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200 Best Nintendo Games (Part 1) Now You’re Playing With Power

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It’s not easy making a list of the 200 Best Nintendo Games…

Nintendo is celebrating what is arguably one of its greatest years in the company’s history and so what better way to celebrate Goomba Stomp’s Two Year Anniversary than with a list of the 200 best Nintendo games. The list started with roughly 500 titles, and after careful consideration, we trimmed it down to 300 based on the following criteria. Of the 300 remaining titles, we voted multiple times, slowly eliminating 100, and arguing extensively as to what should and shouldn’t qualify. For a game to be eligible for inclusion on this list, it had to be developed by an internal Nintendo studio, or developed by a second-party developer and released exclusively for Nintendo platforms.

We also included Nintendo-owned brands handled by a third party, in close cooperation with Nintendo itself and any video game that was exclusive to a Nintendo console during its first year of release. Games such as Beyond Good and Evil, Shovel Knight or even The World of Goo were eliminated since gamers were able to play those titles at home on other platforms. There are three exceptions which you will notice while browsing the list, but we felt we had a solid argument as to why the ports of these three games had to be included. We’ve also decided to put the list in chronological order based on the release date of each game. In other words, think of this as a timeline listing just some of the amazing games exclusive to Nintendo console, and not so much a ranking. However, for those of you curious, we do mention the top ten games as voted by our staff at the very end of the list.

GreatestNintendoGamesDKPart One: 1980–1990

The Japanese video game giant Nintendo emerged as a global leader in the video game industry when it unveiled the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985. The NES went on to become the best-selling gaming console of its time, and decades later the NES still exerts a major influence on the entire industry. We’ve heard the argument that the admiration toward the NES is largely due to nostalgia, but one can make that very same argument towards anything we hold dear. The fact of the matter is, the 1980s are arguably Nintendo’s greatest and most influential decade, and of the 300 games we had to eliminate, I would estimate a good 50% of those titles were released during this time. The NES alone boasts a grand total of 826 titles to choose from (713 licensed and 113 unlicensed games), including a number of groundbreaking hits, so trust us when we say it was really hard to choose what and what not to include.

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1) Donkey Kong
Developer(s) Nintendo Research & Development 1
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Arcade/NES
Release: July 9, 1981
Genre(s) Platforming

This classic launched the careers of Donkey Kong and Mario (here named Jumpman), but nobody ever bothered to ask what happened to the beautiful Pauline, who is trapped within the paws of the giant ape. The game was the latest in a series of efforts by Nintendo to break into the North American market, and was developed by first-time video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. The rest, as they say, is history. Drawing from a wide range of inspirations, including Popeye, Beauty and the Beast, and King Kong, Miyamoto developed a critical and commercial success that helped establish him as a key player in the industry. If you happen to be a nostalgic gamer — or even a huge Nintendo fan who wants to explore the company’s back catalogue — this is essential to your collection. (Ricky D)

2) Mario Bros.
Developer(s) Nintendo Research & Development 1
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Arcade/NES
Release: June 1, 1983
Genre(s) Platforming

The origin of what later evolved into the iconic 2D gameplay of Super Mario games, Mario Bros. holds its own and stands today as possibly one of the most terrific titles Mario has had his name put on. Here you play as a rather slippery-on-his-feet Mario (and Luigi, when playing two players), who is tasked with banishing baddies from the sewers by striking the ground beneath them, then running into the enemies to kick them off the screen, all the while platforming on floating…well, platforms. Enemies include Koopa Troopa prototype turtles, angry crabs named Side-Steppers, and fly things that make a horrible sound effect that is nostalgic for me at this point. If it all gets a bit too much, you can always hit the POW button to shake the ground under your enemies’ feet, but the amount of times you can use this is limited.

The NES was home to many great remakes and ports of classic arcade games, and Mario Bros. is no exception. While the arcade version is technically superior to the NES release, offering better graphics, enemy AI, and gameplay physics, the NES version is perhaps second-best (and for many, the best) we had available at home. This is a game I have very strong fond memories of, and one I go back to often. It’ll never age, never feel outdated, no matter how much Mario evolves and advances in the present. These are his true platformer beginnings. (Maxwell N)

Duck_hunt3) Duck Hunt
Developer(s) Nintendo Research & Development 1
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) NES, Arcade
Release: JP: April 21, 1984 / NA: October 18, 1985
Genre(s) Light Gun Shooter

For the unfamiliar, Duck Hunt sees players use the NES Zapper to shoot ducks that appear on the television screen. The ducks appear one or two at a time, and the player is given three shots to shoot them down. If the required number of ducks bite it in a single round, the player will advance to the next round; otherwise, the game will end. It sounds simple enough, but the further you advance, the faster the ducks move across the screen, and the harder it gets.

Duck Hunt has been around as long as the NES itself. It was originally packaged with the NES console for some years, even sharing a game cartridge with Super Mario Bros., and for many gamers, Duck Hunt — alongside Super Mario Bros. — was their introduction to gaming. While the light gun shooter may seem dated today, in all honesty, it’s just as fun and challenging as it was when first released. In fact, this is one of the few NES games to make good use of the Nintendo Zapper, and in my opinion, one of the best launch games ever made. Almost everyone can agree that the pack-in cartridge was monumentally influential for the entire video game industry, and Duck Hunt, along with its colorful visuals, catchy soundtrack (by legendary Zelda composer Koji Kondo), and adorable mascot, holds a special place in the hearts of many old-school Nintendo fans like myself. (Ricky D)

4) Excitebike
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D1
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) NES
Release: November 30, 1984
Genre(s) Racing

Have you ever popped a wheelie with your bicycle, avoided a disastrous wipeout on a patch of gravel with a sweet maneuver, or built ramps to jump Evel Knievel-style over the stretched-out bodies of your overly trusting friends? Who am I kidding — if you grew up on a BMX then of course the answer is yes, and this mysterious childhood draw may explain some of the appeal of a game so simple and addicting as Excitebike. Arena motor bikes careening over dirt hills, dodging each other and the various oil slicks that dot the track, all while furiously pushing an engine that’s always on the brink of overheating will always be awesome, even if the 8-bit visuals and two-button controls Excitebike sports don’t exactly simulate the complexities of the real thing.

But realism doesn’t matter when you’re hypnotized by the whiny hum of your wobbly hog, weaving in and out of traffic, sticking a perfect landing after flying off a mountainous mound before coasting to victory with a one-wheel taunt. Hell, even if you spend most of your time mashing the A button after crashing for the thousandth time, spurring your racer back onto his seat while offering up a profane tongue-lashing as extra motivation, the temptation to give the chaos one more go is ever-present, a clear sign of design success. Excitebike made a living off of taking 80s racing fantasies to Napolean Dynamite levels, and validates its impressive longevity by still doing so today. (Patrick Murphy)

5) Super Mario Bros.
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D4
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo Entertainment System
Release: September 13, 1985
Genre(s) Platforming

It’s hard to imagine a video game industry today without Super Mario Bros. Here’s the title that single-handedly revitalized the gaming industry and solidified Nintendo as the King of the video game market. While the vast majority of early video games at the time were largely designed by the programmers coding them, Super Mario Bros. was instead made by Shigeru Miyamoto, an artist first and foremost, who graduated with a degree in industrial design. As with Donkey Kong, character mattered most. Players would control Mario, accompanying him on his journey through the Mushroom Kingdom on his quest to rescue Princess Peach from the vicious Bowser, King of the Koopas. It quickly became synonymous with the Nintendo Entertainment System, and helped the NES become the top-selling console of its time. The video game crash of 1983 was officially over, and the famous brick-busting duo became household names.

Super Mario Bros. is one of the most iconic video games ever conceived due to the sprawling level design, clever enemy placement, hidden secrets, optional sub-routes, superb physics, legendary soundtrack and gorgeous sprite-work. Without it, the video game industry wouldn’t be the same. (Ricky D)

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6) The Legend of Zelda
Developer(s) Nintendo Research & Development 4
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Famicom Disk System/Nintendo Entertainment System
Release: February 21, 1986
Genre(s) Action-Adventure

Shigeru Miyamoto’s masterpiece laid the groundwork for almost every action-RPG that came after it, and has become a staple franchise for Nintendo that decades later is still going strong. When it was released, The Legend of Zelda was a first in so many categories. Not only was it an early example of open world and non-linear gameplay, but it also introduced a battery backup to save your progress. Serving as the foundation of many modern adventure games, it introduced now-basic concepts like dungeon maps, utility equipment, and boss formulas that we still see used today.

Zelda can be cruel and often bewildering, but it’s also mysterious and beautiful, and every accomplishment you make in-game, no matter how small, is legitimately satisfying. I would argue that its unapologetic open-world approach and lack of hand-holding are what makes it special. More importantly, The Legend of Zelda has aged surprisingly well thanks to a brilliant soundtrack, creative visuals, and a masterfully layered adventure. It is, without a doubt, one of the most influential games of all time, and one of the greatest games ever made. It was ahead of its time and it stands the test of time. Very few games can make that claim. (Ricky D)

7) Dragon Warrior
Developer(s) Chunsoft
Publisher(s) Enix/Nintendo
Platform(s) Famicom/NES
Release: May 27, 1986
Genre(s) Role-Playing

Many will argue that at its core, Dragon Warrior (originally released in Japan as Dragon Quest) is the quintessential JRPG, and set the template from which nearly every Japanese role-playing game drew inspiration. It came out long before Final Fantasy, and at the time of release, it was one of the early smash hits for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Dragon Quest was so popular in fact that it became a national phenomenon in Japan, and at one point was dubbed Japan’s national game. You’d be forgiven for never once playing the game given that it is indeed dated, but regardless, this may be one of the ten most influential games featured on this list. (Ricky D)

8) Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D4
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Famicom Disk System
Release: JP: June 3, 1986
Genre(s) Platforming

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (known as Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan) gets a bad wrap outside its original market. The game was a true sequel to the original Super Mario Bros., and naturally unable to live up to the impact of its predecessor. When the game was shown to Nintendo of America’s Howard Philips, he declared it too hard for release in North America, later saying that “Not having fun is bad when you’re a company selling fun.”

Philips was probably right to hold off on the release of The Lost Levels, but he is incorrect about the game not being fun. It’s a delight to play and master, truthfully not much more difficult than the original Mega Man games. While Super Mario Bros. 3 rightfully gets credit for evolving the Mario franchise, The Lost Levels was the first Mario game to require exploration. Finding hidden boxes makes the seemingly impossible jumps doable, and after beating the main game, several bonus worlds unlock. The difference between Mario and Luigi’s jumping and weight began here as well.

It’s unfair that countless deaths and poison mushrooms take the headlines when talking about Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. It’s a fantastic platformer that anyone who enjoys the challenge of Odyssey‘s “The Darker Side of the Moon” is sure to love. Truthfully, if I had to play one Mario game for the rest of my life, Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, I’d choose Lost Levels. (Tyler Kelbaugh)

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9) Metroid
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D1
Intelligent Systems
Platform(s) Family Computer Disk System, Nintendo Entertainment System
Release: JP: August 6, 1986 / NA: August 15, 1987
Genre(s) Action-Adventure, Platforming

For Metroid, director Yoshio Sakamoto chose to combine elements of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda — with a clever twist. Yokoi wasn’t interested in creating anything groundbreaking, but he did want to experiment with what had made Nintendo’s two biggest franchises a success. Metroid fused ideas from both to create something new and offbeat. Like Super Mario Bros. it adopts a side-scrolling perspective and puts a large emphasis on platforming. Unlike Super Mario Bros., it allows players to scroll either left, right, up and down, instead of forcing them into constant forward motion. And like Zelda, Metroid places an emphasis on nonlinear gameplay, weapon upgrades, and a decidedly darker tone and atmosphere.

Of course, one of the most notable aspects of the original Metroid is the simple decision to make Samus Aran a woman. It wasn’t planned that way, but one casual remark helped give birth to one of gaming’s first leading ladies, and one of gaming’s most beloved protagonists, male or female. While Metroid is groundbreaking in many ways, it would be nothing without its gender-role trailblazing. That famous unexpected reveal at the end of Metroid proved women could be more in gaming lore than eye candy, and regardless if Ridley Scott’s Alien was a clear influence or not, it was at the end of Metroid that a gaming legend was born, and one who would help pave the way for more female characters in gaming.

For a game of its era, Metroid’s graphics and sound also truly hold up. Anyone who tells you that it’s dated clearly doesn’t understand the meaning of the phrase. Metroid is not a product of its time; it was ahead of its time in every way, and boasts one of the best soundtracks of any NES title. Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka, the composer of the original Metroid, aimed to create a score that made players feel like they were encountering a “living organism” and had no distinction between music and sound effects. In fact, the only time the main Metroid theme is heard is after Mother Brain is defeated. Metroid created an audio experience like no other, and the game’s soundtrack helped to create the ambiance through music that detached itself from other soundtracks of the era. Tanaka’s contribution defined the music for the series and became a huge step for the video game industry as a whole. (Ricky D)

10) Kid Icarus
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D1 / TOSE
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Family Computer Disk System, Nintendo Entertainment System
Release: JP: December 19, 1986 / NA: July 01, 1987
Genre(s) Action, Platforming

Kid Icarus was directed by Satoru Okada, and produced by the general manager of the R&D1 division, the same team who developed Metroid a year earlier. Both games ran on the same engine, shared similar level designs and even a few notorious enemies, and so one of the most striking aspects of Kid Icarus is how similar it feels to its sister game. Yet Pit has always been overshadowed by Samus Aran, making Kid Icarus something of a black sheep among all of the NES classics. While this game has a devout legion of followers, there are just as many people who dislike it, and after its debut in 1986 (and a lone sequel for the Gameboy), Nintendo made the decision to clip Pit’s wings. The series lay dormant for 21 years — a baffling choice, considering Pit is one of Nintendo’s most iconic protagonists. Every system out there has at least one wildly underrated game, and on the NES it’s Kid Icarus. It may not be on the same level as its first-party NES peers, but it shares a lot in common with Nintendo’s ‘Big Three’ — and thanks to Super Smash, the Nintendo icon finally got his dues. (Ricky D)

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11) Castlevania
Developer(s) Konami
Publisher(s) Konami
Series Castlevania
Platform(s) Family Computer Disk System, NES
Release: September 26, 1986
Genre(s) Action, Platforming

There was a time when video games were simply played for the enjoyment of reflexively pushing buttons to get a high score, but who knew these things could actually give off vibes? Though the console landscape had for some time been populated by alien invasions, pursuant ghosts, and murderous giant apes, isn’t wasn’t until 1986’s Castlevania that a successful attempt was made at giving off an air of horror. Sure, Oregon Trail made many players cringe from grisly deaths by drowning or (ugh) dysentery, but the Gothic setting and classic monsters of Konami’s breakthrough title (released on the 90th anniversary of Bram Stoker’s Dracula) made an even deeper impression, opening up future possibilities in immersion and storytelling. Throw in satisfying gameplay, a steep challenge, and an iconic, whip-wielding hero in Simon Belmont, and that’s a good recipe for a classic.

Right off the bat Castlevania sets a moody scene, with Simon’s approach to the titular fortress ensconced in gloomy fog and eerie moonlight, heralded by grave tune. Or maybe I just remember it that way — such is the power of the minimalist visuals and an ominous score. He is there to defeat Dracula, and must climb to the highest stone tower to meet that mythic goal. Along the way there will be fights against hyper hunchbacks, maddening Medusa heads, and the scythe-swinging danger of Death itself, all set against a creepy castle decaying from the inside out. It’s a grueling journey that demands both fortitude and plenty of wall meat, and after surviving the monstrous onslaught and numerous pitfalls, the long stairway to fate is full of the kind of anxiety and dread not seen before. Emerging victorious in the final vampire fight is among the many sources of bragging rights from the NES era, in no small part due to the platforming skill required to get there.

The linear layout and unforgiving nature of Castlevania might bear little resemblance to what the franchise has since become, but its solid gameplay and masterful presentation ensure that this platforming monster lives on. (Patrick Murphy)

12) Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D4
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Famicom Disk System/Nintendo Entertainment System
Release: January 14, 1987
Genre(s) Action-Adventure, Role-Playing

The second installment in The Legend of Zelda series is often considered the black sheep of the family. Despite being one of the best-selling games in the entire series, many fans hate it, and with good reason. The game is tough, and I do mean tough. Anyone who has played Zelda II can tell you how difficult beating the simplest of enemies can be, nevermind the boss battles. Players must be prepared for repeated failure when sitting down to play Zelda II, but that is kind of what makes the game so great. The sense of accomplishment a player feels when finishing Zelda II is unmatched by any other game in the series.

The Adventure of Link was an incredibly assured attempt to rewrite the rules of the entire series back in 1988. It introduced elements like Link’s “magic meter” and the Shadow Link character that would become commonplace in future Zelda games, while role-playing elements such as experience points, as well as the platform-style side-scrolling with multiple lives, were never used again in canonical games. In addition, Zelda II introduced a number of Zelda standards, including a larger focus on storytelling, as well as sidequests. Yes, it is difficult, and yes, it is different, but for better or for worse, that is what makes it stand out from all the other entries in the series. Zelda II is unique but frustrating, flawed but brilliant, and without question an important game that helped define what the Zelda games would ultimately be. (Ricky D)

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13) Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D3[1]
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) NES/Famicom
Release: NA: October 18, 1987
Genre(s) Sports, Fighting

Punch-Out!! isn’t your traditional boxing game — the gameplay design is all about pattern recognition, fast reaction times, and some patience. Little Mac has 5 different punches at his disposal, the most powerful being the star punch uppercut, and his opponents each have their own unique bag of tricks. In order to defeat each member of the rogues’ gallery, players must figure out how to counter their special moves. What makes Punch-Out!! such a success is that each match plays like a mini-boss battle — and every opponent has different boxing styles. In each fight, the opponent has certain mannerisms that act as clues to when he will perform his special move. Because of this, in some ways Punch Out is like a puzzle game — the major key to beating it is recognizing patterns. Time is also a major factor, since each fight consists of only three rounds that are each only three minutes long, which doesn’t allow players to waste any time.

Each opponent is increasingly difficult to beat, but if there is any boss that plagued gamers back in the days of the NES it had to be Tyson. Tyson doesn’t use the same rules as the other fighters; there is no pattern to his attack, no method to his defense, and no obvious way to know when he is going to strike. Mac can duck, dodge, jab, hook, and uppercut his way through the match, but one punch from Iron Mike and you’ll find yourself down on the mat. Mike Tyson was an extremely difficult boss for the time, and players couldn’t rely on straight button mashing to defeat him. Beating him not only gave you bragging rights over your friends, but was one of the most satisfying game accomplishments back in the day. While he may have been removed from future installments of the series, Mike Tyson remains one of the best boss battles in Nintendo history, and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! may still be the best boxing game ever made. (Ricky D)

14) Mega Man
Developer(s) Capcom
Publisher(s) Capcom
Platform(s) Nintendo Entertainment System
Release: December 17, 1987
Genre(s) Action, Platforming

Before Mega Man, Capcom primarily made arcade games, and their console releases were mostly ports of these titles. In the mid-1980s Capcom made plans to develop a new franchise specifically for the NES, and hired a small, young, talented team of six people — including artist Keiji Inafune — to develop an action-platformer, then known as Rokkuman, the first installment in what would go on to become one of the gaming industry’s most prolific series of all time. Of all the games released on the NES, the Mega Man series is the one that never feels dated. Featuring amazing visuals, charming characters, amazing music, and most importantly, near-perfect gameplay Mega Man nonlinear approach, which allows players to choose the order in which to complete its initial six stages, was a game-changer.

Each level culminates in a boss battle that awards the player/character a unique weapon. Gamers could then figure out which weapon to use against which boss, giving the game great replay value. The original Mega Man is best-known, however, for its difficulty. It remains the hardest game to beat in the franchise, and one of the hardest NES games to finish. Some have criticized the series for failing to evolve throughout the years, but I believe there is a simple and logical explanation for this: the first entry started out with such a perfect template — why change? Mega Man may not be the best in the franchise, let alone the best released for the NES console, but it is the first, and beating it remains one of the most satisfying accomplishments of my NES days. (Ricky D)

15) Final Fantasy
Developer(s) Square
Publisher(s) Square
Platform(s) NES
Release: December 18, 1987
Genre(s) Role-Playing

The game that started it all, Final Fantasy was a bit of Hail Mary when it was released for the NES by Squaresoft, with the developer and publisher facing financial ruin. Spurred on by the sales of the recently released Dragon Warrior, they decided to take a punt on another role-playing game, and one of the most beloved franchises in video game history was born. Going back to Final Fantasy today isn’t as jarring an experience as you might assume, given the many advances made in the series in the subsequent fourteen proper entries; the combat system is surprisingly well thought-out, and the simple, linear storyline could even be considered preferable to the labyrinthine narratives of some of the later games in the franchise.

Mechanically, Final Fantasy is a little sluggish, and there’s way too much grinding required later on in the game, but as a time capsule to an era, before the series was famed for anime haircuts, teenage angst, and protracted development cycles, the title has lost none of its potency. Many of the conventions that would become staples of the series were started right here in the 1987 game, including some recurring musical pieces, like the iconic victory fanfare that plays at the end of a battle and the opening theme that has been featured in numerous other titles since. It doesn’t hold up as well as other games in the long-running series, but fans who are willing to persevere with some of the more clumsily implemented systems in play will likely find their time spent with Final Fantasy a worthwhile exercise in nostalgia, and an adventure that exists as a reminder of an inescapably vital moment in video game history. (John Cal McCormick)

16) Blaster Master
Developer(s) Sunsoft[a]
Publisher(s) Sunsoft
Platform(s) NES
Release:  JP: June 17, 1988 / NA: November 1988
Genre(s) Action, Platforming, Metroidvania

Blaster Master was once the most underrated game to be released for the NES, but thanks to a dedicated cult following and positive word of mouth, it managed to spawn two sequels (Blaster Master 2 and Blaster Master: Blasting Again), two handheld spin-offs (Blaster Master Boy and Blaster Master: Enemy Below) and even a recent remake on the Nintendo Switch (Blaster Master Zero). The game about a boy named Jason, his pet frog named Fred and a tank named Sophia that Jason uses to battle radioactive mutants, is without a doubt, one of the best games of the 8-bit era. The game was praised for its smooth play control,  impressive level designs, detailed graphics, and a stellar soundtrack, and it was criticized for its high difficulty level and lack of passwords or save points. Blaster Master’s bosses are some of the largest seen in a game at that time as they take up a good portion of the screen and offer a pretty big challenge in later levels, that is, if you even make it that far. Trust me when I say, this is one of the toughest games of that generation and left many players frustrated. There are many great games from the NES days but Blaster Master was a game ahead of its time and for the time, it was absolutely brilliant. (Ricky D)

17) Bionic Commando
Developer(s) Capcom
Publisher(s) Capcom
Platform(s) Famicom/NES
Release: JP: July 20, 1988
Genre(s) Action, Platforming

Loosely based on an arcade game of the same name, Bionic Commando is another Capcom classic that every self-respecting old-school gamer has fond memories of playing. A side-scroller with an interesting slant, Bionic Commando is best known as the unique platformer that actually removes the feature of jumping, and forces you to instead use a grappling hook to swing and climb through every level. At first, the game’s emphasis on swinging seems counterintuitive and frustrating, but those who spend the time needed to really master its controls will feel ultimately rewarded. Taking cues from open-ended adventure games like Metroid, Bionic Commando is more about exploration and combat than running from one side of the screen to the next. There’s an assortment of weapons and equipment your main character picks up along the way, and sometimes you’ll find yourself returning to a stage to complete your mission.

In the Famicom incarnation, a group of modern-day Nazis attempts to resurrect Adolph Hitler and take over the world, but in the US release, all references to Nazism in text and imagery were removed, and the Imperial Army’s Swastika insignia was changed into a new one resembling an eagle. Of all the games I own on the NES, Bionic Commando is one of my favorites, and one of the toughest to finish. (Ricky D)

18) Ninja Gaiden
Developer(s) Tecmo
Publisher(s) Tecmo/Atari
Platform(s) NES
Release: October 1988
Genre(s) Action, Platforming

Ninja Gaiden originally debuted as a two-player arcade beat-’em-up back in 1988, but this isn’t that game. The NES version is instead a follow-up, released about a year later, that follows a six-act story of Ryu Hayabusa, a rising warrior in his family’s clan whose main role in the world is to protect the Dark Dragon Blade from getting into the hands of evil. Ninja Gaiden (known as Shadow Warriors in Europe) amazed gamers with the degree of control it allowed over the main character and was praised for its deep control mechanics, despite needing just two buttons. Players are able to pull off wall jumps, super-swift attacks, and backflips, as well as pick up an assortment of weapons — including ninja stars — as they make their way through more than 10 grueling levels filled with various enemies and unique bosses. As the game progresses, the story unfolds using cinematic cut-scenes that make it feel like you’re watching a movie. These were a major innovation for the time, and the musical score is one of the finest to be found on the NES. In terms of NES platform action, it doesn’t really get much better than this; the game went on to win several awards in 1989, and ranks as one of the finest ninja-style games ever made (Ricky D)

19) Super Mario Bros. 2
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D4
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) NES
Release: October 9, 1988
Genre(s) Platforming

There are several design changes that make Super Mario Bros. 2 so different from its predecessor, starting with the pick-up-and-throw gameplay. The second difference is the elimination of the timer; this means players are no longer racing to the end, and therefore have plenty of time to fully explore each and every level. In addition, players can travel backward in a level if needed. However, the biggest change and improvement in this sequel is that Super Mario 2 opens up vertical gameplay. Whether it’s jumping up onto platform after platform or climbing vines and ladders, Super Mario Bros. 2 encourages players to move vertically just as often as they scroll to the side. Usually, when making sequels, game designers don’t like to make too many big changes, but with Super Mario 2 the gameplay was completely different, and the setting and enemies were totally unfamiliar. In fact, the game doesn’t even take place in the Mushroom Kingdom, and there are neither Goombas nor Hammer Brothers anywhere in sight. Shy Guys and Bob-ombs are the most notable common enemies, and Birdo is the recurring foe this time around. Super Mario Bros. 2 was also the first Mario game to allow players to choose from multiple characters (Mario, his brother Luigi, the mushroom retainer Toad, or Princess Peach), each with their own unique abilities.

But there’s a good reason why Super Mario Bros. 2 is so different from all the other games in the series: originally, it was not intended to be a Mario game at all. What became Super Mario Bros. 2 started out as a prototype for a vertically scrolling, two-player cooperative action game called Yume K?j?: Doki Doki Panic, a Family Computer Disk System game meant to tie-in with Fuji Television’s media technology expo, called Yume K?j?. The real sequel to Super Mario Bros. is actually quite similar to the first game, only more difficult to beat. All that aside, Super Mario Bros. 2 is a solid side-scrolling platformer that experimented in many new and daring ways — and thankfully for Nintendo, those risks paid off in spades. Super Mario Bros. 2 sold ten million copies, and was the third highest-selling game ever released on the Nintendo Entertainment System at that time. Nintendo Power listed Super Mario Bros. 2 as the eighth-best NES video game, mentioning that regardless of not being originally released as a Mario game, it was able to stand on its own merits and a unique take on the series’ trademark format. (Ricky D)

20) Mega Man 2
Developer(s) Capcom
Publisher(s) Capcom
Platform(s) NES
Release: December 24, 1988
Genre(s) Action, Platforming

If the first Mega Man is the alley-oop, then Mega Man 2 is the slam dunk. It captures so many things about the quintessential Mega Man experience: interesting thematic level design, memorable boss fights, and a catchy-as-heck soundtrack. Its impact on the series at large can’t be overstated. Mega Man 2 introduced so many staples of the franchise, such as the Energy Tank item, special movement items, the teleporter room, the 8-boss stage select screen, and the password system. Still, when looking at the change between 1 and 2, it’s clear to see that what truly stands out about Mega Man 2 is the simply fantastic level design.

Mega Man 2 was one of the few games that I couldn’t successfully beat as a child. It’s fairly demanding of the player, as it calls for quick reflexes and a cool head. However, the game is more than fair; if you die, it’s your own fault. Far from angering the player, it inspires them to do better. Once you’ve mastered the enemy patterns, know where platforms move, and start jumping and shooting to the beat, successfully completing the stage is all the more gratifying. To this day, Mega Man 2 remains a game that is satisfying to lose — and get better at. (Kyle Rogacion)

21) River City Ransom
Developer(s) Techn?s Japan
Platform(s) Family Computer/NES
Release: April 25, 1989
Genre(s) Beat ’em Up

More often than not, when people list off the best Beat ’em up games of the 8-bit generation, River City Ransom is often overshadowed by the likes of Double Dragon, Final Fight, and Streets of Rage, but River City Ransom remains one of the best, most overlooked games on the NES — and a favorite for those of us who played it back in the days. What elevates River City Ransom above most old-school Beat ’em ups how it incorporates RPG elements into the action and allows players the complete freedom to wander the streets, back alleys, and vacant lots of River City as you see fit. It helps too that for the time, River City Ransom featured colorful 8-bit sprites, a catchy soundtrack, and an art direction heavily influenced by Japanese manga, but what I remember most fondly about the game is how it allowed my friends and I to play cooperatively as Alex and Ryan. Many gamers will prefer Billy and Jimmy Lee, but for my money, they were the kings of side-scrolling brawlers. (Ricky D)

22) Tetris
Developer(s) Bullet-Proof Software/Nintendo
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Game Boy
Release: JP: June 14, 1989 / NA: July 31, 1989
Genre(s) Puzzle

It’s safe to assume that almost every video gamer has heard of Tetris, and most of us associate it with Nintendo, specifically their portable Game Boy system. Yes, Tetris had already existed in various incarnations since its creation in 1984, and was sold for both a range of home computer platforms and the arcades long before Game Boy ever existed, but the hugely successful handheld version for the Game Boy — which was launched in 1989 — is arguably the ultimate version of the perfect puzzle game. The famous puzzle game from creator Alexey Pajitnov is not only brilliant, but extremely addictive thanks to its simplistic design. With this particular version of Tetris came a competitive two-player mode made possible with the link cable, as well as an instrumental version of the Russian folk song “Korobeiniki.” Nintendo has made some of the best partnerships in the history of the gaming industry, and pairing Tetris with their new greyscale portable system back in the day is one of their best decisions in the company’s 125-plus years in existence. Tetris was a phenomenon, and literally laid the bricks for the foundation of the handheld gaming industry that Nintendo has continued to dominate ever since. (Ricky D)

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23) Super Mario Bros. 3
Developer(s) Nintendo R&D4
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) Nintendo Entertainment System
Release: JP: October 23, 1988 / NA: February 12, 1990
Genre(s) Platforming

Super Mario Bros. 3 was critically acclaimed, and with reason — there is not a fault to be found anywhere in the game. For the time, it was beyond anything you could ever dream. Super Mario Bros. 3 is a masterpiece, a perfect video game with eight worlds and 70-plus ingenious levels of side-scrolling awesomeness. One world is packed with giant renditions of every character, others feature underwater adventures, and some take you through spooky castles and dungeons. As you move ahead, you’ll discover that each level contains optional paths leading to shortcuts and extra lives hidden away. The best things are the power-ups and various suits you can use inside the levels. Mario can now slide down hills, knocking down enemies who get in his way, and the powerups from the original game also make an appearance.

Also new to the series are mini-games and an overhead map screen to track progress and collectible warp whistles (much like the one Link used in Zelda II) that teleport you to later worlds in the game. In addition, there is the music box that puts enemies on the map to sleep, as well as the anchor to stop the Koopaling’s airship from flying off around the map so that you don’t have to chase it. Juergen’s Cloud allows you to skip a level, and Kuribo’s shoe, easily one of the most beloved power-ups in Mario history, can be found in only one level! The familiar Mario sound effects are present and accounted for, along with a batch of new musical compositions concocted by Koji Kondo, and dozens of new enemies like Boom Booms, Boos, and Chain Chomps make their very first appearance in the Nintendo universe. Super Mario Bros 3 is often considered to be the best video game of the 8-bit generation. In my opinion it is, and it is also the best game in the Super Mario series. It’s a timeless masterpiece, full of innovation and surprises, one that will forever stand the test of time. (Ricky D)

24) Baseball Stars
Developer(s) SNK
Publisher(s) SNK
Platform(s) NES
Release: JP: May 19, 1989 / NA: July 1989
Genre(s) Sports

The game of baseball garners devoted fans for many reasons, and with its multi-faceted approach to offense and defense highlighted by the pitcher vs batter duel, as well as an emphasis on stats, it has long been a perfect fit for video games. Rarely, however, have any truly captured that pure feel of the sport with as much joy and balance as the NES’ Baseball Stars. What makes it stand out from the rest of the top gaming prospects is not only the careful way in which it approaches the many aspects of the sport, but also its heart; Baseball Stars understands what makes taking the field or stepping into the batter’s box magical, and that happens during innings, not in menus.

While obviously a limitation of the console it was released for, the beauty of Baseball Stars‘ two-button system is that the player’s focus can stay where it belongs, on the game, instead of half-concerned with worrying about input combinations. Throw the ball with A, run to a base with B; swing the bat with A, steal with B — easy as a 4-6-3. That doesn’t mean a high baseball I.Q. won’t help catch your buddy straying too far off the bag, though; the tools just don’t bog down the action. Whether jumping at the fence to rob a friend’s go-ahead homer or executing a flawless suicide squeeze with a perfectly placed bunt down the third base line, Baseball Stars is about great moments, the sort that kids dream of while they work on their curveball against a chain-link fence. Smashing that walk-off home run or picking your buddy off at second brings the sort of gleeful smile that reminds one of why we love this game in the first place. I’ve never played a video game that captured my favorite sport better than Baseball Stars. There’s something about strapping on a dusty leather mitt or digging my cleats into the gravelly dirt that simply feels right, and the same can be said for SNK’s original NES release, even after all these years. (Patrick Murphy)

25) Tecmo Bowl
Developer(s) Tecmo
Publisher(s) Tecmo
Platform(s) NES
Release NES: February 1989
Genre(s) Sports

I cannot stress the importance of Tecmo Bowl. Originally an arcade game, Tecmo Bowl was ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System by the makers of such classics as Ninja Gaiden, Mighty Bomb Jack, and Solomon’s Key, and it took everyone by surprise by just how good it was. Nobody expected the Japanese developers of puzzle games and 2D platformers to succeed in creating a sports game, much less an American sports game, but they did. Named NES Sports Game of the Year, Tecmo Bowl provided players with the best football experience found on the NES console back in 1989, and it paved the way for what became the biggest trend in sports games to this day.

Tecmo Bowl is a seemingly effortless game in which everything falls neatly into place as if ordained by nature. It stripped football down to its basic elements and created a fun arcade experience anyone can enjoy. Tecmo Bowl was Madden before Madden was a household name. It’s the game that started the football franchise craze in video games, and laid the groundwork for the even better Tecmo Super Bowl. American football games have come a long way over the years, but what hasn’t changed is the sheer enjoyment any football fan can have when playing Tecmo Bowl.

Tecmo Bowl is without a doubt the granddaddy of football games, and there’s something to be said for the back-to-basics formula that Tecmo Bowl employed. With technological enhancements in gameplay, graphics, power, and speed, the original Tecmo Bowl seems incredibly dated in 2016, but surprisingly the gameplay holds up nearly three decades later. (Ricky D)

26) Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
Developer(s) Konami
Publisher(s) Konami
Platform(s) Nintendo Entertainment System
Release: JP: December 22, 1989 / NA: September 1, 1990
Genre(s) Action, Platforming

Having tasted critical and commercial success with the original NES outing, Nintendo took a big risk in giving its direct sequel an entirely different spin. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest is a game which is fondly remembered by some fans and hated by others (including myself). Thankfully, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse reverts back to the platform game roots of the first Castlevania title, keeping every fan happy. Unlike Castlevania, however, Castlevania III is non-linear, set 100 years before the first installment. Players once again assume the role of a vampire hunter extraordinaire, only this time it’s Simon’s ancestor, Trevor Belmont. In addition, Trevor can be assisted by special companions that he can switch places with at any time — Sypha Belnades, Grant Danasty, and Alucard — who have since become part of the fabric of Castlevania lore.

Konami spent a lot of time fine-tuning the gameplay here, and the result is almost perfect. Musically, Dracula’s Curse also improves on its prequels dramatically, offering up some of the best songs you’re likely to hear in any game, period. Many devoted followers will argue that this NES game is the best in the franchise, while others will be split between Symphony of the Night and Super Castlevania IV. Either way, I think we can all agree that Dracula’s Curse is one of the finest NES titles ever made. (Ricky D)

27) Ninja Gaiden 2: The Dark Sword of Chaos
Developer(s) Tecmo
Publisher(s) Tecmo
Platform(s) NES
Release: April 6, 1990
Genre(s) Action, Platforming

Ninja Gaiden 2 is everything a sequel should be and more, improving on the original’s faults while pushing the gameplay forward. Ninja Gaiden 2 features far better graphics, better sound, and slightly less frustrating gameplay than its predecessor. The Nintendo Entertainment System was home to many punishing games, and Ninja Gaiden was one of those games but this sequel isn’t as unforgiving. That’s not to say this game is a walk in the park because it still is difficult but it is much more balanced than in its predecessor, making it more fun to play from start to finish.

The sequel also manages to surpass the original with better level design and allows Ryu the ability to climb walls, run faster, jump further, wield his blade with exceptional speed, and use other special weapons as throwing stars or flame attacks. And let’s not forget the new power-up that creates clones of Ryu who mimic his every action, making him even deadlier. Last Christmas I revisited Ninja Gaiden 2 and despite the amount of time that has passed since the game was first released, it was still a joy to play. Here’s just one of many, many NES games that stand the test of time. (Ricky D)

28) Dr. Mario
Developer(s) Nintendo Research & Development 1
Publisher(s) Nintendo
Platform(s) NES
Release: 27 July 1990
Genre(s) Puzzle

There have been quite a few incredible platforming feats over the many years of Mario games, but his attainment of a license to practice medicine may be the most impressive logic-defying leap the little-mustachioed man has ever pulled off. Dr. Mario is essentially just an attempt at injecting some Nintendo charm into a Tetris-type effort, but its weird concept keeps the derivative gameplay feeling hale and healthy if a little odd. After all, this is a game about a former plumber who somehow became a doctor that fights angry viruses with a variety of multi-colored capsules. How the little misshapen beasties got into his oversized bottle is anyone’s guess, but those pixelated globs look ready to start some trouble, and who better at dealing with mutant weirdos than the guy who stomps sentient mushrooms and flying turtles?

So it’s up to Nintendo’s very own Dr. House to save the day by throwing as many pills at the problem as possible until something sticks, matching the color of the capsules with those of the viruses, which somehow causes them to disappear. It may sound like quackery, but it works, and most importantly is plenty of chaotic fun. However, the real lifeblood of Dr. Mario comes from the multiplayer mode, where two aspiring physicians offer competing treatments, shaming any misdiagnoses with an increase in their opponent’s pill supply. The pace is fast and furious, the premise is absurd, and Dr. Mario is still a great cure for puzzle fans. (Patrick Murphy)

29) Duck Tales
Developer(s) Capcom
Publisher(s) Capcom
Platform(s) NES
Release: September 14, 1989 / JP: January 26, 1990
Genre(s) Platforming

Produced by key personnel from the Mega Man series, DuckTales would go on to sell over a million copies worldwide on both the NES and Gameboy, becoming Capcom’s best-selling title for both platforms. Of all of the games built on Capcom’s famous Mega Man blueprint, Duck Tales is the absolute best, and one of the must-have games in any collector’s library. With Mega Man veterans like Keiji Inafune and Yoshihiro Sakaguchi involved, each level has a unique theme and feel to it, and the controls are easy to master. Gamers take the role of Scrooge McDuck, who travels around the world in search of five treasures to further increase his fortune. If the gamer manages to finish with $10 million in funds, and collects two special hidden treasures, an additional bonus ending can be unlocked.

Furthermore, much like the Mega Man series, you can choose between stages in any order, and with three difficulty settings to choose from, it’s always fun to revisit Duckberg again and again. But seriously, this game is so much fun to play and still looks amazing to this day — without a doubt, it is the best looking game released on the NES. (Ricky D)

****

PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR | PART FIVE | PART SIX | PART SEVEN

Humans by birth. Gamers by choice. Goomba Stomp is a Canadian web publication that has been independently owned and operated since its inception in 2016.

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15 Years Later: ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’ Is Kojima’s Espionage Love Letter

On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3 was released, marking the first entry in what would become a major part of the Metal Gear Saga.

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Metal Gear Solid 3

“After the end of World War II, the world was split into two — East and West. This marked the beginning of the era called the Cold War.”

On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater released in North America and Japan marking the first entry in what would later become a line of prequel games within the Metal Gear Saga. Big Boss’s story would finally be expanded upon in the Hollywood action game that forever changed the course of video game storytelling.

The legendary mercenary’s journey began in Kojima’s espionage love letter to the ’60s that broke the primordial gaming standards of both interactive design and visual storytelling through immeasurable gameplay depth piled onto a mind-boggling top-notch origin story. Snake Eater was only the beginning of a tale of how one of gaming’s greatest heroes descended into a villain through what is not only arguably the most compact and well-executed Metal Gear story, but Kojima Productions story ever conjured up to date.

Taking the Narrative Back

Metal Gear Solid 3
“Snake, try and remember some of the basics of CQC.”

Snake Eater ditched Solid Snake and Raiden’s current predicaments in a postmodern world to provide audiences with background knowledge and explanations for the previous chapters that came before it in what was intended to be Hideo Kojima’s final Metal Gear game at the time. Cold War political fiction and espionage thrillers from the game’s time period such as the Sean Connery and Roger Moore James Bond 007 films became the foundation for this entry’s story and tone; a balance of both goofiness and seriousness that is simply unmatched when compared to the rest of the series.

Metal Gear Solid 3 marked the beginning of a prequel series of games that would later proceed to continue after Solid Snake’s story had concluded in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Snake Eater threw players back in time to tackle the story of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake villain Big Boss, who was formerly referred to as three different names being John, Jack, and of course the iconic codename Naked Snake — the first character to take on the reptilian infiltration name.

Revolver Ocelot’s gun-slinging pre-boss cutscene was completely animated through motion capture footage.

Whereas Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty questioned the fantasy aspects of the story, Snake Eater fully embraced the campiness that it provided. A gun-slinging, cat-growling GRU Major or a man who is able to manipulate bees are never questioned by the game’s characters. Nothing feels out of place due to how accepting everyone is of what is going on in their interpretation of history. The first fantasy aspect that players encounter is during the opening 5 minutes of the game when Naked Snake makes the HALO jump. The location the game takes place, Tselinoyarsk, is not the actual name of the location and isn’t an area of the world that has jungles.

Political fiction often comes into play during the story by incorporating real figures and the game’s characters into events that actually happened during the height of the Cold War. For example, Eva and Ocelot are depicted as the two NSA codebreakers, Martin and Mitchell, who defected to the Soviet Union. Weapons and designs featured in the game such as the hybrid screw-propelled metal gear, the Shagohod, are based on real blueprints for military weapons of the time period. While the story incorporates science fiction and fantasy aspects, the story still remains grounded and has its own limits even in gameplay.

A Whole New Meaning to Survival

When Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa saw the 1987 movie Predator, one concept from the film that stuck with them was how the technologically advanced alien Predator used camouflage within the jungle setting to stealthily take out a military rescue team lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Camouflage became part of the foundation for Snake Eater‘s gameplay that delved into the realism and campy side of the series. Players could swap outfits and face paints at any given moment to adapt to their current surroundings. The top right-hand corner has a camouflage index that constantly keeps track of how well-hidden you are in the environment.

Just as gadgets are a critical part of James Bond’s arsenal of weapons, Snake Eater saw the Metal Gear Solid series expand on the variety and utilization of items. The number of different ways to tackle standard environmental obstacles and boss battles was exponentially increased due to how many ways one could actually use their equipment. Grenades, lethal firearms, night-vision goggles, cigarettes, and even cardboard boxes all inherited a multi-functional philosophy that most players would never even discover unless they had experimented during their playthrough or were told to do a specific action. Even food became a weapon of war that could be used to poison and distract guards if it had gone spoiled.

On the topic of food, alongside the standard health bar, Snake has a stamina meter that must be ministered to constantly by eating foods found on-site and administering proper medical treatment. Animals, fruit, medicinal items, and various packaged resources must be collected and watched over throughout the game. All food items ran on a real-time clock leaving food to go unsanitary and rotten after a matter of real-time days.

The Beginning of Product Placement

Fun Fact: Kojima has gone on record saying that Naked Snake’s favorite CalorieMate Block is the chocolate-flavored line (rightfully for promotional reasons!).

The Metal Gear Solid series kickstarted Hideo Kojima’s constant usage of product placements within his games that are still ongoing today. These products include but are certainly not limited to clothing, accessories, toys, household items, and of course, food. Snake Eater began a trend of future Kojima Production games featuring real-life items that are purchasable in many small scale and large retail stores throughout Japan through the brand of nutritional energy bars and gels, CalorieMate.

The chocolate-flavored CalorieMate Block appeared in the original version of Snake Eater, while the maple-flavored kind replaced it in the HD Collection due to it being the latest flavor release at the time. Advertisements for CalorieMate during the game’s release showed Naked Snake holding a chocolate-flavored Block saying “If you wanna survive in the jungle, your going to need one of these.”

When initiating a Codec call with Paramedic after eating a CalorieMate Block, the character will question the legitimacy of the food. In reality, CalorieMate first released in 1983, contradicting the 1960’s setting of the story, therefore, making its placement in the game an anachronism; an object or person that is displaced in time.

A Legacy Worthy of The Big Boss Rank

At the time of Snake Eater’s release, although the game garnered a completely positive reception from critics with a 91 Metacritic score, it was highly debated whether the sequel-prequel was superior to the entries that came before it. Critics commonly praised the graphics and cinematics the game had to offer but questioned whether the gameplay was too complex for its own good. Snake Eater also had to ride the coattails of unsatisfied audiences originating from the previous entry’s lack of Solid Snake being the protagonist which ultimately lead to sales of the game being significantly lower than the previous Solid entries.

Over time, Snake Eater became the fan-favorite entry of the series and would go on to receive the most re-releases out of all the Metal Gear games to date. Most notably, in 2006 Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence expanded upon the online mode in the game and added a completely new third-person controlled camera system that enhanced the overall experience and became the right analog stick standard for future entries. Buyers of this version were also treated with the original two MSX Metal Gear games found on the main menu- the first time the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had ever been localized outside of Japan.

Snake Eater 3D Limited Edition Bundle included a ‘Snake Skin’ themed standard 3DS (only released in Japan).

2011 saw the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, a compilation title that included an updated version of Subsistence — arguably the best way to play Snake Eater today. In 2012 the game also saw a release on the Nintendo 3DS dubbed Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater which included a new real-life camera camouflage system and multiple gameplay changes inherited from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to accommodate the 3DS’s lack of dual analog sticks.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a true patriot that definitively holds its ground against the rest of the series today due to its creative liberties that the series never quite revisited in complete depth. Hideo Kojima and his team of masterminds behind Kojima Productions are well deserved of a salute for the tremendous efforts they put into creating a groundbreaking title that forever changed what it meant to be a cinematic video game. From its action-packed plot to its cinematic orchestra inspired-score, even after 15 years the pure indigenous nature of creativity from the studio never ceases to amaze audiences.

Metal Gear Solid 3

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‘Castlevania Bloodlines’: The Official Sega Genesis Sequel to Bram Stoker’s Hit Novel, Dracula

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Castlevania isn’t a dialogue-heavy series by any means, but it’s still home to one of gaming’s most compelling narratives. Equipped with only their ancestral weapon, the legendary Vampire Killer, descendants of the Belmont clan face off against Count Dracula every 100 years like clockwork (give or take). His resurrection is inevitable. Just as good will always triumph over evil, evil will rise again. Castlevania was about the cyclical nature of good and evil long before Dracula mused about the nature of humanity in Symphony of the Night. Castlevania chronicled the Belmont family’s centuries-long struggle to keep Count Dracula at bay, game after game. Of course, he wasn’t the Count Dracula– more a representation of evil– but that was as much a given as a Belmont rising up to wield Vampire Killer. Then Castlevania Bloodlines happened. 

Released in 1995 exclusively for the Sega Genesis, Bloodlines may have looked like any other Castlevania game, but it marked a series of eclectic firsts for the franchise. Gone are the Belmonts and the game neither takes place inside of or involves getting to Dracula’s Castle. Bloodlines is even titled Vampire Killer in Japan, creating a bigger divide between it and previous entries, but that hardly compares to Bloodlines’ strangest contribution to the series: making Bram Stoker’s Dracula canon. 

The nature of how Dracula fits into the Castlevania mythos isn’t as plain and simple as just taking the book as writ as canon, but it fits much cleaner than one would expect. Although Bloodlines may lift elements from the novel with its own embellishments, its changes are ultimately inconsequential. Quincey Morris doesn’t have a son in the novel, but he’s the only major character alongside Dracula not to keep a journal, keeping his background relatively obscured. Quincey also doesn’t sport his signature bowie knife in Bloodlines’ backstory, finishing Dracula off with a stake (instead of the Vampire Killer for whatever reason.) 

There’s no mention of Jonathan Harker, Mina, or Abraham Van Helsing– and Dracula’s motives aren’t at all in-line with his novel counterpart’s– but Konami’s references to the novel make it clear that audiences are intended to consider the novel canon even if the details don’t quite match up. It seems a strange choice, especially for a franchise that was pushing its tenth anniversary by the time Bloodlines released in 1995, but it’s not a totally random decision on Konami’s part. Much like how Super Castlevania IV’s tonal maturity gave it a greater layer of depth, Bloodlines thrives off its connection to Bram Stoker’s Dracula

If there’s one immediate benefit to tying Dracula to Castlevania: Bloodlines, it’s grounding the latter in some semblance of reality. Set in 1917, Vampire Killer was the most modern Castlevania to date– not just at its release, but until Aria of Sorrow was released in 2003. The games were never period pieces, but they were set far enough in the past where literal Universal Monsters wouldn’t keep the series from staying narratively grounded. More importantly, the series’ settings were always consistently gothic, creating a unique sense of style around Dracula himself rather than the time period. 

Bloodlines opts for a wildly different approach altogether when it comes to setting, doubling down on the series’ historical elements while keeping Super Castlevania IV’s darker tone intact. Dracula feels a part of the world, rather than the world of Castlevania feeling a part of Dracula. At the same time, Bram Stoker’s Dracula helps ground the very minimal plot by giving John and Eric’s trek across Europe greater scope. John and Eric even have a personal stake in the plot, having witnessed Quincey’s death. It’s all window dressing, but Bloodlines’ assimilation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula gives the series some narrative legitimacy to rub shoulders with its high quality gameplay. 

The connections to Bram Stoker’s Dracula are admittedly loose, but they’re loose enough to work in the game’s benefit. Dracula is structured as an epistolary novel with chapters divided in letters, journal entries, articles, and logs. The story is told coherently, but this approach often results in the point of view & setting changing. While uncertainly a direct reference to the novel, Bloodlines similarly allows players to switch between John & Eric whenever they use a continue on Easy mode, and each stage takes place in a different country rather than just Transylvania. 

Bram Stoker’s Dracula may give Bloodlines its foundation, but it’s that globetrotting that gives the game its identity. Stage 1 opens in Romania, the ruins of Dracula’s Castle left to time after his previous defeat. Where other games would immediately transition into the depths of Castle Dracula, Bloodlines’ Stage 2 instead takes players to the lost city of Atlantis in Greece, while Stage 3 involves scaling the Leaning Tower of Pisa in order to slay a demon at the top. There’s a grandiosity to the stage design simply not present in previous entries. Not just in terms of scope, but in actual structure. 

Only six stages long, Bloodlines is the shortest of the mainline Castlevania games, but it makes up for its lack of length with longer stages overall. The main story falls on the shorter side, but the stage to stage pacing ensures that Bloodlines neither outstays its welcome or goes too soon. While a Stage 7 may have done the game some good, Bloodlines’ six stages offer some of the tightest action-platforming in the franchise. Enemies are by no means infrequent, and Bloodlines requires players to understand both John & Eric’s unique platforming skills by Stage 3, outright preventing progress should players fail to adapt.

John’s unique platforming ability will be familiar to all those who played Super Castlevania IV as, predictably, he can use the Vampire Killer to hang. This time around, however, John can whip onto just about any ceiling. Eric, on the other hand, has a charged jump that thrusts him into the air when released. Eric’s jump ignores platforms entirely, allowing him a degree of verticality Castlevania typically doesn’t give to players. Stage 3 even features a room that’s a bottomless pit for Eric, but easy platforming for John thanks to its whip. Subsequently, there’s a room where John can’t make progress due to the ceiling, but Eric can jump right through.

John and Eric’s abilities are natural extensions & evolutions of Simon’s from Super CV IV, just split between the both of them, but it’s also worth noting how Bloodlines’ more involved platforming helps to further flesh out Castlevania’s world. Bram Stoker’s Dracula coupled with the European setting did more for the series’ world-building at the time than any of its predecessors, save for Rondo of Blood. It’s not often that a video game series absorbs a literary classic into its main plot, but Castlevania handles it surprisingly well. 

It’s fitting that Castlevania Bloodlines is titled Vampire Killer in Japan. At its core, Vampire Killer is a recontextualization of Castlevania. The story is still framed through the Belmonts’ struggle against Dracula, but the scope is wider, extending mediums in the process. Vampire Killer is about the legacy of the Vampire Killer and the vampire killers whose fates are sealed by the whip. Symphony of the Night may be a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood, but Bloodlines set the stage for Symphony to tell a traditional and intimate story.

More important than anything, though, Castlevania taking Bram Stoker’s Dracula and making it a part of its canon is just so outlandish that it makes perfect sense. The series that regularly featured Universal Monsters as bosses was never going to ignore the novel forever. That Bloodlines uses the novel tactfully and in a game where its presence is appropriate– intentional or otherwise– weirdly elevates Castlevania as a franchise. Castlevania isn’t just a Dracula story, it’s the Dracula story. And of all the games to make that declaration with, Bloodlines is a damn good choice. 

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XO19: Top 10 Best Announcements of the Show

Xbox just had their best XO presentation ever, and it wasn’t even close. Here’s a rundown of the best announcements from XO19.

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Microsoft had a lot to prove going into its fifth annual XO showcase. Console launches are on the horizon, cloud competitor Google Stadia is about to ship to early adopters, and Game Pass subscribers are as hungry as ever for new additions to the lineup. Then there’s the fact that XO has always been looked down upon by the gaming community in general as a lackluster, padded presentation.

All of that changed with XO19. This was, by far, the best XO in the event’s history. In fact, it featured more shocking reveals and genuinely impressive announcements than a good deal of Microsoft’s recent E3 press conferences. From new IP reveals, to first-time looks at gameplay, to a couple “I never would’ve believed you a week ago” shockers, it’s clear that Xbox stepped up its game from years past. Here’s our list of the best announcements of the show.

10. Everwild Reveal

It’s not too often that we get to experience a new IP from Rare. Their last attempt, Sea of Thieves, was a fully multiplayer, always-online affair that gradually garnered a cult following thanks to some of the best community engagement and most consistent content updates in the industry.

We don’t know what type of game Everwild is yet, but it’s certainly oozing that same colorful, ambient charm that made players fall in love with Sea of Thieves all those years ago. Seeing as how we only got a cinematic teaser, though, it might be quite some time before we’re running around these gorgeous environments.


9. ID@Xbox Lineup

The ID@Xbox team has pulled it off again. Despite being stuck with an almost insultingly poor time slot in the presentation, several of the indies shown off in this short montage rivaled some of the show’s AAA spotlights. It had everything from high-profile indies like Streets of Rage 4, Touhou Luna Nights, and the Yacht Club Games-published Cyber Shadow, to more modest beauties like SkateBIRD, Haven, Cris Tales, and she dreams elsewhere.

The best part? All of these are launching on Game Pass day and date. The worst part? No actual dates were announced for anything shown. Regardless, it’s encouraging that so many high quality indies are continuing to come to Xbox (and that relationships with Devolver Digital and Yacht Club are rock-solid).


8. West of Dead Reveal/Open Beta

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Raw Fury has one of the better eyes in the indie publishing scene. Gems like GoNNER, Dandara, and Bad North have all released under their watch, and West of Dead might be their best acquisition yet. It’s a heavily-stylized twin stick shooter that switches things up by making tactical cover a core part of the experience.

The trailer hinted at roguelike elements being present, and the ever-popular procedurally generated levels should significantly up replayability. How it plays, however, remains to be seen…unless you have an Xbox, in which case you can play the exclusive open beta now before the full game comes to all platforms next year.


7. Halo Reach Release Date

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The Master Chief Collection has long been the one golden goose that endlessly eludes those outside of the Xbox ecosystem. Earlier this year, though, Microsoft made waves when it announced that it was bringing the entire collection over to PC. Reach is the first step in that process, and it’s finally making its way to both PC and Xbox One as part of the MCC on December 3rd.

It’s just a date, but the fact that so many new players get to experience one of Halo‘s most beloved outings at last easily made it one of the highlights of the night.


6. Grounded Reveal

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Who woulda thought? Fresh off releasing one of the best RPGs in years with The Outer Worlds, Obsidian decided to show off a passion project from one of its smaller teams: Grounded. The premise? Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Survival Edition.

Players take control of kids the size of ants as they fight off actual bugs, cook, craft armor and weapon upgrades, and build shelter to survive in the wilderness of someone’s backyard. As silly as it sounds and looks, and as unexpected a project it is for Obsidian to undertake, it genuinely looks rather promising. The cheerful color palette is a welcome contrast to the dark, brooding aesthetic so many other survival games have adopted. There are plenty of details left to be uncovered, but if early impressions are anything to go by, this is one to keep on your radar early next year.


5. Age of Empires IV Gameplay Reveal

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Age of Empires is one of the most esteemed strategy franchises in history. Despite having this beloved IP in their back pocket, however, Microsoft hasn’t published a new mainline game in the series since 2005. Age of Empires IV was originally announced over two years ago, and after buttering everyone up with the release of Age of Empires II Definitive Edition that afternoon, the first glimpse of gameplay was finally shown at XO19.

Simply put, the game looks gorgeous. Every building is full of detail and the countryside looks surprisingly lush and picturesque. Witnessing hundreds of units charging down the valley towards the stronghold in the trailer was mind-blowing as an old-school fan. They didn’t show off any innovations or moment-to-moment gameplay, but it’s looking more and more like the future of the franchise is safe in Relic’s hands.


4. Final Fantasy Blowout

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Xbox’s success in Japanese markets has become something of a running joke over the years. Though inroads were clearly made with Bandai Namco, many more Japanese publishers won’t go within a mile of the platform. Possibly through working with Square Enix’s western division to put the latest Tomb Raider and Just Cause entries on board, it looks like the main branch has finally decided to give Xbox players a chance.

Starting this holiday, Game Pass subscribers will gradually get every single-player Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy VII. More shocking still, The Verge reported that the Xbox team is working to get the massively popular MMO Final Fantasy XIV over as well. The sheer value of having every post-Super Nintendo Final Fantasy game included in Game Pass (even XV) is ridiculous. It remains to be seen what the rollout cadence of these ten titles will look like, but considering how long each of these are, one per month wouldn’t shock or disappoint.


3. The Reign of Project xCloud

With Stadia launching just next week, Microsoft had been surprisingly quiet on their cloud gaming front up to this point. The service had gone into preview for those lucky enough to get in and, by most accounts, it had been fairly well-received. The real question came down to what Xbox was going to do to make itself stand out from its competition.

The bombs dropped here felt like the equivalent to the thrashing Sony gave to Microsoft back at E3 2013. Microsoft shadow dropped 40+ new games into Preview for players to test (for free) including Devil May Cry 5, Tekken 7, Bloodstained, and Ace Combat 7. Even better, xCloud will support third-party controllers including the DUALSHOCK 4 and will finally show up on Windows 10 PCs in 2020.

Perhaps the most damning announcement, however, is that xCloud will be integrated with Game Pass starting next year. Only having to pay for a Game Pass subscription to access 100+ games and play them in the cloud (including Halo, Forza, The Outer Worlds, and all those Final Fantasy titles) makes xCloud a far better value than Stadia right out of the gate. If this didn’t force Google to adjust its strategy, we might be looking at a very short cloud gaming war.


2. Square Sharing the Kingdom Hearts Love

Kingdom Hearts 3 releasing on Xbox One was somewhat bittersweet. On the one hand, players who had left the PlayStation ecosystem after playing the first games had a chance to see the arc’s conclusion. On the other hand, new players had no options for going back and experiencing the series’ roots.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5+2.5 Remix and Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue finally coming to Xbox next year is a godsend for younger players and new players alike. More important, however, is the tearing down of those over 15+ years old exclusivity walls. Just like with many of the Final Fantasys, the main Kingdom Hearts games had been married to PlayStation systems for years. This shift at Square is an exciting one, and it bodes particularly well for the next generation of Xbox hardware.


1. Yakuza Finally Goes Multi-Console

It seems like Phil Spencer’s trips to Japan finally paid off. In what was arguably the most shocking announcement of XO19 (right next to Kingdom Hearts), it was revealed that SEGA is taking the Yakuza series multi-console at last. Not only are Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 1+2 coming to Xbox, but all three are going to Game Pass next year as well.

Does this mean support from Japanese studios will increase across the board? Of course not. But getting big names like Bandai Namco, Square Enix, and SEGA on board is nothing if not encouraging. Xbox is clearly pulling out all the stops to ensure a diverse suite of third-party support come Scarlett’s launch next year, and it’s the healthiest the platform has looked in a very long time.

Honorable Mentions:

Bleeding Edge Release Date

KartRider Drift Reveal/Closed Beta Announcement

Last Stop Reveal

Wasteland 3 Release Date

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