The Best NES Rom Hacks Of All Time (Ranked & Reviewed)

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The NES was crucial in kick-starting the home gaming revolution that reshaped entertainment as we know it.

This 8-bit machine was the home of many incredibly influential games: Super Mario Bros., the original Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda. All of which became ongoing money-making franchises for Nintendo.

It’s no surprise that such an iconic console has a pretty active ROM hacking community.

Sure, it doesn’t get as much love as the Super Nintendo.

But there are plenty of extraordinary classic game mods & fanmade games to try out. And I’ll say that these are really the best of the bunch!

 

10. Super Mario Bros. 2-Player Hack – SMB

SMB 2-player NES hack

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We’re starting with something relatively minor in scope but huge in fun potential.

That’s the 2-Player Hack for the original Super Mario Bros by creator Corpse.

While it doesn’t introduce anything new in the way of levels or visuals, it does more than enough to improve the original SMB by letting two players go through the levels in co-op as Mario and his brother Luigi.

Sure, there’s some work to be done to create a truly polished and seamless co-op experience. But it’s plenty of fun in its current state – and a childhood dream come true for some.

 

9. Ninja Gaiden III Restored – Ninja Gaiden III

Ninja Gaiden III Restored ROM Hack

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Another dream come true is this restoration of the incredibly tricky US release of Ninja Gaiden III.

This patch seeks to make the game more enjoyable for less-skilled players by making it more like the original Japanese release.

That includes giving you more continues, making damage from hazards more manageable, and reinstating a password system that’ll finally allow you to save your game.

I recommend you also get the Restored PLUS patch, which also reconstructs the original item and enemy placement for a much more balanced experience.

With both installed, you’ll have the definitive version of Ninja Gaiden III.

 

8. Mother: 25th Anniversary Edition – Mother

Mother NES gameplay rom hack

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Not everyone knows this, but the NES classic Earthbound is the localized sequel of the Japan-only Mother.

While nobody at Nintendo took the time to localize this game until EarthBound Beginnings came out on the Wii U Virtual Console, lots of fan translation projects came out in the meantime.

This Mother: 25th Anniversary Edition ROM is the culmination of the fandom’s work.

The script was not only translated, but re-written for better clarity. Visuals have also been overhauled, making this the definitive way for English-speakers to play Mother.

 

7. Final Fantasy VII Advent Children – FFVII (NES)

FF7 Advent Children NES Hack

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No, it’s not a typo or some joke.

This is Final Fantasy VII on the NES… or, at least, a third of it.

This ROM hack is a complete overhaul of a bootleg FFVII copy made for the NES by a Chinese company way back in the day.

Regrettably, the game only covers the first CD’s events. But thanks to creator Lugia2009, this hack’s events are set-up so that you get a satisfying ending regardless.

The visuals and musical score have been re-done to better reflect FFVII’s style. And even the gameplay was salvaged to the point where it’s honestly enjoyable.

 

6. Mario Adventure – SMB3

Mario Adventure NES Rom Hack

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Few franchises get as much love from the ROM hacking community as the Italian plumber’s array of games.

And Mario Adventure was one of the first complete hacks to truly blow the fandom’s minds.

Creator DahrkDaiz didn’t neglect to upgrade the game’s visuals. But this adventure’s value lies in the fantastic (if sometimes brutal) level design.

There are also new enemies like heat-seeking Bullet Bills and even a small boss fight at the end of every level.

If you liked Super Mario Bros. 3 and have the skills to endure a more significant challenge, be sure to give this a try.

 

5. Super Mario Bros. 3Mix – SMB3

Super Mario Bros. 3Mix ROM Hack

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Along with Mario Adventure, Super Mario Bros. 3Mix stands proudly as one of the single most amazing SMB3 hacks ever.

Every level in this hack is entirely new, featuring excellent design that uses new power-ups to create a unique experience – which you can go through as either Mario, Luigi, or Toad.

A lot was made to give the game replayability, too.

It’s possible to go back to any level or world after clearing it. This is encouraged through “Star Coins” spread throughout the levels, which you must collect to unlock new routes and buy power-ups.

 

4. Rockman CX – Mega Man 2

Rockman CX ROM Hack

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There aren’t many Mega Man ROM hacks for such a widely-loved franchise, but there are some incredible gems, including Rockman CX.

Not only does it fix a bunch of bugs present in the original Mega Man 2 to create a more consistent experience, but it actually includes several all-new levels and even lets you play as Quick Man if you want.

You may already know the Japanese version of this hack by Himajin Jinchiku, but be sure to give this English-translated version a try.

 

3. Rockman 4: Minus Infinity – Mega Man 4

Rockman 4: Minus Infinity Hack

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Our second Mega Man-centric entry in the list modifies the fourth game in the series by introducing new levels, remixed bosses, and overhauled weapons.

While most enemies were modified somehow, it’s the bosses that got the most significant changes.

They have new weapons, new moves, and remixed attack patterns that’ll have you sweating bullets.

There are even some optional bosses hidden throughout the levels’ branching paths, some of which are ported from other Mega Man games.

 

2. Zelda Challenge: Outlands – TLoZ

Zelda Challenge: Outlands ROM Hack

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One of the best ways to re-experience the charm of the original TLoZ is by playing the Zelda Challenge: Outlands ROM hack by GameMakr24.

This overhaul of the iconic title includes all-new dungeons and an entirely re-drawn overworld that make it feel more like a sequel than a modification.

Most monsters were also re-colored and had their animations improved for a more fluid experience.

A lot of fun if your into retro NES goodness.

 

1. Metroid: Rogue Dawn – Metroid

Metroid: Rogue Dawn ROM Hack

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Samus Aran is one of the few Nintendo MCs to give Mario and Link a run for their money.

But this ROM hack of the original Metroid has little to do with her.

This hack is meant to be a prequel taking place before Samus’ mission.

It details how Ridley got the captive Metroids from the Federation in the first place, from the perspective of Dawn Aran, kidnapped as a child and raised by Ridley to be his evil human super-soldier.

With an incredible story, a fantastic chiptune score, and lots of new assets, this game is easily the best Metroid hack – and possibly the best NES hack overall.

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Nelson Chitty

Nelson Chitty is a Venezuelan expat living in Argentina. He’s a writer and translator passionate about history and foreign cultures. His ideal weekend is spent between leisurely games of Civilization VI and looking for the next seinen anime to marathon.