Dream Master
Snake Rattle ‘n Roll
Mappy-Land
Yo! Noid
Panic Restaurant
Rockin Kats
Kiwi Kraze (New Zealand Story)
Adventures of Rad Gravity
Disney’s Adventures in the Magical Kingdom

Action

Obvious Choices:
Castlevania, Castlevania II, Castlevania III, Ninja Gaiden Series, Bionic Commando, Rolling Thunder, Metal Gear

Featured Game: Clash at Demonhead
“You are Bang, a secret agent of some kind (apparently, details about your history & mission have been cut from the English translation of this game.. any Japanese speakers want to write me and fill in the blanks?). While relaxing on the beach with your girlfriend Mary, word comes from HQ that Professor Plum has been kidnapped and is being forced to make a doomsday bomb! As if that’s not bad enough, there’s also a very powerful demon preparing to fill and/or end the world with his (her?) nasty eggs. The demon is in no way related to the doomsday plot, but you’ll end up resolving both problems and, as a result, saving the world from TWO separate catastrophes. You’ll also learn several valuable life lessons and even the secret history of mankind….

It’s hard for words to do justice to Clash at Demonhead. The dialog is great, and the story is convoluted and entertaining. Best of all, the game has STYLE – genuinely absurd videogames are far and few between, and none are as dramatic and action packed as Clash At Demonhead.”
Classic Gaming’s Review of Clash at Demonhead
Find Clash At Demonhead on eBay

More Great Games:
Gremlins 2
Vice Project Doom
Batman
Power Blade
Wizards & Warriors
IronSword: Wizards & Warriors II
Jackie Chan’s Action
Kung Fu

Monster In My Pocket
Willow
The Three Stooges
Kung Fu Heroes
Shatterhand
Low G Man
Trojan
Demon Sword
Ultimate Stuntman

Adventure

Obvious Choices:
Sid Meier’s Pirates!, Maniac Mansion, Star Tropics

Featured Game: Nightshade
Nightshade Screenshot“When it comes to obscure, seldom-seen NES games, I doubt one could find many equalling Nightshade in terms of the “what’s this now?” factor…. The game’s bizarre storyline (told with fabulously hyperbolic narration) involves a fledgling super-hero, who, decked out in a trenchcoat and fedora, sets out to free the noirish Metro City from the clutches of the evil Sutekh, Egyptian
super-villian extraordinaire. You see, Sutekh has recently slain the vaguely ‘Noid-ish (as in the Domino’s pizza mascot, star of his own fairly wretched NES game) formerly reigning superhero of the city, Vortex. You, as Nightshade, must wander the city’s streets, searching for clues, defeating villains, and attempting to gain favor with the denizens of Metro City. As the game opens (after a brief expository sequence) you have just been tied to a chair by Sutekh, who has left a bomb waiting to blow you to smithereens.

Utilizing a (surprisingly well-executed) graphic-adventure format, the game allows to to perform the standard “use/move/talk/fight/etc.” actions, yet the interface is far, far less clumsy than in Deja Vu. Though a main problem with computer-to-NES game ports such as the latter involves lacking control, Nightshade is much simpler to get the hang of. You control Nightshade with the control pad (as opposed to pointing and clicking with a cursor like Maniac Mansion), and press
the Select button will bring up a command menu. Here you can examine, pick up, use, or do of the things any traditional adventure game hero can do.”
Classic Gaming 101’s Review of Nightshade
Find Nightshade on eBay

More Great Games:
Deja Vu: A Nightmare Comes True
A BoyAnd His Blob: Trouble On Blobonia
Shadowgate
Dr. Chaos
Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode
The Mafat Conspiracy
Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom
Uninvited
Solstice

Fighting Platformers/Beatemups

Obvious Choices:
Double Dragon Series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, TMNT Arcade, TMNT III: Manhattan Project, Battletoads, River City Ransom

Featured Game: Street Fighter 2010
Street Fighter 2010 Screenshot“First up is a game I personally believe gets an unfair rep, Street Fighter 2010 for the NES. Now, I’ll be honest, it’s quite possibly the worst “Street Fighter” game ever made (perhaps second to Street Fighter the Movie the Game), but if you completely ignore the title, this is one of the better games to come out during the end of the original Nintendo’s lifespan.

Gameplay-wise, this is a platformer, though extensive levels filled with cannon-fodder bad guys is cut back in exchange for one boss battle after another, to give it the appearance of a fighting game. However, as you can probably guess, there is no two-player option.

But really, Street Fighter 2010 pretty much just cuts out all the crap and gives us what we play these games for directly, the boss battles. Some of the bosses are more fun than others. You’ve got a robot that swarms you with flying killer drones, a guy in a bad super hero costume that causes earthquakes, a big rock guy who can swing from the ceiling, an evil plant, and my personal favorite, an electric-wielding monster whom you fight in a level filled with active dynamos. The environments in which you fight the bosses varies. Some are merely empty rooms with a handful of platforms for you to dodge around on, while others are extensive vertical mazes with traps and power-ups hidden to make things extra interesting.”
Forever Geek’s Review of Street Fighter 2010
Find Street Fighter 2010 on eBay

More Great Games:
Mighty Final Fight
Battletoads & Double Dragon
Renegade
Shadow of the Ninja

Shooting Action/Platformers

Obvious Choices:
Metroid, Megaman Series, Contra, Blaster Master, Spy Hunter, Super Spy Hunter, Smash TV

Featured Game: The Guardian Legend
The Guardian Legend Screenshot“Guardian Legend is a unique game in which you play as a female character that can transform into a spaceship as she battles to save earth from the evil forces of the planet Naju. The basic gameplay can sort of be described as Zelda meets Blaster Master meets Zanac.

Guardian Legend’s gameplay is divided into both an adventure mode and shooting stages, which sets it apart from almost any other game I’ve played. The adventure mode uses a grid-based system (a la Legend of Zelda) in which you walk around freely as the Guardian’s human form. Although these segments are very easy, I liked exploring them, and I’m glad the areas weren’t overly large and confusing.

When I first beat the main adventure mode of The Guardian Legend, I came away from it with basically the same impression that I had of Section-Z. This was a good game to play for the experience, but it didn’t really blow me away. But upon completing the second quest, and after replaying it several times, I realized that Guardian Legend does have some qualities that make it superior. The adventure mode is fun to replay, and it’s nice that the programmers went the extra mile by giving you the all-shooter mode, too. This gives the game decent replay value, and is enough to etch it more solidly in my mind as a game that deserves recognition.”
Flying Omelette’s Review of The Guardian Legend
Find The Guardian Legend on eBay

More Great Games:
Metal Storm
Xexyz
Solar Jetman
Journey to Silius
Little Samson
Jackal
Battle City
GI Joe

Shmup

Obvious Choices:
Gradius, Gradius 2, Xevious, Super Xevious, Tiger Heli, Millipede, Galaga, Defender, Defender II, 1942, Twinbee, Fantasy Zone, Parodius Da!

Featured Game: Crisis Force
Crisis Force Screenshot“Crisis Force is an excellent piece of work on the Famicom! It has an incredible amount of frenzied gameplay that originally made it’s Gradius series so popular in Japan. In fact, Gradius for the Famicom originally sold over 1 million units in Japan! The game offers 2-player simultaneous play, and the ability to switch among three different ships at and time during play! A real treasure for any Nintendo Family Computer Owner! …

The graphics in Crisis Force are excellent! there are cool effects including multi-tierdness, flashing colors, many enemies on screen at once, and even great parallax, once only seen this prominent in the Sega MegaDrive shooter, MUSHA Aleste”
SHMUPS!’s Review of Crisis Force
Find Crisis Force on eBay

More Great Games:
Lifeforce
Over Horizon
Recca
SCAT
Zanac
Macross
GunNac
Captain Skyhawk
Star Soldier
Starship Hector
Wurm
Gyruss
Legendary Wings
Sky Shark
Stinger
Sqoon
Konami World
Abadox
Burai Fighter
Silkworm
Volguard 2

RPG

Obvious Choices:
Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior Series, Final Fantasy, Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, Ys, Mother (Earthbound Zero)

Featured Game: Crystalis
Crystalis Screenshot“SNK’s action RPG classic, Crystalis, basically takes everything that made the original Legend of Zelda for the NES so good, and makes it exponentially better. The original Zelda was pretty much the template for the genre, so one would expect the formula to be improved as more and more Action RPGs graced the big grey box. Well, Zelda II: the Adventure of Link was a big let-down to many a Zelda-fan, if mostly due to the side-scrolling point of view. Crystalis is everything the Zelda sequel should’ve been, and my personal favorite Action RPG made for the NES.

Basically, if you’re looking for old fashioned, historically significant, GOOD Action RPG, then Crystalis should be number 1 on your list. It was re-released for the Gameboy Color, though I’ve heard many a complaint about the quality of the port. Having not played that version, myself, I’ll have to rely on someone else to fill in that gap. Never-the-less, you can find the NES cartridge on Ebay, used, for a relatively cheap price, or some of you unscrupulous net-savvy so-and-sos can find ‘another means’ to play the game. OR, you can just wait for the Wii to make it downloadable. Either way, there are PLENTY of ways for you to play this game. And you really should, too. Every time Crystalis goes un-played, Baby Mario cries.”
ForeverGeek’s Review of Crystalis
Find Crystalis on eBay

More Great Games:
Magic of Scheherazade
Lagrange Point
Legend of the Ghost Lion
Radia Senki: Reimeihen
Battle Of Olympus
Hydlide 3

Faxanadu
Little Ninja Brothers
Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Pool of Radiance
Just Breed
Tombs & Treasure
Bard’s Tale II
Faria

Puzzle

Obvious Choices:
Tetris, Dr. Mario, Burgertime

Featured Game: Wario’s Woods
Wario's Woods Screenshot“[Wario’s Woods is] a fantastic puzzler that could easily trump some current generation games. The use of Mario characters is just a ruse, as the true value of this title lies in the frenzied action that takes place around you: as the pieces fall, you attempt to match up 3 of a kind or more. It’s not a speed test though, as the pace of the game is slow; the test comes from the quality of your choices. You can easily destroy one or two monsters at once, but what about five or six? This is where the gameplay becomes more complex…

In the grand scope of things, Wario’s Woods is a fun game. It offers up some challenging puzzles and can keep even the shortest of attention spans. In contrast, the game is simplistic in look and sound; depending on the person it may add to nostalgia, or hinder enjoyment. For a gamer looking for a classic puzzler on the Virtual Console the question remains as to whether Warioโ€™s Woods is any good. The answer is a resounding yes.”
GamersMark’s Review of Wario’s Woods
Find Wario’s Woods on eBay

More Great Games:
Yoshi
Yoshi Cookie
Palamedes
Puzznic
Klax
Pipe Mania (Pipe Dream)

Puzzle Action

Obvious Choices:
Bomberman, Bubble Bobble, Solomon’s Key, Marble Madness

Featured Game: Adventures of Lolo
Adventures of Lolo Screenshot“This charming little game challenges you to solve increasingly complex puzzles in a series of castle rooms. You control Lolo, a loveable blue ball with arms, legs, and two big eyes. Each stage requires both quick reflexes and thoughtful strategy. You need to carefully slide blocks, avoid monsters, and efficiently use power-ups in order to open the single chest in each room. The rooms are a single screen in size. You can the view the layout of each room before starting, so use the opportunity to plan your strategy.

To solve most puzzles, you’ll need to perform a series of moves in a specific order, and if you mess up, you may not be able to correct your mistake. At that point you can hit “Select” to forfeit play and start the stage over. When you run out of lives, you are provided a password and can immediately continue where you left off. Once you get started, it’s easy to get caught up in Lolo’s addictive gameplay. Some of the puzzles of quite ingenious, and the graphics aren’t bad either. I especially love the gorgeous castle at the beginning of the game. The controls are crisp and responsive, and the heroic music is very good. Lolo’s fun and innovative gameplay earned it legions of fans, prompting two sequels.”
Video Game Critic’s Review of Adventures of Lolo
Find Adventures of Lolo on eBay

More Great Games:
Adventures of Lolo 2
Adventures of Lolo 3
Kickle Cubicle
Snow Bros.
Fire & Ice
Boulder Dash
Trog!

Racing

Obvious Choices:
RC Pro Am, Micro Machines, Rad Racer, Excitebike

Featured Game: Galaxy 5000
Galaxy 5000 Screenshot“I remember playing Galaxy 5000 in my childhood, and while I don’t like typical racing games, I do like games where you get to drive vehicles around and blow crap up. Galaxy 5000 should be considered to be the NES gameplay predecessor of the SNES classic Rock and Roll Racing. The graphics are quite good for an NES game, and the sound effects are nice too.

Galaxy 5000 takes place in the year 5000 (duh). You enter races on each planet in your groovy spacecraft, earning money for accomplishing various feats. Feats like blowing your opponents up, and winning the race. There are nine racetracks, one for each planet, and you race each track four times. Normally this would be boring, but the obstacles and bonuses change during each race, meaning the game really has 36 racetracks, not bad for an NES game. The levels are nicely designed and the 3D landscape is not seen in many NES games, especially racers. It adds an extra dimension to the racing, since you can only kill opponents who are on the same 3D level as you are.”
Rashid’s Review of Galaxy 5000
Find Galaxy 5000 on eBay

More Great Games:
Cobra Triangle
Mach Rider

Sports

Obvious Choices:
Tecmo Bowl, Double Dribble, Ice Hockey, Blades of Steel, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Pro Wrestling, Baseball Stars

Featured Game: Super Dodgeball
Super Dodgeball Screenshot“Super Dodge Ball as made by Technos, who also released one of the best fighting games for the NES, River City Ransom. The characters in the NES version of Super Dodge Ball look almost exactly like the characters from River City Ransom (the screenshot on the right is from the NES version).

Let’s talk about gameplay. At first, you’ll probably be very confused. Like River City Ransom, you have two buttons: pressing them both together makes you jump, tapping in a direction twice makes you run. On offense, the A button passes the ball to a teammate, and the B button throws the ball at your opponent. On defense, the A button makes you duck (to avoid incoming throws) and the B button lets you catch an incoming throw. Catching balls thrown by your opponent is tough, as it requires perfect timing to do.”
Classic Gaming’s Review Super Dodgeball
Find Super Dodgeball on eBay

More Great Games:
Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage
Kings of the Beach
Crash N the Boys: Street Challenge
Nintendo World Cup
Base Wars

Light Gun Shooting

Obvious Choices:
Duck Hunt, Hogan’s Alley

Featured Game: Gumshoe
Gumshoe Screenshot“I’ve said once and I’ll say it again: this game is hard. The game’s blessing is also its curse. To move Stevenson you have to shoot, with makes him jump. Otherwise, he walks strait into any obstacle that comes his way. The gameplay is cumbersome at best, which adds to what would ordinarily only be a mild challenge. If you don’t hold the gun to the screen (c’mon raise your hands, you know you do it) the difficulty is almost doubled. Mysterious bottles of moonshine get throw at you from the right hand side of the screen, lots of pitfalls, falling rocks, bombs and other projectiles to kill you, which only takes one hit.”
UnknwnMage’s Review of Gumshoe
Find Gumshoe on eBay

More Great Games:
Barker Bill’s Trick Shooting
Freedom Force
Gotcha! The Sport
Laser Invasion
To The Earth

Other

Obvious Choices:
Rampage, Paperboy, Donkey Kong, Ice Climber

Featured Game: North & South
North & South Screenshot“Players take control over either the yankee pigdog Union armies or the slavery-loving Confederate rebels in North & South, a Civil War simulation released in 1990. Each side takes turns strategically moving their armies across the map, hoping to wipe out the opposition and take over their bases. The more bases you own, the more money you get when the train rolls into town. The more money you have, the more armies you can buy to help crush the enemy.

The real fun comes when two opposing forces meet and the game switches to the battle mode. Here, you control three facets of a Civil War army, cannons, foot soldiers, and the calvary, as they rush across the battlefield trying to wipe the other out. Last army standing wins the war and goes on to fame and fortune and a future of bullying lesser nations like Iraq and Canada. I should also mention that when I initially rented this game, back in the days when Vanilla Ice was topping the charts and Los Angeles had football teams, it became a neighborhood sensation. We had North & South tournaments. For the few days I had it, kids would be crammed into my bedroom fighting over who gets to be the rebels. Good times. If you and a friend are looking for a fun multiplayer strategy game, or if you still think the South Will Rise Again, you should definitely check out North & South.”
Nintendorks’ Review of North & South
Find North & South on eBay

More Great Games:
Lunar Pool
Toobin’
Side Pocket
Vegas Dream
Pin Bot
HighSpeed
Archon
Battle Chess
Casino Kid


181 Comments

BLAH says:

I know this is random as hell, but can someone make an nes disc for the dreamcast or psx that has recca on it? I’ve downloaded various discs that supposedly have “every nes game EVER!” on it — and indeed i have one for the dreamcast which has every game on this list exept recca. What’s the deal?

JoKyR says:

Favorite underrated NES game: Fester’s Quest.

Sirkrozz says:

The Flinstones: the rescue of Dino & Hoppy is missing.

Johnodog says:

Last army standing wins the war and goes on to fame and fortune and a future of bullying lesser nations like Iraq and Canada.????????
From the North South review…written by nintendork and reprinted by racketboy above.

I hate this reprinting of sophomoric anti American diatribe posing as a review. Shameful it was written the first time, let alone reprinted without editing. Love Racketboy and this site is usually welcoming to all…this one line is the exception to the site. I hate it.

mganai says:

Labeling Zelda II a disappointment is one thing (it wasn’t if you ask me), not naming it obvious choice for action RPG is yet another, but not even filing it under the more great games list, when the lesser Faxanadu made the cut? What is wrong with you?

And Life Force should have made the list of Obvious Choices for shmups. Quite possibly the best one period, even with Crisis Force.

mganai says:

One other thing I noticed? Tiger Heli and 1942 under Obvious Choices for shmups? Those were horrid conversions, no thanks to Micronics. Infact, there are some choices in that list that are questionable.

Boondock Saint says:

I would worship anyone who could help me out with this: I’m looking for a NES game that’s a beat em up, 2d not 2.5d, stars some crossover between Bruce Lee and Guy from Final Fight, and I’m not sure but I think that the first level was on the docks. The game could be Japan only but I can’t remember. I am exausted from looking all over various sites but still no luck

Cristiano says:

@Boondock Saint: Not sure… But I think it’s this one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DT1Nr2vkVU

I loved this game and for many, many years searched for it to emulate. It’s rare and very little known by everyone…

Hope I had helped! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Craig says:

You deserve a medal. I just hacked my PSP so I can play all the classic systems on it and I was drawing a blank on NES. The only game besides Mario Bros that I knew I wanted to play was Mother. But now I have a long list to check out! Oh, I’ve also been hearing about this Famicom RPG called Sweet Home that was actually the inspiration for Resident Evil. Haven’t played it yet but sounds great. Just a suggestion. Thanks man!

FlueMannen says:

This list is flipping awesom! And NesGamer; You are my hero!! I’ve been looking for that game for ages, couldnt remember the name. Craig, I just did the same, that’s how I found this site.:] RetrogamingFTW!!one!

Dan says:

Contra Force – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contra_Force
You could ‘fly’ by jumping, pausing mid jump, then unpause and hit jump again. ha! gotta love NES games.

Axel'sVirtue says:

Suggestions
-Pinball Adventure
-Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to
say that I’ve truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

RandomSurfer says:

Gargoyle’s Quest II tops the list of beautiful, charming and fun NES games youve never played (unless you were lucky) with epic medieval music. Je l’adore beaucoup.

Aaron Charron says:

Orb 3D under other (the most boring game i ever COULD NOT STOP playing)

The Three Stooges

Fantastic blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers?
I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost
on everything. Would you advise starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option?
There are so many choices out there that I’m totally confused .. Any recommendations? Thanks!

Yarp McGarp says:

Battle of Olympus! Had completely forgotten about it for so, so long. I didn’t even remember the title until I did a search for ‘NES games ancient greece.’ Thank goodness for the internets.

Rom says:

Glad to see Faxanadu in there, although my bias says that it deserves a full write-up – I think that is still my favourite NES game although I come back to SMB and SM3 more often.

I second Death Race (top-down free-roaming car combat) as an obscure recommendation too per one of the first few comments – absolutely fantastic fun.

Raid on Bungeling Bay (top-down free-roaming shmup), from what I understand, is quite different than the home computer-based originals but it’s a bit of fun once you work out what you’re doing.

Finally, check out Astyanax – I’m not sure how obscure it is but it’s a polished Magic Sword-alike and more forgiving and fun than the original arcade game. Sorry, I see somebody has already mentioned that.

Oh yes, and Mighty Final Fight is awesome! I see you’ve added it now.

Herald Kiara says:

Thanks for an amazing list! My own personal obscure NES gem: Willow. Zelda-like action/adventure, but with a HUGE world and some GORGEOUS music. I spent so many hours playing this game, in my teens… I now have it (and, thanks to this list and the comments, a bunch of other awesome games!) to play on my computer, and will soon have a way to bring them over to 3DS. Thanks for the inspiration to hunt these titles down, and I can’t wait to play my way through them!

Arindam says:

If you played International Cricket, I’m sure you would have added it to the “more great games” list in the sports section

Abergoon says:

I’ve only just found this site and I love it. I also love the fact you included Snake Rattle & Roll on this list, that was my favourite game as a kid and I never did complete it. It was bloody difficult.

ThomasLee1993 says:

Nightshade..? A hidden NES gem..? After what JonTron said about Nightshade, I wouldn’t touch it at all.

Lazouskie says:

thx everybody for the awesome list of cool games to play ๐Ÿ™‚
i also see that nobody has mentioned burai fighter. excellent game, imho.
peace out

games says:

We are a gaggle of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community.
Your website offered us with valuable info to work on.
You’ve done an impressive job and our whole group can be grateful to you.

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