“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”
-Rudyard Kipling



The Nintendo Entertainment System. The console that saved the industry. The console that defined a generation and influenced all the others to come. Could we even have the Sony PlayStation or Microsoft’s Xbox without the NES? Widely embraced as the greatest console ever, the NES proved yet again that it is still a beloved household name with the recent debacle surrounding the NES Classic Edition, namely that it sold out everywhere in a matter of minutes. Thirty years later. Dropped the ball there, Nintendo.

But let’s hearken back to a time when Nintendo didn’t drop balls. What made the NES so great and so different from the dozens of terrible consoles that came before it? Well, it had a library of over 700 licensed games (and 182 unlicensed ones). It had simple, non-gimmicky controls. It had a much needed degree of quality control. It was compact (for the time) and didn’t look like a whole arcade cabinet. It was also the first console that noticeably had both incredible first-party and incredible third-party games.

Everyone remembers the original games either developed by or published by Nintendo which spawned icons in the gaming industry: Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Kirby’s Adventure, TetrisFinal Fantasy (yes), and Clu Clu Land. But it was also a system which featured third-party games of the highest order, perhaps in greater quantities than even the Super Nintendo

Why do we even want third-party games for the Nintendo Switch? Why are we even having this conversation? Because we want variety. We want those charming, innocent Nintendo games but we also want games which are different, as well, as the success of Sony and Microsoft (and once upon a time Sega) has since proved.

Essentially, we want the Switch to be like the NES.

So let’s take a moment to remember the kind of third-party games that helped the NES save the industry after the crash. Maybe in remembering we’ll realize that diversity is what we really wish for the Switch. Maybe in remembering where they’ve come from, Nintendo will place great emphasis on forging relationships with third-party developers again. Just don’t bring back Wisdom Tree or LJN, please. Quality control. Quality control.


#20. M.C. Kids (1992)
Virgin Interactive/Ocean Software

Let’s be perfectly clear: M.C. Kids is crap. No, it’s worse. It’s constipation. But the fact that the NES featured a McDonald’s video game shouldn’t be underappreciated. This was a Mario clone but talk about a range of different games. Of course I’m not asking for third-party games that are rubbish like this, but ones which would be just as startling to see on Nintendo’s Switch.

#19. Marble Madness (1989)
Mark Cerny/Atari Games/Rare/Milton Bradley Company

One thing which the NES specialized in was bringing home ports of popular arcade games. Think about how significant this was. The home console scene had just been wrecked, thanks not in small part to Atari’s bungling, so video games at the time lived on primarily in arcades. Atari failed to bring home a quality port of Pac-Man for their 2600, but Nintendo succeeded with numerous and refined home versions of arcade classics. One of these was Marble Madness. Expect to see more quality ports on this list.

#18. Adventures of Lolo (1989)
HAL Laboratory/HAL America

Though HAL is the developer known for creating the Kirby, EarthBound and Super Smash Bros. franchises, they are not identical to Nintendo. The heroic blue puffball Lolo is one of their lesser known properties. A game like this puzzler would fit right in on the Switch and we already know there have been several games announced which are fairly similar. Puzzle games seem like they are made for a console that can be taken on the go, simply because of their momentary and casual nature. Like a sudoku book. Heck, is it too much to wish for a new Lolo game for the Switch?

#17. Lemmings (1992)
DMA Design/Psygnosis/Ocean Software

I can still remember watching my dad and my friends’ dad play what was then a fairly popular game, Lemmings. Only recently did I come to find out just how popular the game was, evidenced by its many, many, many ports. Lemmings was not an NES exclusive, but it was not a terrible version of the original. Nintendo! Learn from your past by giving us ports that aren’t stripped down and over-simplified!

#16. Adventure Island (1986)
Hudson Soft

This one has always been dear if not near to me, what with it featuring a kanaka trying to rescue his wahine. Turns out, it’s an adaptation of Wonder Boy from Sega, but it sired its own set of spin-off sequels. Platformers were once the genre of the day, just as shooters were before that, though FPS’s seem to be the most popular in our time. Thus, I’m glad to see such a sizable presence of platformers on the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo still remembers they’re the house that platformers built.

#15. The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner (1987)

Dude. The Nintendo Entertainment system had a background-scrolling rail shooter with a built in toggle for 3D glasses, and it was scored by Nobuo Uematsu and developed by Square. Let that sink in. The NES was already playing around with 3D, bringing the ticket selling concept home from the movie theater. WorldRunner blew my mind. Could we be seeing an unprecedented step toward 3D graphics or even VR with the Switch? Who knows. Mario knows and he ain’t talkin’.


#14. Ms. Pac-Man (1993)

The Switch’s lineup for 2017, though sparse in total, looks to be heavy on a few things like indie games and ports. Nintendo already knew how to bring exceptional ports to their consoles. Considering the Switch is launching sort of pseudo-between generations, there are a wealth of games to port that must be translated well. I played Stardew Valley on PS4, but I’m currently convinced that game would work a thousand times better on the Switch, to cite just one example.

#13. Ninja Gaiden (1989)

Yes! This is what Nintendo needs. Don’t shed the kiddie image but include some hardcore, fast-paced, tough-as-nails games like the iconic Ninja Gaiden. This was not a game which merely appealed to mature players simply because of its masculinity and violence, but because it was produced at such a high standard. It’s a game with integrity and the Switch needs third-party titles like these which seem so anti-Nintendo, but which fit right in with the NES once upon a year.

#12. Double Dragon (1988)
Technōs Japan/Taito/Tradewest

Bring back the greatness of the arcades with a huge, sweaty fist! Double Dragon is a legend. Arcade classic, ported across many systems, yada yada, but the Switch has got the goods to play a casual beat ’em up on the fly, whenever you like. And man, a wireless multiplayer beat ’em up with other Switch owners would be a dream come true. Flex those flabby biceps, Hammer and Spike. Maybe we’ll see something along your lines soon.


#11. Castlevania (1986)

Konami had a long, purely platonic working relationship with Nintendo and one of the classics that came out of that wonderful friendship was Castlevania. Coinciding with the 90th anniversary of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Nintendo has since moved away pretty dramatically from anything resembling the horror genre, but maybe the time has come to get back to their spooky roots, so long as they maintain their characteristic family friendly image, of course.

#10. Rampage (1988)
Bally Midway/Data East

If you have not played Rampage, you don’t know what you’re missing. Again, the Switch is built with multiplayer in mind so I’d be down for an update of this co-op cataclysm classic, or a game created in its spirit. In modern terms, Rampage is almost more of a mobile game so adding in some extra layers of detail would be crucial but the mobile part is already inherent. Maybe include some procedurally generated Google maps cities based on the players’ locations to wreck. Roguelike Rampge. Too much? Too much.

#9. Batman: Return of the Joker (1991)

What was the last Batman game you saw on a Nintendo console. Armored Edition? Exactly. Ugh. Remember the time when original superhero games featured heavily on the NES? We’re talking Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men… the Switch would be more than wise to draw upon the current superhero hysteria by bringing us some exclusive, officially licensed comic book adaptations, just like the NES did back in the day.

#8. Metal Gear (1988)
Ultra Games/Konami

It’s not the original version of the first Metal Gear but let’s take a moment to remember that a version of the first Metal Gear appeared on the Nintendo Entertainment system. A franchise we associate with Sony’s PlayStation had its origins in part with Nintendo. Is it too much to ask that Nintendo revive the stealth genre with the Switch? Maybe do even more than that by cooperating with Hideo Kojima and his new projects?


#7. Contra (1988)

Well I couldn’t really make a list of top third-party NES games without mentioning the game that popularized the iconic Konami code (first created by Gradius in ’86). A couch co-op run and gun like Contra would be more than at home on the Switch, what with the ease of Joy-Cons being used by two players. I don’t think the most important thing about adapting something like Contra to the Switch would be simply just updating it more so than including its co-op nature in a brand new title that’s just as fun and memorable.

#6. DuckTales (1989)

The box cover actually says “state-of-the-art” and “high resolution”. I’m at a loss for words there but the fact is DuckTales was a really fun game taking everyone’s then-favorite Disney cartoon and Capcom’s penchant for perfect platforming to Nintendo’s original console. Just like with Aladdin, Nintendo could stand to benefit from licensed games. I’m sure a lot of the rules have maybe changed but don’t pretend that if there was a new DuckTales game that you wouldn’t sell your children for the money to buy it.

#5. River City Ransom (1990)
Technōs Japan/Infogrames

Now follow me here: take the basics of River City Ransom and blow them up with modern technology, have character creation with account-bound upgrades, the ability to buddy up with other players as you meet them as Switch friends, battling across specific locales depending upon your geography. Shoot, maybe even through in some region specific gangs à la Pokémon Go. Just ensure the violence is cartoonish or you’ll lose the original charm of this third-party Nintendo beat ’em up RPG.

#4. Maniac Mansion (1987)
Lucasfilm Games/Jaleco

Growing up, Maniac Mansion was one of those games that completely captured my imagination. It was quirky Lucas-gaming at its finest and it was a point-and-click adventure to boot. That genre has seen some resurgence thanks to developers like Double Fine (Grim FandangoBroken Age) but the fact is that point-and-click would be awesome to see make a comeback with the Switch, what with its touchscreen. Portable-only games are already under discussion for the Switch so it’s not outlandish to make this consideration.

#3. Bubble Bobble (1988)

Again I’m going to appeal to something roguelike. Imagine Bubble Bobble but with procedurally generated stages. Throw in a variation of Mario Maker with the ability to make your own levels and then share them and you’ve got a worldwide, customizable arcade-style platformer that the Switch is more than prepped and ready for.

#2. Crystalis (1990)

Even though this title comes in at second place, there is quite simply nothing like a good RPG. Crystalis is that and more, with its supplement of action-oriented, Zelda-esque gameplay. Thank God the Switch is looking to get some swell RPGs soon. This “meat and potatoes” of gaming has been a huge draw for many players looking for a more involved and story-oriented experience. What I’m thinking here is the biggest boon with the Switch is that you’ll no longer have to stop a story just because some jerk wants to use the TV. By the way, I highly recommend this game.


#1. Mega Man II (1989)

One of the best games on the NES wasn’t even developed by Nintendo, and that’s Mega Man II. More refined and polished than the original, Mega Man II is perfection. Capcom may no longer care two beans about the Blue Bomber and Nintendo has taken better care of him than Capcom has of late with their Super Smash Bros. Wii U, but who’s to say there won’t be some new ground plowed with Capcom back being buddy-buddy with Nintendo again? Capcom was one of the best developers for Nintendo during the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. It’s time to return to form.


With so many third-party games to choose from on the NES, there’s simply no way to mention them all on a list of twenty. Thus, what are some we missed? What are some of your favorite third-party classics from the Nintendo Entertainment System? Maybe you could wish for them on your own custom fantasy NES mini.

-The Well-Red Mage 



By the Well-Red Mage

A pan-galactic, mid-temporal, demi-aquadescent writer, blogger and public speaker with a narrow anti-modern flair. A red-tinted linguiphile living in the past, fighting the eventide of ignorance with every pixelated word. Discuss at: thewellredmage.com Support private journalism: patreon.com/thewellredmage

8 thoughts on ““Switch Anticipation, part 2: Top 20 Third-Party Games of the NES””
  1. I agree that people want the Switch to be the new NES, with its innovations and memorable games that, 30 years later, people still play and talk about. It’d far beyond my area of expertise as to how that should occur, but I do know that asking gamers what they want is rarely the answer, since it’s been my experience that people don’t know what they really like until it’s in front of them – or at least aren’t able to accurately describe what it is they’re looking for…

    This is a great list! I haven’t checked out the NES mini in depth, but if these games are on it, it’s definitely a great time!

    1. The NES changed the world. I hope the Switch does as well. Your comment reminded me of that simple fact that it seems like gamers rarely know exactly what they want. I’m glad I’m not in charge of the Switch. I hope it’s more than we could ask for, or at least as successful as their early consoles have been.

      Thanks! Castlevania, Bubble Bobble, and Mega Man II are on the NES mini so, if you can actually find one for an affordable price, snag it!

  2. Some IN-TER-ESTING picks there Red. I’d pick the Sunsoft Batman, over Return of the Joker, though.

    All of those in the top ten, are my favs, too.

    In response, I’ll throw in a top ten for me. On my page, so pop on by in day.

    I’d list them here, but I’d rather not steal everyone’s thunder here!!

    1. Thanks, Dad! I don’t remember the other Batman too well so my pick had to go to Return, which I love the music and gameplay for anyway 😉
      I’d be delighted to see your list! I plan on doing a top 20 GameBoy 3rd party games list too so maybe that’s something you’d consider as well. Beyond that, I don’t know how long a list of 3rd party games for the N64 or GameCube could be…

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