Week-by-week, Nintendo’s list of Virtual Console titles keeps growing. As you can imagine, most of the games made available were huge hits back in the day when they were first introduced. But perhaps there are some games you might have missed – maybe you skipped the Nintendo 64, or were a Genesis fanboy rather than a Nintendo freak. On top of that, some games stand the test of time a lot better than others. You might have fond memories of a game, but if you were to play it now, those memories may be forever tarnished.
If you’re having trouble deciding on which games to get on VC, hopefully this list can help get you started. Here are 10 of the better games available on VC, in no particular order:
Gradius III | SNES | 800 Points | Shooter
There are quite a few shoot-em-ups available on Virtual Console, but in my opinion Gradius III is the best. Part of the long-running Gradius series (and in my opinion, the best one of them all), G3 was unique in its time in that it allowed you to customize your ship as you progress through the game. Gradius III rates among the better SNES games in terms of graphics and sound (especially music), but unfortunately with so much going on at once, it is prone to slowdowns. Unfortunately, those slowdowns still occur on the Wii.
What most people will remember this game for is its insane difficulty – only the craziest shooter fans will likely make it past level 5. But if you’re up to the challenge, and want to play the best shooter on the VC, Gradius III is it.
Kirby’s Adventure | NES | 500 Points | 2D Platformer
Kirby actually made his debut on the Gameboy in 1992. What seemed like yet another 2D platformer for the Gameboy ended up being one of the biggest hit franchises for Nintendo with almost 20 titles to date. Kirby’s Adventure stands out on our list because a) It’s not a Mario platformer or a Mario platformer clone, and b) Being an NES game, it is only 500 points ($5 USD).
Kirby’s Adventure stands the test of time because it makes use of one fun feature; being able to steal enemies’ skills. Not exactly an original idea (believe me, if Mega Man were available on VC, it would be on this list), but one that makes the game undeniably fun to play, even after all these years.
Being released in 1993, Kirby’s Adventure is one of the later titles to be developed for NES. Because of this, the graphics and sound are very good for an 8-bit title, if not the best looking and sounding game ever released on the NES.
Punch Out!! | NES | 500 Points | Sports
Easily the best sports game ever for the NES, Punch Out!! is actually one of the first NES titles I owned. Of course back then, it was Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!, Not some geek named Mr. Dream. But in the end, it doesn’t matter who you face at the end – Punch Out!! is FUN to play, and easily stands the test of time.
The idea is to memorize each character’s (and they were definitely characters) tells, and take advantage of their weaknesses. The gameplay is quite simplistic, but it is fun as hell to play, and truly is a must-own for anyone who has fond memories of the NES days. The graphics were great for the time – just a few years after NES’ introduction, and already we’re getting huge, nicely detailed animated characters! The sound isn’t varied enough, but the music will definitely bring back some memories.
Super Mario 64 | N64 | 1000 Points | 3D Platformer
I still remember the day. The N64 was out for a couple months, and I couldn’t afford one. Instead, I waited at the local video store and chipped in with a friend and rented one. The games: Wave Race 64, and Super Mario 64. I think to this day, both of us have been affected by Super Mario 64. He is making video games for a living, and I am writing about them for a living.
It was anybody’s guess how a platformer would translate into 3D, but leave it to Miyamoto to come up with the perfect adaptation. At that time, no other game offered such freedom and precise control over a 3D character. Much of my time playing this game just involved running around and discovering the world.
This game is another absolute must-have on the VC, particularly if you missed it the first time around. Yes, the camera still sucks, but the game is as immersive as ever, and with 120 stars to collect, it’s pretty good value for those 1000 Wii Points
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time | N64 | 1000 Points | Action/Adventure
What Super Mario 64 did for the Mario series – advancing it into a whole new era – Ocarina of Time did for The Legend of Zelda. I really don’t know what more I have to do to convince you to buy this game but to just say this is one of the best video games ever made. EVER.
The sheer scope of OoT is what makes it (and other Zelda games starting with Link to the Past) so special – starting off as a kid with nothing much going on besides some daily chores and goofing around – by the end of the game you are nothing more than a hero. And it feels like it by then, too.
Everything you’d expect from a modern Zelda game is here – amazingly crafted puzzles, silly characters, and just the feeling of discovering a whole new world.
There’s really not much more that can be said. Consider this; if you haven’t played this game before, you are in for a treat. The graphics may not exactly be pretty, but it’s the gameplay that makes OoT so special. Just get it. You will not be disappointed.
Gunstar Heroes | Genesis | 800 Points | Action
Both Contra and Contra III – two of the best Run and Gun games from the 8- and 16-bit era – are available on the VC. If you’re a Run and Gun fan, you have probably already purchased and downloaded those two games. But I’m here to tell you that Gunstar Heroes is possibly the best Run and Gun game you’ve never played – unless you were a hardcore Genesis fan.
It shouldn’t be shocking to hear that Gunstar Heroes was made by the same people that worked for Konami when Contra was made, so you know that this isn’t just a clone. Instead, it offers an insane amount of action on the screen, and is one of those games that helps support the argument that games may look better nowadays, and are more complicated, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re more fun. If you’re a Run and Gun fan, or just a fan of 16-bit 2P simultaneous games and skipped the Genesis, you definitely should give this game a look.
The Legend of the Mystical Ninja | SNES | 800 Points | 2D Platformer
Coming in just in time to make our list, here’s a great 16-bit platformer that you may not have heard of. Another one of those precisely-controlled 2-player games that encourages teamwork, Mystical Ninja didn’t exactly have a great franchise run after the first game. However, it was a big hit in Japan, so if you passed it up the first time in 1992, you might want to give it another shot.
If you like games that focus a lot of 2 player action, building of characters, and just plain old Japanese Whackiness, you should gives this game a look for sure.
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts | SNES | 800 Points | Platformer
I’ll say it right now: I suck at this game. I sucked at Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and I sucked at Ghosts ‘n Goblins. The only reason I downloaded this on the VC was for my girlfriend, who for some odd reason is really good at these games. I just don’t get it.
Out of all the early GnG games, Super was probably the best; it features the best graphics which still look quite nice today, and some of the best music soundtracks of the 16-bit era.
If you picked up Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros. and found that they seemed to have gotten easier over time, you need to grab this game (and Gradius III which I mentioned above). They are both extremely difficult, but not in an annoying way. Well, personally I find the fact that you can’t slow down in mid-air annoying, but that’s a gameplay mechanic that only adds to the difficulty.
Wario’s Woods | NES | 500 Points | Puzzle
Puzzle-game fans, we haven’t forgotten about you! Since Tetris has yet to arrive on VC, the next best puzzle game of the 8-bit era has to be Wario’s Woods. In December 1994, Wario’s Woods was the last official NES game ever to be released in North America. So you are forgiven for overlooking this gem; it’s one of the better puzzle games ever released on a console!
The gameplay is basic – arrange 3 matching blocks to remove them. But the gameplay is fresh; despite the title of the game, the true star of the game is TOAD. Rather than move the blocks themselves, you have to control Toad, and use him to move the blocks (and other objects) around, using his various abilities. So it sort of combines a platformer game style with puzzle gaming. Very cool! The graphics are just about as good as the NES gets, as you can imagine, and the music is great as well.
However, this game was released alongside a superior SNES version. That game has not found its way to Virtual Console, and in fact it may not be worth the extra 300 points over this version. This is one of those cheap, fun puzzle games that is worth picking up for those days where you just want to sit back and enjoy a quick puzzle without too much distracting flashy graphics that have taken over this genre as of late.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past | SNES | 800 Points | Action/Adventure
I have to admit, this is the most sentimental pick of all these games for me. Whenever I fire this game up on the VC, I am taken back in time to when I would play A Link to the Past every single waking hour that I was not at school, listening to Guns n’ Roses Use Your Illusions I & II over and over again.
I still think it deserves to be on the Best of Virtual Console list, because the gameplay still stands up today. If you were introduced to Zelda games after Ocarina of Time, but simply can’t deal with the archaic gameplay of the first two NES titles, LttP is still worth looking at. The world is huge, the music is astounding, and the graphics are gorgeous. Miyamoto and his crew had figured out the perfect balance of open exploration and linear play by offering you a few abilities at a time. This gave you ample time to fully explore a certain area of the overworld before moving onto another area opened by, say, being able to pick up huge boulders, or being able to swim. This isn’t a game you rush through, it’s a game that you want to sit with and get to know. There are so many characters, so many enemies, and just so much to do. I had mentioned that many people believe that Ocarina of Time was the best game ever made. I agree to some extent, but to me, no game is better than A Link to the Past. And the music… that music…
And there you have it, 10 of the best games you can get for Virtual Console. I tried to include a little bit of everything here, but clearly the #1 genre for the time was the 2D platformer. I only wish I could have added some RPGs, since there are some great ones from Enix and Square that I am dying to play again. But we’ll just have to wait and see…