With the impossibly-hard-to-find NES Classic Edition now out in the wild, Nintendo’s miniaturized nostalgia trip is finally worth your time. But which 30 mostly legendary 8-bit games are worth playing first?
The NES Classic Edition runs games at their original 4:3 ratio, which gives them a natural look that’s often missing on Wii U Virtual Console titles. That means no more pixelated, blurry images.
1. Super Mario Bros.
Designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario is the main character of an eponymous video game franchise that spans multiple series and spin-offs. He has become Nintendo’s iconic mascot and has received critical acclaim for his precise controls.
Released for the NES in 1985, this game popularized side-scrolling platform games and introduced many series staples like power-ups, classic enemies and the plot of Bowser kidnapping Princess Peach. Its success helped launch the NES console, which was bundled with it.
2. The Legend of Zelda
The first iteration of Nintendo’s epic fantasy adventure game pushed the envelope for what games could do. Originally released on the Famicom Disk System in Japan in 1986, it introduced an open-world concept and the idea that the player was in control of their destiny.
The NES Classic Edition’s HDMI output renders the games’ pixel art in crystal-clear detail. The mini-console outperforms official NES emulators on the Wii and the Wii U in this regard, with vibrant colors and contrast that make complex pixel patterns pop.
3. Donkey Kong
The NES Classic Edition is one of the hottest gifts this holiday season, with units selling out fast and commanding a premium on resale sites. But while Nintendo got a lot right with this miniaturized nostalgia trip, there are some glaring omissions from the 30 games on offer.
Thankfully, most of these classics are still fantastic journeys down nostalgia lane and great ways to introduce younger gamers to some amazing video game history. And even those that don’t hold up terribly well are still fun to play.
4. Ice Climber
Despite being a fairly simple game, Ice Climbers is a fun one. The player controls the pair of eskimo-clad characters Popo and Nana as they climb up to ever-increasing heights, fighting enemies and collecting power-ups (like eggplants) along the way.
In two player mode you can work together or compete against each other. It’s also worth trying to get a high score, as breaking bricks, killing enemies and picking up vegetables in the bonus stage all count towards your total.
The self-titled debut of the Castlevania series falls an inch short of Platform Hell by requiring your absolute utmost attention and skill. Mistimed jumps, bottomless pits and the dreaded holy water (which kills you instantly) were just a few of the challenges that awaited you.
The NES’s best racing game remains the UK-made Excitebike, which demands actual precision from gamers and is still fun to play today. Similarly, Rare’s brawler Battletoads makes an excellent addition and shows off the British developer’s abilities before they became famous for Goldeneye.
6. Donkey Kong Country
Nintendo’s pint-sized $60 NES Classic packs 30 of the console’s best games, but there are some glaring omissions. Here are a few of the biggest:
Donkey Kong Country is a brilliant SNES platformer from British developer Rare that takes a darker approach to its visual style than Mario’s sunny worlds. Its dripping caverns, icy treetops and snowstorms make it stand out among its peers. It’s a must-try, regardless of whether you’re playing it on portable at 720p or at TV-screen resolution.
7. Dr. Mario
The NES Classic is back in stores (although it’s still tough to find) after selling out quickly the first time around. And if you can track one down, you can play a ton of nostalgic games without paying exorbitant eBay or Craigslist rates.
The Classic’s HDMI connection also brings new life to older NES graphics. Complex pixel patterns and shading that blurred together on CRT TVs pop with clarity, pulling out details like the expression on Megaman’s face.
8. Kirby’s Adventure
The NES Classic Edition is a pint-sized recreation of Nintendo’s first console, loaded with 30 games that represent a cross-section of favorites and deep cuts. While there are some notable omissions, the machine still packs a punch.
The biggest official NES game, Kirby’s Adventure showcases the system’s capabilities with lush graphics and impressive visual effects (including a psuedo-3D rotating tower in Butter Building). This also marks the introduction of Kirby’s ability to copy abilities from enemies he eats, an aspect that would remain constant across the series under Masahiro Sakurai.
9. Ninja Gaiden
A stoic ninja, a world-threatening plot and controller-smashing difficulty. The NES’s Ninja Gaiden set the bar high for action-platformers at a time when most games didn’t even bother with overarching plotlines.
Nintendo’s home-version of Konami’s arcade hit features eye-catching art, simple but involved controls and a first-of-its-kind design mode. The only thing missing is the ability to pause the game. And the rewind button isn’t enough to save you from level 6-2, which is absolute hell.