If you’re a child of the 80s (like me!), the odds are pretty good that you had an NES console growing up. Most likely it was in the living room where you had to share screen time with a sibling or with your parents and you all called it “The Nintendo.”
My Nintendo occupied a special place in my childhood, filling the gap between He-Man and Ninja Turtles in a way Thundercats just couldn’t do. And way back before eBay, getting my NES opened up a whole new section of the video rental store, too. I remember approaching the games section for the first few times, completely in awe of the dazzling array of adventures just waiting to experience.
The first game I rented was Mega Man 2. The cart must have been messed up, because the picture came through all glitchy and weird. I didn’t know any better because I was a NES noob and a little kid besides. And having seen plenty of Atari 2600 graphics, I didn’t expect game graphics to actually look like anything. So I played Mega Man 2 with glitchy graphics and truly enjoyed it anyway. I was especially impressed by the music.
Ever since that moment, Mega Man 2 has set the gold standard in my mind for how a bitchin’ game soundtrack should sound.
Reason 1: Nostalgia!
So all that is to say that the first and most important reason to own an NES in 2023 is purely for nostalgia. And in my opinion, that’s plenty of reason all by itself.
You can never go back, unfortunately. Not until someone invents a real Flux Capacitor. But the sights and sounds and feels of the NES provide a lesser kind of time travel. And even better…
Reason 2: You can share it with your kids
…assuming you have any. And if you don’t have any, then consider making a few. Or worst case: Have your console ready for the next time a sibling visits with their own bored kids. And if they aren’t into those crusty old graphics, just make sure they know “When I was a kid, this was all we had, and we thought it was GREAT, dammit!”
Might not accomplish much doing that, but I find a lot of kids are interested in these old-timey contraptions. And it’s objectively good for gaming culture for the next generation of gamers to understand where Mario, Samus and Link got their start. And if they are open to it, they’ll probably enjoy the NES games anyway because…
Reason 3: The games are actually good!
While they might not match the vast adventures of your childhood imagination, the NES had a lot–and I mean a LOT–of bangers. …depending on your gaming preferences, of course. As an avid 2D platformer enthusiast, the NES is an absolute gold mine!
Here’s a quick report of my favorite NES games that are still awesome.
- Super Mario Bros.
All of them. The original is definitely primitive compared to the others, but you probably played it a million times as a kid and returning to this game always gives me a warm, fuzzy feels.
- The Legend of Zelda
Both of them. If the sequel frustrated you as a kid, I suggest you try it again as an adult. The puzzles are much easier with the internet at your disposal, although I didn’t have too much trouble getting to the final stage without any walkthrough. Actually finishing the grueling final stage on the other hand… IMO Dark Souls has nothing on Z2.
- Punch Out!!
Vintage sports games are almost universally rough around the edges. But Punch Out!! is surprisingly polished and satisfying. Like Zelda 2, the difficulty ramps up pretty fast. But there is plenty to enjoy about it: The character sprites are big and fun (ackchyually Punch Out!! uses a proprietary graphics chip to accomplish the biggest sprites on the NES. I should write an article about that…), the gameplay is sharp, and you may not remember but Punch Out!! has one of the low-key best soundtracks on the NES.
- Mega Man
Specifically Mega Man 2 and 3. Both have fun gameplay, colorful graphics and great soundtracks. But Mega Man 2 is probably slightly more iconic.
All three NES entries for Castlevania are chef’s kissy spectacularino! The original one is a solid play and entirely beatable. (If I can do it, so can you!) Simon’s Quest is almost certainly better than you remember (and another of the greatest NES soundtracks!) and Castlevania III might be one of the greatest technological achievements of the NES. I have never finished that one, but it’s fun to try again and again.
Am I gushing? Sorry. I really love my NES.
Reason 4: There are tons more games that you’ve never played
Back in my day (you little whipersnapper!), you were limited to playing whatever games you found at your local Wally World or rental store. Because of that, there were so many games I read about in Nintendo Power and Game Player’s Strategy Guide, but could never find in the wild. Especially if you lived in a more rural part of the country like I did.
But one of the greatest parts of living in the internet age is that we can find any product from anywhere and have it shipped! Yasss!
And the NES had such a vast library (over 700 games) that–if you’re new-ish to retro gaming– there are probably a hundred really solid titles you’ve never even heard of. The term “hidden gems” is overused, but sometimes it just feels right. Here are a few of my favorite less-popular recommendations.
- Kabuki: Quantum Fighter
The game had a big feature in Nintendo Power with maps and lots of art and I thought it looked cool but never saw a single copy until a few years ago. I scooped it up and it’s great! Heavy Ninja Gaiden vibes, but not as soul-crushing.
It’s a side-scrolling platformer AND a side-scrolling shoot-em-up. And it’s fun! The name is “zeck-zeez” if you were wondering.
- Shatter Hand
A side-scrolling adventure that’s kinda sorta a platformer/brawler thing. You get to select your level (they’re all super challenging) and you can recruit floating robot buddies to help you. This one’s a bit pricey, but if you’ve got the budget for it this one is definitely worth checking out.
- The Guardian Legend
This one you may actually have heard of. It was quite popular when it came out, but seems to have disappeared from many mainstream radars. This game consists of Zelda-esque top-down adventure segments where you wander, looking for secrets and unlocking weapons. After each adventure segment, the heroine transforms into a ship and rockets to the next stage, fighting enemies and bosses along the way in one of the best vertical shoot-em-ups the NES has to offer.
“Well, sure!” I hear you saying “That all sounds great. So why not just use the Switch Online’s NES library or emulator?” And you’ve got a point. Especially when it comes to games like Power Blade 2 or Little Samson (which currently sells for $3,000 or more on eBay just for the cartridge). I can’t recommend spending that much money on anything you can’t drive or live inside. Except maybe college. But I guess technically you could live inside a college…
Sorry I digress.
Emulation is a legal gray area that feels completely justified when it comes to some ridiculously rare or expensive games. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to sample different games without spending anything. But if you ask me, and a lot of other gamers out here…
Reason 5: There is nothing like the feel of original hardware
This is, of course, a personal preference. But from personal experience, I can tell you the difference in satisfaction between playing on modern hardware versus the OG GOAT OEM NES (LOL) is huge. And the experience is amplified even further if you can dig up an old CRT television and hook up with the RF adapter–that little gray box that screws into the back of your TV.
Obviously this can all be cost-prohibitive. And this hobby ain’t for everybody. But if you’re into it, and you’ve been thinking about pulling the trigger on an old gaming setup, I sincerely hope this article will give you the nudge you need to head over to eBay and start looking.
What’s that you say? You’re so grateful you want to use my affiliate link to help benefit this site? Well, you got it! Use this link to get started and I’ll get a few cents from anything you purchase. It’s not much, but you’ll have my unlimited thanks and that’s worth more than money. Sorta. Actually never mind this is starting to get weird.
Thanks so much for reading, and happy hunting!