The Nintendo Entertainment System is a classic gaming console and gaming today owes a lot to Nintendo’s little gray box. Not the least of which that gaming still exists, as after the gaming crash of 1983 it looked like video games were little more than a fad that had it’s 15 minutes until it came around. During its time, the NES was the best-selling video game console, trouncing what little competition it had with games that remain a classic to this day. If you need any more proof about how beloved the system is, just look at the NES Retro, a throwback console Nintendo released at the end of 2016 and sold out within minutes of its announcement.
All that being said, there’s no denying that some of those supposed “classics” are indeed overrated. Thanks to nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses, we tend to look back on some of these games and think they were better than what they truly are, or maybe they’ve aged poorly and public perception hasn’t caught up to that fact.
Maybe you like some of the games on this list and that’s okay. This article isn’t about crapping on your opinion, it’s about saying that maybe some of these titles get a little too much credit.
15 Maniac Mansion (NES Version)
The Maniac Mansion franchise has quite the legacy itself. It’s the first game legendary designer Ron Gilbert wrote and directed and its sequel would be the first game Tim Schafer directed (along with Dave Grossman). It was a point-and-click adventure released during the prime of the genre and a much beloved one at that.
Which is exactly why the NES version of the game is so terrible. Point-and-click adventure games don’t work on consoles and the NES is no exception. The controls just didn’t work. Trying to move the cursor all the way around the screen and then back down to the bottom to select an action is tedious at first, but becomes more irritating the further you go.
Perhaps the biggest problem though was that the graphics were totally redesigned for the less powerful console. The intricate, detailed scrolling backgrounds were replaced with much flatter, one screen versions. These changes, while necessary for the hardware, just removed a lot of the game’s charm.
14 Tecmo Bowl
Tecmo Bowl has seen a surge in popularity in recent years though and it’s even been featured in some recent car commercials starring former football players Bo Jackson and Brian Bosworth. There are even some outlets that use the game to guess the score of big games, including the Super Bowl.
While great at the time of its release, Tecmo Bowl has since been bested many times over by other games, and not even just modern ones. NFL Street and ESPN NFL 2K5 on the PS2, and Mutant League Football on the Genesis offer much better acrade-y style American football games. The fact of the matter is, Tecmo Bowl is extremely limited and, even with its arcade roots, it’s not a very well-balanced game.
Bo Jackson might be most famous not for playing two sports, but because of his appearance in this game as a literally unstoppable beast. Anyone playing as the Raiders instantly win, because they can just hand the ball off to the beast of a running back and watch as all 11 opponents fail to tackle him. It might be fun to watch for a time, but eventually it gets dull really quickly.
13 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the game) is a product of its time. Much like the popular TV show, it completely missed the point of the original source material, which was all about parodying darkly serious super heroes. Instead, the game followed the TV show’s direction and took the form of a kid friendly, funny side-scrolling beat ‘em up.
You can’t blame the game for missing the point of the comics though. Instead, you can blame it for capitalizing on the trend of extreme difficulty at the time. TMNT on the NES is notoriously difficult, even by the high standards at the time.
What seals its fate as grotesquely overrated though are two levels in particular. One has you swimming through electrified plants where so much as touching one of these plants is instant game over. The other is in the sewer, where you have to perform a difficult jump to the next platform over while trying to dodge another platform directly above you. Luckily though, it was possible on the NES version with a lot of practice. The PC version, however, was literally unbeatable because the platform was too far away.
Another NES game that got its kicks out of being frustratingly challenging, Battletoads didn’t even have a popular TV show or licensed characters to fall back on. Even more difficult than TMNT, Battletoads is another side-scrolling beat ‘em up that gives the player little health and a ton of enemies to get in the way. This one is famous for its co-op mode, but that only makes it more difficult, as friendly fire is prevalent.
Most of the nostalgia from this one comes from that difficulty though, same for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Many people lament how easy games are, at least compared to the days of the NES and later the SNES. I believe it’s because of this that a lot of people elevate games that aren’t quite worthy of being remembered as classics in their mind for that simple reason; because it was hard and that’s all they had growing up as kids.
There is some charm in Battletoads at least. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and the art style still holds up to this day. But even beyond the difficulty, the game is nothing more than a repetitive button masher.
11 Bionic Commando
While not as bad as its modern day remake, Bionic Commando on the NES just isn’t quite a good game. It’s got a great concept with the bionic arm that lets you swing around like Spider-Man, but really, that’s all it had going for it. Beyond that, it was another generic side-scrolling shooter.
Originally released in the arcades in 1987, the NES port didn’t help the game much. Many of the game’s enemies were cut or severely altered from the original version, and while the levels themselves offer more opportunities for the grappling hook, the fact of the matter is it didn’t matter much anyway. Instead of jumping over a gap, you swung your metal arm over.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference with the NES version was the main villain. In the Japanese version of the game, the main enemies were literal notices and you got to kill Hitler by making his head explode. In the US version, however, this was changed to a more generic evil organization. While the final boss still bears an uncanny resemblance to Hitler (he even calls you a “damn fool”) he was renamed to Master-D in the West.
10 Metal Gear (NES Version)
Make no mistake, Hideo Kojima’s original Metal Gear is indeed a masterpiece. It’s just that the NES version is less ‘Elias Garcia Martinez’, and more ‘old lady trying to be Elias Garcia Martinez’.
Metal Gear may not have created the stealth genre as many believe, but it perfected it and was one of the first console games to tell a compelling story. However, the NES port of the original Japanese MSX game was a disaster. The English translation is noticeably terrible, with the line “I feel asleep” forever engrained into our knowledge. The port added new, unnecessary levels and took some away, and even swapped out the titular Metal Gear final boss for… a giant computer monitor.
Series creator Hideo Kojima himself came out to publicly trash the NES version (which he had nothing to do with), calling it “pitiful,” an “abomination,” and that it “had no sliver of appreciation for the players.” Wow, talk about not holding back.
9 Final Fantasy
Final Fantasy is a huge game. It saved the company that created it from financial ruin, sound hundreds of thousands of NES consoles, and popularized the JRPG genre in the west. The original Final Fantasy is a decent enough game, but that’s just it. It’s decent. The original was clearly still trying to find its feet, which it found in later games, as early as the second game. But the first game is just kind of ‘meh.’
You’ll find extensive think pieces on how every Final Fantasy game is overrated, so including it in this article doesn’t feel particularly original or interesting. But it must be said, the original Final Fantasy has been re-released dozens of times and every time the reaction is more or less the same. General excitement at first, decent review scores, then everyone forgets about it.
That’s not to take away from the legacy of Final Fantasy. It’s spawned some truly great games over the years and, like I said, the first is a good game. It’s just not the diamond encrusted classic everyone usually thinks of it as.
8 Mega Man 3
There’s no denying the first two Mega Man games are all-time classics. Much like Final Fantasy, the games are constantly re-released, though this time to much greater acclaim. But there’s one black sheep in the NES Mega Man library that only a handful acknowledge, and that’s Mega Man 3.
The series definitely started to drop downhill after the first two games, and even developer Capcom acknowledged this by creating the Mega Man X series three years after the release of MM3. But even by this point, it was becoming clear that Capcom was just running out of ideas. The first Mega Man, known as Rockman in Japan, was released in 1987, with its sequel coming the following year in 1988. They took a little longer with Mega Man 3, which came out in 1990 in Japan, but that extra time didn’t do much.
Again, don’t get me wrong. Mega Man 3 is a fine game. It’s just that after two previous games, there’s nothing interesting about it. It’s a “bring a lunch pail to work, get the job done” kind of game. Its serviceable, but not exciting and clearly lacking the luster of the first two, and even some of the later games.
7 R.C. Pro AM
R.C. Pro AM is a great game on paper and you can see why so many people love it to this day. It’s got great graphics for the time and playing as little remote controlled cars instead of real ones allow for fun scenarios. But it’s the execution that really keeps it from being as truly great as everyone remembers it to be.
For one thing, the camera angle was terrible. Since the camera couldn’t really be placed behind the car for a full 3D experience, the developers decided to use an isometric camera angle. This caused the controls to be clunky, because you had to constantly change directions even when your car didn’t to compensate for the camera moving.
The NES version isn’t even the best, as the Genesis port was much better. The already good graphics were enhanced and you got to race against five opponents instead of just three. Kind of embarassing for what’s considered the 8th best NES game according to Paste Magazine.
6 Bubble Bobble
It’s not easy to try and explain what exactly Bubble Bobble is. It’s a two player platformer that requires each player to trap enemies within bubbles, then burst the bubbles by running into them and picking up the food they drop, but enemies can escape the bubbles and attack you, and there are magic spells and other things getting in the way as well. It’s somehow both overly complex and completely barren in terms of gameplay.
Which makes it so surprising that people have such fond memories of it. Perhaps it was the cute marketing that caught people’s eye, the images of the two dragon BFF’s hanging out surrounded by bubbles.
Originally an arcade game, the NES port saw the game receive a bit of a downgrade. The levels were smaller and less sparse, and the graphics obviously weren’t as good as the arcade version. The game is an early example of one featuring multiple endings, but the only way to get the endings was by how well you played as opposed to any choices you made.
Excitebike was an early attempt in gaming to get a somewhat realistic dirt bike racing game. What everyone loved about the game was how different it was from other racing games at the time. It eschews the 3D perspective of other racers partly due to limitations of the hardware, but also for a different control scheme. Instead of just worrying about how fast you were going compared to other opponents, you also had to keep an eye on the temperature of the bike. If you went too fast, the bike would heat up, eventually getting to the point where you had to stop and let it cool down.
It was a good idea on paper, but, in practice, it just slows the game down. What’s supposed to be an energetic race over slopes and mud turns into a strange game of chess as you constantly stop and start, trying not to let the bike get too hot but also trying to be quick. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but it’s not exactly all that, you know, exciting.
4 Super Mario Bros. 2 (US Version)
The American (and European) version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is a bad game. It’s not a bad game because it’s not like other Mario games, it’s a bad game because the controls are crap, the platform feels loose and floaty, the music is dreadful, and moving up levels instead of across them means you often can’t see what’s coming up ahead of you.
The real Super Mario Bros. 2 was seen as too difficult for western audiences, according to Nintendo, who were based in Japan. So instead of that, the rest of the world got a re-skinned version of a game called Doki Doki Panic. That game had nothing to do with Mario, but Nintendo didn’t want to make a new game or mess with the one they just made, so they saw retrofitting it with Mario characters would be good enough. They even went a step further and re-released it in Japan as Super Mario USA.
Yet despite all this, it quickly became one of the best-selling games of its time, even in Japan, where the original Doki Doki Panic was seen as mediocre. It goes to show you can slap Mario on just about anything and it’ll sell well.
3 Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
Game Informer called it the 14th best game of all time, Gamespot called it the 6th best NES game, and over the years it’s maintained a steady presence in pop culture. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is credited as a classic game these days, and one that put gaming on the map.
The only problem is it’s not actually a very good game.
The main goal of Punch-Out!! is to move left and right, dodging your opponents punches, and then hit them yourself. And that’s about it. Sure there’s talk of different strategies you can do, but when it comes down to it, Punch-Out!! is little more than a precursor to Guitar Hero, following the telegraphed instructions on screen and pressing the right buttons at the right time. Punch-Out!! wasn’t trying to be ultra-realistic and that’s okay. But even still, a game should have more depth than occasionally moving left and right and punching people in the face.
Mike Tyson himself was always notorious in the game, becoming a meme for how difficult he is to beat. He takes hundreds of punches before he’ll go down and if he hits you just once, it’s game over. There’s a difference between a fun challenge and too difficult, and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! missed the mark in the end.
2 Duck Hunt
Duck Hunt is a game that has become obsolete. At the time of its release, it was great fun. It was the best game involving the NES Zapper. The light gun was one of the first popular home console peripherals and, along with R.O.B. the Robot, showed the world what Nintendo wanted to do with its consoles. But like R.O.B., the light gun should be considered little more than a piece of history at this point and Duck Hunt illustrates why.
What is Duck Hunt? It’s a game where you shoot a quick moving sprite on a TV screen… and that’s it. To say it’s simplistic would be an overstatement. It’s the equivalent of those mobile games designed for cats to “play” by pawing at fast moving objects on the screen. There’s no meat here, no substance.
That hasn’t stopped some from stilling referring to the game as a masterpiece though. IGN placed it in their ‘100 Greatest NES Games’ list and USGamer took it one step further and said the NES was only ever successful because of Duck Hunt. Perhaps the only memorable thing from Duck Hunt was that dog, the only dog in history that’s universally hated for constantly laughing at you whenever you failed to murder a quick moving bird.
1 Castlevania II: Simon’s Curse
What a horrible night for a curse indeed. Castlevania II did everything in its power to stray away from what everyone loved about the original Castlevania. It tried a lot of new, forward thinking gameplay mechanics like a semi-open world and a day/night cycle, but it was so badly executed the game ended up being terrible. That semi-open world was largely empty save for more monster, and the day/night cycle caused the game to stop every few minutes and the message “what a horrible night for a curse” slowly scrawled across the screen.
Worst of all was how vague the game was. There are several instances where the only way to progress is by either checking a guide or sheer guessing. In one instance, you need to grab a crystal, kneel by the edge of one of the levels, and wait several seconds for a hurricane to pick you up to the next area. NPC’s throughout the game are supposed to clue you in on things like this, but the English translation was so terrible it didn’t work.
Despite all this, it’s retroactively been decided that it’s a great game, despite mediocre review scores when it came out. Digital Trends lists it as the 50th Best NES Game, and IGN put it at 25. Maybe these people are die hard Castlevania fans or maybe they’ve never played another Castlevania game in their lives.