Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
Best Overall: Super Mario Bros. 3 at Amazon
"Complete challenges and play mini-games to collect rewards."
Best Action: Mega Man 2 at Amazon
"Play as a little blue cyborg on a mission to defeat the series' most notorious villain: the mad scientist Dr. Wily."
Best RPG: Final Fantasy at Amazon
"Choose one of six different character classes — healer, fighter, thief, and more — to create a strong and balanced team."
Best Adventure: The Legend of Zelda at Amazon
"Battle a litany of pig warriors, rock-spitting octopi, sword-wielding lion creatures, and more."
Best Shooter: Duck Hunt at Amazon
"This game is the simplest and most beginner-friendly shooter for the NES."
Best Platform Game: Super Mario Bros. at Amazon
"It's sure to please any gamer that appreciates where the Mario mega-franchise started."
Best Puzzle: Tetris at Amazon
"The tile-matching puzzle game is still both addictive and challenging to play."
Best Sports: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! at Amazon
"This NES classic has you bobbing, jabbing, and upper-cutting your way through 13 opponents."
Best Run-and-Gun: Contra at Amazon
"This is an action-packed explosion for the NES and the system’s quintessential run-and-gun game."
Courtesy of Amazon
In this classic platform game, you can play as Mario or Luigi, exploring seven unique kingdoms and facing off against enemies as you race to rescue the imperiled Princess Toadstool. Complete challenges and play mini-games to collect rewards, rationing your inventory of items to prepare for each increasingly difficult level. There are also lots of quirky temporary power-ups, like a frog suit for improved swimming skills or a giant boot to protect you against spikes.
The simple platform design of Super Mario Bros. 3 makes it beginner-friendly and endlessly replayable. As you advance through the levels, the gameplay only gets more challenging — and the battle between plumber and Koopa continues.
Arguably the best action sci-fi experience for the NES, Mega Man 2 has you playing as a little blue cyborg on a mission to defeat the series' most notorious villain: the mad scientist Dr. Wily. Wily has created a series of menacing robots to take you down, and you must battle your way through their respective lairs — to the beat of a very '80s soundtrack, of course.
Climb down ladders, jump on floating platforms, avoid the falling spike traps, robo frogs, and more. If you survive, you're rewarded with a boss battle against each of Wily's dangerous robot masters. If you defeat them, you’ll gain their signature weapon (sawblades, whirlwinds, and more) which you can then wield against the next boss. Each boss defeat also earns you a unique password code that saves all your progress up at that point.
Mega Man 2 has a high replay value that will keep you entertained for hours. It originally took its developers 20 hours a day to make, resulting in one of the finest games to ever grace the NES.
Final Fantasy was made during a time when its company, Square, was about to go bankrupt. Miraculously, it became one of the most influential and successful role-playing games (RPGs) ever. This game marks the first in the Final Fantasy series, and new games are still being produced today. But it originally hit its stride in the late '80s by offering a richer and more in-depth 8-bit RPG that was unlike anything the gaming industry had seen.
Final Fantasy also set itself apart from other RPGs with its character selection and cooperative gameplay. You play as the Light Warriors, four heroes on a quest to save the world from enemy hordes and demonic villains. Each player chooses one of six different character classes — healer, fighter, thief, and more — to create a strong and balanced team. You must work together to level up and form a winning strategy against your enemies.
With The Legend of Zelda, you'll set out on the biggest adventure made for the NES. Played from a top-down perspective, this game was one of the first to feature an open world environment. That means you can freely explore the game's map as you try to complete your quest: collecting all the pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom and rescuing Princess Zelda.
The story takes place in Hyrule, a medieval-looking fantasy land that’s been taken over by the evil wizard Ganon. You play as the adventurous Link, traversing forests and dungeons, solving puzzles to collect items, and battling a litany of pig warriors, rock-spitting octopi, sword-wielding lion creatures, and more. Don’t worry: there’s a save option.
The Legend of Zelda incorporates a mix of action and role-playing elements that make for exciting gameplay as well as an engaging storyline. It's no wonder this game is such a timeless classic.
This is a game that truly anyone can play — it’s the simplest and most beginner-friendly shooter for the NES. Part of what makes Duck Hunt so unique is that it requires an NES Zapper to play. The Zapper is a light gun peripheral for the NES console that allows you to aim and shoot directly at the TV. (Note that you’ll need an older TV for it to work, as these retro accessories aren't exactly flat-screen friendly).
Duck Hunt can be played with either one or two ducks on screen. You have three shots to hit them. If you miss completely, the notorious Duck Hunt dog will pop up from the bottom of the screen and giggle at you. (If this doesn't sound rage-inducing...just wait.) There is also a Clay Shooting mode that's set on a different landscape but it just as straightforward to play.
The gameplay is definitely redundant, but each mode offers its unique challenges. Duck Hunt is such a classic because it's simple, novel, and equal parts meditative and frustrating. It can also make for a surprisingly hilarious party game.
Super Mario Bros. is the game that redefined what side-scrolling platform games could be, ultimately leading to their prominence and popularity in the '80s and '90s. Nintendo perfected the physics and game controls and, paired with the world's most recognizable video game character, created one of the greatest games of all time.
You play as Mario, the eponymous plumber and resident of the Mushroom Kingdom. The evil Bowser has kidnapped Princess Toadstool and it’s up to you (and a friend, if you'd like) to save her. You’ll journey through eight wild worlds with four levels each, swimming underwater, jumping atop sky-high platforms, and navigating lava-filled dungeons. Even 33 years later, the game retains its charm and challenge. It's sure to please any gamer that appreciates where the Mario mega-franchise started.
Courtesy of Amazon
Fun fact: the Soviet Union actually produced the best-selling video game franchise in history (170 million copies). That franchise was Tetris. The tile-matching puzzle game is still both addictive and challenging to play on the NES, providing hours of entertainment as you rotate and sort those little falling shapes.
Tetris uses seven different shapes called Tetrimino that are made of four (tetra-) blocks each. These shapes randomly fall from the top of the screen and stack up at the bottom. Your job is to move and rotate the pieces to fill the gaps and create solid horizontal lines of Tetrimino. Once a line is complete, it disappears. If the shapes stack up to the top of the screen, it's game over.
Tetris for the NES is filled with options, like selecting different levels of difficulty, picking three types of “concentration” music (including "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy"), checking out the statistics of each type of block fallen in your game, and playing an endless or elimination mode of clearing 25 lines at a chosen difficulty and height.
“Mike is waiting for your challenge!” Are you ready to get in the ring? No other boxing game competes against this NES classic that has you bobbing, jabbing, and upper-cutting your way through 13 opponents from all around the globe.
In Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!, you play as Little Mac, a 17-year old amateur boxer from the Bronx who is out to claim the title of the World Video Boxing Association. On your road to victory, you'll learn to read the telegraphed moves of your opponents, save your heart energy so you don't get exhausted, and perform counterattacks to earn stars — and ultimately deliver a knockout uppercut. Through each round, your trainer Doc Louis will give you advice on how to beat your next opponent. Hopefully, you'll be ready when the bell rings.
Contra is an action-packed explosion for the NES and the system’s quintessential run-and-gun game. Originally released as an old-school arcade game, Contra came to the console in 1988. It's just as fun and challenging today, providing hours of entertainment as you and a friend become super commandos defending the Earth from giant robots and aliens.
If you love a certain brand of '80s movies — specifically Schwarzenegger and Stallone's brand of swaggering, explosion-filled action — then you'll probably love Contra. This game takes you through eight different stages, from militarized tech jungles to alien mouth bases, collecting power-ups that will help you fight your enemies. And there are lots of them: scuba soldiers, artillery, defense bots, and more. If the game is too hard for you, you can always use the famous Konami Code of up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start for 30 extra lives. But you didn't hear it from us.