7 Most Essential NES Classic Games

One of the hottest products of the holiday season comes to us courtesy of 1985. Riding the current nostalgia wave that has brought us everything from the return of the Hamburglar to Fuller House, Nintendo has delivered the NES Classic Edition.

As the name suggests, this isn’t a new, state-of-the-art console. It’s the same console Nintendo delivered us back in the mid-80s, when the NES revolutionized home gaming. Well, it’s not exactly the same—the NES Classic Edition is a pint-sized version of the original that plugs into your TV via HDMI.

NES Classic Edition

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend hours blowing into game cartridges to get them to work with the NES Classic. The system comes preloaded with “30 of the best retro games ever“. And that quote from Nintendo isn’t entirely hyperbole either. Most of the games included on the NES Classic deserve to be there.

So this is a solid greatest hits package. But which games are the best? If you’re at a friend’s house with a limited window to play the NES Classic, or you’re trying to sneak in some NES time after the kids go to bed, which games should you focus on first? Fear not, dear Goombas, the answers you seek can be found below.

Magnificent 7: NES Classic Games You Should Hit Start On First

Pop quiz, hotshot: You have 30 mostly legendary 8-bit Nintendo games to choose from, what do you do? Our suggestion: Whether you’re rolling solo or playing with friends, use this list as a guide to maximize your NES Classic time investment…

7. Donkey Kong

Considered to be one of the earliest video games with a storyline, this game features Mario (originally named “mr. video” and then “jump man”), who must rescue a damsel in distress named Pauline (originally named “the lady”) from a giant ape. Oh yeah, and that ape likes to throw barrels. At you. It’s simple, it’s fun, and it may have one of the best video game titles of all time.

Donkey Kong

6. Super C

The second-best two-player game on the NES Classic (the first is below), Super C is the sequel to Contra (curiously not included on the NES Classic). You know you’ve spent a lot of time playing a game, when you still know the code to get 10 lives (vs. the standard three) 20+ years later: Right, Left, Down, Up, A, B, Start. Not sure if that still works on the NES Classic version, but it’s worth a try.

Super C

5. The Legend of Zelda

The fourth best-selling NES game of all time, The Legend of Zelda may also be one of the most addictive games of all time. If you were around in the heyday of the original NES, you probably have a story about someone playing this game night and day. It immerses you in the world and your quest. It also has a great sequel that’s included on the NES Classic (The Adventures of Link).

Legend of Zelda

4. Tecmo Bowl

The best two-player game on the NES Classic. Though not quite as good as its sequel, Tecmo Super Bowl (not included on the NES Classic), this game is still a blast to play with friends. While you choose real football plays, the gameplay is not even remotely realistic. You can run around with the ball for an entire quarter, throw 100-yard bombs, and crush your opponent’s spirit on a completely ludicrous play. If only the NFL were this fun.

Tecmo Bowl

3. Excite Bike

One of the first video games that allowed you to create your own map/track and race on it. While this sort of customization is pretty commonplace now, it wasn’t when the game came out in 1985 (it was an original NES launch title). “Design Mode” is still a pretty fun way to play this game. So is knocking into other players to make them fall off their bikes. Excite Bike is definitely a game with high replay value.

Excite Bike

2. Super Mario Bros.

Some true gamers will tell you Super Mario Bros. 3 (also included on the NES Classic) is the better game. But how can you beat the original? Beloved by everyone who ever picked up an NES controller, Super Mario Bros. is the quintessential Nintendo game. It’s also, even to this day, a joy to play. From stomping Goombas and kicking turtle shells to discovering warp zones and trying to jump over the flag pole, Mario still delivers.

Super Mario Bros.

1. Punch Out!!

A controversial pick over Mario Bros, which is admittedly the quintessential NES game. But pound for pound, there’s no better game than Punch Out!! While Mike Tyson is sadly missing from the NES Classic version of the game, you still get an amazing lineup of opponents—from Glass Joe to Bald Bull to King Hippo to Super Macho Man. Figuring out each of their unique weaknesses and finally beating the fighter formally known as Tyson never gets old. This game takes the belt.

Punch Out!!


Want more NES Classic talk? Check out this episode of the podcast:

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AUTHOR: Shad Connelly
ORIGIN: Communications Director @ MONSTERS Unlimited

Follow Shad on Speaking Human  /  Human Content from Shad





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