The NES revitalized the home video game market with an impressive library of diverse games and also made Nintendo one of the biggest companies in the industry. Many of its biggest franchises like The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. made their debut on the NES and helped establish Nintendo’s reputation for developing riveting titles.
Since the release of Nintendo Switch Online, subscribers have had access to a variety of NES games that helped define the console during the 80s. While new games are added periodically, these are the essential games to check out if you’re feeling nostalgic for some 8-bit action.
The original Metroid game was praised for its creepy atmosphere and puzzles when it launched, quickly becoming an essential title for anyone with an NES. It helped revolutionize non-linear adventure games and offered audiences a bold new experience starring the bounty hunter Samus Aran.
We’ve come a long way since Metroid was released in the mid-80s, and while it was monumental in its time, its controls and combat haven’t aged very well. Both Super Metroid and Metroid Dread are also available on the Switch and offer much smoother experiences. If Game Boy Advance games ever come to Switch, you should check out Metroid: Zero Mission, a stellar remake of the NES original.
9 Star Tropics
Star Tropics is one of the few entries on this list that didn’t become one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises, but it still offers a fun adventure worth checking out. It’s often compared to The Legend of Zelda, but Star Tropics contains weapons like a yo-yo to help differentiate the two.
When Star Tropics was originally released, it came packaged with a physical letter that you would need to dip into water to receive a code and make progress. It was a cool concept that doesn’t work as well on virtual platforms. The Nintendo Switch version of Star Tropics doesn’t offer any alternatives to the letter, so you must look up the answer online to finish the game.
8 Kirby’s Adventure
While many of Nintendo’s biggest characters made their debut on the NES, Kirby is one of the few to originally appear on the Game Boy. After the success of Kirby’s Dream Land, the developers released Kirby’s Adventure, and it was the first game to feature the hero’s ability to copy his enemy’s powers.
Being able to absorb powers from opponents has become the defining feature for Kirby throughout the franchise and during appearances in games like Super Smash Bros. Kirby’s Adventure features over twenty unique copy abilities like sword, needle, and tornado that keep the game fresh throughout every playthrough of this charming game.
7 River City Ransom
The beat ’em up genre was impossible to avoid during the late-80s, and it was tough to stand out in the oversaturated market at the time. Games like Final Fight and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dominated the market, but a few hidden gems like River City Ransom wouldn’t receive the love they deserved until much later.
Not only does River City Ransom have some of the best box art in the NES’s library, but its RPG elements and open world help it stand out from the plethora of other beat ’em ups on the console. Its humor and attitude still feel very 80s in the best way possible, but if that’s not your thing then you should check out the excellent River City Girls, which is also available on the Switch.
6 Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is one of the toughest games in the series to complete, but it’s also one of the most satisfying. Princess Zelda has been put to sleep by a terrible curse, and it’s up to Link to travel across a deadly Hyrule to gain the power of the Triforce to awaken her.
It’s hard to deny how brutal The Adventure of Link can be at times – it’s probably just as difficult as Dark Souls or other FromSoftware titles. The best thing about playing it on the Nintendo Switch is that you can use the rewind feature or save states to circumvent annoying deaths that send you back to the beginning of a dungeon to make your journey much easier.
5 Super Mario Bros. 2
Super Mario Bros. 2 is one of the strangest entries in the series, mostly because it was never originally intended to be a Mario Bros. game. After Nintendo of America decided that the original Super Mario Bros. 2 was too difficult and lacked innovation, the studio decided to release an altered version of Doki Doki Panic with a Mario makeover to appease fans in the Western markets.
This decision ended up working out for the best, and Super Mario Bros. 2 is still highly regarded to this day. All four playable characters have unique abilities, and it was also the first time you could play as either Princess Peach or Toad. While characters like Shy-Guys and Birdo were originally from Doki Doki Panic, they quickly became fan favorites and officially joined the Mushroom Kingdom’s color cast.
It’s surprising that Nintendo hasn’t released a new Punch-Out for the Switch, especially with how easy it would be to hold one Joy-Con in each hand to emulate the sport. As cool as it would be to see Little Mac re-enter the ring, the original Punch-Out is still a blast to play with its timeless gameplay and soundtrack.
Punch-Out is about recognizing enemy patterns and utilizing sharp reflexes to take down some of the most memorable characters in the NES’s catalog. Using the Switch’s rewind feature and save states can make your rise to the top much easier, but you will still need to prove yourself in the ring to be declared the champion.
3 Super Mario Bros.
It’s hard to think about where the gaming industry would be today without Super Mario Bros. After the video game crash in 1983, the industry was hanging on by a thread until a certain plumber with overalls began collecting mushrooms and stomping on Goombas.
Mario’s first adventure was praised for its controls, soundtrack, and level design, and most of it holds up extremely well. Each world is full of little secrets that are still being uncovered today and clearing difficult platforming sections still feels phenomenal. Super Mario Bros. is still considered one of the greatest games of all time, and it’s easy to understand why after playing through World 1-1.
2 The Legend of Zelda
The original Legend of Zelda drew players into its fantastical world with its deadly dungeons, clever puzzles, and immersive gameplay. While it can feel a bit obtuse by today’s standards, it was Link’s first journey, and it contains a surprising amount of mechanics and ideas that have become fundamental throughout the legendary franchise.
Key elements like the Triforce, Ganon, and familiar locations like Death Mountain are all present in the first Zelda game. The dungeons are fun and engaging and are made easier with some of Link’s classic weapons like bombs or the boomerang. It’s easy to get lost in its massive overworld, so it may be best to use a guide if you plan on hopping into it for the first time.
1 Super Mario Bros. 3
While the original Super Mario Bros. reinvigorated the industry with its simple premise and fun gameplay, Super Mario Bros. 3 introduces a plethora of new and exciting ideas that make it the ultimate entry in the trilogy. Its soundtrack is just as influential as the first games, and the new Tanooki Suit allowed Mario to fly and explore levels in new and exciting ways.
Super Mario Bros. was an extremely linear game, but Super Mario Bros. 3 shook up the formula by introducing an overworld map that let you choose which path you want to take towards a castle. Its sharper graphics and tight platforming make for a much more engaging and playful experience, and Super Mario Bros. 3 remains one of the most influential and satisfying game from the NES’s library, and playing it on the Switch is truly a delight.