Top 25 Best Micro Genius Games

Yeah, remember these cartridges? So if you've played the Micro Genius, this list is for you. If you were lucky and somehow got the NES, this list is also for you. Let's get those nostalgia juices flowing with a look at the games we all played as kids in Malta in the 90s: 

25. R.B.I. Baseball

 

There’d been baseball games before this one, but R.B.I. Baseball was the first console game the Major League Baseball Players Association officially licensed, meaning developers were able to use the names of real players and thus adding a level of realism previously untouched. Players’ stats and skills accurately corresponded to their stats and skills in real life — for the most part — which lent an air of authenticity to the virtual innings and the title’s reliance on player stamina. However, the MLB didn’t license the game, so though depictions of real players could be used, real team names and logos could not. Thankfully, the MLB jumped on the bandwagon and a beautiful friendship was born upon the breakthrough commercial success of R.B.I. Baseball. In recent years, the retro franchise has tried to make a comeback, but it hasn’t gone so well. The original, however, brings back fond memories.

When the original Double Dragon was adapted from arcade to NES, the developers dropped the one thing that made the game so compelling in the arcades: cooperative fighting. For the sequel, they finally brought the coin-op co-op gameplay to the console, and in turn brought friends closer together through brawling, 8-bit bad guys. Awww. Moreover though, the developers fleshed out the storyline with narrative sequences between stages, created three difficulty settings, and gave the combative kin a swath new moves such as the Hyper Uppercut and the Cyclone Spin Kick. Plus, they added new enemies, a final boss, and most importantly, a fairy tale ending to boot. The Double Dragon series looks and plays the same even today, thanks to the recently released Double Dragon IV.

23. Faxanadu

Faxanadu didn’t exactly get a whole lot of love when it first came out, but cult classics rarely do. The title was essentially a side-story branching from the second installment of Dragon Slayer, a Falcom-developed RPG series. It wasn’t particularly creative or innovative, but Nintendo made up for it with interesting design sensibilities and a vast “World tree” that hosted all of the games fortresses and villages. Also, whereas most games during the late ’80s sported bright, cartoonish flare, Faxanadu‘s color palette consisted of more subdued, earthy tones. It’s slightly Gothic in a sense, placing it more in the vain of Castlevania than DuckTales.

22. Lode Runner

Aside from being a sterling port of a popular PC puzzle game, Lode Runner is also one of the rare NES games to feature a level editor, allowing players to find endless enjoyment through designing new and more difficult levels. The gameplay tasks the player with collecting gold in various levels of increasing difficulty, trying to avoid guards along the way. Players can dig holes to trap guards, and observing the patrol patterns of guards is critical to success in the harder levels.

In many ways, Lode Runner is a forerunner to puzzle-platformers of today such as Spelunky, with the focus on avoiding enemies and using ambushes or trickery to deal with them. Along with the ability to create your own levels, Lode Runner is a surprisingly forward-thinking platformer for the era. Historical relevance aside, it’s also one of the most addictive puzzle games on the NES.

21. Rygar

Often overshadowed by similar games such as Metroid and The Legend of Zelda, Rygar was an action/platformer game known for its unfortunate combination of high difficulty and lack of a save function. The player must seek out five magic items, all guarded by bosses, in order to ascend to the floating castle of the evil King Ligar for a final confrontation. Some areas can only be accessed with certain items, a la Metroid, encouraging exploration and backtracking.

Given that the “Metroidvania” genre has so long been dominated by the two titular franchises (Metroid and Castlevania) Rygar is fun little curio, taking the standard elements of the genre and setting them in a Mesopotamian inspired world. As mentioned, the game is known for its draconian difficulty, but thanks to modern conveniences like emulators, it is possible to alleviate some of its problems through save states.

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BEST NES GAMES: 20-11

20. R.C. Pro-Am

Rare’s isometric R.C. Pro-Am is the granddaddy of racing games, especially Mario Kart. Those turbo strips on the track that give your car a speed boost? Started with R.C. Pro-Am. The ability to attack your opponents with missiles, bombs, and oil slicks? Started with R.C. Pro-Am. That infuriating feeling that goes hand-in-hand when you were wedged into fourth place, and subsequently lose, because you didn’t manage to cut the corner close enough in the final stretch of the third lap? R.C. Pro-Am solidified that feeling. It was quality title, one boasting excellent controls, addictive gameplay, and a terrific music courtesy of the man who’d go on to score both Donkey Kong Country and Banjo-Kazooie (aka David Wise).

19. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

You’re not supposed to mess with perfection, right? Well, after the phenomenal success of The Legend of Zelda, the developers decided to do exactly that for the sequel. Scrapping the top-down gameplay almost entirely, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is an amalgam of RPG and side-scroller, one in which players must traverse Hyrule in an effort to awaken Princess Zelda from a sleeping spell. It remains the only true sequel in the Zelda saga, and introduced hallmark elements that would later be incorporated into others games in the series (i.e. Dark Link, pivotal NPCs, the magic meter). However, though many gameplay elements were still shed with the game’s successor, it offered a welcoming clash of game genres and innovative ideas.

18. Bubble Bobble

A venerable cross between a platformer and a puzzle title, Bubble Bobble followed the adventures of Bub and Bob — the two dragons first featured in the iconic arcade title, Bust-a-Move — as they navigated the 100-stage Cave of Monsters. Bub and Bob essentially trap enemies in bubbles and then burst said bubbles to score points, while dodging foes and collecting fruit along the way. Though the title features single-player gameplay, the game was best played with a pal, encouraging cooperation with secret levels and an alternate ending that could exclusively be accessed via Bub and Bob.

17. Crystalis

Crystalis is what you’d get if Hyrule plunged into an apocalyptic war and Link was forced to aimlessly wander the resulting nuclear wasteland in search of swords and other artifacts. That said, it’s a good deal like The Legend of Zelda in terms of gameplay, with same winning recipe to match. What really set Crystalis apart from better-known RPGs was its elaborate, compelling storyline, and the title’s compelling fusion of sci-fi and fantasy. So compelling, in fact, Nintendo secured the game’s rights from the original publisher SNK and adapted it for Game Boy Color 10 years later.

16. Castlevania

Fans of Castlevania games made post-Symphony of the Night may find the series’ original outing a bit barebones. Unlike in later games, Castlevania does not feature large, interconnected areas to explore, nor an expansive variety of abilities and items to customize your style of play. What Castlevania classic does offer is one of the best platforming experiences on the NES. Players control Simon Belmont and explore Dracula’s Castle in hopes of vanquishing the dark lord. Along the way Simon must fight through a number of enemies such as mummies and Frankenstein’s monster; unlike later Castlevania games which adopted a more baroque style, the original draws on old Universal monster movies for influence. Simon can find some items such as throwing knives and holy water to help him, but his primary weapon is his trusty whip, a series mainstay. It’s a simple game by the franchise’s standards, but so much of the core gameplay is present that it barely matters.

15. Final Fantasy II

No, not that Final Fantasy II. American audiences in the 90s missed out on the actual second and third installments in the long-running franchise, which is a shame. Although not as fondly remembered as the original or IV (which represented a gigantic technological leap for the series) Final Fantasy II embodied the spirit of innovation that Square was known for back in the late 80s.

The first notable change from the first Final Fantasy is the increased prominence of plot and character development. Gone are the mute ciphers of the first game; the party members in II all have distinct personalities and character arcs. The story’s premise of a small kingdom bravely standing against an aggressive empire may be a bit rote today, but at the time it was a huge improvement on the first game’s story of “collect these four crystals and…something happens.”

II’s gameplay also marked a radical shift from its predecessor. While the player still navigates combat through a series of menus, II jettisoned the experience-based leveling system of Final Fantasy, replacing it with a system in which characters improve based on what they do in battle. A character hits an enemy with a sword, and their strength increases. If a character takes a lot of hits, their maximum health will increase. And so on. The system proved to be very exploitable, and Square did away with it for future installments. However, it was a singular concept in those days, and an ancestor to the types of skill-based leveling that games such as the Elder Scrolls franchise would come to experiment with.

Today, Final Fantasy II may be more valuable as an intellectual curiosity than as a game one would actually want to play. Still, given how much of the NES’s library is marred by primitive mechanics and sloppy design, a flawed gem shines all the brighter.

14. Kirby’s Adventure

Kirby’s Adventure may have been very much a swan song for the NES given the console would be discontinued a mere two years after the title’s release, but it was beautiful one nonetheless. With Kirby’s Adventure, the icon pink puff moved beyond his roots on the Nintendo Game Boy, whilst running, jumping, sliding, vacuuming, and absorbing enemy abilities through Dreamland’s seven worlds in an effort to reclaim stolen Star Rod fragments. The title basked in gorgeous animation, use of parallax scrolling, and a phenomenal score, quickly becoming a classic despite being a late-generation title. It was also the first colored titled in the Kirby series, and more importantly, the first to offer save functionality. Thank God. The original Kirby formula is still kicking today, as represented by the upcoming Switch entry in the series.

13. Excitebike

As one of merely 18 launch titles available for the NES, the aptly-titled Excitebike was nothing short of exciting. Somewhere between speeding through track after track of dirt and careening past competitors, players also had to keep an eye on their temperature gauge — lest they be forced to endure a lengthy cool-down prcoess — and properly angle their bike before launching off any one of the game’s breakneck jumps. Furthermore, the game allowed players to create their own racetrack, which was damn near revolutionary for the time.

12. Super Mario Bros.

No best-of list would be complete without the title that single-handedly revitalized the gaming industry and solidified Nintendo as its flagship titan. Super Mario Bros. was superbly entertaining, epitomizing the dictum that a game should be “easy to learn but difficult to master.” Players donned the role of the affable Mario, accompanying the plumber on his journey through the Mushroom Kingdom and his quest to save Princess Peach from the maniacal Bowser. It was littered with mushroom power-ups, gold coins, and goombas, and essentially pioneered the side-scroller as we know it while setting the template for countless games that followed. To this day, its impact should go without saying. Out of curiosity, have you seen Super Mario Bros.‘ first level in augmented reality?

11. Mother

The Mother series remains one of Nintendo’s most confusing accomplishments. Created by a famous Japanese copywriter, the series broke with many of the RPG traditions of the time, eschewing a fantasy setting for the 20th Century United States, and magic for psychic powers and aliens. It has become one of Nintendo’s most beloved second-tier franchises. Despite this, only the second game, EarthBound, has ever been officially released outside of Japan. We’re looking at you, Mother 3.

It all began with Mother. Released in 1989, the gameplay was inspired by the Dragon Quest series, which had become one of the most successful video game franchises in Japan. Like in the latter, players explores and overworld map as they progress through the story, encountering random battles as they walk around. Combat takes place in its own screen, where the player views the action in first person, selecting spells and abilities from a menu.

Despite the similarities in gameplay, Mother is radically different in setting and tone. Instead of the traditional heroic narrative of the Dragon Quest games, Mother tells a somewhat humorous fantasy parody in which school children travel between dimension, honing their psychic powers and thwarting an alien invasion. The psychedelic visuals and soundtrack push the Nintendo’s hardware to its limits, and though they may seem dated today, they retain a certain charm that many games of the era do not. Mother remains one of the most creative RPGs ever made, and any fan of the genre should at least give it a glance.

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BEST NES GAMES: 10-1

10. Tetris

“The Soviet mind game,” the cover declared. A case of the Commies flexing their muscles at the West, trying to confuse and intimidate us with their mind games? An example of international geopolitics trumped by cooperation in the gaming industry? Who cares! Tetriswas and still is a ludicrously simple and an instantly addictive game.

9. Dragon Quest III

There have been many great rivalries in video game history. Nintendo vs. Sega, Playstation vs. Xbox, Metal Gear vs. Syphon Filter (okay, maybe that last one is a stretch), but one of the earliest and longest running is between the two colossi of Japanese RPGs: Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. American audiences may be far more familiar with the former, but Dragon Quest is an industry unto itself in Japan: demand for the third installment was so high that nearly 300 school kids were arrested for truancy as they cut class to wait in line for its release. It’s hard to imagine anything less than a great game inspiring that kind of zeal.

And what a game it is! Old-school Japanese RPGs are famed for their massive worlds and lengthy quests, and Dragon Quest III is a perfect example of this: the hero’s journey spans two worlds and easily over fifty hours of gameplay. Aside from the main quest, there are hundreds of secrets to find and side plots to explore. Players with a lot of time on their hands will find plenty to sink their teeth into.

Dragon Quest III improved on its predecessors by increasing the player’s party size from one to four. Early in the game the player can choose characters from a variety of classes such as Fighters and Mages. These classes have distinct roles and abilities in combat, giving the player a great deal of flexibility in how they play the game.

The Dragon Quest franchise remains a juggernaut, with new titles coming out every few years. Although the developers make tweaks to the series, the core elements remain the same, and many of these elements were codified with Dragon Quest III, easily one of the best RPGs on the NES.

8. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

After experimenting with RPG elements and exploration with Simon’s Quest, Konami reined in the gameplay for the third installment in the Castlevania series, Dracula’s Curse. Set before the first two games, the game follows Simon Belmont’s ancestor, Trevor, as he seeks to vanquish Dracula. As usual for the series, the vanquishing doesn’t quite take.

Despite going back to platforming basics, Dracula’s Curse did introduce some changes of its own to the Castlevania formula. Main character Trevor Belmont is joined by three new characters who can accompany him: Sypha Belnades, a  sorceress with powerful spells; Grant Danasty, an oddly named pirate who can climb on walls; and Alucard, Dracula’s son who can shoot fireballs and fly around as a bat.

Although the game is divided into straightforward levels like the original Castlevania, there are a few points in Dracula’s Curse where the player can allow two different paths. This sort of branching gameplay adds variance to playthroughs, and there are different endings depending on which companion Trevor travels with.

7. Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy did for RPGs what GoldenEye 007 would later do for first-person shooters: it redefined what a genre was capable of. The original Final Fantasy improved and expanded upon mechanics first featured in games like the aforementioned Dragon Warrior — such as random battles and the overworld map — while developing a girth of new genre staples such as character classes and multi-character parties. The flagship title spurred an enormous media franchise, one encompassing more than a dozen video games, a swath of anime tie-ins, and borderline-horrendous CGI movie in 2001.

6. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

Before biting off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear during the WBA Heavyweight Championship and appearing in the Hangover movies alongside Zach Galifianakis, Mike Tyson was boxing’s undisputed world champion and one of the toughest men on the planet. In 1987, Tyson lent his name to and appeared in the NES adaptation of the Punch-Out!! arcade game. It follows a fictional boxer known as Little Mac as he works his way up through professional boxing circuits, one left and right jab (and uppercut) at a time. By the transitive property, it is the undisputed world champion of Nintendo boxing games, featuring such colorful foes as Glass Joe, Soda Popinski and, of course, Mike Tyson himself as the game’s final boss–whose namesake was removed and appearance in the game replaced by “Mr. Dream” in future versions courtesy of his multiple legal stumbles).

5. Super Mario Bros. 2

When the sequel to Super Mario Bros. came out in Japan, people within Nintendo felt that its huge increase in difficulty over the original might turn off American audiences. As a result, Nintendo of America chose not to release the game in the U.S. (it would later be included in the compilation Super Mario All-Stars for the Super Nintendo, and later Nintendo Wii). This presented a problem, as they still wanted to present Americans with a sequel to the very profitable Super Mario Bros.

The solution was to take another Nintendo platformer, Doki Doki Panic, and replace the characters with figures from the Mario franchise. The result is one of the most bizarre and memorable entries in the Mario canon.

Perhaps the biggest change from the original SMB is that players no longer dispatch enemies by jumping on their heads; rather, players now have the ability to pick up enemies and objects and throw them to inflict damage. Also notable is that there are now four playable characters: Mario and Luigi are joined by Princess Peach and Toad. Each character has their own unique ability (for example, Peach can hover for a short time, allowing her to cross great horizontal distances) giving players different ways to attempt the various stages.

4. Metroid

One of the most influential titles to appear on the NES, Metroid drops the player into the dark depths of a strange planet and leaves them to their own devices. There are no waypoints to follow, no objective other than a general goal to defeat the space pirate leader, Mother Brain. It’s a dark, tense game of exploration, one in which the player must find their own way through the alien vistas and organisms in their path.

The game pioneered the “Metroidvania” genre which Castlevania would later help to build upon, giving players a large world to explore. There is an assortment of items and weapons scattered around the world, all of which aid not only in combat but in reaching new areas as well. The original Metroid is a little rough around the edges, with less precise controls and duller environments than the far superior sequel, Super Metroid. Some primitive design aspects aside, it’s a game that launched a thousand imitators, and is still a thrilling and challenging adventure. Given its influence and the enduring popularity of leading lady Samus Aran, it’s a little strange that Nintendo has been so reluctant to release new entries in the franchise; even better, then, that the ones they have made are so good. It seems like Nintendo finally listened to fans by announced Metroid: Samus Returns for 3DS and Metroid Prime 4 for Nintendo Switch.

3. Mega Man 2

Would it surprise you to know that Mega Man, the character who would for many years be Capcom’s de facto mascot, was nearly a one-hit wonder? The first game in the franchise sold poorly, and Capcom only greenlit a sequel on the condition that the development team do it on the side while focusing on other projects. Series creator Keiji Inafune claims the team spent 20 hours a day, sacrificing their personal lives to ensure the game got made. It’s a good thing they did, as Mega Man 2 put the franchise in the big leagues, and to this day remains one of the peaks of the series.

Like the original, Mega Man 2 gives the player the option to choose between a group of different stages, each capped off by a boss battle. Every time the player defeats a boss, they gain access to that boss’ signature weapon, which they can use to defeat other bosses more easily. Mega Man 2 improved on its predecessor by giving players new items to use such as energy capsules, expanding the number of levels to complete, and just looking better aesthetically. It’s a much more colorful than the original, with a more eccentric group of bosses to take down. Just be sure to have a swear jar ready when you attempt Quick Man’s stage. If you want a modernized take on the franchise, check out the surprisingly adept fan-made Mega-Man 2.5D.

2. The Legend of Zelda

Nintendo has been in the games business longer than most, and some of their most beloved franchises span decades. Some series (most notably Metroid) are only occasionally brought out of the Nintendo vault, while others (particularly Mario and The Legend of Zelda) are the horses that pull Nintendo’s golden chariot through the ages. While Mario may be the face of the company, The Legend of Zelda is in many ways the flagship Nintendo franchise: the announcement of a new Mario game is routine, a new Zelda game an event.

Looking back on the original Legend of Zelda for the NES, it’s easy to see why the franchise has thrived from game to game, generation to generation. It’s all there in that simple gold box: the huge world to explore, the NPCs to interact with the dungeons with their unique puzzles and monsters, the arsenal of interesting weapons. It’s a deep game from an era known for simplicity, and it has proven to be the blueprint not only for all future Zelda games, but many action-adventure games and RPGs throughout history. And the best part of all: it still holds up.

1. Super Mario Bros. 3

There is probably no video game character more iconic than Mario; the plucky plumber has been the face of Nintendo for over thirty years. Mario games are the best-selling video game franchise of all time. Platformers, RPGS, sports games, board games: there is seemingly no genre Nintendo won’t plug Mario into. The sun never sets on the Mario empire, and it all goes back to those early platformers, of which Super Mario Bros. 3 is arguably the greatest.

The first Super Mario Bros. is a great game in itself, but after 3 it almost seem skeletal. SMB3 adds a number of small features that transform its predecessors’ formula into something truly spectacular. Rather than a linear progression through levels, SMB3 introduced an overworld map where players can move around and select levels, as well as mini-games and obstacles to overcome.

While the first Super Mario Bros. had a few power-ups, they were fairly limited in terms of effects. SMB3 added a plethora of new items for Mario to use, including the iconic Tanooki suit, which allowed Mario to fly and find secrets hidden off the beaten path and sometimes even off-screen. Moreover, the game introduced the ability to hold on to items and use them whenever the player felt like it.

The Super Mario trilogy on the NES is one of the foundational pillars of the video game industry. It ushered in a new wave of interest in games after the market crash of 1983 and solidified Nintendo’s place as a power player in the industry, a role they’ve maintained to this very day. Of that trilogy, Super Mario Bros. 3 is the pinnacle, showing off some of the most clever design and pleasant graphics on the system.