22 NES Games to Check Out in 2022

by Dan
NES screenshot collage featured image

Back in November of 2019, we released our Top 15 Desert Island Games on the podcast. While that’s a still a list of good desert island games, we’ve decided to come back from being stranded on an island and to expand & tweak that list a bit to simply reflect a list of great games that are worth checking out this year!

Without further ado, here’s 22 NES games worth playing in 2022!

1. 1943: The Battle of Midway

1943 is an interesting arcade shoot ‘em up that adds some interesting twists that make the game enjoyable and challenging.

The health system is constantly draining and you’re given a “choice” on what to do with your power-ups in the form of shooting them. They can either temporarily upgrade your weapons or give you back some of your constantly dwindling health.

There’s also stat points strewn throughout to upgrade things like your offensive & defensive power, overall health, and how long your weapon upgrades can last.

The game is challenging, but I’ve had a blast with the limited time I’ve spent with it so far. If you haven’t looked into 1943 I’d definitely recommend giving it a look this year.

2. Arkanoid

Brick breaking games are one of my favorite genres. There’s something about the simplicity and challenge of the gameplay that’s always made it fun for me.

Arkanoid is a classic example by of an interesting brick breaker with interesting power-ups and plenty of challenge. Taito did a great job of creating that “one more try” feeling with this one and I’m excited to get back to it again.

The only downside that I’ve seen so far in my limited experience (from being bad at the game 😂) is the soundtrack being limited to mostly some sound effects during the levels and a few short bars of music in between the levels and on the title screen.

If you’re a fan of the genre, give Arkanoid a look!

3. Bubble Bobble

Bubble Bobble is a classic arcade game from Taito and the NES port of it is one that’s worth checking out, especially with a friend.

The only real downside here is that the music can get pretty old pretty quickly! Other than that, 100 levels of arcade platforming and a nice password system make this one a good addition to anyone’s NES collection.

4. BurgerTime

BurgerTime is another classic arcade game that’s worth checking out. As a kid, I never quite understood the game well, and then I went through a period as a young adult where I spent a good chunk of time playing BurgerTime and actually fell in love with the game.

The challenging arcade gameplay can be frustrating, but fun to master. There’s a multitude of platforms where you can check out BurgerTime beyond the NES (the arcade version is available on Switch and iiRcade). I’d definitely recommend giving this one a shot if you haven’t!

5. California Games

This is one of those games that can be a ton of fun when you manage to get over the learning curve.

California games is a collection of events which essentially boil down to various mini games. Things like BMX, surfing, and skateboarding are included here and each event feels distinct and different.

If you have the patience to stick through the learning curve of this one, I think it’s a game you’ll enjoy having in your collection.

6. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Castlevania 2 is the kind of game that can be a lot of fun with the help of a guide. It has a phenomenal soundtrack and it’s definitely a rough draft of some truly great things that would come in the future.

Want to know how to have a good time without the help of a guide? Use these simple tips:

• Activate the white crystal to see invisible platforms.

• With the Blue Crystal, hold ‘down’ for 5 seconds by lakes.

• With the Red Crystal, hold ‘down’ for 5 seconds by a giant “Rock” wall.

7. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

There’s no denying that Capcom made some of the greatest retro games of all-time in the 80’s and 90’s and Rescue Rangers is a great example of a game that was probably better than it had any right to be.

This platformer has great music, branching paths, a unique “throwing” mechanic (that I still probably haven’t seen in another game), and co-op on top of it all. It’s definitely a great game worth adding to your NES collection (or at least checking out on the Disney Afternoon Collection).

8. Contra

A great many NES-themed lists wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Contra.

Contra is a fantastic, side-scrolling shooter with a great soundtrack. The “30 Lives” cheat adds a nice break to a game that’s pretty challenging otherwise.

I personally think Contra should definitely have a spot in most folk’s NES collection (or they should at least grab the Contra Collection on a modern platform to experience a lot of great games in the franchise, including the NES version).

9. Crash ‘n the Boys: Street Challenge

In my mind, one of the precursors to Mario Party is Crash ‘n the Boys on the NES.

There’s a much steeper learning curve to the controls on Crash ‘n the Boys, but the game can still be a lot of fun if you have a group of people willing to learn how to play.

The game is part of the Kunio-kun franchise and it reflects that in not only the art style, but also in the interesting upgrade system available between events that allow you to perform better in each event.

The game is a fun mix of ridiculous events where you’re running across rooftops, trying to drown your opponent before they do the same to you, sprinting while trying to throw objects at your opponent and so-on. It’s definitely unique.

If you’re curious, but don’t necessarily want to spring for the NES cart, look into the Kunio-kun Retro Brawler Bundle and you can get a copy of Crash ‘n the Boys and several other great games in the series (including River City Ransom and Double Dragon).

10. Dr. Mario

A lot of puzzle games tend to look/feel similar and I’d say that Dr. Mario is one of the more unique games in the genre that deserves the attention of anyone who enjoys puzzle games.

It has a great soundtrack (albeit a short one, sadly), great options that let you tailor the difficulty to your liking, and a nice little versus mode to help strain your relationships with the people you love.

If a fantastic puzzle game wasn’t already enough, the game can be found in the wild for pretty cheap and it’s available as part of the NES catalog available on the Switch Online Service!

11. DuckTales

Here we have yet another one of Capcom’s fantastic NES games. In the same way that I feel like Contra probably has a place on most NES-themed lists, I’d also say that DuckTales should be on most lists as well.

It’s a great platformer with a top-notch NES soundtrack. Even if you’re not a fan of the series that it’s based on, it’s still a good time. You can choose the order in which you’d like to play the levels (similar to Mega Man) and Uncle Scrooge’s pogo mechanic is one of the more interesting and unique movement abilities out there in the world of the NES.

As a side note, if you haven’t played DuckTales: Remastered, I’d definitely recommend giving it a look as it’s a fantastic update to a fantastic game.

12. Kirby’s Adventure

Kirby's Adventure NES Screenshot

Kirby’s Adventure is a beautiful NES game that was released later in the lifecycle of the NES. The music is fantastic and the game has some interesting controls and mechanics that make it worth giving a shot.

The only downside is that the game can have some pretty noticeable slowdown depending on the powers you have and things like that. If you’re curious, but don’t want to take the plunge on adding this one to your collection, it’s available to try out as part of the NES catalog on the Nintendo Switch Online Service.

There’s also an updated version (which I admittedly, sadly haven’t played) available on the Game Boy Advance called Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land if you’re interested in a game that probably looks and plays better than the original.

13. The Legend of Zelda

Legend of Zelda is another one of those NES games that pops up constantly on these kinds of lists for good reason. It helped pioneer a genre and can still be enjoyed today (with a little help from an internet guide for newcomers to the game).

A good soundtrack, fun items & upgrades, a multitude of secrets, and a second quest (that gives players a reason to come back for more) make The Legend of Zelda a game worth checking out.

If you’ve somehow missed the original Zelda all these years, Nintendo has you covered on the Switch Online Service, which also gives you the option of playing a “special” version of the game that gives you a head start on the game with some of the upgrades and rupees you’ll need to tackle the game.

14. Mega Man 3

Mega Man 3 NES Screenshot

As a kid, I enjoyed Mega Man, but I wasn’t very good at it. That being said, the only Mega Man game I ever managed to finish at the time was Mega Man 3 (which makes me a bit more partial to it over other entries in the series for the purpose of this list).

Mega Man 3 is a fun and challenging experience that is still enjoyable today for those who enjoy difficult games.

I have to say, however, as an adult, Mega Man has become a far more interesting (and slightly easier) franchise due to understanding how the games are designed now. Mega Man games are best enjoyed over multiple playthroughs as you learn about the optimal boss order and how to use your abilities effectively throughout each level (while saving the ability you’ll need for the boss itself).

I generally enjoy hard games, and one of the most satisfying things I decided to do in recent memory was to beat a couple Mega Man games without dying. That’s when it clicked that that’s how the games feel best… learning the ins and outs and ultimately besting the game as a whole. I can’t recommend trying this enough if you actually enjoy hard retro games.

15. Micro Mages

If you’ve never heard of Micro Mages, that might be because it’s not from your childhood. It’s actually a home brew game that came out a few years ago and it just so happens to possibly be one of the best games on the NES.

Micro Mages is a game where 1-4 players (it supports the NES multi-tap!) try to get to the top of a level while the level slowly scrolls upwards and throws plenty of enemies and treasure at the player along the way. At the end of each section, the players fight a boss and move on to the next area.

There’s a few upgrades the player can get as well as some secrets to find. The game feels good (wall-jumping is really nice) and it takes the good sensibilities found in modern game design of not trying to be punishing to the player with artificial difficulty.

The game is available on Steam and PiePacker if you’re not interested in ordering a copy (which is price around $60 after shipping and takes awhile to receive due to shipping from France). Either way, if you’re a fan of the NES (I assume you are if you’re reading this), PLEASE do yourself a favor and check out Micro Mages.

16. Rampart

If you’ve never heard of Rampart, you’re probably not alone. It’s an arcade game that started the tower defense genre back in the early 90’s and saw numerous ports on a lot different platforms.

The NES version was published by Jaleco and it can be a lot of fun with a friend. The gameplay involves building walls around your castle in the form of Tetris-style pieces and defending your walls from attackers in the forms of ships (or a second player) via cannons you gain based on how much territory you currently control.

If you like tower defense, definitely give this one a look. Even better, if you have something like a Retron 5 that can play Japanese games, check out the Famicom version made by Konami.

17. Super C

Super C is the sequel to Contra and it sadly doesn’t get as much love as the original. I’d definitely say that the first one is better, but Super C is still absolutely a great game.

The game feels like a sequel in the truest sense. The gameplay in a lot of the levels remains similar with the exception of it having top down sections (which resemble something like Heavy Barrel) instead of over the shoulder sections (which are actually a welcome change in my book).

Downsides here are mainly that the 30 lives cheat has been reduced to 10 lives (at least in the North American version) and that the soundtrack isn’t as great as the original. Other than that, you can’t go wrong with adding Super C to your collection.

If you want to pick up Super C along with a bunch of other great games, check out the Contra collection that Konami released in recent years on modern platforms!

18. Super Mario Bros. 3

I feel like at this point, there’s not much to say about Mario 3 that hasn’t been said before. It’s one of the greatest games of all-time and I’d personally argue that it’s the best game on the NES.

Not only is this one worth playing now, but it’s well worth coming back to over and over again for years to come. As a bonus, if you happen to own a Wii U, it’s worth considering picking up the GBA release of Mario 3 (Super Mario Advance 4) on the eShop as it contains the new levels that were added to the game via the GBA e-Reader. Beware though, the added levels that I’ve personally played so far are pretty difficult, so be ready for a nice challenge if you decide to go that route.

19. Tecmo Super Bowl

Tecmo Super Bowl NES Screenshot

If you’re a fan of arcade sports and you like playing NES with your friends and/or family please do yourself a favor and check out Tecmo Super Bowl (if you haven’t yet).

NFL Blitz might possibly be the greatest arcade football game of all-time, but Tecmo Super Bowl is still a fantastic football game in its own right that’s easy enough to pick up and enjoy if you’re looking for a great NES game. Seriously, there’s a lot of vs. mode fun that can be had with this one!

20. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project

Beat ‘em ups are easily one of my favorite genres and TMNT 3 is hands down one of the best of the genre that the NES has to offer. It improves on what TMNT 2 had to offer by expanding the move-set of the turtles and refining the gameplay a bit to make an overall fantastic game.

Konami is pound for pound one of the best developers when it comes to the NES and this game is no exception. A great soundtrack and co-op help to take a fantastic game over the top and make it one of the best games on the console (at least in my opinion).

If you don’t have this one in your collection, I’d highly, HIGHLY recommend considering adding it.

21. Tetris

What can I say about Tetris that you don’t already know? It’s one of the best-selling games of all-time, and for good reason.

It probably wouldn’t be much of a stretch to argue that Tetris is the greatest puzzle game of all-time and if you’ve somehow missed it all-these years, perhaps it’s a good time to considering seeing what the hype is all about.

22. Zelda 2

I feel like there’s a bit of a renaissance going on with Zelda 2 in recent years. It’s a game that I didn’t understand as a kid and couldn’t be bothered at the time with trying to figure it out. It was just plain hard and I had no idea what I was doing.

Back around 2014, I decided to give the game another shot. Armed with a guide and my Retron 5 (using save states), I learned to appreciate a gem that I’d missed as a kid.

Somehow the game, while being totally different from the original in the gameplay department, managed to capture that same magical sense of “Zelda-like” wonder and exploration I’d felt from the original game.

There’s no denying the difficulty of the game, but I think it’s worth the effort of playing at least once in your life. If you’re interesting in giving it another shot, but don’t feel like spending your hard-earned cash on adding it to your collection, I’d consider checking it out on the Switch Online Service. Rewind and save states are gonna make for a much more pleasant time here.

Thanks for checking out the list!

I hope you enjoyed our picks and find something new to play this year!

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