Nintendo first decided to test the waters with their newly-created Vs System, arcade cabinets housing slightly modified, localized versions of already existing Famicom titles. In addition to generating additional revenue via the arcades and giving Nintendo a way to gauge the popularity of various titles, this strategy also had the added bonus of creating buzz and fostering awareness of those titles ahead of the console's launch. Furthermore, when it came time to release the console, Nintendo opted to start out with a limited test market launch, first in New York, and then in Los Angeles, in order to make certain that the system would in fact sell. Nintendo's strategies paid off, and on September 27th, 1986, they finally released their rebranded Nintendo Entertainment System nationwide in America. The video game console was back and here to stay.
In order to help restore consumer confidence and avoid another flood of low quality titles on the market, Nintendo also enacted strict controls on product approval and game licensing for their console. This was made famous by their official seal of quality that could be found on virtually all game cartridges produced for the system; and the NES had quality titles in spades. In fact, it was mostly thanks to its strong stable of games that the system was such a spectacular success. Here are but 12 examples of the best titles that the Nintendo Entertainment System had to offer:
Super Mario Bros played like a dream, with visuals and sounds to match. The game was a revelation, a monster, a cultural icon. It sold like gangbusters and was made into a breakfast cereal, a cartoon show, a (regrettably terrible) movie, mountains of merchandise, and the most widely-known and plentiful franchise of sequels and spin-offs ever created. Those who'd played it wanted it in their home, and those who hadn't wanted to find out what all the fuss was about. In (yet another) brilliant move, Nintendo quickly decided to make the game a pack-in title that came included with most of the NES consoles they sold. Unsurprisingly, their console sales rocketed into the stratosphere, and that, as they say, was all she wrote.
As intrepid vampire hunter, Simon Belmont, the player needed to battle all manner of classic horror monsters as they made their way through Dracula's castle to have at the miserable master of the night, himself. All of this was set to one of the most jamming and appropriate little pile of chip tunes ever to be conceived by mankind. It's little wonder that the game quickly spawned several scary-good sequels on a variety of platforms over the following years. This would include another NES title, the arguably equally-fantastic 1990 follow-up, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse.
In contrast to Mario , Miyamoto decided to make Zelda a far less linear game, with a strong focus on adventuring. As the hero Link, players were required to explore the game world, to discover new tools that would help them on their quest to save the titular hero from the clutches of the villain Ganon, to engage with non-playable characters, and to think about what they should do and where they should go next. The Legend of Zelda also received a similar amount of acclaim and success to Super Mario Bros, likewise inspiring its own cartoon show, merchandise, cereal (which actually shared a box with the Mario one), and impressively large stable of sequels and prequels which have appeared on virtually every platform Nintendo has ever sold. No movie though (yet).
Although getting the game onto the NES did require some compromises/changes to the visuals and gameplay, this was offset by the addition of several interesting new characters, most notably of which was then actual heavyweight champion, "Iron" Mike Tyson as the final opponent. When the rights to Tyson's name and likeness ran out in 1990, the game was then re-released simply as "Punch-Out!" This version replaced Tyson with a new final opponent named "Mr Dream". As with the arcade version, the console release was also a knock-out hit and as a result, there weren't many NES owners in the late '80s who didn't possess a copy of the game. In fact, the game was so popular that in-game opponent, King Hippo, appeared as one of the main characters on the beloved Nintendo-themed cartoon show, Captain N: The Game Master (along with the hero characters from Castlevania and the Mega Man games, and Mother Brain, the menacing final boss from Metroid).
The excellent soundtrack also fit perfectly with both the cinematics, and the levels in general and greatly helped to set Ninja Gaiden apart as one of the truly standout titles on the NES. The only real flaw that the game had was its relentlessly punishing difficulty. Along with a number of other, similarly challenging games, it helped establish a somewhat notorious reputation for the console, which came to be known as "Nintendo hard". Ninja Gaiden was fun though, despite its rather insane level of difficulty, and is still considered to be not only one of the best, most influential games on the NES, but of all time.
Thankfully, however, Capcom was undeterred, and decided to give the property one more go; with their 1989 follow-up, Mega Man 2. This time around, they made the gameplay a bit more balanced and enjoyable. They also tweaked the formula slightly, and gave the game an objectively superior soundtrack. The additional balance and polish they brought to the sequel resulted in it becoming a massive hit which paved the way for the large number of sequels and spin-offs that followed (and are still being released today). While there have been many other fantastic and acclaimed installments to the franchise over the years, Mega Man 2 is still widely regarded as the best.
This time around, the game wouldn't be a harder carbon copy, nor a reskin of something completely different, Nintendo simply took everything that was great about the first game and polished and expanded on it until they had something even better. They added more stages per world, and included a map so as to give the player a bit of choice in terms of what they do next (and even gave the player the ability to skip some stages altogether, either with or without the use of secret warp pipes). They also threw in a variety of mini-games, and superb new power-ups giving the player more fun things to do, and more unique abilities to help them out. Finally, the game featured beautiful, more detailed graphics and a larger, more varied, yet equally fantastic soundtrack. Super Mario Bros 3 was a truly worthy follow-up to the groundbreaking first entry. Just like the original, SMB 3 was a massive hit and also received its own cartoon, merchandise, and even a movie (of sorts). Also much like the first game, Super Mario Bros 3 too is widely considered to be one of the greatest games ever made.
Luckily, the 1992 follow-up, RC Pro-Am II, more than lived up to it's title. It not only offered a much-needed 2-player multiplayer mode (in addition to new single-player content), but even added support for double that number of players, provided you owned the official NES "Four Score" four-player multitap adapter. This not only positioned RC Pro-Am II as the best entry in the series, but placed it at the top of the podium of all racing titles for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
As Kirby's first foray into a full-color world, HAL Laboratory took advantage of the more powerful hardware to make the visuals really pop. The game also ratcheted up the fun with the debut of what would become Kirby's signature copy ability, granting him special powers depending on the types of enemies he swallows. Kirby's Adventure was a late hit for the Nintendo Entertainment System and gave fans at least one more good reason to keep coming back to it, at a time when the console had already been replaced by its successor, the S(uper)NES. Kirby's Adventure also succeeded in cementing its star character as a Nintendo mainstay who still shows up regularly to this day, both in his own titles, and in the immensely popular Super Smash Bros series.
Following shortly after the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System, then-competitor Sega released their own 8-bit console in the West, the Sega Master System. While Sega's console did enjoy some modest sales during its time on the market, it never really posed a significant threat to the NES, and in fact, didn't even manage to reach a third of Nintendo's numbers. In 1989, Sega tried again with their more powerful follow-up, the 16-bit Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. Nintendo would eventually respond with the 1991 launch of their own 16-bit console, the Super Nintendo (Entertainment System). While the competition would be much more fierce and much closer the second time around, in the end, Nintendo was still the victor, once again. This result was largely based on the strength of the brand, and of the fantastic game series, which so many fans had first come to know and love with the NES.