After adding a console to your collection, the first thing you want to do is get a handful of games to keep you busy with your new toy. This budget-friendly list should help you quickly find which games will start you off well without emptying your wallet.
This is my third revision of this particular list, with two to three years in between each revision. Each revision has allowed me to also expand out the list based on my own experience and recommendations from others. A couple years ago, I was seeing the Zelda titles and some other popular franchises go out of reach for $10 for even a bare cart. A few years later, even the super-common Mario carts are out of reach of the cheapskate most of the time. The NES collectors are ramping up their collections which makes it more of a challenge to build ours on the cheap. On the bright side, the increased restrictions on price have made me focus more on some of the hidden gems on the the NES that many gamers aren’t really aware of.
The prices listed below are for cart-only games, as it is getting much more challenging (and expensive) to track down boxed NES games. Prices listed are an average eBay and Amazon price for US games, including shipping. I also take my experiences with independent retro game stores that I have visited.
Prices Current as of June 2013
Check out the other Cheapest Games Worth Your Time articles
|Super Mario Bros. & Duck Hunt: $10
Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt / World Class Track Meet: $5
This has to be one of the most common game cartridges of all time. It is probably also one of the most loved cartridges of all time as well as it contains two essential NES classics. This game pack came with nearly every NES sold and use game stores were quickly littered with a number of copies. It used to be if you were buying this online, you are essentially paying for only the shipping. However, nostalgic gamers (now armed with NES clones) are starting to scoop these up and raise prices.
Shop For Super Mario Bros. & Duck Hunt at eBay
Shop For Super Mario Bros. & Duck Hunt at Amazon.com
Even though the gameplay is rather simplistic (but challenging) combination of pattern recognition, memorization, and quick reflexes, Punch-Out remains a iconic classic that is still loved decades after its release. We used to have the “Mike Tyson’s” version listed in this slot, but that one has exceeded the $10 mark.
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|Blaster Master: $9
Blaster Master was a wonderful hybrid of side-scrolling action and overhead Zelda-like exploration. If you want a good gaming value that takes a step out of the most famous Nintendo games, Blaster Master is highly recommended.
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|Bionic Commando: $7
If you need an action platformer that thinks outside the Metroid/Castlevania/Megaman formulas, check out Capcom’s wonderful Bionic Commando. You have a bionic arm that extends and contracts that allows you to grab on to fixed objects to swing around and climb up levels. This will become obviously valuable when you realize you can’t jump. This classic has stayed very stable in the lower end of the price spectrum despite having a sucessful reboot on modern systems.
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In SNK’s Crystalis, the mechanics and story are best described as the precursor of SNES’s Zelda:A Link to the Past. Despite its high graphical and gameplay quality, Crystalis never became a runaway hit, although it is considered today a cult classic.
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|Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers: $9
Rescue Rangers is probably one of my favorite NES hidden gems — mainly because of how much of an absolute joy it is to play with a friend. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an excellent value as a single-player platformer, but you will have a riot with the co-op experience.
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A perfect example of a simplistic game that actually requires some skill and strategy to really excel. Excitebike is one of the few 8-bit racers to still be especially relevant today.
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|RC Pro Am: $5
Speaking of relevant 8-bit racers, RC Pro-Am would definately fall into that category as well. Rareware’s classic racer is full of vehicle upgrades, weapons, and all sorts of goodies that keep things entertaining. The animation is also quite impressive for the era.
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|Ninja Gaiden: $10
Just like the newer installments, the original will school you with its high difficulty. As opposed to most action titles filled with repetitive action with very little motivation to keep you going, Ninja Gaiden keeps you going with its deep story and amazing cutscenes. It is a wonderful example of what is possible with the limited resources of an 8-bit system if given the proper artistic direction. And even though the series is still very popular, there’s plenty of Ninja Gaiden carts to go around.
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|A Boy And His Blob: $5
If you’re looking for an interesting gem that is something out of the ordinary, enjoy treasure-hunting and puzzle-solving elements, I would be on the lookout for A Boy And His Blob. The recent love of the Wii sequel is also another reminder that this franchises worth looking into.
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Shop For A Boy And His Blob at Amazon.com
The grand-daddy of puzzle games in one of it’s purest forms. It may have been experienced more on the original Gameboy, but for a few dollars, you can’t go wrong with the NES version if you are building a collection.
Shop For Tetris at eBay
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|Castlevania II Simon’s Quest: $8
Much like Metroid, the Castlevania series is one of the deepest franchises to start on the NES. It is also one of the few to still have a long legacy of 2D descendants that still have showed up on modern gaming machines. Up until recently, you could score a cartridge of all three in the series for $10 or less. However, the second installment, Simon’s Quest, is the only one that is still relatively easy to find on the cheap.
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|Adventures of Lolo: $5
There were a lot of great action puzzle games like Bubble Bobble, Bomberman, and Snow Bros. Not that all those are getting a bit more pricey, Adventures of Lolo is one of the really good puzzlers that are still cheap. Lolo is a charming adventure of solving room puzzles to progress through a castle. To give you added context, Lolo is developed by HAL Laboratory — the same studio that is behind the Kirby and Smash Bros. series
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If you are remotely familiar with 2D shmups, you are probably familiar with Gradius. If you’re an NES owner and are interested in dipping your toe into the genre, this revolutionary shmup from Konami is a great place to start. The NES version actually help up relatively well to the arcade version . Any shmupper worth his salt is familiar with the ever-rough-and-ready “Vic Viper” player craft (so named for its twin frontal prongs and trailing “option” helpers, meant to mimic the fangs and coils of a snake), and instinctively aims for that small central weak point to blast open the shiny crystal “core” whenever a big baddie comes out to play. Other squeal-inducing highlights for fans include ring-spitting “Moai” (Easter Island) statue heads, rapid-scrolling “speed stages”, non-stop “boss rush” encounters against several major enemies in a row, and the “power-up bar” at the bottom of the screen, which allows players to “cash in” generic collectibles for a buffet line of upgrades in any order they choose.
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|Life Force (Salamander): $7
The legendary success of the “named” Gradius games, however, doesn’t fully capture the wider scale of their influence: even if you don’t venture beyond the borders of the shooting genre, not only have outside developers lifted the usual bits and pieces for their own use, but Konami themselves have frequently seen fit to conjure up a slew of spinoffs and tributes to meet demand. Gradius’ closest cousin is the Salamander series, which redeploys the Vic Viper against a different horde of enemies, adds vertical-scrolling levels, and ditches the power-up bar for a more traditional setup
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Side-scrolling shooters were just starting to mature in the 8-bit era and Zanac on the NES is one of the best examples of more complex shooting gameplay in the dawn of console gaming. Developed by shmup powerhouse, Compile, Zanac eschews the usual wave-after-wave of enemy patterns. Instead, Zanac has an artificial intelligence that throws different kinds of enemies at you, depending on what weapon you are using. The result is one of the most innovative brand of shooters out there, as it’s always forcing you to adapt to different situations. Zanac has an extremely visually repetitive look, given that this is one of the earlier NES titles and was a port of an MSX1 game, but the AI keeps every game at least somewhat fresh, so it’s still an amazing challenge.
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It’s getting harder to find obscure shmups at a reasonable price and good quality, but this one is still obscure enought to get on the NES under a tenner. Developed by Natsume and published stateside by none other than board game company Milton Bradley The game takes a page from Konami’s book, but instead of Gradius chooses to follow in the slimier footsteps of its organic offshoot, Salamander. Prepare yourself for lots of creepy pulsating walls, horizontally- and vertically-scrolling stages, and a stiff challenge that would do the original designers (if not their lawyers) proud.
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If you’re looking for a Hidden Gem in the adventure genre, Nightshade is a great one to look into. The game’s bizzare storyline will keep you guessing what is arround the corner. Considering the limitations of the NES, Nightshade creates a great graphical adventure experience with your standard use/move/talk/fight/etc actions with a relatively intuitive interface.
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|Street Fighter 2010
For the longest time, this game got a bad rap as a weird entry in the “Street Fighter” series. If you throw away any preconcieved notions of the title, you will find that this little gem is quite a decent fighting platformer that offers a entertaining and inexpensive alternative to the likes of Battletoads, Double Dragon, or Final Fight. If you enjoy action platformers like Mega Man and Bionic Commando, you might actually feel at home here. Street Fighter 2010 will also feed your desire for great boss battles instead of lots of filler.
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|Little Nemo: The Dream Master: $6
Here is another gem of a platformer from Capcom. This sidescroller focuses on puzzle-solving and collecting a certain number of keys in a level to proceed. As you progress, you also get to obtain different powers from the animals you encounter — many of which are necessary for you to succeed in the game. It isn’t as straightforward as many other platformers in the era and can be quite challenging at times. If this sounds like your type of game, you should jump on this value.
Shop For Little Nemo: The Dream Master at eBay
Shop For Little Nemo: The Dream Master at Amazon.com
|Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game: $9
Granted, this is far from the ideal port of the arcade classic, but for some, there are a number of cool aspects about having the NES port. Some may have spent a handful of their younger years with this cart, but it is also cool to see arcade games shrunk down effectively to lesser hardware.
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There were a handful of puzzle games released in the wake of Tetris’ popularity and despite using a popular new Mario character, Yoshi was often overlooked as a quality puzzle game. Personally, I spent quite a good deal of time with the Game Boy version, but the NES cart is a great title to pick up on the cheap if you want a brain teaser that focuses on quick thinking on later levels.
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Other Cheap Favorites
- Marble Madness: $4 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Smash TV: $8 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Road Blasters: $4 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Dr Mario: $6 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Gauntlet: $9 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Cobra Triangle: $4 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Section Z – $4 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Double Dragon II: $9 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Strider: $7 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Solat Jetman: $4 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Rolling Thunder: $6 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Dragon Warrior: $6 – eBay
- Tetris 2 – $5 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Metal Gear: $6 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Tecmo Bowl: $8 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Paperboy: $9 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Star Soldier: $4 – eBay / Amazon.com
- 1943: $4 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Sky Shark: $4 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Mafat Conspiracy: $4 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Golgo 13: $5 – eBay / Amazon.com
- The Adventures of Bayou Billy: $4 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Yoshi Cookie: $4 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: $4 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Rampage: $8 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Skate or Die: $4 – eBay / Amazon.com