In a few months Nintendo is planning on releasing the SNES Classic Edition. As a follow up to the popular but under-produced NES Classic Edition, I expect this thing to be quite popular with gamers and collectors. However, due to scarcity and the fact the NES mini has already been discontinued, I thought I would write a 30 NES games to start up a collection for the lapsed gamer who might want to get back into NES gaming, but who doesn’t want to shell out the money for an NES mini. This list is based on my own preferences but I think it should be a good reflection of the NES library. I think these are 30 games that any gamer should pick up early on when starting their NES collection. I might write similar guides or lists for other consoles if I enjoy this enough. Also I am not ranking these, this is not a top 30 NES games, so the order is not that important these are just the 30 games I personally feel every NES collectors should get right away.
1. Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt
The first game every collector should have is the most obvious one. Seriously, if you are trying to go back in time to revisit the NES, or you are a kid just discovering it for the first time there is no other game as iconic or important as this game. There are different variations and combinations of these two games, but the classic SMB/Duck Hunt cart is the most obvious one to get.
2. Duck Tales
This game gets a lot of attention, and with good reason. The cartoon was classic, the tune is catchy, the characters are very retro and the game play is fantastic. What more can I say? I was trying to avoid games that rely so heavily on nostalgia, but fortunately Capcom recently upgraded this game on modern consoles as DuckTales Remastered, so it has the potential to reach a younger audience thus not relying entirely on nostalgia.
Probably the best action/platformer on the console and certainly one of, if not the best, comic book/super hero games in the NES library. A great game with good music, fun game play, decent challenge, and great graphics for the console. Also based on an amazing movie that is still worth revisiting while you are at it.
4. Iron Tank
Not everyone is going to pick a random tank combat game, but I think if you are going to get serious about NES collecting you need this game in your collection. It’s not as well known as some of the other games you hear banded about, but it’s still a lot of fun. This is one of those “NES hard” games where the difficulty is going to turn some people away, but the game play, the graphics, and the challenge all make it a very worthy game to add to your collection quite early on.
5. Legend of Zelda
Most people this will be either their first or second purchase. This game is so icon it practically defines the entire NES generation. I can’t say enough good things about this game, I played it to death as a kid, so much in fact the battery died in my cart.
6. TMNT 2: The Arcade Game
I could just say buy all 3 games, 4 if you count the fighting game, but I think this is probably the one to start with. Save the first for when you are padding your collection and get 3 when you are ready for more beat-em-ups. I say start with 2 because it’s the easiest to pick up and play, its the most iconic, it is based on the arcade game so it has that retro arcade feel to it, and it’s the one based most off the cartoons so would be the most familiar to a lot of people. The first game is good too but I recommend 2 for an early collector.
7. Dr. Mario
It shouldn’t take you too long to pick up this game. It’s arguably the best puzzle game on the console, and certainly a higher priority to me than Tetris. Although Tetris is well known, chances are you have multiple copies of Tetris spread across however many gaming platforms you have, so why not put off getting Tetris and start with the, in my opinion, superior game anyways?
8. A Nightmare on Elm Street
I know this game gets a lot of hate, especially since a certain Youtuber trashed it so famously. Still it’s actually not that bad of a game. The common criticism of it not having that much to do with the movies aside, which I would argue it actually does the job of re-creating the nightmare just fine, it does have its flaws. Still, as a HUGE Nightmare on Elm Street fan, I personally love this game, warts and all. It’s actually a decent, crazy fun 4-player experience. Sure you likely won’t beat it without cheating, but honestly how many NES games can you beat without cheating anyways? Also, part of the charm in collecting NES carts is revisiting the 80’s, and nothing is more 80’s than Freddy Krueger.
I try not list the obvious games but since this isn’t a top 30 list and it certainly isn’t a list of hidden gems, I figured this is just one of those iconic games every NES collector needs in their collection, and fairly early on too. I won’t get too into it, the game launched one of the longest running horror franchises in gaming history.
10. Super Mario Bros. 3
I would almost suggest getting these games in reverse order, starting with 3, then 2 and ending up with 1. Either way, all three of them belong in your NES collection, but the first and 3rd certainly belong in your first 30 for sure.
11. Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man
Take your pick, get either the Namco licensed ones or the unlicensed Tengen carts, Mr. or Ms. Pac-Man both games are good, and either one should be early purchases. I strongly believe that both of these games are just true staples in gaming history that should never be over looked. Personally I love them both equally and can never choose one over the other. But for the sake of this list, and because money could be an issue for most people, you should be good to pick one and have hours of fun from time to time.
I love arcade games. A lot of the best arcade games from the NES library can certainly be found on modern consoles for sure. If you are going to start a collection, I would recommend going after this game over some of the more common, heavily talked about games. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy it. Sure it’s not the best game to begin with, but it’s a good pick up and play action game for the NES reminiscent of the classic arcade experience.
Speaking of great arcade ports… Seriously Contra is practically *the* NES game to collect at this point. It’s a great run and gun, it’s a great 2 player action game, and it’s a fantastic port of an arcade game. Most people say this version is actually superior to the real arcade version it is based on, I happen to be one of those people.
14. 3-D Battles of the World Runner
You are going to be collecting NES games you have plenty of time to pick up the staples. Why not get a quirky game that makes good use of the 3D gimmick while also being another throw back to awesome arcade game play. It’s a pretty decent “Space Harrier” clone if you want to get down to it, and it’s a lot of fun.
Another arcade classic. I played Popeye so much as a kid. I actually enjoyed it even more than the famous Donkey Kong arcade hit. Granted the game hasn’t aged all that well and yes it mostly is just a Donkey Kong clone, albeit an official one if you want to get down to it. Still the game is fun, the music is catchy and if you are looking for a nice little arcade game to get you going this is as good a place as any to start, and let’s be honest do you really want to just get DK like everyone else or wouldn’t you rather have this, a game that is unique and probably a little more collectible than DK? I know I would.
16. Ninja Gaiden
I almost didn’t want to pick this one, first, it’s too obvious, second, its super hard. But let’s be real if you are looking to collect NES games this is going to be one of your first 30 purchases for sure. It’s a great game totally worthy of all the praise. Is it hard, HELL YEAH, but it’s also very fun.
17. The Simpsons: Bart vs. The World
You need at least one bad game in your collection to start off with, might as well get one that makes for a good talking piece right? Is the game bad, yes, but let’s be real the purpose of collecting the physical carts if you are going that route is to relive the 80’s, Simpsons games were terrible but we all played them, we all rented them over and over knowing they were bad but somehow hoping against all hope that if we just got good enough we might uncover a good game underneath. Also it’s not all bad, it does have some decent mini games and unlike the other games, it does have a coherent story, at least as coherent as an episode of the cartoon.
18. Zelda II: Adventure of Link
Love it or hate it you need this game in your collection ASAP. I personally loved it. In fact I can’t decide which Zelda game I enjoy more, I honestly put equal amounts of time into playing each one. I have owned every re-release of both Zelda NES games and I highly recommend both as a good starting point, and bonus, you get a little variety in the gameplay if you get this one and the first early on.
19. Blades of Steel
I don’t typically recommend getting sports games right away. I prefer to put them off until I have had a good library of non-sports games and then slowly pick them off one at a time. This is one of the better sports games on the console. Even if you don’t like sports NES sports games are mostly pretty good. This is certainly more fun to play than a game of baseball or golf, in my opinion. I might even do a separate list of the best NES sports games, who knows.
I know, another classic arcade game. What can I say, the NES was billed as an arcade in your living room, and it was so much better at delivering on that promise than everything that came before it. Joust is a good game, it’s a fairly good port, and I think it’s a game any collector should pick up because it’s just so easy to pick up and play.
It’s divisive to most but it’s still a good game, mostly. This is another one of those ‘NES hard’ games that is more frustrating than fun, but it has so much 80’s charm it’s just totally worth buying just for the humorous moments. Grab a friend and just have at it. The game is not just hard it is extremely hard, but any NES collector who wants to be taken seriously needs to add this game to their collection as early as they can.
One of those quirky NES games that just captures the spirit of the decade perfectly. Over the top, lots of mini games and puzzles, multiplayer, and it’s just got so much going on how can you turn this down?
23. Mega Man 2
I could just say pick any random one but we all know 2 is the one to get.
24. Little Nemo Adventures in Slumberland
I don’t know what the internet reaction to this game is, I haven’t really read many reviews, but I personally enjoyed it so much as a kid. Now, A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of my favorite movies, and part of that is I love the idea of a dream world. This game, and the movie, both do a very good job capturing that part of the imagination. This one is hard also, but seriously if you are playing NES games you should expect to pick up a few hard ones as you go.
25. Blaster Master
Here is a game that does get named a lot, but usually in hidden gems discussions. With the recent remaster on Switch, what better time than starting up a new NES collection to buy this classic? The game might not be on the top of anyone’s lists, it’s still a super fun, not overly difficult action game with some pretty original gameplay.
26. Ghosts N Goblins
If you thought I was going to make a list of 30 NES games to start your collection and leave off this game, you were nuts. Again, yes, it is an arcade game, and yes it is difficult, but by now hard/arcade ports are pretty much the best games to get on the NES, at least when you are getting back into it or just getting started.
27. Star Wars
I know the SNES games are better, but it’s Star Wars how can you not get excited? I happen to enjoy the 8-bit version slightly more than the SNES one at times because the driving isn’t as clumsy as it is in the 16-bit versions. They only made 2 for the NES, both are good but this is the one to get first.
28. Kid Icarus
It was either this or Metroid and I think getting started you will have more fun exploring a game that doesn’t have a bazillion sequels/remakes. The game is fun, but hard and this time it’s not even based on an arcade game.
29. Wild Gunman
You need more than one light gun game especially if you do get Duck Hunt early on with the Zapper, you’re going to want a second game to justify having the Zapper and shelling out money on that CRT tube TV set you had to in order to get it to play right. Also it was featured in Back to the Future, albeit as an arcade game which it was not originally. Still a fun game and very much worth getting early on.
30. Chip N Dale’s Rescue Rangers
Much like DuckTales this game is just a blast to play. The 2 player action is fantastic, the game really captures the essence of the show quite well and despite being released recently on modern consoles, it still holds up quite well as a great retro NES game.
There you have it, 30 great NES games to get you started on your journey to collecting for one of the greatest, most beloved home video game consoles of all time.
2 thoughts on “30 NES games to get started”
You definitely listed off some of my favorite games for the NES. But what I especially liked is that, compared to a lot of similar lists that all rattle the same games over and over, you offered a much more cohesive experience of the NES library.
Not every game you got as a kid was going to be good. You’d risk buying a game solely based on the box art, hoping on the car ride home it was somewhat decent. And as huge Simpsons fan, it made sense to spend your hard-earned cash on Bart vs the World… Only to discover that it was utter shit. But you made the purchase. You couldn’t go back now. So, you played it, over and over, no matter how much you hated it. You wouldn’t put the damn game down until you got your money’s worth. That’s what it meant to be a Nintendo fan in the mid-80’s. That is the true Nintendo experience.
I have one suggestion you could consider on future lists. For people who might not want to collect the physical releases, there are various ports to modern consoles fans you could list out. Mega Man 2 on the Legacy collection, Duck Tales and Chip N Dale on the Disney Afternoon Collection, Battletoads on Rare Replay, and the various Nintendo games on virtual console.
I understand there are modern ports, but this list was specifically geared towards the collector of the physical carts. Otherwise, yeah I appreciate your comments very much. I try to pick a more varied list of games because I hate seeing the same list of 20-30 games over again, while sure there are certain games you just have to mention, many of them are so obvious it’s almost not worth it. Thanks for reading I hope you check out some of my other articles.