Coming up with top 5 of anything is always hard because of the choice between something that was the initial and paved the ways for its predecessors, or choosing the typically better predecessor. The general choice I am following is ‘would I play this game now?’ to any game. So for that reason I will have honorable mentions, such as a game that really paved the way for others, but that it is not actually that good, or would not be as fun.
First the honorable mentions:
Dragon warrior 1:
Arguably the FIRST rpg on video games system, its was pretty revolutionary for its time. As I kid, I knew a lot of this shit by heart, you start with enough money to buy a bamboo sword, and have extra, or spend all 60 (yes I remember that) for the club. One of the enemies had a mohawk hair style, as I kid I really wanted to wear my hair after seeing that. The most notable thing from this game was the final boss asks you if you want to rule half the world with him, if you say yes you die. I see this referenced in some new rpgs, nice throw back.
As among the first RPGs ever it had to be mentioned. It has a massive overworld, and was a fairly large game for 1988. However the limitless grinding, and completely random location you have to find stuff in severely detracts it. But look at this bad ass cover art!
For reference, they always make things more ‘hardcore’ for America, look at the dragon warrior 2 art for japan:
Yes everyone knows Samus is a hot women now, but in 1986 it was this faceless (male?) bounty hunter on this crazy hard world. This game set the precedent for all future Metroidvania game (like huge 1-world platformers like castlevania and future metroids).
You jumped, ran and dodged hard, hard enemies and terrain, got powers and slowly powered up to take down mother brain and not get rocked by the eponymous Metroids who were rocking the galaxy.
This game was very hard, and anyone who doubts this, I dare you to try to beat this game WITHOUT the screw attack which basically broke it, but was nearly impossible without it. The map is huge, and there are a LOT of areas you can get permanently stuck in because you get stuck in the lava, or your fall down a cliff and cant get out. This is the worst, and you dont die either, the game forces you to power down.
What was cool, is you could glitch into ‘hidden’ areas with new tilesets etc, these were called the ‘hidden worlds’ and really took the game community by storm for a while during the early advent of the internet and message boards.
This was actually hard along with Metroid as for what would get #5
This game was a very fun, unique platform game where you ate the enemies and you gained their power. Kirby has been around with nintendo a very long time, (1993) and thus is a big ‘character’ much like Mario, though you dont see him much. What was cool about this game was there were multiple worlds, and kind of an overworld map you worked your way through. The bright colors were fun, and the background were well done.
The major reason I dont rate it higher, is that this game came late, and while fun, I am given points to earlier games if they still hold up and/or better. So this game is not bad, I actually am a big Kirby fan, but considering these others games came earlier, and were also superior, I give them the edge. This game is good, do not deny that, but I am basing it off of ‘would I play it now’ and this was a critical game of my childhood, but it was replaced by the much better SNES kirby, and there are more fun on the NES. Still check it if you haven’t.
#5 Super Dodgeball
This was a kind of sleeper game, not many people knew or played it. It is the same people who made Double Dragon among others, thus the similar art style. Essentially you take the under-powered USA team and have to literally kill your way across the world by playing a 3 on 3 dodge ball match.
This game had a lot of secret ‘stats’ to the character like their defense, attack, grip, throw etc, so it had some serious rpg-like elements to it. What made this so cool was every character was different, and they all had special moves, if you dashed and threw, or dash/jumped you unloaded these super damaging specials where the ball goes faster than light, splits into 3, etc. It turns into this anime battle of super moves being unloaded and first one to blink loses.
Skip a few mins in to see the normal gameplay.
The reason this beats out Metroid and Kirby, is it is simple to learn, but fun and has depth. You can just pick up and with a friend and start rocking. One of the first major ‘pick up and play’ type of games and the simple-yet-deep gameplay. You have to fight progressive harder nations, ending at the USSR, after you beat them down you have to fight your shadow self, all to win a tournament, blood on hands and all.
#4 Double Dragon:
#1 ARCADE SMASH BITCH!
As a kid I would sit there and just leave my nintendo on listening to how cool this music was.
Imagine as like a 5 year old kid, how pure unadulterated BADASSNESS this game is. Some guy PUNCHES YOUR GIRLFRIEND and kidnaps her, and you are going to beat down everyone in your path: with your fists… street fighting style. The violence is surprising, you beat down women and men alike, throwing dynamite, kniving people up, bashing in heads with baseball bats, ground-and-pound people dead, grabbing girls by the hair and kneeing their face in, oh my god was this badass as a kid. Even now its pretty cool thinking about it.
Make sure you listen at least up to the 1:10 minute part, this was ripping it the fuck up with 8bit music. This is literally better than 95% of modern music, and this is over 20 years old and 8bit.
Pretty much the only thing stopping this from a higher position is a very brutal difficulty level later that detracts from the general badassery of beating people down to suddenly having to time jumps and think instead of just fighting.
Double Dragon misc. bonus/off shoots
Double Dragon 3: ‘Bimmy and Jimmy’ a small meme based on the fact in the opening story they misspelled the heros name.
River City Ransom:
I call this game River City Rampage because it is a funnier name, and that is essentially what you do, you go around fighting an entire town to subjugate it to get your girl back. I played some fan patch version which was more violent in the text what I guess was more accurate to the japense version where instead of ‘BARF!’ it was ‘Damn!’ which was cool since I was like 14~ when I played this game.
By far the most badass thing in this game was the 2nd to last final boss was a homage to…double dragon, playing this slightly remixed DD theme song as you threw down, talk about sick.
#3 Final Fantasy
This game was amazing at the time, it took everything Dragon Warrior did right, kept it, and improved on everything they did wrong. Square (not enix) was nearly bankrupt and put it all on the line for one ‘final’ game to see if they could save themselves, thus the name, ironically. It ended up being a huge success.
This video has all of the songs, which were impressive for 87 in jap (90 in us) listen to the opening theme I call ‘bubble music’ which was kept for a majority of the final fantasy’s but they stopped doing (about the same time they started getting bad)
Also listen to Matoyas cave at 5:39, this is just some minor character who GOT HER OWN SONG and it was a damn good one that has been remixed a lot.
This game was crazy, it had multiple classes to pick from, the instruction book was, it gave you a map of the whole world. ‘here you go, this game is going to blow your mind, you need a map just to even hope to understand the insanity you are embarking on!’
Whats funny is for show and tell in 3rd grade I brought the instruction book in and read to my class the different characters you could pick from, the audience was enthralled.
What this game did right was a sense of progress. You were nobodies who couldnt even afford full gear. But slowly you got a boat, you got better stuff, you got an airship, you grew up into badass adult forms. So when it was late game you had a real sense of how far you had come. Not many games successfully capture this feeling.
This game was so cool, it was totally unpretentious, and just pure ‘cool’ for a kid, you are this kid-like hero shooting everything and everything, and powering up off their dead bodies. Each level was well thought out, and felt different, you have the industrial heat/lava of heatman, you were out in the woods fighting animals in woodman stages, jumping through clouds at airman’s stage. It was impressive for how much they improved off megaman 1.
This game probably has the distinction of having more remixes of music done on it than any other mega man, or likely any nintendo game. There are literally hundreds of remixes.
Some of the best songs are Quickman, Metalman, and Dr Wily Stage 1. The best is probably Dr Wily stage 1, thats right, just a STAGE is pretty well known among gamers and the remix crowd, for good reason, its an awesome song.
Quickman is 2:15, Metal man is right after at 3:39 and Dr Wily is 14:27. Check how awesome the Wily stage is if nothing else. Here is a Metalman remix, just to show a taste of the remix talent and fandom for this game:
Now, this game took the platforming action of the first megaman, and like a GOOD sequel improved on things without making things worse. Powers were expanded, and felt like they did something, boosting damage to bosses, even if metal blade was more badass than even your normal weapon.
MM1 you were just kind of thrown in, no story, no nothing. It was an okay game, plagued by a random difficulty level, notable elecman stage was frustratingly hard, in this game the levels were better, everything felt more fair but still presented a challenge. What is interesting, is this game was before game testing was practiced much at all, so there is a boss near the end that you can literally get stuck on because you need a full weapon, and if you screw up the fight (likely) you are stuck because you cannot refill your weapon.
This one had a story, a good sense of progress, ‘secret’ weapons you slowly unlocked that were the predecessor to Rush. Later games essentially just copied this formula set out in two with only minor changes, which is not a problem, but for that I give it to 2 as the best megaman in the NES series, and most of the bosses were pretty legit too, with quickman and metalman being my favorites.
Look people even made entire animations of just the boss battle:
and for the number 1 NES game….
#1 Clash at Demonhead
Some of you are probably like ‘what the heck is this game, I never heard of it’ or if you played this game you might know.
Why this game was so great, was it had this insane 80′s flair to the game that was relentless and ever present, it mixed the platform action of megaman, with rpg and adventure elements of rpgs like Final Fantasy, and had a concise, twist and turns story that was pretty good. There were multiple paths through this game, side quests you could do, characters that died, a large ‘world map’ you had to work through any way you wanted:
Here is the music from this game,
route 1 0:50 is a pretty good theme that captures the feel of it, route 2 2:41 is pretty good as well.
The gameplay was advanced platforming where you made your way through with different equipment and gear and the story slowly revealed itself that you had to track down 7 bosses and beat them down before you could ascend the mountain. Along the way you could buy better gear, improve your stats, find new moves by doing side quests etc. Plus there were different environments, high cliffs, lakes, even lava, and you had to go through all of it.
It was told in anime-style cut scenes, which was unseen in ANY nes game at the time and essentially paved the way for later rpgs (though I consider this game a platformer) :
Plus his girlfriend was pretty hot, you didn’t see that until arguably at least the SNES days.
What was so cool about this game, and it was not again seen at least 3-4 ENTIRE CONSOLE GENERATIONS LATER was that your cut scene picture changed based on WHAT YOU WERE WEARING, that sounds like a small detail, but really makes an immersive experience. The main character Bang can buy a lot of different equipment, including entire combat suits that change his ability, such as advanced scuba gear, or this super stylish jetpack outfit.
This exact scene would be different depending on which suit you wore, and each suit had its own facial expressions, this was very ahead of its time for that type of detail.
Consider that this game came out in 1989, but how far it had advanced what mario had set before it, in addition to just walk/jump of mairo, you could do SO much more, you could crouch, crawl, swim, climb walls, fly. You did not see that until the SNES, and even then a lot still lacked all that movement.
Look at this huge sprite sheet of JUST THE JETPACK:
Compare to the much lauded Mario:
To me there is absolutely no comparison of any platformer on the NES to Clash At Demonhead, it was technically superior in every aspect, and included so much more. You could play for the story, the freedom, the platforming, so so far ahead of its time.
A very quick but funny aside, is there is a password feature that is basically too insane to realistically use, it is like 30 letters long, mixed with numbers, as a kid my sister had come over and entered all 8′s or something with a final 9, so 8888888888889 kind of thing, and it was a password to the final boss with all equipment maxed, completely random but crazy to have found.
What was great was that this game gave you OPTIONS, meaning you could just go through a level normally, you could spend money on a super but limited ammo gun, you could put a different suit on, and suits like the aqua suit were normal on land but came alive in the water, whereas the jetpack was fast and you could rip through levels but was expensive. This is a game design concept that is very advanced, and you dont see in meaningful use until much later like in fighting games like guility gear where the designers give you a ‘way out’ that is not broken but can make obstacles passable if you are having difficulty.
Come on Mario, what the fuck you have against something this badass?
Clash at Demonhead is my favorite NES game, a hidden, under-rated gem, and quite frankly, Megaman 2 is far behind how awesome this game is.
This post took a long time to put together, I hope you like it. There will be more to come. Comment if you enjoyed.