Table of Contents:
Best Overall Game

Super Mario Bros. 3

By 1990, the dynasty of NES was beginning to be threatened by 16-Bit systems like the Genesis and TurboGrafx 16, machines that could produce far prettier games than Nintendo's aging hardware. However, no game that year could begin to compete with Super Mario Bros. 3, Miyamoto's crowning triumph for the NES. Excitement for this sequel reached massive proportions. The game was playable on Nintendo's Play Choice 10 arcade units for months before its release, and its revelation also provided the thrilling climax to Universal Studios' film The Wizard. SMB3 simply does everything right. The graphics are colorful and fun, reworking the distinctive Super Mario Bros. style into something more cartoon-like. The memorable soundtrack features exceptional sound quality, bringing life to tunes like the foreboding airship dirge and calypso-themed ending tune. However, in classic Miyamoto fashion, the superb audiovisual trappings are merely a bonus; the true reason to play SMB3 is the gameplay. Perfect control, incredible level design, several mini-games, myriad secrets, and loads of wacky power-ups make the game unbelievably deep. From the awe-inducing splendor of Giant Land to the rare Hammer Bros. Suit, this game contains examples of everything that was great about classic platform gaming. SMB3 is the winner here by a longshot. 

Runners up:

The Legend of Zelda

Miyamoto's action/RPG title forever changed the world of home videogames. Nintendo's strength had previously been high quality arcade ports like Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros., but Zelda was an entirely new type of game. Like a fantasy novel, this game places you in the role of a young adventurer pledged to save the land from an evil tyrant. While action and puzzle solving are part of the equation, the true enjoyment is in the act of exploration. Unlike most games of the time, Zelda keeps no score, so your ultimate goal is a narrative one in which you must complete your quest and rescue Zelda. Few gamers will forget the incredible feeling of accomplishment they felt when they finally completed this monumental quest, only to realize that another one awaited them. 


Lurking in the shadows of third place is Gumpei Yokoi's moody Metroid, a title that holds a special place in many NES gamers' hearts. Most Nintendo-produced titles are colorful, whimsical romps aimed squarely at the younger set. Metroid is none of those things as it deposits the player in a desolate underground world filled with biomechanical terror. Alone, you explore the seemingly endless catacombs in an attempt to thwart the diabolical Mother Brain's plans for celestial annihilation. The graphics are dark, nearly minimalist in approach. An unforgettable soundtrack (which snagged our sound award) is truly avant-garde in approach, combining spooky synths and ambient noise to create a chilling soundscape. Plus, who can forget the gender-equalizing revelation of Samus Aran's decidedly female persuasion? 

Mega Man III

Choosing these games started out as a friendly exchange of ideas, but soon lines were drawn and sides were chosen. It was painfully obvious that one of the many NES Mega Man games belonged on this list, but a fiery battle erupted between supporters of Mega Man II and Mega Man III. Proponents of MMII pointed out that it has more memorable music, a cooler last boss, the series' coolest weapon (the Metal Blade), and most importantly, the super-cool Guts-Dozer and Dragon bosses. However, the MM3 fans stood their ground claiming that their game is considerably longer, has a much more involved plot, and has cooler boss robots. Another nifty feature is the ability to fight all of the Mega Man II robots (in spirit form at least) after you defeat the eight new ones. Mega Man III is also viewed as the 8-Bit peak of the series quality, as it was all downhill from there for the Blue Bomber on NES. 

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest

Simon's Quest is yet another hotly debated choice, as many of us felt that a more traditional Castlevania should have made the list. No one dares to claim that this installment is a bad game, but its deviance from the classic platform standard and nonexistent difficulty render it questionable. Supporters insist that the spectacular graphics, haunting music, and creepy mood make it a true classic. A game does not have to be ridiculously hard (cough, Castlevania, cough) to be enjoyable, and the slight challenge of Simon's Quest means that anyone can behold its stylish splendor through to one of its various cool endings. 

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My Two Cents:
"Super Mario Bros. 3 is such an easy choice, but is it truly the best one? The game was released in the era of 16-bit games, and therefore lacked the impact that many truly classic NES titles had. Both Metroid and The Legend of Zelda were infinitely more influential to gaming as a whole. Sure, SMB3 perfected the Mario formula, but it was merely a variation on a well-established theme. Many other incredible titles were also omitted due to either a lack of space or the ignorance of other judges. Games like Kid Icarus, Faxanadu, Super Mario Bros. 2, Rygar and the original Castlevania were all completely forgotten by our SMB3-crazed editors."

Shane Bettenhausen
Nintendo Editor

A Brief Bibliography
The following excellent books helped out immensely for this feature: 

Game Over, by David Sheff. Essentially the seminal English work about Nintendo, although it's getting a little out of date in places.

Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Videogames, by Leonard HermonA self-published book that goes into amazing detail on the entire video game industry, from the late 60s to today.

TV Game no Sekai 3 by Hikaru Mizusaki. It's another self-published work (and in Japanese too, even), but Mizusaki covers a lot of the juicy details that Sheff left out of his book. It's worth it just for all the photos of Nintendo's pre-video toys and arcade games. 

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