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Commandos Bill and Lance, deep in a soldier trance, toil through the jungle, through the snow, and through an alien hive, gunning down any and every baddie who crossed their path. Konami’s hit multiplayer run and gun game was a frenetic pile of fun, and one of the few games enhanced by a cheat code. By inputting the now infamous Konami Code (do you know it?), at the main menu, each player’s paltry five lives was magnified to thirty, giving nubile gamers a chance at defeating the unrelenting onslaught of aliens, soldiers, and cyborgs coming their way.


Exploration and gamer choice are common, and often encouraged, gameplay features today. In 1986 this was not the case. In Metroid you scoured planet Zebes for secrets, trying to keep bounty hunter Samus alive while navigating this alien world. The game oozed atmosphere, with dark, dank corridors, and music and creature sounds so haunting it bordered on claustrophobic. Also, the game featured a twist ending! After playing through the entire game as what many players assumed to be a dude, Samus removed her helmet to reveal flowing locks of hair. Wooooah! Tubular!

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse

While Castlevania II went the way of Super Mario Bros 2/Zelda II by drastically changing its gameplay, Castlevania III took the series in an even better direction. The game offered multiple, branching pathways for the player to explore, and multiple characters to choose from, each with their own, dramatically different playstyle. Default hero Trevor Belmont played similarly to Simon Belmont, all whips and holy water. Sorceress Sypha uses powerful elemental magic. Grant the Thief can climb walls and change directions mid-jump, an ability shared by pretty much only him and Mega Man during those early days of gaming. Alucard the Dhampir, who is Dracula’s son and star of several later Castlevania games, can shapeshift and shoot fireballs. So much gaming goodness you’ll play till the sun comes up.

The Legend of Zelda

Like its sister game, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda provided the gamer with a massive world to explore. There were secrets around every corner, and virtually no hand-holding from the game. Want to figure out where to go? Get to exploring, kiddo! The land of Hyrule is a dangerous place, and Link has only his wits and his sword (at first, anyway), to help him on his quest to retrieve the Triforce and stop Gannon. The game evolved out of Shigeru Miyamoto’s childhood memories of being lost in the countryside without a map to guide him, and how amazing and wonderful it felt to stumble across new discoveries. He wanted to encapsulate that experience within a game, and as a result we got the labyrinth filled, secret-laden adventure, The Legend of Zelda.

Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario Bros. 3 has everything you could ever want in a game. It’s colorful, it’s fast, it’s easy to share. There are so many secrets that, years later, people are still discovering new things about the game. Super Mario Bros. 3 is so jam-packed with levels and power-ups it’s a surprise it could fit into one cartridge. The game is as long, or as short, as you want it to be, depending on how fast your fingers are (and how many warp flutes you can track down). The worlds were bright and varied, covering several environment types that have since become staples of gaming. Areas like the grass world, ice world, desert world, as well as a few more interesting areas, like the giant world, with giant blocks and equally giant enemies, and the deadly pipe-world, filled with piranha plants. Super Mario Bros. 3 is so fundamentally enjoyable that even the most jaded, twitter-addicted millennial child can pick up a controller and have a blast playing it. And that alone gives it the #1 spot in our 25 Best NES Games list.