The 7 Most Underrated NES Games

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by Brian Morin @bmorin54 on April 16, 2013

in Lists, The 80s

Anyone who grew up with a Nintendo Entertainment System in their house knows about games like The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, Contra, Metroid, Super Tecmo Bowl, Super Mario Bros, and Ninja Gaiden.

While those are the classics- the games that we all grew up playing, today I’d like to recognize some of the lesser known titles. The games that despite not being as popular, have retained a lot of their playability. Games that were challenging, original, and just plain fun.



Crystalis is an action-adventure game released in 1990 by SNK. In the same vein as The Legend of Zelda, it combines all of the questing and object locating of a good RPG without the repletion of battling countless enemies in order to level up. The plot is complex and interesting and makes this a game that I will go back to and play over and over again.


Wizards and Warriors

Wizards and Warriors was released in 1987 by Akklaim. It’s an action game in which you play as a knight fighting against a variety of monsters in order to eventually defeat the evil wizard, Malkil. The basic play of the game is collecting enough gems to enter certain doors and finding the correct color keys to enter others. Throughout you can gain a variety of special weapons and tools that will help you advance in the game. I always remembered the great soundtrack to this game.


Maniac Mansion

Maniac Mansion was developed by Lucasfilm Games and was originally released for the Commodore 64 and the Apple II, which is where I first remember playing it. It was released for the NES in 1990. The thing that I remember most about this game is that there were so many options. You could choose different characters to play as, which in turn, would impact both your ability to beat the game, and the ending you would see as a result. The other thing that struck me was that this was an adventure game that didn’t require you to type in commands like you had to in the old Sierra games (which I also loved).


G.I. Joe

G.I. Joe was developed by Taxan and released in 1991. Maybe I’m a little biased here (being a huge fan of G.I. Joe) but I still find this game really fun to play. Would I have liked some different Joes in this game? Sure. I mean, I’m not a huge Captain Grid Iron fan, but I did love Snake Eyes and Rock N Roll. You get to play as the version of Hawk with the jetpack which is pretty cool too. Either way, it’s an action game that is challenging, but not frustrating.

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  • eclectik

    One day I’ll share my Rygar story … I will NEVER play that game again
    I love it though … but I VOW to NEVER EEEEVER play it again

    Another underrated game is The OG Ice Hockey … when you had the skinny, fat, or normal guys; Blades of Steel came out and everyone forgot how dope it really was


    • Brian Morin

      I never really understood the story behind Rygar. A great game nonetheless.

    • OldSchool80s

      Yes, I remember the original Ice Hockey, too. It was relatively simple, but fun. Good call on that one!

  • S

    There was a Mike Tyson (you’re in trouble if he winks) game for this as I think this system came out in 1983 which is funny because I played this at college in the early 90s. I think this was even produced into the mid 90s. And yes Blades of Steel was awesome at that time. Game turned on with announcement “Blades of Steel” (in a faux Howard Cosell voice like the one the kid in Better Off Dead did) then a sharpening sound effect; very cool.

    • Brian Morin

      Mike Tyson’s Punch Out is an amazing game. Still very playable, but everyone knows how fun it is, so therefore, not underrated in my opinion.

  • Classick Material

    Without even reading the article (yeah I know, how dare I fast forward?) I wanted to chime in with a few of my own list of favorite, if not underrated, NES games:

    Flying Warriors – It’s a total knock-off of Battle of the Planets (a.k.a. G-Force), but it was awesome in that it combined martial arts with an RPG quest style of game. My favorite parts were the actual tournaments, where you can fight and recruit new members to your party.

    R.C. Pro-Am – I’ll bet if I scroll up it’s on there, and if it’s not it should be! Hours and hours of fun!

    Shadow of the Ninja – Ninjas! running rampant! Two players! Yeah, this game wasn’t anywhere near as stellar as Ninja Gaiden, but it satisfied my ninja fix, and sharing the NES with a younger brother, the two-player simultaneous option was a plus.

    Journey to Silius – one of my all-time favorite games. Most old NES gamers will consider Sunsoft as the maker of the Batman movie game (also awesome) or the classic Blaster Master, but Journey to Silius not only had a cool story of a kid fighting alien terrorists in space to avenge his father’s death, it also had one of the greatest 8-bit soundtracks known to man.

    Chip ‘N Dale’s Rescue Rangers – fun, addictive, challenging and just as campy if not moreso than Duck Tales on the NES.

    • Brian Morin

      All awesome games worthy of the list. I didn’t include RC Pro Am because I don’t think of it as underrated as I believe most people realize how great it is.

      • timh

        ya i concur. Pro Am was known to be great back then. And ProAM2 is a very highly sought after game to this day. A few years ago i tried buying PA2 and they wanted $48. First simultaneous 2 player w/ an isometric view or something. It’s not under rated but it is awesome.

    • Bryan KinCannon

      R.C. Pro Am for the win! How pissed would you get when you’re winning and it’s almost the last lap and that one dude would go into hyperdrive mode and fly around the track at a million miles an hour?!?! What a dick!

    • Jason Gross (@SockOfFleagulls)

      R.C. Pro-Am! Loved it!!!

  • Classick Material

    LOL, I totally had Maniac Mansion on the C64! Beat it with all the characters. Great thing about the Commodore version was depending on the character you used you could actually microwave the hamster!

    • Brian Morin

      I’m going to have to dig mt NES and Maniac Mansion out and try that.

  • Lamar the Revenger

    Nice! And Maniac Mansion was on the list! SCORE!

    • Brian Morin

      I love the soundtrack for it.

  • Engineernerd

    I liked Shadowgate, but remember it as being fairly short. Like finish it in two days short.

    • Brian Morin

      It was short. One of the games you could rent and finish. Still, It was very different from the typical NES RPGs of the day.

      • More0_0Than

        When I saw the title of your list I was hoping Shadowgate would make the cut, while I enjoyed all the normal games Shadowgate was so cool because it was different. I seem to remember having problems in a couple of spots and I think my folks even ordered the “strategy guide” for me although by the time it got there I had already finished the game.

  • Bryan KinCannon

    Dr. Mario didn’t make it?!?! That’s cool, I realize that I was probably the only person to actually like that game lol It was like Tetris but not as boring and with an amazing soundtrack, what’s not to like??

    • Brian Morin

      I avoided including any Mario games on the list because I think any game that included the most famous video game character ever would automatically disqualify it from being overrated.

  • Jason Gross (@SockOfFleagulls)

    Good job Brian! I remember playing a couple of your games listed, but for the most part I’ll take your word on them!
    Been too long since I played NES, but the some of my favorites that may or may not be underrated were Pinball Quest. Always loved to play pinball as a break from arcade games and thought PQ was a fun game, especially the board where your saver bumper looked like a record.
    Another favorite was Spy vs. Spy. Me and buddy NEVER got sick of it. With all the different levels, it kinda kept it fresh. And the race for the black knife or dagger was always epic. Setting the booby traps and watching your buddy get sprung against a wall….priceless.
    Also enjoyed Blades of Steel hockey and Double Dribble basketball.

    I’ll probably think of more later!!

    • Brian Morin

      I’ve never played Pinball Quest or Spy vs Spy. I remember liking Double Dribble, but tried to play it again recently, and it’s just not quite as good as I remember.

  • JD

    I liked that GIJoe game.

    GIJoe: the Atlantis Factor on the other hand sucked balls

  • Clutch

    I remember the ads for the G.I. Joe game. The cool thing about it was that you got to use the early 90′s characters who’ve never gotten much love outside the DIC cartoon.

  • MeisterShake

    I had the Maniac Mansion game, it was awesome. I was luck enough to have a first run version. The first run featured an option where you could take a characters Guinea Pig from his room, then you could put it in the microwave and it would explode! You could then take the exploded Guinea Pig carcass and add it to your inventory. If you gave it to the guy who owned it (Ed I think) he would kill you and the game was over. There were so many different ways to play this game, it made it a lot of fun. Shadowgate was an incredible game, though it was very easy to get stuck, I remember calling the Nintendo tip line multiple times to get through that one. Bastards were expensive.

    • Brian Morin

      I remember calling that Nintendo line multiple times. It was like $3.99 a minute at least. Where was the internet then damn it!?

  • Clarence from RHM

    How can Super Dodge Ball & Maniac Mansion ever be underrated? I played W&W many, many years ago with my brother before I had any interest in RPG-like games. My Rygar preference is the arcade version, but any Rygar is good.

    • Brian Morin

      I based my consideration on whether it is underrated on how often I read or hear about it in connection with discussion over the greatest NES games, which for both games is rarely or never. Thanks for commenting!

  • Jay Malone @JCorduroy

    Here’s my list – not going to go into detail on them, but there’s certain games I played the hell out of that I love to this day.

    Blaster Master

    Faxanadu (got this and Crystalis within a couple weeks of each other)

    Super Mario Bros. 2 (As discussed in #EDP)

    Battle of Olympus

    Power Blade


    • Howie Decker

      I’m glad Brian wrote this post because I’ve only ever played 2 of those games!

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  • Riprake

    How about Vindicators? That one never got much love from Nintendo as it was unlicensed, but it was a very well-made tank driving game that made you choose your resources carefully between levels, and it allowed for two-player simultaneous play, which was a big plus for when you had a friend to come over and play it with you.

  • Hail Mary

    I’venever played it, but simultaneous play is alway a plus. Tengen did a great job with that with games like Gauntlet and Super Sprint.

  • Solomon

    What? No love for Destiny of an Emperor? For shame!

  • Rivethead

    I don’t know what alternate reality the author lives in, but Rygar, Wizards & Warriors, Crystalis, Super Dodgeball, and Maniac Mansion were all popular games. Crystalis is ranked in Nintendo Power as #115 of the console’s best 200 games, Maniac Mansion regularly appears in “best” lists for the NES, and everyone I knew had a copy of Super Dodgeball. I’m fairly sure these games even received their own segments in Nintendo Power.

    Some truly underrated games would be Low G Man, Metal Storm, and The Guardian Legend.

    • PastorNew

      The Guardian Legend is absolutely tops on my list. Should be tops on everyone’s list. An amazing game! Still puzzles me how they put so much into an old NES game???

  • Michael

    Section Z
    Great game that deserves to be on this list.

  • Karnov

    Super Dodge Ball one of the greatest underrated NES games of all time. I’m glad some people remember this title :)

  • Arindam

    International Cricket was another awesome game on the NES (especially in 2-Player mode). Unfortunately, it was released only in Australia, and by the time the rest of the world got our hands into it, the days of the NES were long gone. I now play the game at times on my PC using an emulator; I also edited the game and made my own copy of it, using real life player names. Great fun overall.

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  • David Schmitt

    Oh, I dunno. I think Maniac Mansion is fairly appreciated. For a good game in the spirit of it play The Cave.

  • B. Jones

    Fantasy Zone was also a very underrated game. I still love playing it.

  • Jim D.

    Owned and enjoyed both Maniac Mansion and Shadowgate. Good choices.

    One of the best little-known party games for the NES was the volleyball game Kings of the Beach. We used to rent it for birthdays and sleepovers sometimes, and with an NES Satellite and four players it was an absolute blast to play. One of the funniest features was the ability to argue calls with the chair ump! Your character would even throw a little tantrum, hopping up and down and kicking the sand. Usually the ump would just shake his head at you, but there were one or two times we actually got a call reversed.

    I was also a big fan of Clu Clu Land. It ended up being one of the system’s most obscure “launch” titles, but I found the gameplay really addictive.

  • Nerd Out With Me

    I have fond memories of both Rygar and Wizard and Warriors – two games I never beat. Grrrrr!

    • HowardTheDeck

      Don’t those things just kind of haunt you? Chapters of your life that were never closed? I speak from experience.

      • Nerd Out With Me

        The bitterness hangs heavy in my heart to this day. Even worse – I revisited Rygar and Ghost & Goblins (couldnt find W&W) when I was an adult, just to get to the same spots I failed at as a kid.

        • HowardTheDeck

          Same thing happened to me with Ninja Gaiden. I went back years later, convinced that skills improve with age (not practice) but found I was mistaken.

  • Demetari

    First thing on the list is Crystalis…. Yeah, this list wins instantly.
    My personal feelings on what are the top 10 NES Games:
    -Star Tropics
    -River City Ransom
    -Kirby’s Adventure
    -The Legend of Zelda
    -The Adventure of Link
    -Kickle Cubicle
    -Felix the Cat

  • rg

    battle of olympus

  • klepp0906

    River city ransom. Best nes game evar

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