My Bottom-10 Worst NES Games
Alright! Following up on my Bottom-10 Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) games list, it’s time to list what I think are the ten worst games for the NES. Just like with the other list, I’ll stress that this list only contains games which I have played. There are of course plenty of other terrible games for the NES but I’m only including ones that I have personal experience with.
Therefore you will not be seeing, for instance, any LJN titles on here. Bible Adventures was a close pick, but I only ever played said game very briefly so it would be unfair to list it on that merit. There’s at least one unlicensed game on this list but I’m sticking mostly to official releases. Zelda 2: Adventure of Link was also under consideration for this list, but I actually kinda like the game despite being arguably the worst of the official Zelda-titles, so I spared it from the list.
Also, some games on here may not be considered universally “bad”, but just like with the Mega Drive list, I’m also including games which I simply don’t enjoy at all. But without further ado let’s get on with the list…
By now, the world is familiar with the tale of the lost NES Mario game. The official sequel to 1985’s Super Mario Bros. actually came out for the Nintendo FamiCom in Japan the very next year. However, Nintendo of America deemed the game too difficult for gamers in the West and held off on releasing it until their hand was forced in 1988 when Super Mario Bros. 3 was released. The western Super Mario Bros. 2 (real title: Doki Doki Panic) has gone down in history as one of the oddest sequels but it’s still an awesome game and one of my personal favourite titles in the Mario-series.
The original SMB2 finally became known outside Japan when a remade version of it was released for the Super Mario All-Stars collection under the title “The Lost Levels”. And that’s exactly what it feels like, more SMB but with new and incredibly frustrating levels. SMB2 also dispensed with the 2-player alternating mode by instead allowing the player to choose whether to play as Mario or Luigi (and to their credit, the Mario Bros. do move differently from each other). However, this is a horribly lazy sequel and it’s no wonder why I prefer the better known Doki Doki variant.
Having said that, Lost Levels isn’t an awful game. It’s still Mario and the controls are just as good as in the original. Beyond the frustrating difficulty and the negligible graphic update though, there’s no reason why I would want to play this rather unimaginative follow-up to the genre defining original.
I know I’m going to catch some flak for this, but I honestly don’t like the original Contra. Making a shooter-platformer where you die from one hit sounds like the most asinine idea ever. At the very least you should have a life-bar. Considering Contra also falls into the bullet-hell school of gaming, the relentless difficulty is quite unacceptable.
Understandably, Contra originated as an arcade title and the sudden deaths were all the result of Konami trying to suck money out of the player. Understandable but when played on home console the challenge just becomes unbearable. The only way to really enjoy Contra is to be really good at it which requires time and concentration. Granted, a lot of old school Konami games suffer from insane difficulty, but Contra is the one game where it honestly just makes me want to stop playing.
Sure, there’s the Konami code cheat and I’m not saying that the game doesn’t look good or wouldn’t have awesome music, because it does. However, I don’t see how people can praise a game that just expects way too much patience for what I would assume is mostly a brain-dead shooter. No thanks, I’ll pick Mega Man any day of the week.
Yes, I’ve played it. And yes, it’s just as bad as you’ve heard. Bubble Bath Babes was an unlicensed puzzle game for the NES which had to be released outside the regulated release circle since Nintendo’s content restrictions made it impossible for games with heavy sexual content to be released (unless they were heavily altered/censored).
On the surface, Bubble Bath Babes is a fairly innocuous puzzler where you combine bubbles of the same colour to clear the board. As a reward, you’re treated to images of women in increasing level of nakedness to add some titillating incentive to play the game. The controls are fine and if you look past its trashy exterior it would actually be a fairly decent puzzle game.
Having said that, the music is repetitive and the sound-effects quite annoying. The challenge also increases surprisingly quickly so it’s hard to really justify this game’s existence. It’s really just a trashy way to cash in on some boobs. Not a terrible game but not commendable in the very least.
Software Toolworks’ produced several educational Mario games for the NES and Super Nintendo in the mid ’90s and these have gone on to be regarded as some of the most infamously bad games to feature the jolly, Italian plumber. While Mario is Missing may not be the absolute worst game in the Mario educational series, it was definitely the one that disappointed me the most.
In Mario is Missing, Mario gets captured by a Koopa (the cover-art lies and makes it seem like it’s Bowser) and as Luigi you have to save him. You accomplish this by travelling to Earth’s major cities, recovering lost landmarks and then answering quiz-questions relating to each city and which give you hints to your actual location. Even though the game seems to run the same way as a normal Mario game, enemies can’t hurt you and it’s impossible to die, so there’s no way to really fail at the game which in turn makes it ridiculously easy.
I was excited for this game since it was the first ever where Luigi was the star (even if his name wasn’t in the title), but the lackluster entertainment factor of this game just makes it a huge pile of lost potential. Admittedly, the game was intended to be more of a learning tool than a real “game”, so I can’t really blame it for that and it’s not like the thing is badly programmed either (although one of the city themes manages to play a note in its theme off-key). It’s just a massive let-down as a game.
Konami produced several TMNT video-games in the late ’80s and early ’90s and quite a few of them were decent in their own right (the SNES title “Turtles in Time” being widely considered the best). However, Konami got off to a rocky start with the very first TMNT title which they released under the guise of Ultra Games to circumvent Nintendo’s “5 games per year” rule for game releases.
Graphically and musically, TMNT isn’t too bad but it’s notorious for its unrelenting difficulty, bad level design and really strange selection of enemies. The game has exploration sections, action levels and swimming levels – but it almost seems like Konami was a little over-ambitious and tried to make the game do too many things. As a result, it’s a huge title with a lot of untapped potential. It wouldn’t even be so terrible if its wasn’t so needlessly difficult.
I particularly like the fact that you can switch between the Turtles mid-game (whereas in TMNT4 you stuck with your Turtle until you got a Game Over) and, as I said, the game does show a lot of polish for an early NES title. It’s just unfortunate that the game isn’t really as much fun as you would hope from a Turtles-game.
Activision had a bad habit of letting people down in the 1980s and nowhere is this more evident than their infamously bad Ghostbusters game for the NES. This title was also released for a lot of other systems but the NES port remains the most notorious for its sheer lack of effort in trying to emulate its source material.
The real shame with Ghostbusters is that it, much like TMNT, seemed to have a lot of ambition which just wasn’t realised the right way. In the game, you act as if you were a Ghostbuster: driving to locations with a ghost-problem, catching them with your proton-beams and at the end of the game you take on Gozer. Unfortunately, the controls are clunky and the graphic look absolutely pathetic, with the ghosts being non-animated sprites (resembling paper cut-outs) and all the management aspects of the game being terribly lacklustre.
Ghostbusters could have been an awesome game if only it had a bit more graphic variety, better controls and a management system that made some sort of sense. Instead, you get a clunky, ugly, repetitive game where the only piece of music you’ll hear is the Ghostbusters theme looping indefinitely.
As you can see from this list, many NES games went awry because they were a smidge over-ambitious and failed to take the limitations of the system into consideration. And no game epitomizes over ambitiousness on the NES better than Simon’s Quest. The second Castlevania game abandoned its predecessor’s linear action-gameplay to try to be a action-adventure title where the whole of Transylvania was open to you.
As Simon Belmont, you’re trying to hunt down Dracula’s body-parts to resurrect him and finish him off once more to remove a terrible curse placed upon you. While the fortress levels provide some classic side-scrolling Castlevania action, the game is hampered by strangely fluctuating difficulty, cryptic (and at times flat-out false) clues given by the NPCs and the game having a ridiculously long password system. You can just tell that Konami wanted this game to be something far greater than its predecessor but in the end it’s just a cryptic, confusing mess of a game.
To its credit, the game still has great graphics and an awesome soundtrack. The game is also pretty fun in certain places. Over-all however, it’s a failed sequel that doesn’t work nearly as well as its creators hoped.
Another Activision title that failed to live up to its promise of being Super. Pitfall was one of the pivotal titles of the platformer genre on the Atari 2600, a true classic and a source of pride for the company. It’s lesser known sequel Pitfall 2: The Lost Caverns introduced the more exploration heavy approach to the game and can at least be considered a cult classic and a truly ambitious title for its time.
Super Pitfall tried to follow in the footsteps of Pitfall 2 but ended up failing massively. The gameplay is nearly broken with imprecise jumping, an attack (the gun) which misses about 90% of the enemies, a cryptic world design and gameplay goal and the same background music droning on and on. The exploration isn’t nearly as much fun as you would hope and as a result, beating the game is near impossible for anyone except the most ardent (and bored) Pitfall-enthusiasts. And they agree that this game sucks balls.
Super Pitfall was another overly ambitious title that didn’t take its hardware into consideration and even had some flat-out insulting design choices. Plus, you can tell Activision hoped to sucker people into buying the game by intentionally redesigning Pitfall Harry to resemble Mario. That’s just fucking desperate.
In the early 1990s, a company called Active Enterprises brought together a collection of fresh, new programmers and gave them the goal of creating 52 games as fast as possible to stick on a single cartridge in order to make some serious moolah. The end result was a pile of unfinished turds which would fail to entertain even a small child. Action 52 was a rip-off pure and simple.
Not only are there really not even 52 games on the cartridge, most are unfinished, boring, broken or just flat-out unplayable. Even the games that aren’t completely busted are so inane that you can’t stand to play them for any real length of time. Even the game’s star-attraction, Cheetahmen, is a broken and unfinished mess which can’t even be finished. The scary part is that the multicart idea caught on like wildfire with the bootleg crowds and as a result Action 52 has a whole legacy of shitty gaming to its name.
So why isn’t it Number-1 you may ask? Clearly it qualifies. True enough but one has to keep in mind that the people making the game had no idea that their barely finished work would ever see the light of day. You can’t really blame the programmers for not realising that they would never have a chance to actually finish the games to a playable state.
Action 52 is admittedly terrible, but it’s terrible because nothing on it works the way it was intended. Dragon’s Lair is a scary game because it works exactly the way the programmers intended and it’s because of the way it plays why it’s so terrible. Elite Software can be blamed for this butchering of the Don Bluth 1985 laser-disc game. Dragon’s Lair would seem like a no-brainer as a fast-paced side-scroller. The problem is that the game runs as slow as molasses.
It really boggles the mind what Elite were thinking when they made the game as lagged and non-kinetic as it is. On top of everything, you die from taking one hit from pretty much anything. My best guess has always been that Elite tried to emulate the “one fuck up and you die” mechanic from the original arcade game. The problem here is that the Dragon’s Lair arcade was, more or less, an interactive movie while the NES version is supposed to be an action game (I guess). But crippling the controls and making Dirk die on the drop of a hat, it makes the game so ridiculously hard that most people wont make it past the first screen of the game.
This is probably the most tragically awful game of the bunch. There had been other lacklustre attempts at bringing Dragon’s Lair to home consoles and computers before the advent of CD-Roms and FMVs, but the NES version could have actually turned out decent. The graphics are detailed and quite beautiful and the soundtrack is absolutely top-notch. It’s just a shame that the game itself is so frustrating it’ll make you want to punch the TV.