The Top 20 Games of 1985-1990

From the golden days of yore, here are the first Top 20 of our Top 100!

By Nintendojo Staff. Posted 04/30/2012 15:30 8 Comments     ShareThis


15. Kid Icarus (1987)

The game where Pit first earned his angel wings, Kid Icarus saw players questing for three sacred treasures in order to defeat Medusa and rescue the goddess Palutena. It was a 2D-side-scroller with some RPG elements thrown in for good measure, and Pit had to use his trusty bow to take down the hoards of monsters blocking his path. He even had his own scrolling shooter section at the very end of the game, but players had to endure the trials of the Underworld, Surface World and Angel World before they got there.

It was a pretty tough game for its day too. Upgrades only worked if Pit’s health was high enough, and your health would only increase if you scored enough points. Add in those Reapers and their ear-piercing shrill, and no wonder we didn’t hear from Pit again until Super Smash Bros. Brawl

Why Eileen Cullen loves Kid Icarus

I’ll be the first to admit that Kid Icarus is ridiculously difficult. The first time that I played it, I quit before I beat the first level because I got so frustrated. However, this difficulty ended up being my favorite part of the game. Rather than being able to blow through multiple levels in one sitting, I had to try and try again on every one. And I actually felt accomplished after beating each stage. This game not only has high difficulty going for it, but it also has a quirky play style. It’s hard to accurately explain, but each vertical level “wraps around” itself, meaning that if you walk off the screen on one side, you come out on the other. This makes it a bit more interesting than just jumping straight up, and it adds to the difficulty. There were other types of level layouts as well, but the vertical stages were my favorite. Those who have played it will know what I mean, and those who haven’t should give it a try.


14. Ninja Gaiden (1989)

Speaking of tough games, nothing got much harder than Ninja Gaiden. One of the most difficult action platformers ever created, players took on the role of Ryu Hayabusa, a katana-wielding ninja who travelled to America to avenge his father. Unfortunately for him, he also seemed to be the world’s greatest bad guy magnet. Whether it was getting knocked off another ledge by those darn re-spawning falcons or suffering a crippling blow from one of the game’s many bosses, Ninja Gaiden pushed gamers to the absolute limit.

Despite taking several leaves out of Castlevania’s book though with its life bar and sub-weapon systems, Ninja Gaiden was fast, slick and incredibly smooth. You really felt like a ninja, whether it was wall-jumping up two columns or mowing down every bad guy in your way. It was also one of the earliest pioneers of in-game cut-scenes. They may not be much to look at today, but back then its cinematics were top-notch and some of the most exciting cut-scenes on NES.

Why Katharine Byrne loves Ninja Gaiden

“What the…?” What is this Ninja Gaiden you speak of? Over here in the UK we call it Shadow Warriors. “What the…?” Another falcon has knocked me off the edge to my doom!? OUTRAGE. In all seriousness though, Ninja Gaiden/Shadow Warriors/whatever you want to call it, is tough as nails. If I had played this as a child, no doubt there would have been lots, and I mean lots, of controller throwing. As it turned out, Ninja Gaiden was a rather recent purchase and I’m now the perfect picture of calm and serenity. Except when I’m cursing those infuriating falcons and those knife-throwing punks who just won’t move away from the edge of the platform! Thank goodness for unlimited continues!


13. Contra (1988)

One of NES’s top shooters, Contra was another ridiculously difficult game. Almost impossible to defeat without Konami’s secret code for 30 extra lives, it nevertheless opened several cans of whoop-ass when it was ported over from the arcades (and much like Ninja Gaiden, it was considered by many to be an improvement over its quarter-guzzling original).

It was also very much a game of its time, cashing in on the popularity of ’80s summer blockbusters like Rambo and Predator, and it was a must-have in any young gamer’s library. You controlled one of two military commandos– with appropriately macho names like Bill “Mad Dog” Rizer and Lance “Scorpion” Bean– and your mission was to neutralize a terrorist group called the Red Falcon Organization who were hell-bent on world domination. Only the truly dedicated ever succeeded though, and it still remains one of the most challenging games of all time.

Why Maurice Tyler loves Contra

Released in 1988 by Konami, Contra was the quintessential, must have 2D platform shooter. It was based on an arcade title of the same name and captured the look and feel of its upright counterpart almost perfectly. The “run and gun” mayhem that ensued when you picked up the controller and hit the start button embodied the mindless fun of many of the games that were released during that era. However, few were able to capture the perfect mix of co-op gameplay, weapon selection, level design and big boss battles as Contra. While very challenging and unforgiving in many respects, having a gratuitous amount of opportunities to continue the game when you met an untimely fate aided in providing a little bit of balance (infamous Konami code anyone?). Some would call this a symptom of faulty design, but many would counter that it enhanced the excitement of the overall experience.


12. Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll (1990)

Perhaps the most unfamiliar game on this list, Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll was a slightly odd game to say the least. It told the tale of two snakes– Rattle and Roll, respectively. Their task? To navigate a myriad of fantastical isometric landscapes while gobbling up as many things called “nibbley pibbleys” as they could before the timer ran out. Right… Developed by Rare, it was one of NES’s top sleeper hits, and like most other great games on the console, you could also play this with two players.

It wasn’t quite as hard as Rare’s infamous Battletoads— but Snake, Rattle ‘N’ Roll wasn’t without its own challenges, as you not only had to get to the end of the level, but you also had to weigh enough to open the exit door. That meant eating nibbley-pibbleys like no tomorrow, but throw in some perilous jumps, sharks that came after you if you dropped in the water and big stomping feet that had qualms about squishing you into the ground, and keeping all those nibbley-pibbleys soon became pretty tricky…

Why Katharine Byrne loves Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll

Who knew a game about two snakes eating weird blobs could be so much fun? To be honest, I never really thought about its slightly weird concept when I was younger. It was just all about those nibbley-pibbleys as far as I was concerned. Of course, you could play solo if you wanted, but the real way to experience this game was with two players. It did make it that much more difficult to complete– several “Come on!” moments were had between my brothers and I when we missed jumps by mere pixels and saw our nibbley-pibbley bodies vanish into thin air– but one thing it did do was encourage teamwork. I’ll never forget those puzzles where you could jump off the back of your friend to reach hidden items or high ledges, and the entire game was just one big challenge that I loved from start to finish.


11. Mega Man 2 (1988)

For some people, Mega Man 2 is their favourite Mega Man game of all time. It’s certainly one of ours, but what makes this one just miss out on the Top 10? Well, it wasn’t the eight new robot masters, that’s for sure. With some of the most iconic villains and well-known power-ups in the series, Mega Man 2 was a significant improvement over its predecessor. It wasn’t its bright and colourful design either, or its music, or its finely-tuned level design for that matter. We all loved those things to pieces.

Nope, the reason why Mega Man 2 just misses out on a place in the Top 10 is that it was essentially the Super Mario Galaxy 2 of the 1980s. Keiji Inafune and his team couldn’t fit all their desired content in the first Mega Man, so they transferred it to Mega Man 2 instead. They also created special support items due to complaints about the original’s difficulty, and it was also the first and last Mega Man game to have different difficulty settings. This made it almost a little too easy, whereas our other Mega Man entry on the list was the full package. Read on to find out which one!

Why M. Noah Ward loves Mega Man 2

Mega Man shouldn’t exist. At least not how we know him: his first game was punishingly difficult and didn’t sell well. Capcom didn’t want to make a Mega Man 2, 9, X, Zero— you get the picture– but begrudgingly let the development team go forward with their Mega Man 2 passion project, provided they carved out spare time to work on it and didn’t let it impact their primary projects. And, oh, how we lucked out.

Items Mega Man fans take for granted, such as the life-refilling Energy Tank, and a roster of eight (not just six!) robot masters were introduced in Mega Man 2. And while fan input into games’ development seems ordinary today, in this era of fan-funded Kickstarter sequels and Mass Effect 3 petitions, Mega Man 2 was one of the first (if not the first) games to request fan art submissions for the design of its robot masters, a concept that not only drove the aesthetics of a boss’s appearance but also the design of his stage and the power-up Mega Man would receive after defeating said boss. That may not seem as exciting today, but just remember: this game was developed when all people had were corded telephones and postal mail. No internet, cell phones, emails or fancy graphics programs available to the masses. And as a project created by devoted Capcom developers who believed Mega Man was not only great but should be an enduring franchise, this is a legend that almost never was. But Mega Man 2 was great– challenge-, design- and sales-wise, and by saving a franchise that spawned countless sequels and spin-offs, Mega Man 2 definitely belongs in the top 20.

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8 Responses to “The Top 20 Games of 1985-1990”

  • 1245 points
    lukas85 says...

    Hey guys congratulations for your 100 th issue, i religiously read your site, i find it very original and passionate. Now onto the games, i have never finished super mario 2, for me its just too weird, too diferent from the rest of mario series, its not different in the mario land style but waaaaay to much different, the mechanics of the game are weird, altough i really like the graphical style, i never connected with the gameplay.

    Thumb up 3
    • 1329 points
      Andrew Hsieh says...

      Thanks, friend! We always appreciate your comments and, well, your own appreciation! And before anyone can see me say this … I never finished Super Mario Bros. 2 either. Shhh, don’t tell anybody.

      Thumb up 1
  • 42 points
    Gaviin says...

    I really need to bust out my NES again…

    Great article, guys. Keep up the awesome work.

    Thumb up 0
  • 1245 points
    lukas85 says...

    Love contra, for my one of the top 10 games of all time, i still rememner the music, the weapons, the enemies, back when i was a kid this was the ultimate action game, i have fond memories of it.

    Thumb up 0
  • 1245 points
    lukas85 says...

    Wow metroid at 6? For me it sits in number 1!!! It’s my absolute favorite Nes game, i used to have nightmares with this game in 1990, i smashed controllers, insulted my cousins, cry and have fury attacks hahaha, i was sucked by this game, the music, oh the music, it started my fascination for dark electronic sounds, even today i think kraids lair is one of tje coolest videogame songs. The gameplay, the graphics, the strangeness of it all. I think metroid is the masterpiece of space sci-fi in gaming history.

    Thumb up 0
    • 21 points
      Dave Magliano says...

      Indeed. And I think, while I suppose it’s necessary today, I kind of miss the need to create your own maps. Looking back, it made the experience all the more fulfilling. It’s amazing how well the 2D Metroids hold up today.

      Thumb up 0
  • 1245 points
    lukas85 says...

    My top 3

    1) Metroid
    2) Super Mario Bros
    3) Super Mario Bros 3

    Thumb up 0
  • 21 points
    JadedDragos says...

    Makes me want to play my Mega Man collection now. =-D

    Thumb up 1

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