The Most Underrated NES Games Ever Released

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The Nintendo Entertainment System was one of the most significant landmarks in gaming history.

It revitalized the gaming industry in the US after the video game crash of 1983 and became an essential aspect of the late 80s and early 90s pop culture.

Since its launch in 1985, over 700 games were released for the NES (and Japanese Super Famicom) including blockbusters like The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Super Mario Bros.

But just because they’re the most famous doesn’t mean they’re the only worthy NES titles.

Some of the best NES games remain in relative obscurity, and it’s time to dig them up to give them the love they deserve.


25. Adventures of Lolo 3 (1991)

Adventures of Lolo 3 (1991) gameplay NES

Adventures of Lolo was a well-loved series in the early 90s that follows the titular blue blob as he clears puzzles to rescue his pink love, Lala.

In Adventures of Lolo 3, the couple joins forces against the Prince of Eggerland, who has turned their friends to stone.

This entry shakes things up by making Lala a playable character rather than a damsel in distress.

It also adds new enemies and environmental hazards that drive up the challenge in every room.


24. Adventures in the Magic Kingdom (1990)

Adventures in the Magic Kingdom gameplay

Adventures in the Magic Kingdom has the player explore Disneyland in search of six keys needed to open Cinderella’s Castle and start the parade.

Sounds pretty fun, right?

These keys are acquired by playing mini-games around the park and answering trivia questions from NPCs.

Each ride in the park hides a different mini-game, ranging from platformer levels based on the Pirates of the Caribbean to piloting a ship in first person on Space Mountain.


23. Princess Tomato (1991)

Princess Tomato NES screenshot

Meet Sir Cucumber – a heroic gourd on a mission to defeat the evil Minister Pumpkin and rescue his beautiful daughter, Princess Tomato.

You’ll have to explore the Salad Kingdom in what’s basically an old-school text adventure with buttons (since the NES doesn’t have a keyboard).

In each scenario you can “move”, “look”, “use”, “hit”, and so on.

It tells a pretty funny story starring anthropomorphic fruits and vegetables and the “farmies” who want to eat them.

If you’re not afraid to try something different, you’ll love Princess Tomato.


22. Bucky O’Hare (1992)

Bucky O'Hare NES game

Bucky O’Hare follows the titular rabbit as he rescues his crew members Blinky, Jenny, Deadeye, and Willy from Toad Empire bases.

Each friend rescue is a new playable character with unique abilities like stronger shots, longer range, and climbing walls.

Once you’ve rescued every character, new levels are revealed so you can take the fight to the Toads.

With its exciting gameplay and crisp graphics, it’s a shame not many people know about it nowadays.


21. Kiwi Kraze: A Bird-Brained Adventure (1989)

Kiwi Kraze: A Bird-Brained Adventure / NES gameplay

There aren’t nearly enough video games starring New Zealand’s adorable fruit-looking bird.

Kiwi Kraze follows Tiki the Kiwi on a treacherous quest to rescue his friends from a walrus.

Each of the four worlds features four levels full of spikes, fire, and other hazards to overcome. It’s difficult, but the tight gameplay makes it a rewarding challenge.

There are plenty of secret areas and shortcuts to discover, and the art style is super cute.


20. Felix the Cat (1992)

Felix the Cat gameplay NES

Felix is a classic character who’s been around since the early 20th Century.

He saw a surge of popularity in the 90s, which led to tons of new merchandise, including this unique platformer.

This resourceful feline is armed with his iconic magic bag of goodies, which provides any tool you may need – as long as it gets enough magic power. The more Felix faces you collect, the more power you have, and the better your equipment.

The game has some great visuals and plays like a charm.

It’s also fast-paced and pretty easy, so anyone can enjoy it.

There’s also a more detailed review here that’s definitely worth reading.


19. StarTropics (1990)

StarTropics gameplay screenshot

One of the very best games on the NES is StarTropics, a Zelda-like action-adventure that replaces shields and swords for… a yoyo?

That’s right.

After all, protagonist Mike Jones is a youngster.

Why would he have weapons? Instead he fights with his yoyo, a baseball, and other toys.

Combat is excellent, but there’s also engaging exploration and puzzles to figure out.

The original game even came with a letter with a hidden code revealed by dipping it in water, which you needed for an in-game puzzle.


18. Little Samson (1992)

Little Samson NES gameplay

Little Samson is a charming action platformer in the same vein as Mega Man, where the titular warrior throws bells at all sorts of monsters and ghouls.

The game sets itself apart by letting you swap characters on the go.

Your allies include a dragon, a golem, and a tiny mouse. They all have distinct playstyles and abilities you’ll find critical to progressing through the campaign.

Little Samson was released too late into the NES’ lifespan to garner the attention it deserved at the time.


17. Darkwing Duck (1992)

Darkwing Duck / NES game

Everybody knows Batman.

But have you ever heard of Darkwing Duck?

This fantastic action-platformer was developed by Capcom as a companion piece to Disney’s 1991 TV show.

The gameplay will remind you of Mega Man – except you’re a duck in a superhero suit.

In fact, it may be running on a tweaked Mega Man engine.

Still, Darkwing Duck sets himself apart with excellent graphics and unique mechanics like hanging from ledges, which adds dynamism and lets you pull off some sweet moves.


16. Shatter Hand (1991)

Shatter Hand / gameplay NES

Getting your arms crushed is always a traumatic experience – but if you’re lucky, you might get bad-ass cybernetic arms.

Shatter Hand casts you as a cop who just got their shiny new cyborg arms to seek revenge against the perpetrators and stop their plan of cyborg world domination.

Your mission will take you through seven areas where you’ll beat the lights out of bad-ass cyborg foes.

Levels are pretty varied in both design and appearance, so the game remains fresh throughout.


15. Dusty Diamond’s All-Star Softball (1990)

Dusty Diamond's All-Star Softball / NES screenshot

There were dozens of baseball video games on the NES.

But none were as unfairly overlooked as Dusty Diamond’s All-Star Softball.

It’s a baseball game for those who don’t follow the sport.

Instead of accurate rosters from MLB or RBI, the game lets you assemble a team of misfits, including the devil, ghosts, and even a witch.

There are six different arenas to play in, which you’ll have to master to tackle the game’s most powerful team – the secret, all-female Amazons.

It also features solid baseball mechanics, and it’s easy to pick up, making it wildly addictive to play with friends.


14. Little Nemo: The Dream Master (1990)

Little Nemo: The Dream Master gameplay

Little Nemo: The Dream Master is a side-scrolling adventure through the land of dreams – but be careful, or it could turn into a nightmare.

Nemo has no weapons, but he does have some tasty candy. Throw a couple of pieces at a willing enemy, and you’ll be able to tame them, letting you acquire their abilities.

The game has beautiful, crisp graphics and exciting music.

Granted it does get difficult fast, but by that point, you’re already hooked.


13. North & South (1990)

North & South Civil War game / gameplay NES

Initially released for the Amiga, North & South is a fantastic strategy game based on the American Civil War.

You’ll move your units around a US map like you would in Risk, but instead of throwing dice to battle the enemy, you’ll have to command your troops in real-time.

Watch out for friendly fire!

It’s also essential to capture the enemy’s forts, which you do by moving your troops toward it and sending a lone saboteur inside the compound. This takes the form of exciting side-scrolling levels that serve to keep things varied.

This video game/board game hybrid gives you the best of both worlds, and it’s definitely an overlooked gem.


12. Crystalis (1990)

Crystalis / NES gameplay screenshot

Crystalis is one of those games beloved by those in the know but unknown to the uninformed masses.

When nuclear war destroys the world as we know it, a new realm of sword and magic takes its place. After a long slumber, it’s up to you to find the four elemental swords and defeat the evil Draygon.

The game is excellent from every angle.

The storyline is engaging, the gameplay is smooth and innovative, and the graphics are a treat.

The title’s post-apocalyptic fantasy setting is unique and really invites you to learn more.

Along with the main story progression, there are also plenty of side-quests to acquire better equipment and magic.


11. Toki (1991)

Toki NES gameplay

Toki has everything you need for an NES classic:

Exciting level design, challenging foes, and lots of power-ups to upgrade your shots.

It’s also unintendedly hilarious.

Toki is an ape whose method of combat is spitting out energy balls. As if that wasn’t enough, he actually turns his head when shooting in different directions.

Believe me, it looks sillier than it sounds.


10. Mr. Gimmick (1993)

Mr. Gimmick NES gameplay

Mr. Gimmick is a little-known platformer starring Yumetaro, a cute green blob trying to rescue its owner from a league of evil toys.

Regrettably, it was only ever released in Japan and Scandinavia – where it was a total hit.

Despite its cutesy appearance, the game can be brutally hard. To access the final stage and clear the game, you’ll have to make it through every other level with no continues.

Luckily, the Scandinavian version of the game gives you 30 lives to accomplish the feat.


9. Kabuki Quantum Fighter (1991)

Kabuki Quantum Fighter / gameplay NES

After reading a title as absurd as Kabuki Quantum Fighter, I was already sold on this game.

After a virus corrupts the Earth’s main defense computer, it’s up to Colonel Scott O’Connor to stop the infection by uploading his consciousness into the machine.

For some reason, he takes on the look of one of his ancestors – a Japanese Kabuki actor.

This unusual hero will fight his way through increasingly challenging levels with an arsenal of chip-based weaponry, including quantum bombs, an energy gun – and my favorite, the remote-controlled bolo.

The graphics are pretty standard (for an NES title) but the animations are surprisingly fluid, and the developers managed to create a very unsettling and memorable atmosphere.


8. RollerGames (1990)

RollerGames NES gameplay

RollerGames is a unique game based on a 1989 TV show of the same name where two teams of roller skaters beat each other up.

This game takes the players out of the arena and into the real world, where the evil Eastern Empire team has allied themselves with aliens to sabotage the competition.

The gameplay is basically Contra on skates.

It features excellent action, exciting music, and solid graphics that captured the soul of the show.

It’s not every day we see a spandex-clad warrior on skates chase a helicopter to shoot it down.


7. Power Blade 2 (1992)

Power Blade 2 / NES gameplay

When the main character is a buff dude with shades, you know bad-assery is inbound.

Power Blade 2 casts you as a Duke Nukem lookalike on a mission to stop a rogue foundation from creating an army of cyborgs.

What sets Power Blade apart from games like Mega Man is your primary weapon – a boomerang, which is pretty cool despite making no sense in a sci-fi setting.

Four collectible power suits unlocked after defeating mid-level bosses can also give you an edge against the cyborg menace.


6. Rockin’ Kats (1991)

Rockin' Kats gameplay NES

After the notorious mafia dog Mugsy kidnaps his girlfriend, Willy, the “Rockin’ Kat” jumps into action.

You’ll traverse five challenging platforming stages to rescue her, including a carnival, a fight atop a moving plane, and the streets of NYC.

What I love the most about Rockin’ Kats is its unique gameplay.

This jazz cat wields a mechanical punching device that also serves as a grappler, which lets you access higher platforms and move around much more dynamically than your average platformer allows.


5. MetalStorm (1991)

MetalStorm / NES gameplay screenshot

I love piloting mechs in old-school titles like MetalStorm.

There’s just something about these badass machines that works better in 2D.

MetalStorm throws you in the cockpit of the M-308 Gunner – a mobile suit with the power to control gravity. This gimmick is the game’s central mechanic, and you’ll need to master flipping the switch if you hope to clear each level and save the Earth.

This is one of those games you just know would have been a big hit if people had noticed it.

In the case of MetalStorm, the problem was most likely a lack of marketing and inefficient distribution.


4. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (1991)

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero / NES gameplay

If you like Contra, you can’t miss out on this hyper-American run-and-gun starring iconic characters from the G.I. Joe action hero line.

Despite being a tie-in, the game is a top-notch action game with vibrant graphics and exciting gameplay.

Playable characters include Duke, Snake Eyes, Captain Grid-Iron, and three others.

You’ll get plenty of chances to try them out throughout the game’s six main missions.

If you’re a fan of G.I. Joe, the boss fights against classic enemies like Overlord, Voltar, and Cobra Commander are a definite highlight.


3. Whomp ‘Em (1991)

Whomp 'Em NES game

If you liked Zelda 2, you’ll love this extra violent take on the side-scrolling classic.

Whomp’ Em casts you as an angry native American wielding a mighty lance against all kinds of enemies, including adorable blob-like mushroom people who’re totally not Goombas.

It features six stages themed after different elements like fire and water, and overall, it’s a pretty varied experience.

Fun fact: The game is based on the ancient Chinese literary classic Journey to the West – but all references to this story were removed for the American release.


2. The Krion Conquest (1990)

The Krion Conquest gameplay NES

In the far-away year of 1999, an army of killer robots from planet Krion disembarks on Earth, and only the adorable witch Francesca has any chance to stop their conquest.

The game plays almost exactly like Mega Man, except you have a wand instead of the blue bomber’s mega buster.

You can shoot basic pellets, charge your shots, and even acquire special elemental powers after clearing each level.

One big difference is how this game lets you point and shoot in all directions.

You can also fly around the various levels with your broom. This should give you a fighting chance against the game’s brutal difficulty.


1. Gun-Nac (1991)

Gun-Nac / NES gameplay screenshot

A wave of mysterious cosmic radiation is sweeping through the galaxy and making inanimate objects hostile to the people around them.

As Commander Gun-Nac, you must fly through seven planets defeating vicious abominations like a giant tank-rabbit and the Kraken – then take the fight to the alien boss behind it all.

Your trusty ship starts with a pretty standard weapon, but there are five primary weapon types, a flamethrower and a boomerang – all of which can be upgraded further.

There are also four different kinds of bombs.

This top-down scrolling shooter features tight, fast-paced gameplay and gorgeous graphics that make it an awe-inspiring experience even today.

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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 playing games of Civilization VI and looking for the next seinen anime to marathon.