There are loads of classics to play, but which are the most worth your time? Here are the top 15 NES games to play online on the Nintendo Switch that players shouldn’t miss.
With an impressive collection of titles, the NES helped Nintendo become one of the top firms in the sector and revived the home video game market. The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros., two of its most well-known titles, made their NES debuts and contributed to Nintendo’s reputation for crafting unique experiences.
Subscribers have had access to a number of NES titles that helped define the platform during the 1980s ever since Nintendo Switch Online launched in 2018. Although new games are frequently added, these are the must-play options to check out if you’re in the mood for some 8-bit action.
Updated on September 23, 2023, by Kyle Chamaillard: When Nintendo Switch Online became available toward the end of 2018, there were only a handful of NES games on the service. Since then, a few games have been added every month or so, providing you with over 60 retro titles to revisit whenever you like. We’ve decided to update this list to include even more of the best NES games on the Nintendo Switch.
15. NES Open Tournament Golf
Mario typically spends his free time playing sports or going out with his buddies to parties when he’s not leaping on Goombas or eating mushrooms. Although NES Open Tournament Golf isn’t officially a Mario game, it is one of the earliest instances of the plumber and his friends facing off for honor.
The controls in NES Open still seem tight even though it doesn’t have the fancy graphics of more recent golf games. It’s a simple game to pick up and play alone or with a companion, and you can utilize Nintendo Switch Online’s rewind option to make a custom mulligan if you unintentionally overswing the ball past the hole.
The original Metroid game was praised for its creepy atmosphere and puzzles when it launched, quickly becoming an essential title for anyone with an NES. It helped revolutionize non-linear adventure games and offered audiences a bold new experience starring the bounty hunter Samus Aran.
We’ve come a long way since Metroid debuted in the mid-80s, and while it was monumental at the time, its controls and combat haven’t aged very well. Both Super Metroid and Metroid Dread are also available on the Switch and offer much smoother experiences. This game was eventually remade for the Game Boy Advance as Metroid: Zero Mission, which is considered to be the definitive way to play through Samus’ first adventure.
13. Donkey Kong
One of the most significant arcade games of all time, Donkey Kong made Nintendo a serious player in the video gaming industry. Not only does it have the first appearances of Mario, who was then known as Jumpman, and Donkey Kong, it is also just as entertaining to start up now as it was in 1981.
Donkey Kong eventually debuted with the Famicom in 1983 after being adapted to the ColecoVision and the Atari 2600. Even though there are only three stages in this version of the game, each one will put your reflexes and puzzle-solving abilities to the test as you scale lethal towers in an effort to protect Pauline from the hostile monkey.
12. Dr. Mario
It was difficult for other puzzle games to separate out from Tetris’ shadow after it became popular in the 1980s. Mario was the only one who could enter the zeitgeist because Dr. Mario offered a special challenge unmatched by anything else on the NES.
The falling blocks in Tetris are comparable to the pills Dr. Mario tosses from the top of the screen, but the fundamental ideas are distinct enough to make each game stand out in the puzzle category. You must spin the pills to match the colors of the viruses in order to make them disappear rather than assembling the pieces to create solid lines.
11. Earthbound Beginnings
On Nintendo Switch Online, there aren’t as many 8-bit RPGs as there are platformers and action games. One of the few exceptions is Earthbound Beginnings, popularly known as Mother, which debuted on the Wii U eShop in 2015 and was only recently made accessible in North America.
You take on the role of Ninten as he sets out to defend the globe from the evil alien Gigyas in a game that takes place before the events of Earthbound. It’s amazing how many original concepts found a home in this NES game, even if its design and gameplay are fairly similar to those of its successor. The repetitious random encounters that occur throughout the entire quest are Earthbound Beginnings’ major flaw, but it’s a tiny price to pay for such a great role-playing game.
10. Star Tropics
One of the rare titles on this list that didn’t grow to be one of Nintendo’s largest franchises is Star Tropics, but it still delivers a good time worth playing. Although Star Tropics is sometimes likened to The Legend of Zelda, it differs from that game in that it has yo-yos as weapons.
Star Tropics was first released with a tangible letter that you had to dip into water in order to acquire a code and advance the plot. Although it was a clever idea, virtual platforms obviously don’t lend themselves to it as well. Star Tropics for the Nintendo Switch does not, sadly, provide any alternatives to the letter, thus you must search out the solution online to complete the game.
9. Ninja Gaiden
Despite the abundance of games available for the NES, very few of them included cinematic stories with captivating sequences and characters similar to Ninja Gaiden. You’ll be captivated by the action-based platformer’s captivating narrative, engaging gameplay, and captivating soundtrack until the final credits roll.
Ryu Hayabusa, a young ninja seeking retribution for the death of his father, will be your character as you play through six acts and a total of 20 levels. Discovering the truth about the father’s absence and ancient mysteries that could destroy the entire world will take you on a journey that is full of turns, deceptions, and twists.
8. Kirby’s Adventure
Kirby is one of the few Nintendo icons who first appeared on the Game Boy whereas the most of the company’s most popular characters had their debut on the NES. Following the popularity of Kirby’s Dream Land, the creators set to work on Kirby’s Adventure, the first game to include the protagonist’s ability to mimic the abilities of his foes.
The distinguishing trait of Kirby throughout the series and throughout appearances in games like Super Smash Bros. has been his ability to absorb powers from opponents. About twenty different copy abilities, including sword, needle, and tornado, are included in Kirby’s Adventure and help to keep the game interesting between each playtime.
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7. River City Ransom
The beat ’em up genre was impossible to avoid during the late ’80s, and it was tough to stand out in the oversaturated market at the time. Games like Final Fight and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dominated the market, but a few hidden gems like River City Ransom wouldn’t receive the love they deserved until much later.
Not only does River City Ransom have some of the best box art in the NES’s library, but its RPG elements and open world helps it stand out from the plethora of other beat ’em ups on the console. Its humor and attitude still feel very 80s in the best way possible, but if that’s not your thing then you should check out the excellent River City Girls, which is also available on the Switch.
6. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
One of the series’ most challenging titles, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, is also one of the most rewarding. A horrible spell has put Princess Zelda to slumber, and Link must traverse a dangerous Hyrule to obtain the Triforce’s strength in order to reawaken her.
The Adventure of Link can be cruel at times; it’s definitely just as challenging as Dark Souls or other FromSoftware games. The nicest part about playing it on the Nintendo Switch is that you may avoid unpleasant deaths that send you back to the start of a dungeon to make your journey much easier by using the rewind option or save states.
5. Super Mario Bros. 2
Super Mario Bros. 2 is one of the strangest entries in the series, mostly because it was never originally intended to be a Mario Bros. game. After Nintendo of America decided that the original Super Mario Bros. 2 was too difficult and lacked innovation, the studio decided to release an altered version of Doki Doki Panic with a Mario makeover to appease fans in the Western markets.
This decision ended up working out for the best, and Super Mario Bros. 2 is still highly regarded to this day. All four playable characters have unique abilities, and it was also the first time you could play as either Princess Peach or Toad. While characters like Shy-Guys and Birdo were originally from Doki Doki Panic, they quickly became fan favorites and officially joined the Mushroom Kingdom’s colorful cast.
Given how simple it would be to play a new Punch-Out game on the Switch by holding one Joy-Con in each hand, it’s surprising that Nintendo hasn’t done it. Even if Little Mac returning to the ring would be awesome, the original Punch-Out is still a fun to play thanks to its classic gameplay and soundtrack.
Punch-Out challenges players to identify opponent patterns and use quick reflexes to defeat some of the most recognizable NES characters. Your ascent to the top can be greatly facilitated by the Switch’s rewind function and save states, but you still have to earn the title on the mat.
3. Super Mario Bros.
It’s difficult to imagine where the video game industry would be right now if Super Mario Bros. hadn’t been. The video game business was barely hanging on after the 1983 crash until a particular plumber in overalls started picking mushrooms and trampling turtles.
The majority of Mario’s first adventure still plays incredibly well and was acclaimed for its controls, soundtrack, and level design. Clearing challenging platforming portions still feels incredible, and each planet is full of small surprises that are still being discovered today. It’s simple to see why Super Mario Bros. is still regarded as one of the best video games of all time after playing through World 1-1.
2. The Legend of Zelda
The original Legend of Zelda drew players into its fantastical world with its deadly dungeons, clever puzzles, and immersive gameplay. While it can feel a bit obtuse by today’s standards, it was Link’s first journey, and it contains a surprising amount of mechanics and ideas that have become staples of the legendary series.
Key elements like the Triforce, Ganon, and familiar locations like Death Mountain are all present in the first Zelda game. The dungeons are fun and engaging and are made easier with some of Link’s classic weapons like bombs or the boomerang. It’s easy to get lost in its massive overworld, so it may be best to use a guide if you plan on hopping into it for the first time.
1. Super Mario Bros. 3
While the original Super Mario Bros. reinvigorated the industry with its simple premise and fun gameplay, Super Mario Bros. 3 introduces a plethora of new and exciting ideas that make it the ultimate entry in the trilogy. Its soundtrack is just as influential as the first games, and the new Tanooki Suit allowed Mario to fly and explore levels in new and exciting ways.
Super Mario Bros. was an extremely linear game, but Super Mario Bros. 3 shook up the formula by introducing an overworld map that lets you choose which path you want to take towards a castle. Its sharper graphics and tight platforming make for a much more engaging and playful experience, and Super Mario Bros. 3 remains one of the most influential and satisfying games from the NES’s library.