Happy 30th birthday to the NES! (Plus our Top 10 Must-Play NES Games)

This week back in 1985, Nintendo took their first steps into the world North American and European world of home computer games with the release of the NES, the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The Japanese console on which the NES was based, the Nintendo Family Computer (or Famicom) system had been wildly popular in it’s homeland following its release there in 1983 which was, unfortunately, the same year of a spectacular video game crash that was occurring in North America.

The president of Nintendo of America, and son-in-law to Nintendo CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi, Minoru Arakawa had been fruitlessly searching for someone, anyone, who would agree to distribute the console in the North American market. The Japanese do not give in easily, however, and headquarters sent 100,000 NES consoles to their American offices so that Arakawa and NOA could go to New York City – which was going to be the toughest nut for Nintendo to crack – and put on a launch event anyway.

To say Arakawa had an uphill battle on his hands would not be an understatement. Retailers across the state were flatly refusing to take the console, believing that even with the NES’ memorable attachments like R.O.B. the robot and the NES Zapper, the awesome light gun, it just wouldn’t sell and they’d be stuck with the stock. Determined to get their console in the game, Nintendo made a desperation play: they would provide retailers with the consoles free of charge and only asked payment on any machines that actually sold.

Nintendo’s results from the 1985 holiday season were modest to say the least. It’s believed that Nintendo moved between 50, 000 and 90, 000 consoles. This gave the company the go-head to expand into other markets over the next year.

The launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System in America is told pretty comprehensively in Blake Harris’ excellent book Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation. I absolutely recommend picking it up if you have an interest in video game history. The story is proof of Nintendo’s legendary resilience and unshakable confidence in their product and their games.

30 years later, they’re still making cool stuff for us to play and as lifelong Nintendo fans, we hope that never changes. Happy birthday, NES. We love you.

We also love NES games and have put together a list of our ten favourites!


10. The Addams Family
This was a hugely challenging game and seemed down right impossible at some points (that damn roof with those damn falling bricks!!!) but the various mini-missions in The Addams Family as you’d go around collecting money and rescuing family members (who would often give you special abilities) were really interesting for the time. Sadly, this was the only Addams Family game I enjoyed.  (Chris Singh)


9. Punch Out!!
The game created a raft of sub-par boxing titles. Originally released in the US as Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!, it followed an up-and-coming boxer named Little Mac who was determined to become the world champion. The mechanics were simple but still incredibly challenging. You could punch with either fist and dodge incoming attacks, potentially leaving your opponent vulnerable to a devastating barrage. You worked your way up through the ranks and finally squared off against Mike Tyson (or Mr. Dream once Nintendo’s rights to use the Tyson name and likeness expired) for your shot at the title.


8. DuckTales
On a console that set the bar for amazing side-scrolling platformers, DuckTales remains a high water mark in the genre thanks to a talented team of designers, many of whom worked on Mega Man 2. Based on the Disney cartoon of the same name, the game sees Scrooge McDuck travel around the world finding five treasures to further increase his wealth. The levels were varied and challenging, the controls were tight, graphics were clear and vibrant and the music was so catchy it was ridiculous. It received a sequel in 1993 that is considered a true rarity among NES enthusiasts due to the very small amount of copies that were released. DuckTales was also updated in HD with new graphics and voiced dialogue in 2013 and released under the name DuckTales Remastered.

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7. Uforia: The Saga
Uforia was an ambitious platform with some adorable design and a few RPG elements that kept things interesting as you’d gradually fight and unlock a total of characters, all whom had special abilities you could use to make your way through a big (for the time) map. It was a fairly simple and straight-forward game, with promotion centered around the Hello Kitty type design of the characters, mini-bosses, and bosses. I’ve re-visited Uforia (via emulator) over the years (with my most recent play-through being last year) and it has surprisingly held well in terms of gameplay; it’s still an engaging and fun adventure, and, due to it’s rarity in many countries, remains an underrated classic. (Chris Singh)


6. Metroid
Another game that launched a sea of imitators. Metroid was a dark, grim science fiction adventure about a bounty hunter named Samus who was sent to the planet Zebes to track down a number of dangerous Metroid parasites that were stolen by Space Pirates. A gruellingly difficult game, Metroid introduced the concept of being able to see an item you really want in a part of the screen but not having any way to reach it without upgrades. This dangling of the carrot has been a hallmark of the series ever since. Not for the faint of heart.


5. Battletoads
Another game that is not for the faint of heart. One of the hardest games ever created, Battletoads was made by legendary developer Rare at a time when they were still learning to use the NES’ hardware. The result is a 2D sidescrolling beat-em-up that just will not let you win. Many a controller has been snapped in frustration just trying to get past the damned jet bike level (pictured). Featured recently on the Xbox One’s Rare Replay Collection, there’s never been a better time to try and finish it off.


4. The Legend of Zelda
While a bit confusing and dated today, the original Legend of Zelda’s affect on the gaming landscape, even today, can’t be overstated. A huge world and seemingly endless amount of choice saw many players embark on adventures that were all their own. The game doesn’t hold your hand, providing only the barest amount of information to get by on. If you actually managed to decode its bizarre messages, mangled by the translation from Japanese to English, you were one of the battle-hardened few. The Legend of Zelda series is more popular than ever today with The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes arriving on 3DS now.

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3. Castlevania
Some would argue that Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest is the superior game but to those people I would say you are so wrong I can’t stand it. The original Castlevania is better than C2 in almost every way. I don’t have time to get into it here but watch this fantastic Egoraptor video for confirmation of your wrongness. It’s brilliantly designed, the controls perfectly balanced and oh my god is it hard. It’s so hard. Amazing, amazing game that is frequently (and bafflingly, in my opinion) overlooked in favour its inferior sequel.

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2. Mega Man 2
Yet another brutally difficult side-scrolling platformer, Mega Man 2 is still held up as one of the greatest examples of the genre ever made. It takes the lessons that Super Mario Bros. introduced and expands on them in ways that are cruel and unusual but still immensely satisfying and groundbreaking. Mega Man 2 is one of those titles that you can go back to today and find that it still carries the same addictive payload that it did when it was released.


1. Super Mario Bros.
Alright, look, everyone has played Super Mario Bros. but it deserves its place at the top of this list because, to this day, it remains one of the most important games ever made. World 1:1 is still a master class in level design, teaching you how to play the game without ever calling attention to it. The jumping is fluid, the enemies are dynamic, the controls are so on point that if you mess up you can’t ever blame it on the game. It’s beautiful and perfect and I could play it again right now for what would have to be the thousandth time without breaking a sweat.


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David Smith

David Smith is the former games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.