Which Nintendo Classic Mini NES games should you play first?

We've ranked all 30 classic titles, so you don't have to

So you've embraced nostalgia, gone retro and forked out fifty sheets for the new Nintendo Classic Mini: NES. But what should you play first?

The dinky console comes with 30 games pre-installed, and while none of them could conceivably be called stinkers, it's certainly true that some are significantly better than others. To make it easier for you to prioritise, we've picked through the entire line-up and ranked them in order of greatness, which also happens to be the order in which you should play them. So before you pick up your pad, take a read...

Additional words by Craig Grannell

30-21

30. Donkey Kong Jr.

Donkey Kong’s in the slammer, and it’s up to you to swing about, avoid critters unleashed by an evil Mario, and rescue the giant monkey. That is if you can deal with the rubbish controls, which you probably can’t. Sorry, Donkey Kong – you will never be free again.

29. Balloon Fight

An arena-style action game in which the player must clear each stage of enemies while floating around using a balloon, avoiding both the enemies and obstacles such as water and lightning strikes. Simple, but fun.

28. Ice Climber

A platform game with a twist: you’re constantly climbing up vertically, carving holes through colourful ice platforms in order to ascend. Different colours of ice denote different properties, adding welcome variety to this diverting game.

27. Pac-Man

You might wonder why the famous dot-muncher languishes so far down our list. First, Ms. Pac-Man is a much better game, yet absent here. Secondly, NES Pac-Man is merely an OK port. The NES deserved better.

26. Gradius

Side-on shooty fare, where your faction apparently only has one spaceship, the idiots. Unfortunately, the enemy has loads, and you’ll need to remember attack patterns to survive any length of time, even when armed to the teeth with power-ups.

25. Super C

Also known as Super Contra, this is a run and gun action game mixing side-scrolling and top-down vertical-scrolling levels. Tip: try the famous “Konami code” (Google it) at the title screen.

24. Ninja Gaiden

An action-platformer in the Castlevania mould, Ninja Gaiden is renowned for its tear-your-hair-out difficulty – you’ll need perfect timing to make the tricky jumps while avoiding enemy attacks. The anime-style cutscenes are welcome reward - and respite - for your travails.

23. Excitebike

An original NES launch title, Excitebike features five tracks – plus custom-built courses – of motocross action in which you can control not only the speed but the pitch of your two-wheeled steed as it powers over jumps.

22. Galaga

After years of merely marching back and forth, invaders from space finally got fidgety. Galaga finds them breaking away from the swarm, dive-bombing your ship and trying to snare it in a tractor beam. Yikes!

21. Mario Bros.

Before Mario went super, he leapt about single-screen sewers, saving them from evil. Jumping on heads isn’t enough here – enemies must be flipped by smacking the floor beneath them. Simple, but fun in two-player. Just don’t waste the POW brick.

20-11

20. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Dark Souls certainly owes a debt to Castlevania II, the first title in the series to offer Metroid-style non-linear progression through its maze-like game-world, as well as upgradeable weapons, hidden items and cryptic NPCs.

19. Tecmo Bowl

Madden it ain’t, but American football fans looking for some streamlined gridiron action – teams have only nine players rather than the actual 11, and only four offensive plays are available – will get plenty of play out of Tecmo Bowl.

18. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Quite a departure from its predecessor, Zelda II pairs a top-down overworld with side-scrolling, platform game-style sections that start when Link enters a town or dungeon. Combat and character development are also more involved – but the overall package isn’t quite as tight as the first Zelda.

17. Ghosts ’n Goblins

A beloved side-scroller that perhaps doesn’t quite live up to its reputation today, Ghosts ’n Goblins is considered one of the most teeth-grindingly difficult games ever made. Masochists will love it.

16. StarTropics

This top-down adventure game, heavily inspired by the success of The Legend of Zelda, doesn’t quite reach the heights of Nintendo’s “other” RPG – but it’s nevertheless a diverting title blending exploration, combat and dialogue.

15. Kid Icarus

Like a lot of the titles here, Kid Icarus is a platform game with action elements, and while not being as famous (or as good, honestly) as Super Mario Bros., Metroid or Mega Man 2, it’s still got enough about it to qualify for cult classic status – if only for its demanding difficulty.

14. Double Dragon II: The Revenge

Despite being the sequel to the original side-scrolling beat ‘em up, Double Dragon II is startlingly similar in both looks and gameplay, with four distinct levels providing the backdrop as you kick and punch your way through a murderous street gang to avenge your slain girlfriend.

13. Donkey Kong

Bit of a classic, this, in being one of the first platform games. The NES port misses a stage from the arcade version and is unforgiving; but if you want an inkling of the charm, challenge and fun of early arcade efforts, it’s hard to beat.

12. Dr. Mario

A falling block puzzler in which you eradicate viruses by matching coloured capsules, Dr. Mario drew unfavourable comparisons with Tetris upon its original release. With the latter not available on the Classic Mini, however, it’s the best puzzle game you’ll find.

11. Super Mario Bros. 2

A controversial entry one Stuff writer wanted hurled into the sun, SMB2 is effectively a reskin of Japanese title Doki Doki Panic. It therefore plays very differently from other SMBs, but it’s fun taking the reigns of different characters and lobbing vegetables yanked from the ground at your enemies.

10-1

10. Bubble Bobble

“Now, it is the beginning of a fantastic story!” So begins one of the finest classic arcade games (if a slightly glitchy NES conversion). Little dinosaurs bound about single-screen levels of platforms and monsters. You ‘bubble’ said monsters and blow them up before they break free. They then ricochet about and turn into yummy fruit. (Because that’s nicer than seeing blood splattered dead monsters heaped on the floor.)

9. Castlevania

While later Castlevania titles took on the multiple path Metroid style of level design, the original is a more linear, level-based action-adventure affair as you, playing as fearless whip-wielding vampire hunter Simon Belmont, travel through Dracula’s castle defeating his henchmen – Frankenstein’s Monster, Mummies, Igor etc. – one by one before finally taking on the count himself.

8. Final Fantasy

The game that spawned the most popular Japanese RPG series of all time (and arguably invented the whole Japanese RPG genre), Final Fantasy still holds up as a gripping mix of exploration, character development, tactical combat and storytelling. Yes, its quest is fairly straightforward and its visuals are creaky, even by NES standards – but there are reasons many consider it the best FF of all (except VII, of course).

7. Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream

Sometimes known as Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (although Iron Mike has been replaced as the final boss by the fictional Mr. Dream in this edition), this game brings the glory of the ring to the NES in a beautifully straightforward style: use well-timed jabs or body blows to charge up a powerful uppercut, then unleash it on your opponent to have them toppling to the canvas.

6. Super Mario Bros.

The game that changed everything. Super Mario Bros. is still the blueprint for a slew of modern platform games, including many of Nintendo’s own. You race through the Mushroom Kingdom, on a mission to save the princess, grabbing gold, jumping on monsters, and unearthing the odd secret. But where it truly excels is in superb level design where you know every screw up is yours alone. (If you fancy a challenge, it’s apparently possible to finish the entire game in under five minutes.)

5. Kirby’s Adventure

Pink blob Kirby’s always felt a bit C-list in Nintendo’s line-up – the Danny Dyer to Mario’s Bruce Willis. But on the NES, Kirby’s novel take on platform gaming remains compelling, with him inhaling enemies and pilfering their abilities. The chubby protagonist can also fly by sucking in air, meaning if hard times hit, he could make good money blowing up balloons at children’s parties. Just don’t let him near the cat.

4. Metroid

Metroid’s genius comes from design touches that we take for granted in today’s games, but were ground-breaking at the time: a non-linear layout and power-ups that give protagonist Samus Aran access to new areas of the map. It’s the search for these power-ups, and the discovery of new paths to explore, that makes the game so enjoyable even today.

3. Mega Man 2

This action-platformer is regarded in some quarters as one of the best video games ever made due to its simple, tightly-focussed gameplay that mixed platform jumping with puzzle solving and combat, as well as the wide variety of power-ups. It’s a challenging game, with players tasked to defeat eight powerful bosses in order to triumph; in a clever move by developer Capcom, you can tackle these foes in the order of your choice.

2. The Legend of Zelda

The game that kicked off Nintendo’s second most-beloved series, introducing the world to questing elf-boy Link, adversary Ganon and the mystical Triforce, The Legend of Zelda remains a brilliantly involving action-adventure game and a precursor to today’s action RPGs. Mixing exploration of a vast fantasy overworld with puzzle- and monster-packed dungeons, the game’s non-linear design has proved highly influential. Without The Legend of Zelda, there might be no Skyrim or The Witcher III.

1. Super Mario Bros. 3

The pinnacle of NES gaming. The basics remain scooting through horizontally scrolling levels, grabbing bling and duffing up enemies, but there’s a richness to the controls, power-ups (flying and floating), and design that propel it far beyond anything else on the system. And while it might feel a bit harsh compared to modern Mario fare, spend time mastering SMB3 using the NES controller and you’ll find out why it’s still considered one of the best games ever made.