The Best Old-School Nintendo Games

Nintendo’s back catalog is truly a sight to behold! We’ve embarked on an impossible task of picking the best of the best, the games that defined gaming as we know it today. Read on to find out which ones we picked!

Top 6 Old-School Nintendo Games

What are the best old-school Nintendo games? That’s an almost impossible question to answer, but we’ve attempted to do just that! We’ve chosen six seminal Nintendo games that have indisputably changed gaming forever.

6. Final Fantasy VI

If you said that FFVI was the greatest JRPG, you’d probably have a decent number of people on your side. 

Released on the SNES in 1994, FFVI is undoubtedly a classic SNES RPG, but how does it hold up today? 

FFVI was the first FF game to go all-in on story and plot, and that set it apart from all the other RPGs of its time. The characters are numerous and varied, they have very distinct personalities, the combat is perfect, and the plot compelling. We must stress how innovative (and sometimes shocking) the plot was at the time. No RPG before FFVI had focused so hard on the plot, and it was so refreshing in the age of generic save-the-world narratives. 

Now don’t get us wrong, FFVI also has a save-the-world narrative, but unlike all the others, it is anything but generic.

The game starts with a bit of exposition, complete with cutscenes which showcase the power of the SNES, explaining that a thousand years ago an ancient war happened. So far, pretty standard stuff. However, just as you’re getting used to the game and to controlling a character named Terra, who you assume is the main character, she falls into darkness, and you’re given control of a completely different character, tasked with rescuing her. 

That was the first twist of the game, and it only gets wilder after that. 

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Each character and party member you meet is more interesting than the last, complete with their own personalities, backgrounds, stories, quirks, etc. The plot is fast-paced, maybe even too fast. Event after event, character after character, it can all be a bit too much. However, it also showcases how much content FFVI actually has. 

But as you pass the halfway mark of the game, that’s where FFVI showcases how unique it is. Kefka, a villain you just assumed was a lapdog to the evil Emperor, betrays him and takes control of the tyrannical Empire and rains death and destruction upon the world. Your enemies have succeeded in their plans, game over, you lose.

And then the game restarts, a year later; now you take control of a third character, Celes — one of your party members up to this point. Now, you are tasked with finding all of your former party members scattered around the now-ruined world and bring the fight to Kefka, who is reigning as an insane magic-infused tyrant.

This sort of twist was revolutionary at the time. A villain that actually won? You, the hero, destined to save the world, failed? What is this game? People were shocked and amazed that someone had the courage to write that sort of narrative in a video game, but that is one of the many reasons why FFVI is still beloved to this day.

However, it bears mentioning that the second part of the game, while narratively brilliant, is slightly weaker gameplay-wise. While the first part of the game flung you from story mission to story mission, the second part, while being an innovative non-linear idea, feels a lot like a to-do list rather than give you the feeling of freedom it was trying to achieve. 

FFVI is quite possibly the most beautiful game of the SNES era. All of the characters are gorgeously designed, distinct, and emotive. Their portraits, which appear during dialogue, are all beautifully drawn. 

The world itself is highly varied in design and tileset, and FFVI went all out on Mode 7 graphics, the sprite-based pseudo-3D graphics mode. Mode 7 completely changes how you traverse the world — instead of just moving on a map, you move to a behind-the-ship angle and move it like an actual ship. 

With 14 playable characters, the variety of builds and tactics is staggering, along with the magicite system, which gives new spells to characters and brings up the possible variety of builds to unimaginable levels. 

However, the game has a few issues. As you travel the overworld, you’ll get into random ambushes and fights. Now, this was a staple of RPGs at that time, but that sort of mechanic hasn’t aged well and is nothing but a nuisance to modern gamers. 

Another issue, is the difficulty. After you level up your characters and acquire some magicite, it starts to get easy… really easy. And while FFVI is mostly about the plot and characters, the lack of a challenge might be a problem to some gamers.

In summary, FFVI was a revolution when it was released. Today, it is a classic with an amazing plot, memorable characters, and perfect combat — truly a milestone in gaming.

5. Pokémon Gold/Silver/Crystal (Generation 2)

Now we know what you might say. The best Pokémon games are Red, Blue & Yellow. However, we beg to differ. 

While RBY might be the first ones, and thus, have an important place in gamers’ hearts, we feel that GSC is probably the pinnacle of the older Pokemon games. 

Initially released in 2000 on Game Boy Color, it became one of the most successful games for that game system. 

Combining just the right number of Pokémon with improved mechanics and some completely new systems, GSC puts most of its siblings to shame. 

The day and night cycle, complete with an internal clock, truly added another dimension to the gameplay. Based on the time of day, you’ll be able to find certain Pokémon, while others would be locked out. That added to the rarity of some Pokémon and made “catchin’ ‘em all” harder, but ultimately more satisfying. 

Other innovations like C-Gear that holds phone numbers and radio stations and Pokémon breeding truly created a more immersive world for you to play in. 

The oft-criticized linear design of Pokemon games is still here, but GSC hides it much better than other games in the series. 

While obviously being a classic, GSC shows some signs of aging. For example, some parts of the game force you to grind in order to defeat certain gym leaders or using HM moves to navigate certain barriers. These design choices make some parts of the game feel like busywork.

However, in reality, most of these complaints are just nitpicks against this classic Pokémon game, but these things do affect enjoyment in the end. 

Despite our modern perspective on game design holding us back, this game rightfully takes the title of the best Pokémon title as well as a Nintendo classic. 

4. Donkey Kong

Ah, Donkey Kong — probably the first name that comes to mind when you say “arcade game.” 

While there also is an NES version, the version we’re reviewing here is the original arcade one.

Donkey Kong was Nintendo’s first arcade smash hit. Released in 1981, it features the ape himself, Mario (then called Jumpman), and Pauline (Lady). 

You take control of Mario as you try to rescue Pauline. To reach her you must climb ladders and jump over those darn barrels that Donkey Kong throws at you. 

To the three weirdos in the world that haven’t played or seen Donkey Kong, there are four stages in the game, with all of them having different challenges. You must jump over barrels, avoid flames, and climb ladders; it isn’t complicated, but it is far from easy. Other stages have some added challenges like conveyor belts or springs and elevators. 

You will get a handle on the difficulty and mechanics relatively fast, and the game will remain a challenge for too long, so if you’re not an arcade freak or a high score chaser, Donkey Kong doesn’t have much replay value.

However, if you’re a minmaxer or a high score chaser, Donkey Kong, in the spirit of a true arcade game, offers a surprising amount of depth. 

While the sounds and visuals are obviously dated, it is effective and makes the action easy to follow. The aesthetics can be considered pleasant, especially if you’re a sucker for retro-games like we are.

The game is simple but incredibly addictive. The feeling of satisfaction and adrenaline when you finish a stage that you’ve failed a thousand times or when you finally get that high score can’t really be compared to anything else. 

3. Metroid

If there’s a poster boy for old-school game design, it’s probably Metroid. Without any hints, maps, or exact directions, Metroid truly conjures a feeling of isolation.

But it’s that feeling and atmosphere that made Metroid the unique game it is. 

In this side-scrolling Sci-Fi action platformer, you are Samus Aran — a galactic bounty hunter. You’ve been tasked with eliminating Metroids — energy-sapping alien jellyfish that are being bred by the evil Space Pirates. 

But this won’t be easy, and you will get lost.

Dead ends, roadblocks, and barriers will all cause problems; you will have to explore, backtrack, and try different ways to move forward. That is basically the core feature of Metroid — a fact familiar to all fans of the franchise. 

Slow progression and improvement allows you to access areas that were previously inaccessible. In the beginning, Samus is only able to fire, run, and jump. Soon enough, you will find the Maru Mari, which will let you roll up into a ball and access certain areas. Afterward, various weapon upgrades that allow you to destroy some doors, and finally, cannon upgrades, energy reserves, better jumps, etc. Do you see the pattern? Upgrades allow you to progress and access previously inaccessible areas. That’s the whole gameplay loop of Metroid and boy, is it satisfying. 

With that said, being the first title in the series, it suffers from some unpolished game design choices. Some rooms tend to look the same and cause confusion, and without a map or any other orientation mechanics, you can easily get lost. Even with those issues, the game is great and makes up for those mistakes. However, new players, be warned — you will need the patience to push past the initial frustration. 

Metroid truly deserves its revered position among NES games and is truly one of the seminal NES classics.

2. The Legend of Zelda

Ah, the original Legend of Zelda — it’s utterly amazing how much this game still feels fresh and relevant, even with the dated visuals. 

Every famous game series has to start somewhere, but very few franchises have such an utterly amazing first release that can hold up to newer titles even today. 

The original Zelda was top-dog in terms of play time for many years. It had a whopping 128 screens, a small number of clues, and plenty of hidden dungeons to explore. The game is based around exploration, and while it can be extremely frustrating to the spoiled modern gamer, the feeling of satisfaction when you manage to uncover hidden things is unrivaled. 

There are tons of different items, most of which you’ll often use to be able to progress. The combat is quite difficult and is representative of the design attitude of the times. 

This game is also about overcoming challenges, whether they be bosses, large groups of enemies, or figuring out clues. 

The basic concepts are straightforward, but they’re distilled to their purest form. However, the pleasure you feel when you overcome challenges in this game is truly unparalleled. Whether you played this game when it came out or today, it will still be a fantastic masterpiece.

1. Super Mario Bros. 3

We bet you were expecting that we put the original Super Mario Bros. at first place, and that is a reasonable expectation, but we will prove to you why Super Mario Bros. 3 deserves the title of the best Nintendo game of all time. 

When SMB3 was released, Mario fever was rampant. So much so that SMB3 became the most sold non-bundled game. 

Where to even begin with SMB3? Incredible level variety, a bunch of power-ups, several fun mini-games, and the perfect difficulty curve. Some levels are a pretty straightforward affair, while others are extremely complex, with numerous hidden areas that can be accessed only with the right power-ups. 

The plot revolves around stopping Bowser’s children from taking control of the Mushroom Kingdom — a pretty standard Mario set up.

Levels are mostly linear, even with the overhead map, which allows you to choose which stage to tackle next. Spread out around the map are mushroom houses filled with power-ups that you can store for later use. That is required to be able to access certain hidden areas of the game. 

Environments are a standard Mario affair — fire, ice, water, dungeon, and desert. 

Super Mario Bros. 3 is the pinnacle of old-school Mario games and probably the best game ever released on the NES. It takes each facet that makes a Mario game and perfects it. If you’ve never played SMB3 (we envy you), you’re in for the ride of your life. 

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