To have been a kid when the Nintendo Entertainment System was released was truly indescribable. I sometimes wonder what it was like for adults at the time, but ultimately I am elated that I was able to see it through the eyes of a child. It was a revolution, and none of us would be who we are today if it wasn't for the hype and culture of gaming. I'll never forget unwrapping my Nintendo for Christmas the year that it was released in North America, 1985. My parents had a "Nintendo Master" come over to the house the following weekend to teach the family how to play Super Mario Bros., as well as show us the game's many secrets. It was all we talked about in school. Eventually, Nintendo Power Magazine would be the sacred text (long before the Internet) which would give us monthly insights into gaming tips, cheat codes, original art, comics, and future releases in development, as well as interviews with those who made the games and the celebrities who played them. Then... there was nothing more eventful in my childhood than the release of Super Mario Bros. 3 in 1990. It was preceded by Universal's film The Wizard in 1989, which was basically Rain Man (1988) with video games instead of casinos - and it was awesome. I also grew up on Nintendo Saturday morning cartoons like The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! (1989) and Captain N: The Game Master (1989), which were basically the Ed Wood films of animation.
All of this to say that this is not a "greatest" but a "favorites" list of the games that I love the most, new and old. I actually went a few years without gaming, but with the release of the Switch have fallen back in love with it all over again. That being said, I hope you all find it impressive that I typed this entire list while wearing a Power Glove.
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50.) THE OREGON TRAIL (1985)
"Go west, young pioneer!" As a kid in the 80s, was there a bigger highlight in our day than when we got to play this? I recall having several educational games to play (Number Munchers being a popular one) but this was the most hardcore due to all of the different ways in which you could die. Though there were several versions over the years, I played the Apple II edition in elementary school. The game's popularity in school labs led to the terminology "Oregon Trail Generation" to describe Millennials and Generation X.
"Adorable yet incredibly stupid creatures." Over 140 different levels and a whole new kind of gameplay made controlling these suicidal characters challenging and fun, all the while capturing your imagination and riddling you with anxiety as you watch them follow each other over a cliff the moment you lose focus. This game was a massive success when it was released and is just as much fun to play today.
"It's a regular zany zone in here, a loony bin of mischief and mayhem!" The gameplay isn't the greatest, making you frequently curse (just like the main character), but the nostalgia associated with it has my undying love. I had Q*bert toys and obsessively watched the Saturday morning cartoon - man, this character was everywhere in the 80s. There are better games, sure, but none that capture my experience of the arcade era quite like this one.
"Busting makes me feel good." Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis and voiced by the original cast, this game serves as an unofficial Ghostbusters 3 according to its creators. It offers up wonderful excuses to play classic scenes set to a new story - such as chasing Slimer through the Sedgwick Hotel while at the same time feeling involved in a new narrative. I truly loved being immersed in this world (set in 1991) which is overflowing with slime-covered Easter eggs and stay-puft nostalgia!
"You've only got three shots to bag this duck, and if you miss, even your dog laughs at you!" This game came packaged with my NES, my very first game console (along with World Class Track Meet and Super Mario Bros.) and it was so much fun in its simplicity. This was truly iconic, and the only game I ever used my Zapper with. Shooting those ducks never gets old.
"In the end, the joke could be on you." This was one of my favorite movies at the time (still is) and owning the NES game was a dream come true as I could now walk in the shoes of Eddie Valiant alongside my new favorite toon to solve the mystery of who murdered Marvin Acme! Okay, I already knew the answer, we all did, but hunting down Judge Doom in this 8-bit adventure/mystery was still fun regardless. The game's score was a fantastic adaptation as well!
"Let the kombat kontinue..." The Mortal Kombat series weren't actually great fighting games, but they introduced ultra-gore to the video game world with moves like ripping out your opponent's heart, slicing them in half, and dissolving them in acid. Oh, and there were buckets of blood! This is the best of the series.
"Get ready to rumble!" It's difficult to truly express just how popular this game was when it was released. It was so important to all of us who were kids in the 90s. This is the fighting game that truly defined the genre.
"It's world payback time and the infamous Red Falcon is here to collect!" An insane amount of fun and difficulty are jam-packed into only six levels for this game, but because of the challenge and imagination found here it never feels like you're being short-changed. Just the opposite! It will "knock you off your feet!"
"The New York sewers were never like this!" Finally, a character named Jason! This bizarre story is what makes the game a masterpiece. It's the earliest memory I have of being surprised by the imagination of a game outside of the Mario universe, I love everything about it.
"The new femme fatale of the game world." Possibly the most addictive and iconic arcade game in history. The original Pac-Man (1980) only offered one map, Ms. Pac-Man offers 256... most of which I've never even seen.
"You are about to witness the fastest, most punishing race in the history of the galaxy..." Of all the genius marketing moves for this futuristic racing game, my favorite was the inclusion of the comic book about its characters as part of the instruction manual. One of the earliest SNES games and easily one of the most memorable racing games of all time.
"The future depends on your decisions!" You are the mayor of a growing town in this simulator that was very unique when it was originally released for the SNES. I invested over 100 hours as a kid, and was also elated to see both Mario and Bowser make cameos.
35.) SUPER GHOULS 'N GHOSTS (1991)
"You are Arthur, the baddest bladesman alive." Slaying the undead to save a princess? That's all you needed to say to sell me om this one as a kid, and it holds up remarkably well. I love myself some Nintendo horror! This is a sequel to 1985's Ghosts 'n Goblins.
"Get ready for the action and adventure of Greek Mythology translated to the Video Age!" Nostalgia fuels this choice for a side-scroller that scrolls up instead of horizontally. This is a cult classic and great origin for our Smash fighter, Pit.
"Why is there a chainsaw in the kitchen?" A comedic story based on horror and B-movie clichés, this was one of the first video games to be propelled into storytelling art. This game (produced by George Lucas) spun off its own wonderfully weird live-action TV show and video game sequel.
"Time passes, the pages turn, and a new chapter unfolds in an unfamiliar land..." Mario as an RPG is as much fun as any other plumbing experience, but for different reasons. The story, characters, design, and writing in this Paper Mario sequel are all unforgettable. I am hoping desperately for a remaster of this game for Switch.
"Few are chosen. Fewer succeed." You wake up on an unnamed island, with no idea why you are there or what you are supposed to do. This game is a slow burn, and I'll never forget the first time I played it on my Mac. Getting lost in the world and all its mysteries was such an immersive experience for me, that looking at screenshots of the game feels like postcards from a real life journey.
30.) BATMAN: THE VIDEO GAME (1989)
"This is no kid stuff." The best superhero game ever released for the NES, and one of the most difficult. This is the game that Batman deserves. Our blue and purple, 8-bit Batman.
"Get sucked in!" I don't like golf, or golf games. Surprisingly, this game has very little to do with the game of golf, but it also made me care about golfing in this odd, funny, and goofy story filled with wonderful characters. I also never thought I'd fall in love with the writing of a golf game!
28.) YOSHI'S ISLAND (1995)
"Mario is back again... for the first time!" One of the most clever and imaginative 2-D platformers ever made, arguably the greatest. Originally marketed as the sequel to 1991's Super Mario World.
"You're that new farmer boy, aren't you?" A marvelous, comforting, and highly addictive farm simulator. You also fight monsters. Never has it been so easy to lose 100 hours of your life.
"Go behind the seams and unravel enemies!" If you're looking for a fun, beautifully designed game that will keep you smiling the whole way through, this game is for you.
"Can you save mankind from the evil desires of Dr. Wily?" If you want to see an example of one game getting absolutely every element right, look no further than this perfect sequel.
"The neighbors are just dying to meet you!" A love letter to B-horror films brought to us by George Lucas, this horrifically scary zombie hunting game was an immediate cult classic that we couldn't wait to tell others at school about in 1993. And, apparently, I still can't wait to discuss it.
"Action and puzzles and bears. Oh my!" This game might have actually bested 1996's Super Mario 64 with its gameplay, while bringing us wonderful new characters in the process. I would love to see a sequel or remaster for this very fun N64 masterpiece. The vinyl soundtrack was recently released in a beautiful package!
"Life is like a hurricane..." Capcom really made some incredible Disney games for the NES, all of them were fantastic, but this was their true masterpiece. This game was even remastered with brand new animation in 2013, but the original retains its wonderful gameplay. Both versions come highly recommended.
"Shredder's got some time to kill..." I loved the NES TMNT games (though The Arcade Game was meant for the arcade, not 8-bit) but this one takes the pizza for the most radical installment our heroes in a half-shell had to offer the gaming world. In fact, the soundtrack was just released on vinyl. Yes, I am currently listening to it.
"In the distant Lylat star system, imagine yourself at the controls of a futuristic, heavily armed, space fighter!" One of the most beautiful games of its time, this classic space adventure sucked us all in as kids, thanks in part to using puppets to market the main characters. I remain hopeful for a remaster, remake, or sequel... any of these would be wonderful.
"Fear was for cowards, not the most courageous knight in the land." It's difficult today to describe the magnetic force this incredibly difficult and beautifully animated game had for kids of 80s arcades, but I for one would sink all my quarters into it, rarely making it farther than the first few scenes. Recently remastered for Switch, this classic deserves a look if for no other reason Don Bluth's contribution as director (especially its sequel!). Thank you, Stranger Things, for bringing it back into the light.
"I've learned that deep down, there's a light that never goes out." In 2002 Disney was far more uncool than it is today, and this game brought about a revolution for its classic characters. For those of you who love Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, this is probably the coolest thing they've ever done. I'm so happy this game exists.
"If you're looking for action, don't monkey around." The one and only masterpiece. The true king of the arcade. It spawned its own documentary in 2007 and gave us the most iconic characters in video game history. I'll never forget receiving a copy from my dad of the 1988 NES cartridge and falling into obsession with this construction-site adventure. So minimal in its concept but it captured the imagination of gamers everywhere upon its release. In fact, I'm pausing writing to play it on my Switch right now...
"Eat dirt!" The cartoony animation was the most striking feature of this hilarious game, it's loaded with comedy and insane character design. No surprise that this quickly became a Saturday morning cartoon, it's just shocking how many have so quickly forgotten this franchise.
"Madness and mayhem in this 3-D gorilla thriller!" The game that revolutionized the 16-bit era with breathtaking visuals and saved the SNES during a slump, we were all bananas over this game when it was released! (Who else had the pre-order shirt?)
"The gravest Castlevania adventure breaks new ground... and buries you in it." This is Nintendo horror at its best, and this is my favorite installment in the series.
"The crusade for the crystals." A masterpiece. The best game in its series. The third game in the U.S. (in reality, this is VI) is one of the greatest JRPGs of all time. I dare you not to get lost in this epic story, which can thankfully be experienced again via the SNES Classic.
"Sonic's back and better than ever. He's a blur in blue!" This might be the greatest game on the Sega Genesis, and as a sequel it was one of the rare times when they not only got it right, they exceeded expectations in every way. This game gave us more of literally everything, and to the max - as adrenaline-fueled as its insane advertisements!
"Ladies and gentelmen... start your engines!" I received this game for Christmas the year of its release and I immediately retired to my grandparent's bedroom and spent the rest of the day racing whomever in the family cared to join me. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (2017) is the best version currently available, but this is the one that started it all, and the one closest to my heart.
"Every path is yours to take." JRPG fans rejoice, this new adventure from Square Enix is a thing of pure beauty. Already a favorite of mine (I admittedly have acquired a collection of official & fan-made collectibles) everything about this game will suck you in. I highly recommend the Wayfarer's Edition, it comes with a really cool pop-up book and the unforgettable score. One of the several Switch games recently released that I hope we see an art book for.
"It seems the Mother Brain has returned..." One of the greatest games of all time arrived 3 years after the SNES debuted. We will of course never forget that wonderful twist ending of the original Metroid that established Samus as one of the most beloved video game characters of all time, but this is the game that polished the series into a masterpiece.
"After all, it could only cost you your life, and you got that for free!" One of the most hilarious and under-discussed masterpieces in video game history, this classic RPG is just as much fun today as it was when it was released, made very affordable by being a part of the SNES Classic.
"Live the Legend of the Luminary." As a kid I subscribed to Nintendo Power and received the very first Dragon Quest game for free, then known in the U.S. as Dragon Warrior (1986). Ever since that first installment, this series has been an obsession of mine. It only gets better and better with each new release, and the definitive edition of XI is the series' greatest achievement. Prepare yourself for a BIG adventure.
"The chain of time is broken..." Many argue that this is the best video game ever made. I am not going to argue. I will preserve every last surprise that this time traveling role-playing game has to offer by saying nothing more...
"Just breathe. You can do this." This narrative-driven adventure platformer, described as a "touching story of self-discovery", in which you help a girl named Madeline survive her inner demons on her journey to the top of Celeste Mountain, is a game that has reached obsession-level with me. What a beautiful, challenging, fun, rewarding experience! I even interviewed the composer of the game's incredible score, Lena Raine - an unforgettable soundtrack which has already seen multiple releases on different formats. If you're already a fan I highly recommend the Limited Run special edition which is crammed with wonderful goodies!
"Light will guide you, on your way to the ultimate fight..." Remember that live-action commercial for Super Smash Bros. (1999) on N64 that had costumed Nintendo characters beating the crap out of each other? That's still the greatest ad, but I don't think anyone will argue that this newest installment of the series is definitively the "Ultimate" edition, including an adventure mode called "World of Light" which is as much fun as playing with friends. This is the most epic (and most fun) fighting game ever released.
"For just this moment lost in time, I am finally me..." At the time of writing this I have invested over 130 hours of gameplay and am a proud owner of the "Seasons of Warfare" special edition, fan-made pins, an imported Japanese soundtrack, and more. All this to say that this game is very special to me, I even made a blog post about its fan-art here. Easily the greatest entry in the long-running Fire Emblem franchise.
2.) THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD (2017)
"Link, open your eyes..." Though A Link to the Past (1992) and Link's Awakening (1993) are close contenders for the greatest Zelda game, this one just cannot be matched in its scope and beauty. Winner of the 2017 "Game of the Year" at The Game Awards, and deservedly so.
1.) SUPER MARIO BROS. 3 (1990)
"The biggest, most exciting Mario Bros. adventure yet!" Nothing can describe the hype surrounding this game when it was released (see Universal's 1989 film The Wizard for one small example). This game is just as much fun today as it was then. Super Mario Odyssey (2017), however, is just as much of a masterpiece. Check out this wonderful new documentary on the history of the game! When it was released, we were truly living in a Mario world.
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