The NES is probably my favorite console ever. Yes, the Super Nintendo is technologically superior and has a ton of really really great games. And the best SNES games are arguably better than the best NES games, but you just can’t beat the NES for pure nostalgic greatness.
There’s the added benefit that the original Nintendo Entertainment System has about the same number of games as the SNES, but for far cheaper.
Trust me, I just updated an article of mine called The Best SNES Games that are Still Cheap, and it was a struggle to find SNES games that are fun to play, but aren’t a zillion dollars. Unless you’re really into generic sports titles or game show-based video games, you’re going to shell out substantially more money for quality SNES games.
By contrast, I had to actually stop myself from overpopulating this list of cheap NES games. There are literally dozens of high-quality NES games you can get for under $20. And plenty slide in under the $10 mark. But I went up to $12 to catch a few classics.
Before we start, I should mention that these prices are ripped straight from Pricecharting.com and do NOT include shipping! If you’re lucky enough to have a local retro store, you should be able to get these for really decent prices. If you’re stuck facing off against predatory eBay sellers, then you can expect to pay a few bucks more than what’s listed here.
Speaking of eBay sellers, I should also tell you that I’m an eBay affiliate and I’ve dropped a link to each of these games in case you want to treat yourself. Any purchases you make after clicking will earn this site a few cents to help keep WordPress from shutting us down. You’re a star, thank you so much for reading.
Now, let’s begin!
The Best NES Games Under $8
This is one of many games on this list that has been absolutely trashed by the Angry Video Game Nerd. Pay no attention to his antics. TMNT is hard as hell, but it is a legitimately good game.
And for the amount of actual gaming content on this cartridge, the price tag makes it an absolute steal! The world of TMNT is sprawling and challenging, with great graphics and more subtlety than a lot of gamers seem to realize.
Shoot-em-ups are plentiful on the NES and prices run the gamut from low-low cheap to dumbly expensive (looking at you, Gun-Nac!) Lucky for us, Section Z is pretty darn good for a tiny little price.
It’s nifty how you can shoot left or right in this game, as well as being able to actually stand on the floor instead of being destroyed by it. It can be a bit frustrating finding your way through all the sectors, but it’s still a solid shooter and worth checking out.
I’m still astounded that this total classic is so cheap! This was one of my all-time favorite games as a kid. When Christmas was approaching, my mom asked if I wanted Blaster Master or Contra (another fave). In my infinite 7-year-old wisdom I said neither, and went with Who Framed Roger Rabbit instead, reasoning that I couldn’t find it at a rental store and owning it was the only way to try it. Ugh. #RetroRegrets
Anyway, Blaster Master is one of the greatest games for the NES. It’s a masterpiece and I would normally put a short description of the gameplay here, but I’m 100% sure you’ve already played it lol. Anyway, it’s cheap. If you already have a loose copy, check out these complete-in-box copies.
Ah yes, another victim of the Angry Video Game Nerd. Once again, ignore his entertaining fiction and give this game a chance. It’s far from perfect and can be positively infuriating at times, but once you learn how to play it’s pretty fun.
In my last NES article, I mentioned this one as an underrated game. And it totally is! It plays a lot like the overhead segments of Blaster Master (being a Sunsoft game and all) but with a few “3D” first-person maze segments to break up the action.
If you haven’t played it (with an open mind), it’s worth the few bucks just to try. Go get it!
For what it’s worth, I think Robo Warrior has one of the best theme songs on the NES. I swear, it’s right up there with Mega Man 2 and Castlevania. (Neither of which are on this list, btw.)
Robo Warrior is a spinoff of Bomberman and it shares a few mechanics with Bomberman, but you can tell the devs wanted Robo Warrior to be a more mature and serious game.
This one can also be frustrating if you don’t know a few important gameplay elements. (Find the chalice!) and there are a few places where the game is almost broken. And yeah, it drags on for what feels like forever. But seriously, it’s worth the price tag for the music alone.
I won’t shut up about Air Fortress until the price goes up!
Seriously, this game shows up in pretty much all my NES articles. It’s really freaking good!
Gameplay styles switch between horizontal space shooter and side-scrolling platformer. When you take out a fortress’s energy core, there are a few extremely tense minutes where you find the exit in the dark before the whole place explodes.
This kind of suspense was truly difficult to achieve on an 8-bit system, but Hal did it brilliantly. Definitely check Air Fortress out if you haven’t yet!
Super Mario Bros. Duck Hunt
I’m not going to say very much about this. You’ve played them. You love them. And there are two great games on one cartridge, what more could you ask for?
Here’s a link if you don’t own this yet.
Best NES Games Under $10
Here’s a different sort of platformer, in a different sort of NES cartridge from Tengen, those unlicensed rascals. Instead of emphasizing the player’s ability to cross gaps and manage airborne enemies (you know… like Medusa heads?), Rolling Thunder tests your ability to time your movements, use cover and manage ammunition.
The graphics on Rolling Thunder are really stylized. It took some getting used to, but after spending a bit of time with this game, I really like the style. The animation is excellent and the music, like the graphics, is quirky and unique but entirely enjoyable.
This is another quality title from Tengen. Klax is a puzzle game in the spirit of Tetris where players must manage and arrange a constant cascade of colored tiles into Connect Four-style combos. Tiles disappear when you line them up correctly and other tiles fall into place. You can score combos and it’s just frantic fun on the cheap!
I particularly love the intense ‘90s vibe to this game. The colors are as Nasty Nineties as an 8-bit system would allow, and all the language is gnarly to the max! This one was also on my Underrated NES Games list. It’s really an excellent puzzler and worth checking out.
Dr. Mario needs no introduction, one hopes. It’s another puzzle game in the spirit of Tetris. Honestly, if you have this, Klax and Tetris (which is also on this list,) you’ve completed the Triad of NES Puzzle Games. Congratulations!
You may recall that Dr. Mario spawned an ill-fated mobile game. You’ll be pleased to know that the original Dr. Mario is actually fun. Of course, you probably have this one already. But if not, I highly recommend you go check it out!
Adding Star Tropics to NES lists is basically my entire reason for starting this website. It is certainly one of the console’s most underserved and underrated franchises. I guess the tile-based dungeon movement wasn’t a hit with everyone. I, however, thought it was fantastic and unique, allowing for some really subtle gameplay tricks. How many games let you rotate in any direction and attack mid-jump?
My biggest issue with Star Tropics is the insane difficulty spike in the last level. I’ve still never beaten this game. But it was developed by the same team that made Punch Out!! So what do you expect? This game is on Nintendo Switch Online, but for the real experience pick up a physical cartridge.
At first glance, Astyanax seems like a generic fantasy melee platformer. But there is plenty to set this game apart from its ilk. For example, the extra-large sprites look great and allow for far more graphical detail than a lot of other NES games. The bosses are interesting and the levels are solid.
Astyanax is challenging, but with a fair difficulty curve. To be fair, some of that challenge is the result of clunky controls and occasionally baffling hitboxes. And I’m not sure Astyanax should be considered a good game, but I would certainly consider it an enjoyable one. Does that make sense? Go see for yourself.
Not too many beat-em-ups made this list, but P.O.W. is a good one! In this SNK arcade port, players take on the role of a war prisoner in some unnamed conflict during the Cold War.
As expected, the player (the arcade version supports two players, but the NES wasn’t up to it) must escape from a P.O.W. camp using only their fists and any weapons they find along the way. There’s plenty of opposition and some of the enemies feel really O.P. but I’m not great at beat-em-ups so maybe it’s just me?
Anyway, the graphics are great and the gameplay is up to par with the other beat-em-ups of the time. I think P.O.W. does a great job of keeping players armed, which generally keeps this game exciting enough to recommend. See for yourself.
I was shocked to learn that Solstice is not a PC port, but an original game developed solely for the NES! With its isometric view and totally open-ended gameplay though, it really feels like a vintage PC puzzler.
Solstice is classic classic gaming, with zero hand-holding, no indication of how to get around, what to do, etc. It’s just your tiny little character navigating a big, mean labyrinth and what the hell does this potion do? (Dies.) Here’s your ticket to the madness.
By the way, I’d be remiss not to mention the epic cover art by the also-epic Mike Winterbauer. Never mind the character on the cover looks nothing like the in-game sprite. Mike’s wizard is a badass and the wimpy in-game dude needs to recognize. Go check out Mike’s work if you get a chance. He was a prolific cover artist during this era (he literally painted himself on the cover of Power Blade), is still a prolific artist, and is a totally nice guy to boot.
Recently, I wrote an article about my favorite shoot-em-ups on the NES. This one didn’t quite make the list because I hadn’t played it yet. (It was in the mail at the time XD) But now that I’ve given it a shot, I’m happy to add it here.
Dragon Spirit is tons of fun and feels a bit more fair than a lot of other shmups. You can actually survive more than one hit and the different powerups are cool and all that stuff. It’s just a solid shooter for a great price. Check it out!
Plagued by some of the same issues as Zelda II and Castlevania II, with players just not “getting it,” Faxanadu has never quite taken off. Zelda and Castlevania at least have widespread name recognition to boost their popularity. Faxanadu has none of that. All it has is some wingboots.
But if you give this game a chance, you’ll find it’s actually pretty good. It’s a bit of a long one, with plenty of exploration and lots of NPCs to seek out. The controls are a bit stiff but serviceable. And the graphics and music are top notch. Well, maybe not top notch. But like, better than middle notch.
Anyway, if you like sidescrolling RPGs, this is definitely one you should check out!
This is probably the premier point & click adventure for the NES. IMO it features some of the very best music on the console and the first-person graphics are great. The puzzles are unfair at times and you you’d be forgiven if you occasionally refer to a walkthrough. But try to do it yourself, okay?
There are so many ways to die in Shadowgate, and you can save any time you want (it’s a port of a computer game, you know). So feel encouraged to try things that seem stupid. If you die, at least it will be graphic and interesting and you can load your game to continue immediately from that point.
I consider Shadowgate to be an essential entry in any earnest NES collection. So go grab a copy if you don’t have it already.
What’s that? You definitely have Tetris already? Okay, cool.
What can I say about Tetris? It’s my candidate for the Perfect Video Game. There’s no character development, no dialogue, no inventory, no bosses. Just you versus yourself in an endless quest to keep improving.
Obviously the music is classic and the limited color palette on the NES is maxed out, with no need to simulate real-world colors. Tetris is a thing of beauty. You definitely need it in your life.
The best movie tie-in ever! Sunsoft at their finest! Such detail in those graphics! Another bitchin’ soundtrack! Pinpoint accuracy on those hitboxes and ultra-refine controls. Sorry if I’m getting giddy here. Batman is a masterpiece of 8-bit platforming!
If you like platformers, if you like old video games at all, you should definitely have a copy of this.
Imagine a great adventure. Now put it on an island. There you have Adventure Island!
Alright, it’s not quite that simple. Adventure Island is a hard-as-rocks arcade port that will challenge your face off! The concept is simple and very Super-Marioish. You start as a little dude, running from left to right, jumping pits and avoiding obstacles.
Instead of jumping on enemy heads, you throw axes that you can power up. One hit and you’re dead unless you find a mushroom…er, I mean skateboard? The skateboard lets you take one additional hit, but you can’t stop while you’re riding!
Adventure Island kicks my butt every time. It’s very difficult but it’s the kind of challenge I never get tired of. It’s worth owning.
If you’ve got a few extra dollars and like Adventure Island, I can’t recommend the sequel enough. Adventure Island II takes a massive leap forward. Instead of a left-to-right arcade game, AI2 has a sprawling overworld a la Super Mario 3 and dinosaurs you can ride or hoard for future levels. It’s a fantastic and commonly overlooked platformer. Go git it!
Legendary Wings is a selection from my Best NES Shooters list and it’s a great game overall.
It’s another challenging shmup, but with enough nuance in gameplay to keep it interesting. Switch between overhead shmupping in the main game and test your sidescrolling shmuppability in the underground bonus levels. Keep an eye out for secret treasure chambers. It’s fun, trust me.
Double Dragon II: The Revenge
Finally, we’ve reached the end of our list. Of course, by the time it publishes there’s a good chance none of these games will be cheap anymore. But as of this writing, all of these have some listing somewhere that meets the pricing requirement we’ve laid out. Not including shipping, of course.
Double Dragon is a classic arcade port. It’s ridiculously challenging IMO but if you’re good at beat-em-ups, maybe it’s a different story.
Double Dragon II is more of the same fisticuffs but with the addition of a second player for simultaneous couch co-op. Plus you can beat up a friend. And who doesn’t want to beat up their friends?
Get Double Dragon II here, and thanks for reading!