10 NES Classic Games That Still Hold Up

Nick Nunziata

When the original Nintendo Entertainment System came out in the mid-80s, it was responsible for bringing back the dead gaming industry back from the dead. Today, many players remember fondly of the hours upon hours they whiled away on their old NES. So when Nintendo announced that they would release a console pre-loaded with 30 of the system’s best games, fans were psyched to revisit their old childhood memories.

The NES Classic System is undoubtedly going to be one of the must-buy items for the 2016 holiday season. With many of the console’s included games still holding replay value, we looked at ten of our favorites that hold a special place in our hearts.

R.W.V. Mitchell on Tecmo Bowl

You have to love a sports game where the best strategy is to literally run circles around your opponents. Tecmo Bowl has the kind of arcade simplicity that makes it a perfect, classic game. You can pick one of 12 teams. With only four plays for each team to choose from, you don’t have to stress about strategy too much. Start on the 1-yard line? No problem, run it back for a TD. Got an aggressive blitz threatening the life and limb of your poor, pixelated, pigskin-chucking QB? Don’t fret; run back 50 yards to your own goal line, then spiral around the scrambling defense as you strut confidently for the red zone. Success in this game defies conventional gridiron logic. Any play can be a great play in the hands of an experienced player.

Tecmo Bowl is a source of strange joy for me. We used to borrow my dad’s best friend’s NES console and play for hours. I was never much of a gamer as a kid, but Tecmo was something I could play with my dad and it led to some quality father-son time. Of course, it was also the first time I ever saw my dad take a perverse amount of pleasure in winning a game against his five-year-old son.

Tecmo Bowl is still a quality way to spend an hour or so. You boot it up, kick back, and try not to scream obscenities at your family. Frankly, the photorealistic, injury-simulating and up-to-the-minute record-keeping madness of Madden and NCAA games can’t hold a 16-bit candle to Tecmo.

Just ask Bo. Bo knows.

Danielle Ryan on The Legend of Zelda

the legend of zelda cave entrance

Many of the games on the NES were simplistic side-scrollers. To beat the level, the player had to get from the left side of the screen to the right, avoiding whatever hazards came his or her way. The Legend of Zelda changed all of that. The top-down role-playing game had the player explore all over a series of maps. You could explore dungeons, villages, and mountain valleys. You could even attack local chickens, though that never ended too well. The protagonist, Link, made a fun little sound when he swung his sword, and finding rupees in bushes was always satisfying enough to justify the time spent slashing every bush in sight.

The Legend of Zelda has gone on to spawn numerous sequels, spin-offs, and an animated television show. The gameplay and characters have grown more complex as time has passed, but the core of the games remain the same — explore dungeons and rescue Princess Zelda. Zelda, unlike the hapless Princess Peach of the Mario games, is kind of a hero herself, especially in The Ocarina of Time, where Zelda is actually a warrior in disguise. The Legend of Zelda was the first of many great games in the series, and one many young players cut their teeth on.

Drew Dietsch on Kirby’s Adventure


Released late in the NES’s life cycle, Kirby’s Adventure is probably the game that best utilizes the system’s potential. The color palette alone is gorgeous and still pops to this day. And the delightfully fluffy design makes all the characters instantly adorable.

But it’s the gameplay that makes Kirby’s Adventure a real winner. Innovative platforming, a wide variety of enemies, and Kirby’s copy ability are all pitch perfect. The game encourages experimentation with the multiple powers Kirby can gain, and it’s always exciting to get a new technique and try it out.

As an added bonus, you have a toe-tapping score from Hirokazu Ando that rates as some of the best music in the NES library. Kirby’s Adventure is the most pleasant platformer the system has to offer. This is a great game to introduce to young kids and show them how fun classic games can be.

Travis Newton on Super Mario Bros. 2


A fine game in its own right, Super Mario Bros. 2 is an oddity in the franchise. In 1986, Nintendo published a sequel to the previous year’s Super Mario Bros. in Japan. But Nintendo of America thought it too difficult and way too similar to the original. So the United States didn’t get a Super Mario Bros. sequel until 1988. And as Nintendo of America intended, the game we got was startlingly different from the first.

Instead of the classic jump and stomp combat mechanics we all know from the Mario games, Super Mario Bros. 2 featured a combat system based on plucking vegetables and other items from the ground and throwing them at enemies. Players could choose between five playable characters, each with a slightly different control over the game’s physics. The result was an oddball classic, with some of the best music ever in an NES game. But the reason this game was so different is that it wasn’t originally a Mario game at all. It started as a game called Doki Doki Panic, which Nintendo re-tooled by adding Mario franchise characters.

U.S. players didn’t get the original Super Mario Bros. 2 until 1993 when Nintendo released it was Super Mario: The Lost Levels.

Drew Dietsch on Punch-Out!!


The best of classic gaming comes down to a few well-made parts. Those parts include pattern recognition, colorful presentation, and engaging gameplay. No other game molds these three elements together like Punch-Out!!.

Instead of a standard boxing game, Punch-Out!! turned the sport into something of a reactionary puzzle game. You must learn your opponent’s tells and quickly respond by either dodging or punching at the precise moment. It keeps the player constantly aware of what’s happening on screen and rewards you for figuring out when to time your punches to acquire powered up attacks.

Plus, the world of Punch-Out!! is populated with hilariously comical stereotypes from all over the world. The cartoonish nature removes any unintentional offense and makes it a parody of the highest order. You can’t help but laugh at the egotistical Super Macho Man or the mountainous Soda Popinkski.

Punch-Out!! is a delightfully Nintendo-fied version of boxing. It’s easy to learn and difficult to master. The best games usually are.

Travis Newton on Super Mario Bros. 3

super mario bros 3 mario raccoon suit

Super Mario Bros. 3 was the Mario franchise’s return to form. Japanese gamers got this one in 1988 — close to two years before U.S. audiences. With an art style that built upon the original game, Super Mario Bros. 3 featured stellar gameplay and fun, non-linear advancement through the levels. New powerups like the Super Leaf, Tanooki Suit, Frog Suit, and Hammer Suit made their debuts here.

Though the game eventually gets challenging enough to make you want to bite your controller, Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the most critically lauded games to ever hit the NES platform. Heck, it might be one of the best 2D platformers ever made. Small details like the card minigame at the end of every level or Toad’s slot machine-style game make it even more charming and infinitely replayable.

Drew Dietsch on Mega Man 2


The granddaddy of challenging platformers. Mega Man 2 is just difficult enough without ever seeming unfair. Everything from the first game is improved upon and expanded. The level design is top notch, the bosses are all unique, and the gameplay is tight and responsive.

And that music! Mega Man 2 set the gold standard for NES tunes, and they continue to be an integral part of the game’s enjoyable construction. For my money, there is no other soundtrack on the NES that compares.

Mega Man 2 will test your skills and patience, but victory is so incredibly rewarding. Though other games in the series would be enjoyable in their own right, none ever came close to the perfection of this entry. This is one of the absolute greatest games the system ever produced.

Andrew Hawkins on Metroid


Metroid is easily one of the most engaging and immersive experiences on the NES. It’s also a game that we have repeatedly championed for its innovative and all-around excellent design. The title that introduced the world to Samus is not only a Nintendo classic, it’s also one of the greatest science fiction video games of all time.

The story surrounds an intergalactic bounty hunter as she tracks down evil aliens bent on harnessing the power of a dangerous species known as Metroids. You travel deeper and deeper into claustrophobic caverns and the tension increases the further you progress. Everything from the subterranean design to the ominous and creepy soundtrack works to put the player in a locked-in state.

When Samus gets a power up, the game only gets better. One of the most creative elements to the game is how the weapons upgrades help you progress deeper into the story. The bad guys and bosses are all intimidating and look ripped from the pages of sci-fi horror stories. I still love how Metroid was Konami’s answer to Ridley Scott’s Alien and how the film’s influence helped to shape an amazing game.

Nick Nunziata on Ghosts ‘n Goblins

ghosts n goblins

Capcom is such a big part of Nintendo’s golden years. And though some other projects get more ink, Ghosts ‘n Goblins has that perfect balance of charm and difficulty that makes it an all-timer. The music is perfect. The graphics are astonishing for the era. The twist on Arthurian legend is charming. And then there’s Firebrand, the demon.

It’s a great game, forced with great weapons choices that frustrate and exhilarate. It caters to patterns but isn’t dependent on them, and instead of dying when hit, the player gets a second chance: by fighting the armies of the undead in your underwear. The whole series is phenomenal but there’s something sublime about the original after all these years.

Andrew Hawkins on Castlevania


Castlevania is the original classic horror game that started it all. You are Simon Belmont vampire hunter and the monstrous inhabitants of Dracula’s castle are the only thing standing between you and your quest to destroy the ultimate vampire. This game is filled to the brim with classic horror tropes and themes and still holds up as a fun 8-bit platforming experience.

The gameplay is tight and engaging as you fight through level after horrific level in the castle. Frankenstein, vampire bats, Medusa heads, mummies, Death, and of course Dracula all show up as bosses. The difficulty level does vary depending on how many hours you put into grinding away towards the ultimate showdown between good and evil.

Very few titles have spawned franchises like the Castlevania series. These games have spanned consoles and generations of systems over the decades. I loved Castlevania as a kid and still do to this day. There have been sequels that certainly improved on the original, but I’ll always jump at every opportunity to play it on the NES no matter what.

The NES Classic console hits the shelves Nov 11, 2016.

Nick Nunziata
Nick Nunziata created CHUD.com.
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