Best ’80s Nintendo Games, Ranked

The mid-’80s was a tumultuous period for the Western gaming industry. The lack of any regulation or oversight from companies such as Atari led the market to be oversaturated with various titles of poor quality. This eventually culminated in the 1983 Western games crash.

Fortunately, a Japanese company known as Nintendo would provide the medium with a much-needed resurgence. Thanks to reliable hardware and its line-up of quality titles, the Nintendo Entertainment System proved that gaming was far from a mere fad. Many of these titles from this decade still stand the test of time.

RELATED: 10 Best NES Games Released During Its Twilight Years

10 Donkey Kong

Following the commercial failure of Radar Scope, Nintendo turned to a young upstart named Shigeru Miyamoto for a much-needed hit. The result, Donkey Kong, certainly stood out from the glut of space shooters upon its 1981 release in the arcades.

Alongside Pitfall for the Atari, Donkey Kong is largely credited with forming the blueprint for the platformer genre. It was one of the first titles to push its narrative and characters into the forefront rather than the back of the kiosk. The game would pave the way for other character-driven platforming titles as well as two successful Nintendo IPs.

9 Dragon Warrior

Inspired by classic RPG titles such as Ultima and Wizardry, designer Yuji Horii attempted to make the genre more approachable to general audiences. With the help of Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, Horii’s team crafted the whimsical fantasy world of Dragon Quest (known as Dragon Warrior in North America.)

While the inordinate amount of grinding results in a downright glacial pace, Enix’s Dragon Quest provided the first tentative steps toward mainstreaming RPGs in both the East and West. Its success would inspire other titles to follow in its wake, such as Square’s Final Fantasy.

RELATED: 10 Most Overlooked JRPGs Of All Time, Ranked

8 Earthbound Beginnings

At a time when many RPG titles were entirely po-faced fantasy adventures, Shigesato Itoi decided to deconstruct the genre with Mother (localized as Earthbound Beginnings). The game focused on a young boy named Ninten and his quest to thwart the ambitions of the dreaded Giygas.

Despite being fully translated and localized into English, Nintendo decided not to grant Earthbound Beginnings an official Western release until 2015 for the Wii U Virtual Console. While lacking many of the quality-of-life features that would be introduced in its sequel, such as the ticking health bar and the skippable fights, the first entry still boasts the series’ trademark humor and pathos.

7 Punch Out!!

When players think of boxing games, their minds usually spring to either EA’s Fight Night or Nintendo’s Punch Out!! The latter of these put players in control of Little Mac as he took on various ostentatious fighters from around the globe.

While good reflexes would certainly aid Little Mac, each fight in Punch Out!! was basically a puzzle that tasked players with identifying tells and weaknesses. Every opponent had their own distinct gimmicks and exploits that were bolstered by great animations. Whether it’s the version with Mike Tyson or Mr. Dream, players can’t go wrong with this NES iteration.

RELATED: 10 Best In-Game Nintendo References

6 Castlevania

For this Hammer-esque action platformer, director Hitoshi Akamatsu channeled his love of classic cinema. Castlevania for the NES incorporated creatures from various films and folklore. As Simon Belmont, players would harness the power of the family’s traditional vampire killer whip and several sub-weapons.

While the first Castlevania was rather short compared to its successors, it more than made up for that with its high level of difficulty. From the flying medusas to the ultimate showdown with the count, this game tested even the most determined vampire hunter. As fun as it was frustrating, this monster mash provided the NES with an unforgettable graveyard smash.

5 Metroid

Taking several cues from Ridley Scott’s Alien, Metroid put players in control of intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran. The game was one of the first 2D platformers to provide a less linear stage-to-stage structure in favor of a large interconnected world.

This would inspire a wave of other “Metroidvania” titles, such as Symphony of the Night, Shadow Complex, and Hollow Knight. While the original Metroid is held-back by the lack of standard features, such as a map and battery backup saves, it still warrants a look with its distinct 8-bit visuals and Hirokazu Tanaka’s atmospheric score.

RELATED: 10 Mistakes That Still Haunt Metroid

4 Mega Man 2

Mega Man 2 introduced many features that would become series tradition, such as bumping up the boss roster from six to eight and a handy password system. The sequel also saw several tweaks to address complaints over the first game’s high difficulty.

Mega Man 2 boasts some of the most iconic stages in the series, bolstered by Takashi Tateishi and Manami Matsumae’s wonderful score. Keji Inafune also returned as an artist to provide even more expressive enemies than its predecessor. With its inventive weaponry and creative stages, the Blue Bomber’s sophomore outing stands as one of the finest run-and-gun titles.

3 The Legend Of Zelda

For this fantasy adventure, Shigeru Miyamoto channeled the days of his youth when he explored the woods and caves around Kyoto. In contrast to the more narrative-heavy entries that would follow, the original Legend of Zelda largely gave players the freedom to tackle the quest how they saw fit.

The Legend of Zelda‘s non-linear exploration and sense of discovery revolutionized the industry, inspiring other developers such as Bayonetta creator Hideki Kamiya and Koji Igarashi of Castlevania fame. Koji Kondo’s score also excels with the iconic overworld theme.

2 Tetris

While the Game Boy was originally slated to be bundled with Super Mario Land, Henk Rogers managed to convince Nintendo to bundle Tetris instead. Alexey Pajitnov’s game provided the handheld with the perfect killer app, as its block-falling puzzle gameplay lent itself well to long road trips and plane rides.

While further iterations of Tetris would feature more modes and refinements, the Game Boy port still deserves credit for introducing the title to a mainstream audience. Additionally, Hirokazu Tanaka’s iconic arrangement of “Korobeiniki” would appear in subsequent versions of the game.

1 Super Mario Bros. 3

In many ways, Super Mario Bros. 3 was the culmination of everything Shigeru Miyamoto and his team had been building up to. It introduced many Mario staples, such as the map screen, bonus levels, and the ability to grab Koopa shells. It also saw the debut of several new foes, such as the Boos, Thwomps, and the dreaded Koopalings.

Super Mario Bros. 3 excelled at both gameplay and presentation with polished platforming mechanics and vibrant stages. Additionally, Koji Kondo once again delivered a wonderful score with several endlessly hummable tunes. The end result is one of, if not the best, titles to feature the portly plumber.

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