Ranking the Switch Online NES Library: September 2018 - ArticleEvan Norris , posted on 01 October 2018 / 3,985 Views
As someone who rarely plays Switch games online and who hasn't needed cloud saves yet (knock on wood), the back catalog of NES games available via Nintendo Switch Online is by the far the most enticing part of the online package. For the past 12 days, I've played and replayed the 20 games available so far, solo and with friends. Below is my take on these 8-bit experiences, ranked from worst to best.
Pro Wrestling has some good things going for it—meaty, realistic character models and music among them—but suffers from repetitive gameplay and a surprisingly steep learning curve; the game throws out a lot of button inputs and commands to remember. There are more accessible and fun Nintendo sports games out there.
Soccer is almost the opposite of Pro Wrestling; it looks lousy, thanks to ill-defined models and bland backgrounds, but it's more approachable. Dribbling the ball is easy but slow, passing is a bit cumbersome, and shooting on goal fairly straightforward. This title is fine in small doses, but it compares poorly to games like Ice Hockey.
Nintendo's take on Joust enjoys some nice art direction, two-player simultaneous play, and an endless runner mode, but it does grow stale after long sessions. The core gameplay loop, where players fly over and pop enemies' balloons, just isn't especially rewarding or engaging.
Ice Climber has some wonky jumping physics—a cardinal sin for a platformer—but makes up for it partially with two-player co-op and a collection of interesting, mechanically-diverse vertical stages. It also looks great, due to chunky sprites and dynamic, detailed levels.
The best and worst thing to say about Baseball is that it recreates America's national pastime accurately. In other words, it's strategic and unpredictable, but also tedious and plodding. With four different pitch types and a host of offensive plays—bunt, hit and run, stolen bases—there's a lot to keep both sides of the field engaged. Yet there's also an inordinate amount of down-time, and outfielders take a fortnight to field a ball.
Designed for novice puzzle players, Yoshi doesn't have the staying power of something like Tetris or Dr. Mario, but it remains enjoyable in small doses. The appearance of Yoshi eggs elevates the simple tile-matching gameplay, but the experience is lacking in depth.
Ghosts 'N Goblins
If Ghosts 'N Goblins was just a little less gruelling, it would break easily into the top 10. Its models, backdrops, and general aesthetic are great, even after all these years, and its bestiary and arsenal of weapons impressive. Regrettably, it's one of the most punishing games of its era.
Double Dragon is a decent beat 'em up that really needs simultaneous two-player action. Unfortunately that feature was lost in the transition from arcades to NES. Still, the basic punching and kicking (more moves are unlocked throughout the adventure) works well, even when playing alone. The game features a 1v1 fighting mode, but it's entirely skippable.
To borrow its medical theme, Dr. Mario is the generic prescription to Tetris' brand-name drugs. While Nintendo's puzzler doesn't reach the lofty heights of Tetris, the best puzzle game on the planet, its colorful graphics, memorable music, and addictive matching mechanics go a long way.
Some sports lend themselves better to arcade games, and tennis is one of them. With its rewarding back-and-forth gameplay, local co-op doubles matches, and semi-realistic lobs, smashes, serves, and angled backhands, Nintendo's Tennis has the goods to stay in your regular rotation.
Some sparse levels and an unforgiving level of difficulty are small knocks against this classic horizontal shooter. On all other fronts, it succeeds. Graphics, music, sound mixing, and enemy design are solid, but the real star is a strategic multi-stage upgrade system, where players can bank energy icons for powerful weapons or shields.
Shigeru Miyamoto, the greatest game creator of all time, cut his teeth with Donkey Kong, which became a huge hit in North American arcades and subsequently found its way to consoles. It was a revolutionary title, for Nintendo and for arcade gaming in general, but it's also a fun platform adventure, one that artfully combines score-based benchmarks with narrative goals. The only issue: too few stages.
Even without the Super prefix, Mario Bros. is a solid platformer that supports some of the best co-op play on NES. The premise—whereby Mario and Luigi slam into baddies from below—is simple, but made more intriguing by enemy types of varying stamina, speed, and attack patterns, wrap-around stage design, and the get-out-of-jail free card that is the POW button.
River City Ransom
River City Ransom is basically Double Dragon with snappier controls, a better sense of humor, and some refreshing RPG and open-world elements. You can punch and kick your way through the mean streets of River City, just like any arcade beat 'em up, but you can also take detours, explore at your leisure, and visit shops for permanent upgrades to stamina, power, agility, etc.
Directed by Hideki Konno, who would go on to help Super Mario Kart, Yoshi's Island, and Luigi's Mansion, Ice Hockey is the best Nintendo-made sports game available in this first batch of NES games. It finds the right balance between tactical play and arcade fun, allowing three player body types—wide, skinny, average—each with its own pros and cons, and easy-to-grasp controls for passing and shooting. It shines especially in PvP action.
The Excite series is one of Nintendo's most under-appreciated, and it traces its origins back to this wild 8-bit motocross racer. Thanks to tight, responsive steering, several modes, and impressively detailed pitch and acceleration controls, Excitebike is one of the more dependable NES titles. Design Mode allows players to create and race on their own tracks, but unfortunately the save/load options are disabled.
Tecmo Bowl is simply one of the best sports video games ever made. The complicated rules and formations of American football have been condensed into four play options per down, chosen by the offense and guessed by the defense. Then it's off to the field, where the unexpectedly alert and intelligent non-player characters block, rush, sack, catch, and score, with player-controlled characters attempting to thread a pass between defensive backs or stuff the runner at the goal line. The sole flaw is the presence of Bo Jackson, whose superhuman football prowess upsets the game's delicate balance.
Super Mario Bros.
What can you say about Super Mario Bros.? Along with the NES it rejuvenated the North American video game industry, it popularized side-scrolling platform games, and it launched a hugely successful franchise. Disregarding its historical impact, it's a near perfectly-designed platformer, with impeccable controls, accessible gameplay, immortal music, and an invigorating sense of wonder and discovery.
The Legend of Zelda
While Super Mario Bros. reversed a lot of second-gen damage and built Nintendo into an empire, The Legend of Zelda is, arguably, even more influential—from a game design perspective. By merging real-time arcade action with features drawn from computer role-playing and adventure games, Shigeru Miyamoto crafted a piece of software years ahead of its time, one that would go on to influence almost every open-ended action-adventure title that came after.
Super Mario Bros. 3
Not only is Super Mario Bros. 3 the best NES game in this premier batch of 20, it's the best NES game, period. With spectacular audio-visual design; sky-high replayability; and stunning diversity in environments, enemies, jumping challenges, boss battles, secrets, and power-ups, this follow-up to the game-changer that was Super Mario Bros. is nothing short of brilliant. It's the crown jewel of the 8-bit era, and one of gaming's greatest accomplishments.
Thank you for reading my list! Please sound off in the comments with your favorites!