Capcom | Shooter | 1988

Micronics made a frigging mess of 1942, and no one who suffered through their botched take on that shooter expected much from the sequel. But Capcom was older and wiser by 1988 and knew how to make a worthwhile arcade-to-home conversion: Add lots of good stuff. In this case, that amounted to an experience-based power-up system. Still, the drop in visual fidelity from 1943’s original arcade version really hurt the feel of the game, and even the added inter-level power-ups couldn’t keep the repetitive play from dragging. An improvement, but no masterpiece. -- Jeremy Parish

Bases Loaded
TOSE | Jaleco | Sports | 1988

While it’s easily dismissed in this day and age, sports fans really shouldn’t sneer at Bases Loaded. It was a major leap forward for the genre; not only did it play incredibly well, its detailed graphics brought sports visuals much closer to a realistic style -- quite a change from the stick figures and big-headed cartoon babies that had preceded it. -- Jeremy Parish

Sunsoft | Platformer/Brawler | 1989

Just as Tim Burton’s Batman film was surprisingly good after years of campy adaptations, Sunsoft’s videogame tie-in was vastly better than anyone would have expected from a movie-based game on NES. Though ridiculously challenging, Batman featured rich graphics, phenomenal sound, and dense level designs that added a crisp technological patina to the film sets. Tough but awesome. -- Jeremy Parish

Battle of Olympus
Infinity | Brøderbund | Action-RPG | 1989

There are games that sheepishly admit their inspirations. And then there are games like Battle of Olympus, which don’t pussyfoot around their unoriginality but rather brazenly boast about it at sleazy bars with a dangerous glint in their eyes that challenges you to say something about it, ya pansy. Battle of Olympus doesn’t bother to pretend it’s not a total Zelda II knock-off, instead devoting its energy to constructing a massive non-linear version of mythological Greece. And it ditches a lot of things that made Zelda II such a chore, which means in some ways it’s actually the better game. -- Jeremy Parish

Bionic Commando
Capcom | Platformer | 1988

Probably the best arcade-to-home reinvention ever published on NES, Bionic Commando greatly improved on the controls, story, level designs, and overall gameplay of the original version. In the process, a true classic was created—a game so good Capcom was able to give it a visual overhaul and rerelease it largely unchanged 20 years later. And it’s still the most fun to be had with grappling-hook mechanics in a videogame. -- Jeremy Parish

The Black Bass
Hot-B | Sports | 1989

Fishing? On NES? Who cares? A fine question, and one for which I don’t have a clear answer outside of “Funco.” For years, The Black Bass stood out as the single most valuable title in their buy/sell list, commanding a cash-in price higher than most games sold for new. I never did figure out if that was supposed to be some sort of joke, but at the very least it ensured I would always remember The Black Bass. -- Jeremy Parish

Blaster Master
Sunsoft | Platformer | 1988

Despite its uncomfortable mishmash of game styles, Blaster Master’s strengths -- namely, jumping around in an exploratory super tank -- were enough to overcome its weaknesses—the bits where you controlled a big-headed boy saddled with a terrible gun mechanic. A rocking soundtrack, tight controls, and crisp action make Blaster Master good enough to endure despite the fact that those on-foot sections were total garbage. -- Jeremy Parish

Bubble Bobble
Taito | Arcade | 1988

Bubble Bobble stars twin bubbly, dragon-y things, Bub and Bob, perhaps better known for their appearance in the popular puzzle game, Bust-a-Move (titled Puzzle Bobble in Japan). The NES version was one of the many ports made of the original arcade release. The gameplay consists of destroying enemies by encapsulating enemies in bubbles, popping said bubbles, collecting the resulting vegetables, and being adorable. -- Luke Osterritter

Cobra Triangle
Rare | Nintendo | Racing/Shooting | 1989

Flush with the success of R.C. Pro-Am, Rare took the basic game design of its racer, added water, and created a more traditional vehicular action title. Cobra Triangle wasn’t merely Pro-Am on the high seas, since the goal wasn’t to outrace the competition but rather to survive a gauntlet of obstacles and even a number of deadly bosses. Too bad about that frigging isometric viewpoint, though. -- Jeremy Parish

Double Dragon
Tradewest | Brawler | 1988

Not so much an arcade port as a game loosely inspired by the arcade. Double Dragon on NES removed the second player and replaced him with a rudimentary experience system that gradually unlocked new moves over the course of the game. This broke the game, as any NES fan worth his salt just built up his skills at the end of the first level; only a knockdown counted as a kill, so everyone just honed their skills by pummeling a hapless Williams for a few minutes and cruised through the game with the spin-kick (the NES equivalent of the arcade’s elbow smash). -- Jeremy Parish

Dragon Power
Bandai | Action | 1988

It may not seem like it at first glance, but this game was actually released in Japan as DragonBall: Riddle of Shenlong, based on Akira Toriyama’s popular anime/manga series. Rather than license a then-unkown property for its US release, the game was scrubbed clean of any overt DragonBall references, and the main character was changed from a young Goku to a tiny, generic boy in karate garb. Characters from the series (and even the dragonballs themselves) are still present in the game, though they’ve undergone graphical alterations, and all names have been changed. -- Luke Osterritter

Various | Hardware | 1988-2010

Success begets imitation, and when it comes to Asian electronics firms, “imitation” begans and ends with the full-scale approach. It wasn’t long after the NES became an international success before companies in officially unsupported countries like Taiwan and China began producing their own off-brand Famicom derivatives. Many of the original games developed for the these Famiclones made their way into NES and Famicom territories through unlicensed publishers. Meanwhile, Russian gamers are more like to know the NES as the “Dendy,” so universal was piracy in that country. Today, Famiclones are a commodity the world over; despite Nintendo’s best efforts, you can probably find one at a kiosk in your local shopping mall, offering 1001 built-in variants of first-gen NES on cheaply made hardware for 50 bucks or less. What a deal. -- Jeremy Parish

Hudson | Nintendo | Action-RPG | 1989

Possibly the most mispronounced NES title outside of The Magic of Scheherazade, Faxanadu was a Falcom/Hudson collaboration that was good enough for Nintendo to take note and publish under the first-party banner. An enormous platform adventure, Faxanadu was notable for its setting (the entire game took place inside a single, massive tree) and its uncanny atmosphere, which used a limited color palette to create a somber, unsettling world. A little clunky, but nevertheless commendable. -- Jeremy Parish

Fester's Quest
Sunsoft | Action | 1989

Everyone universally agrees that the worst parts of Blaster Master were the top-down on-foot sequences. So what did Sunsoft do? They stripped out the awesome tank sequences altogether and made an entire game out of the bits that everyone hated. Then they attached the Addams Family license, which would have been canny (given the franchise’s late ’80s resurgence in popularity) if not for the fact that they based the game around creepy Uncle Fester rather than a character people actually liked. A real head-scratcher. -- Jeremy Parish

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode
Vic Tokai | Action | 1988

For a certain percentage of NES gamers, Top Secret Episode was an introduction into the seedy worlds of both Golgo-13 and seinen manga. It may have been an awkward mess of a game, with reversed controls, terrible graphics, and horribly unforgiving gameplay, but the scope of the adventure impressed. And the implacable, laconic badassedness of the hero came through despite the mediocrity, leaving a generation of NES fans hungry to see more of Duke Togo’s exploits. -- Jeremy Parish

The Guardian Legend
Compile | Brøderbund | Adventure/Shooter | 1989

Agame far ahead of its time, The Guardian Legend combined top-down Zelda exploration with vertically scrolling shooter action. “But wait,” you say. “Isn’t that awfully similar to the combo that makes Blaster Master so frustrating?” Yes, but the difference here is that both parts of The Guardian Legend are exceptionally well done. The shooter portions are relentlessly difficult (it being a Compile game and all), while the adventure aspect is both engrossing and empowering. A gem of the NES library. -- Jeremy Parish

Pony Canyon | FCI | Action-RPG | 1989

Hydlide is every bit the masterpiece you’d expect from an action RPG starring a hero by the name of “Jim.” Which is to say, not at all. An archaic bit of mid-’80s RPG design, Hydlide wasn’t even particularly good when it was first developed. By the time it arrived in the U.S., three years later, it was grossly outclassed by, well, just about every other game on the platform. -- Jeremy Parish

Ice Hockey
Pax Softnica | Nintendo | Sports | 1988

These days, most people remember Ice Hockey primarily for the diversity of player choices it offered: Fat, skinny, or average. It’s less frivolous than it sounds, though. Ice Hockey’s trifecta of character types creates an exquisite balance of play that keeps the action simple, fast-paced, accessible, and completely fair to the player... well, unless you’re foolish to go up against the cheating CPU, of course. -- Jeremy Parish

King's Knight
Works | Square | Shooter | 1988

Ayear before Square set a course for destiny with Final Fantasy, there was King’s Knight. A small, quirky shoot-’em-up starring a group of fantasy heroes rather than the typical aircraft, King’s Knight comprises five stages packed with powerups for speed, health, defense, and jumping ability. A knight, a wizard, a monster, and a thief have their own stages, and the group team up for the final level. The simple RPG mechanics hint at where Square would go with Final Fantasy, but King’s Knight is perhaps most memorable for being the first game Square published in the US, and for being the fourth game composer Nobuo Uematsu scored. -- Wesley Fenlon

Legacy of the Wizard
Falcom | Brøderbund | Action-RPG | 1989

Nihon Falcom made its fortunes developing games for PC formats that never managed to escape from Japan, so its decision to take its flagship Dragon Slayer franchise onto the NES was a fairly significant one. Of course, Dragon Slayer IV -- Legacy of the Wizard to you and me -- also showed up on the predominantly Japanese MSX format, but the game actually made its way to the U.S. on NES. Not that its maddeningly hostile design and unapologetically confusing game world won a lot of fans here, but it’s the thought that counts. -- Jeremy Parish

Mega Man 2
Capcom | Action | 1989

Mega Man 2 blew expectations out of the water by infusing every aspect of its design with quality. It was a clear improvement over its predecessor, providing varied level design, inventive enemies, and near-perfect weapon usefulness. It produced some of the most memorable video game music to date, including the sublime Bubble Man stage theme. Most importantly, it took many of the tropes common in NES games and refined them to the point that it became the new standard for action games on the platform. Just remember to conserve those Crash Bombs for that wall boss. Yeah, you know the one. -- Jeremy Signor

Metal Gear
Konami | Ultra | Stealth Action | 1988

The game released for the NES in North America as Metal Gear was actually a heavily altered port of the original game, released only in Japan for the MSX-2 home computer. As the precursor to the wildly popular PlayStation game Metal Gear Solid, this adventure concerns Solid Snake’s exploits in his dad’s evil fortress nation of Outer Heaven. The game is best known for its pioneering use of stealth mechanics, comically poor translation, and box art based not-at-all loosely on Kyle Reese from James Cameron’s The Terminator. -- Luke Osterritter

Mickey Mousecapade
Hudson | Capcom | Action | 1988

Capcom’s Disney franchise stands among the most beloved licensed games ever made. You’d never have suspected it from their debut team-up, though; Mickey Mousecapade was a sorry excuse for an action game that felt dated, primitive, and downright cheap. Turns out it was actually a Hudson game wearing Capcom trade dress, but I didn’t know back in the day. Playing Mousecapade made me assume that Capcom and Disney were some kind of hostile force out to destroy fun, so I missed out on Duck Tales for years. Thanks for nothing, Hudson. -- Jeremy Parish

Ninja Gaiden
Tecmo | Action | 1989

There’s something to be said for Nintendo’s demand that the NES version of popular arcade releases be distinct from those on other platforms, because oftentimes it resulted in things like Ninja Gaiden. That mandate would occasionally transform, say, a badly designed brawler into a genre-defining action game that helped popularize the use of cinematic storytelling. Granted, the infinitely respawning homing eagles ensured the “badly designed” aspect remained intact on NES, but even those damnable birds can’t diminish what Tecmo accomplished here. -- Jeremy Parish

Pack-In Soft | Acclaim | Action | 1989

By any reasonable standard, Rambo isn’t really a terribly good game. It’s kind of aimless, has a strange power-up system, and John spends most of his time stabbing moths. But there’s a fascinating structure to the game that actually captures the essence of a desperate rescue mission into the jungle, and you can save a woman’s life by leaving her to die under a waterfall, so that’s... something. -- Jeremy Parish

R.C. Pro-Am
Rare | Nintendo | Racing | 1988

Nintendo’s never really said where they found the inspiration for Super Mario Kart, but it’s hard not to suspect that it came in part from Rare’s NES classic. Despite the awkward isometric perspective -- that Spectrum heritage at work again -- and the NES controller’s being a poor substitute for a real R.C. racer remote, Pro-Am was a blast. And I mean that in a shameless, punny sense, as the most memorable part of the racers was nuking an opponent with a well-aimed missile. -- Jeremy Parish

Star Soldier
Hudson | Taxan | Shooter | 1989

Star Soldier never quite caught on in the U.S. the way it did in Japan, presumably because we didn’t have traveling contest caravans and a goofy salesman with uncanny thumb dexterity to promote it here. Its late arrival on NES didn’t help, either; by the time of its U.S. release in 1989, Star Solider looked dowright quaint next to the far more impressive competition available. The weird multi-layered game mechanics probably didn’t win many fans, either. -- Jeremy Parish

Super Dodge Ball
Technos | Sports | 1989

Developed in Japan by Technos, Super Dodge Ball is actually part the long-running series of thematically linked games referred to as the Kunio-kun series. Undergoing some nationality swapping for its stateside release, the NES version of Super Dodge Ball sees Team USA playing against rival countries in single player World Cup mode, including a final bout with the dreaded Team USSR in typical 1980’s American fashion. The game also features a two-player mode. The Famicom version actually supported the NES Four Score multitap adapter, but since the game was released in North America before the adapter, that support was removed. -- Luke Osterritter

Bullet-Proof Software | Tengen | Nintendo | Puzzle | 1989

Tetris itself requires little introduction, but there’s quite a story behind the NES versions of this game. The details of the legal kerfuffle involving the licensing rights to Tetris could fill its own book, but suffice it to say that a company called Tengen believed itself to be holding the rights to Tetris and released a version of the game, while Nintendo disagreed. History (and a court of law) also disagreed with Tengen, and the game was recalled. Nintendo’s version was a solid title, but woefully lacked the multiplayer component of the Tengen’s illicit black cartridge. -- Luke Osterritter

Capcom | Action-RPG | 1989

Although Capcom also developed a Willow arcade game, the NES game by the same title probably should be seen as a completely separate work rather than a heavily revamped port. Willow in the arcade was basically a proto-Magic Sword, but here it’s a top-down action RPG in the Zelda vein. Notable primarily for its skill-crippling level system that only allowed the hero to equip weapons once he met their strength requirements. -- Jeremy Parish

The Zapper
Nintendo | Hardware | 1985

As iconic a part of classic NES lore as R.O.B. or those fruity Zelda commercials, the NES Zapper was key accessory packed into the popular NES Power Set... and unlike its robotic peer, it was actually useful. Both Nintendo and its licensees released a couple dozen light gun games over the course of the system’s lifespan, making good use of this intuitive, entertaining peripheral that drew on Nintendo’s arcade history in a classy, classic way. The Zapper even plays party to a key NES generational divide: Old-school NES fans think of the system in its original all-grey color scheme, whereas younger fans remember its safety orange revision, legally mandated after a spate of gun safety scares in the late ’80s. Whatever the shell color, though, the Zapper guaranteed good times. -- Jeremy Parish