9. Contra (Konami)- Contra is the game that brought cooperative gaming to life. Charging through the Red Falcon forces as Billy and Lance was a pure 8-bit adrenaline rush. Facing the constant onslaught of bullets thrown your way is hard enough, but add that to the challenge of keeping your buddy from accidentally dragging you down to the bottom of an instant-kill scrolling screen is just insane. There are few gaming achievements greater than tearing into the literal heart of Red Falcon with your spread gun and destroying the alien infestation without using the Konami code.
8. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out (Nintendo)- Never before had a game featured a cast of characters with as much personality as your foes in Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. Just as much a rhythm game as it is an arcade boxing simulation, Punch Out is all about timing and coordination. Landing that star punch dead on the chin of Glass Joe and sending his pathetic ass into the canvas is always a joy, but when you land that final punch to Iron Mike himself you feel like you’re on top of the world. Few games offer the pick up and play accessibility that Punch Out introduced over twenty years ago, and even fewer people have the fortitude it takes to keep their mouthpiece in for the final bout of this epic slugfest.
7. Zelda II: The Adventures of Link (Nintendo)- For fans of the original Legend of Zelda, The Adventures of Link took quite a bit to get used to. Trading in the overhead perspective of the original, Link’s action focused on challenging side-scrolling action. Link also made the gamplay deeper by adding in an experience system as well as magic. While Link’s second adventure in Hyrule was a great departure from the original classic, the final result was an excellent adventure that is often overshadowed by its kin.
6. Maniac Mansion (LucasArts)- No fan of cheesy horror movies should be without a copy of Maniac Mansion. The only SCUMM game to make it to the NES, Maniac Mansion places you in the shoes of five teens looking to save the main protagonist’s girlfriend from the clutches of a meteor-obsessed mad scientist. A quirky cast of characters including the militaristic, hamster-loving Weird Ed, a talking green tentacle with a love for punk music, and the creepy Nurse Edna steal the show in this twisted point-and-click adventure.
5. Final Fantasy (Squaresoft) There’s no questioning the power of the Final Fantasy brand, and it all started here on the NES. The original Final Fantasy was influential in popularizing the role playing genre in its early years. While the first adventure may seem a little rough around the edges today, but innovations like the massive overworld and ability to choose and upgrade your class, helped it stand amongst its few contemporaries. The mark the original Final Fantasy left on the industry is plain to see with the series’ massive fan base.
4. Metroid (Nintendo)– Few games have given me the same feeling of stepping into a strange alien landscape as Metroid. Samus’ first mission to bring down Mother Brain and her band of space pirates is just as intriguing today as it was when the game was released in 1986. The eerie music, forboding environments, and the massive scale of Zebes make for an imposing world that despite its eerie nature is still begging to be explored. Metroid’s design has been influential that while Metroid itself has changed its even already distinguished franchises like Castlevania have been trying to perfect it for over a decade.
3. Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo) Super Mario Bros. 3 took the classic formula of the original game and added more everything everything, wilder worlds, more challenging castles, airships, and it even introduced Bowser’s vile brood, the Koopalings. Who can forget the first time they were pulled up the anchor of one of the Koopaling’s giant airships only to be greeted by a cacophony of cannon fire with a thunderstorm raging in the background. Other notable moments include hopping in the Kuribo’s shoe to smash hapless goombas, and finding all of the whistles to make short work of this otherwise massive game.
2. The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo)– I remember being just shy of five years old when I asked my dad to pick up The Legend of Zelda before he left for work, not really expecting my father to randomly purchase a video game on his way home from a 12 hour stint painting whichever bridge or power plant he was working on. When my father came home that evening with the shiny gold box in his hand I was so surprised that I nearly regressed three years and crapped my TMNT underoos. Tearing open the package and seeing just how much work went into that alone, from the die cut packaging to the golden cartridge, I knew I was in for a treat. My Mother, Brother, and I spent the next month or so practically glued to our couch exploring the massive overworld of Hyrule. From solving the mystery the pond dungeon, figuring out what the hell “Grumble, Grumble” meant, and finally figuring out just what weapon to use to slay Gannon, Zelda was full of puzzles and mystery that no other game at the time provided. Even today after 23 years of playing video games religiously, I still haven’t found a game that gives me the same sense of exploration and wonder that The Legend of Zelda provided.
1. Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo)- Super Mario Bros. was not the game caused my video game addiction, that honor goes to both Gyromite and Duck Hunt, which on a frosty Christmas morning in 1985 introduced me to the hobby that has had a tenacious hold on me for almost my entire 27 years. Super Mario Bros. was, however, the only game that inspired me to draw up levels on graph paper as a kindergartner in my pal Bennet Smith’s family room, while staring wide-eyed at the Super Mario Bros. Super Show. You can probably blame some of this on Nintendo’s marketing machine with Mario being their flagship character, but never before had I felt like a game had so much personality. Super Mario Bros., with it’s surreal world populated with imaginative characters, fantastic level design full of tricks and secrets, and unforgettable music is the game that completely changed my idea of what video games should be.