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.
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’s Review of Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers
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More Great Games:
Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout
Little Nemo: The Dream Master
Snake Rattle ‘n Roll
Kiwi Kraze (New Zealand Story)
Adventures of Rad Gravity
Disney’s Adventures in the Magical Kingdom
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
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More Great Games:
Vice Project Doom
Wizards & Warriors
IronSword: Wizards & Warriors II
Jackie Chan’s Action
Monster In My Pocket
The Three Stooges
Kung Fu Heroes
Low G Man
Sid Meier’s Pirates!, Maniac Mansion, Star Tropics
Featured Game: Nightshade
“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
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More Great Games:
Deja Vu: A Nightmare Comes True
A BoyAnd His Blob: Trouble On Blobonia
Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode
The Mafat Conspiracy
Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom
Double Dragon Series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, TMNT Arcade, TMNT III: Manhattan Project, Battletoads, River City Ransom
Featured Game: Street Fighter 2010
“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
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More Great Games:
Mighty Final Fight
Battletoads & Double Dragon
Shadow of the Ninja
Metroid, Megaman Series, Contra, Blaster Master, Spy Hunter, Super Spy Hunter, Smash TV
Featured Game: The Guardian Legend
“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
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More Great Games:
Journey to Silius
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 is an excellent piece of work on the Famicom! It has an incredible amount of frenzied gameplay that originally made its 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
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More Great Games:
Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior Series, Final Fantasy, Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, Ys, Mother (Earthbound Zero)
Featured Game: Crystalis
“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
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More Great Games:
Magic of Scheherazade
Legend of the Ghost Lion
Radia Senki: Reimeihen
Battle Of Olympus
Little Ninja Brothers
Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Pool of Radiance
Tombs & Treasure
Bard’s Tale II
Tetris, Dr. Mario, Burgertime
Featured Game: Wario’s Woods
“[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 Wario’s Woods is any good. The answer is a resounding yes.”
GamersMark’s Review of Wario’s Woods
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More Great Games:
Pipe Mania (Pipe Dream)
Bomberman, Bubble Bobble, Solomon’s Key, Marble Madness
Featured Game: Adventures of Lolo
“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
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More Great Games:
Adventures of Lolo 2
Adventures of Lolo 3
Fire & Ice
RC Pro Am, Micro Machines, Rad Racer, Excitebike
Featured Game: Galaxy 5000
“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
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More Great Games:
Tecmo Bowl, Double Dribble, Ice Hockey, Blades of Steel, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Pro Wrestling, Baseball Stars
Featured Game: Super Dodgeball
“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
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More Great Games:
Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage
Kings of the Beach
Crash N the Boys: Street Challenge
Nintendo World Cup
Light Gun Shooting
Duck Hunt, Hogan’s Alley
Featured Game: Gumshoe
“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
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More Great Games:
Barker Bill’s Trick Shooting
Gotcha! The Sport
To The Earth
Rampage, Paperboy, Donkey Kong, Ice Climber
Featured Game: North & South
“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
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More Great Games:
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Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers is one of my earliest video gaming memories and I remember having so much fun playing it. Need to play it again to see if the fun factor is still there.. Nice list as usual racketboy 🙂
Another absolutely fantatic post… BTW, have you heard of the Famocom only Takeshi no Chousenjou game?
What? Mighty Final Fight isn’t listed under beat ’em ups? For shame!
Wow — never heard of Mighty Final Fight — I will be adding it to the list 😉
And gnome, I haven’t heard of Takeshi no Chousenjou either — I’ll have to look into that as well.
Enjoyed the post, I’m a huge fan of the NES and agree with most of your picks.
I would also recommend the Power Blade games for the action section, they are quite good. Also under RPGs I would recommend Legend of the Ghost Lion (I believe that is the complete title). It is basically a pretty straight forward RPG similar to the original Dragon Warrior.
Racketboy my friend, you’re lucky, as I just blogged it 😉
PS Really adore this blog. Fantastic
Finally! Due respect accorded for North & South and not before time! A friend and I started playing this together recently via NesterDC – 45 minute+ epic battles that reminded us how great multiplayer retrogamage can really be…
Good choice going with Street Fighter 2010.
awe, you did not menchin T&C Surf Design! that is the most underrated Sports game ever. The Surfing part sucks but the skating is addicting as hell. I am ashamed of you. But thats ok the list is good
you should also menchen GunNac, another underrated Shmup game.
Battle city is the best coop game for NES
Thanks for the recommendation, everyone — I hope to add them soon!
Platformer – I highly recommend Ufouria (PAL release), wonderful in every way. You add characters with different abilities as you go along and switch as necessary.
Action – Ninja Crusaders, great game with the ability to transform into different animals with different abilities.
Adventure – The Goonies II, awesome search and puzzle game.
Nice selection, however you are missing magic johnsons fast break!
I think that game is a great basketball game, it’s a 2×2 full court set, features an image of magic which commends you on good shots and calls out penalties etc. I really think you should consider including it.
You should also add Mr. Gimmick (platformer) and Super Spy Hunter (action/racing) which are little known but absolutely amazing games from Sunsoft made late in the systems life. Some of the best graphics I have ever seen in an NES game, and fun to boot!
While I agree with most of the above games, The Three Stooges has no business on this list. Some games I think should be on here are Roadblasters, Operation Wolf and Wild Gunman. Two other games released only in Japan that should be here are Sweet Home and Splatterhouse.
Dude, Baseball Stars was the best sports game for the NES… Period. In fact, it’s probably still the best overall baseball game of all time.
The best sports game on the NES is without a doubt Base Wars.
You forgot Magician. Magician is #1 on my list of hidden gems of the NES.
If you’re going to add Famicom-only titles to the list, I’d like to recommend Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa (platformer) and Moai-Kun (puzzle).
you totally missed ‘elevator action’ and ‘toobin’ by far my favorite NES games of all time.
Glad to see Super Dodge Ball make the list. The game is such a cult hit, but a lot of people never played it growing up. My friend and I dig the game so much we started a webcomic based on it (http://www.superdodgeballcomics.com). Now we’re hoping to find an audience amongst the game’s fans. Check it out!
For sports I loved American Gladiators. The cheap voice sample always amused me for some reason.