The best NES games of all time

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These days, playing one of the many timeless games made for the Nintendo Entertainment System feels like going back to the basics in the best way possible. Nintendo's 8-bit home console was the platform that ushered many of us into our lifelong love of video games, with its wildly diverse library full of first-party gems and third-party oddities. The NES' pleasantly pixelated visuals are the perfect prompt for the imagination, and the chiptunes it can pump out are still some of the most revered game songs of ever made. Like any iconic console, there are plenty of junk games you need to sift through to find the best - but luckily, we've already done the work, picking 25 games that exemplify the NES' finest. To keep the top end of the list from being dominated by Mario, Link, and Mega Man, we've chosen one outstanding entry to represent each esteemed series. Whether you're taking a trip down memory lane or getting in touch with the games that inspired a generation, you would do well to track down these carts and experience the very best NES games. 

25. Batman: The Video Game

At first glance, Batman seems like an ordinary action platformer - you're jumping around, punching enemies, and gaining points. But Batman has a trick that puts him in league with Ninja Gaiden's Ryu Hayabusa: he can wall jump, adding more height to his leaps for those hard-to-reach places. It sounds so ancillary these days, but back then this mechanic was a pretty big deal, and it definitely sets Batman's level design and tense sidescrolling apart. With its steep challenge and rockin' soundtrack, it's a solid platformer that some superhero fans still consider to be the best game of its kind on the NES.

24. Duck Hunt

When a duck flies onscreen, there are two outcomes: either you deftly shoot it down from the sky and feel proud of yourself, or you miss and have to watch the biggest canine jerk in all of video games snicker at your misfortune. That's the basic hook of Duck Hunt, and what seems like such a simple game is actually an incredibly replayable experience. The use of the NES Zapper works wonders for this game, and even if you're only downing pixelated ducks, Duck Hunt makes you feel like you could go out and bag the real thing.

23. Super Dodge Ball

This is dodge ball without the bruises - which, as you might imagine, makes it infinitely more enjoyable. The frantic 3-on-3 action of Super Dodge Ball, especially when playing against a friend, can lead to some great times thanks to solid mechanics and the flow of each match. Each member of the team having hit points is a clever touch as well, making Super Dodge Ball the closest thing to a dodge-ball RPG we'll probably ever get. 

22. StarTropics

StarTropics never got the same recognition as the Zelda series, but it's a delightfully fun adventure in much the same vein. That's because it marries two major Zelda mechanics: the top-down perspective of the original Zelda's dungeons, and the overworld map of Zelda 2. StarTropics' hero, Mike Jones, visits towns and other areas searching for clues and battling enemies in the top-down perspective, while traveling the world to other locations on the world map. Also, our kid hero uses a yo-yo as a weapon and has a penchant for sticking bananas in his ears. You've got to love him.

21. Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers

Capcom was the licensed game's best friend back in the NES days. DuckTales (which we'll get to in a bit) is a fantastic platformer that everyone knows, but not as many people have experienced the incredible Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers. The titular chipmunk detectives have to pick up crates, apples, and other items to toss at foes, and they can only be damaged three times before death, adding a real layer of challenge to the game. But it never becomes overwhelming - Rescue Rangers is just challenging enough to stay interesting.

20. Kid Icarus

Kid Icarus eschewed some pretty big platforming rules of its era, the biggest of which is the lack of wall boundaries. If your path is seemingly blocked, simply walk offscreen, and the cherubic hero Pit will appear on the other side. It's a nifty gimmick that makes for intriguing vertical level design, and the otherworldly setting full of floating eyeballs, grim reapers, and eggplant wizards is uniquely bizarre and unforgettable. 

19. Tecmo Super Bowl

Not many sports games on the NES are still actively played to this day. In fact, Tecmo Super Bowl might be the only one. While other retro gridiron games struggled to create an authentic experience with two buttons, Tecmo nailed this vision of 8-bit football by keeping the action intuitive and easy to learn. This simplicity made Tecmo Super Bowl a household name back in the day, and the stark art style and audio work well together to create a minimalist interface that never gets in the way.

18. Adventure Island

Like many NES games, the plot of Adventure Island revolves around the protagonist trying to save his girlfriend. The rotund Master Higgins' significant other is whisked away by King Quiller, and our shirtless hero must navigate levels filled with enemies, traps, and other pitfalls to save her. Same old story, but it made for a very cool game. Though it looks and sounds fine, it's really the gameplay that makes Adventure Island stand out. Many NES games are difficult for all the wrong reasons, but Adventure Island is difficult by design, with challenging levels that never feel unfair.

17. Bubble Bobble

These two cute li'l dragons set our hearts ablaze the moment we laid eyes on them - and with 100 levels of bubble-laden mayhem, we're always glad to replay the escapades of Bub and Bob. Bubble Bobble features multiplayer support, speedy arcade gameplay, and even the ability to unlock a different ending depending on your prowess. Earning the best ending is a daunting task, but finally having the skills to earn it will give you a real sense of pride.

16. DuckTales

With its nonlinear approach to sprawling levels, imaginative use of established characters, and multiple endings, DuckTales defies as many expectations today as it did all those years ago. Scrooge McDuck's pogo-stick platforming was (and still is) incredibly distinct, and you can spend ages trying to track down every secret item hidden in the walls. Oh, and the soundtrack is absolutely glorious; we still find ourselves humming the Moon Theme from time to time.