Super Mario Bros 2
Multiple characters! Bizarre powerups! Evil masks that chase you in the game and then haunt your nightmares! These are all staples of Super Mario Bros 2, the purple sheep of the NES Mario family. The gameplay is a departure from most Mario games, having you throw vegetables at enemies to slay them, but there’s still the same sense of charming weirdness that’s prevalent in every one of the games. Plus, SMB2 introduced Birdo, who was one of, if not the first, transgender characters in gaming history, as well as being one doofy-looking boss.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Like Super Mario Bros 2, Zelda II is regarded with mixed feeling by many gamers due to its major deviations from the gameplay established in the first game. Zelda II primarily went for a 2D graphical style rather than the top-down style of the original, and included role-playing elements like experience points. Like the original, however, Zelda II is a massive adventure, chock full of secrets to find and dungeons to delve, and came jam-packed with enough things to do to keep any gamer busy for a long, long time.
Dracula. Few names in popular culture are as well-known as he. Every good hero needs a villain, and vice-versa, and Dracula has plenty of nemeses to keep him busy. In film and literature, he faces off against a man named Van Helsing. In gaming, however, it’s the Belmont clan, particularly Mister Simon Belmont. Like a teacher in a Lifetime original movie, Castlevania is tough, but fair, and will test the skills of any gamer brave enough to plumb the depths of Dracula’s castle. The visuals for the game manage to deliver a nice dose of ghoulishness to them, with all sorts of nasty zombies, skeletons, and Medusa heads all clamoring for a piece of Simon’s Belmont booty. The cover to the game is one of the most famous in gaming history; I mean, look at Dracula! Dude’s looking pretty vicious on that cover. He’d probably bite a kitten and make it a vampkitten if you let him.
What was to be the swan song of video game producer Hironobu Sakaguchi became the thing he’s most famous for: Final Fantasy. Drawing heavy inspiration from pen-and-paper RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fantasy was a game as massive as it was challenging, and offered character customization, a nigh-unheard of feature at the time. Not only did FF manage to reinvigorate producer Sakaguchi’s career and love of making games, it helped foster the growth of RPGs as a video game genre.
Falling blocks. Pulsing beats. A mad Russian genius. TETRIS! Nearly everyone has played this puzzler at some point, helping move falling tetrominoes into position to score as many points as they can without filling up the play area with errant blocks. Few games are as clean in execution, simple to understand, and repeatedly playable as Tetris, which is probably why the game has sold hundreds of millions of copies and has been ported to dozens of platforms.
Video game heroes come in all shapes and sizes. You’ve got bounty hunters, hedgehogs, plumbers, and … angel guys? Mixing RPG and platforming elements, Kid Icarus has you in command of Pit, a rookie angel who just wants to help out his buddy, the goddess Palutena, with the trouble she’s having with Medusa. The game took heavy inspiration from Greek Mythology, helping set it apart from other games, and even went so far as to have multiple endings depending on your performance.
Body blow! Body blow! Sometimes known as Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, Nintendo’s trademark boxing series is known for its fast pace, challenging gameplay, and colorful cast of characters. Honestly, what other boxing games would put you up against guys like Soda Popinski, a cola-swilling Russian boxer? Or Glass Joe, whose record of 1 win and 99 losses stands as a testament to not only his ineptitude, but spirit of perseverance?
In addition to being a fun, bionic-arm swinging platformer, Bionic Commando was a source of controversy. In the U.S. version, the player faces off against an evil army known as the Badds, and they use evil science to revive their evil leader, Master D. In the original Japanese version, however, the Badds aren’t Badds at all — they’re Nazis! And the revived Master D is actually the revived Adolf Hitler! Even though the U.S. version changed everyone’s names, what it didn’t change was the post-game cutscene depicting a cyborg who is clearly Hitler being blown to smithereens while swearing at you. Awesome!
Mega Man 2
While a lot of movie sequels will take what worked about the first one and grind it into the ground, video game sequels tend to do the opposite. Case in point: Mega Man 2. While the original Mega Man is great, Mega Man 2 took the blue bomber to new legendary heights, with better bosses, better music, and better, well, everything. It also gave gamers one of the most legendarily overpowered weapons of all time, the Metal Blades, which is Metal Man’s signature attack. It’s a multi-directional rapid attack that is so freaking powerful that nearly every boss is weak against it, include Metal Man himself! The only thing missing from Mega Man 2 is the hideously deformed Mega Man on the North American box art from the original Mega Man.
Super Mario Bros
Do-doot-doot doo do doo, doot. Sing those eight notes at just about anyone and they can name that tune. No game is so well known, and no hero as iconic, as Mario. Nearly everyone has played a Mario game, and for good reason. Super Mario Bros. came packaged with every NES, and gamers of ever creed gathered around the glow of the television to help guide Mario to the castle, only to be confronted with those maddening words: your princess is in another castle.