Ranking the Switch Online NES Launch Line-up Part 2
You’ll recall in the first part of this series, I rated the ten worst games on the Switch’s Online service. That leaves ten games that are more enjoyable and I’m sure you’re keen to know how it went after I dropped a Zelda shaped bombshell on you all last time. Here’s the second part, where I look at the ten best games, culminating in the game that I feel is the best of the launch titles for the new service.
It takes a little while to get used to the controls, but once you do, this is the only one of the sports simulations that really stands the test of time for me. For the time, it was a rather advanced simulation of tennis, and Mario cameoing as an umpire is a really nice touch too.
Best played in multiplayer, this is one of those games that you really want to get your friends around for and it’s an absolute blast with two players. Given the rather lacklustre performance of Mario Tennis Aces, it’s probably the best tennis game on the Switch at the moment.
9 Donkey Kong
This was a very good port of the game, and it’s a great game which still holds a lot of appeal for gamers nowadays. Just ask Billy Mitchell. This version isn’t too far from arcade-perfect, but the lack of memory on early NES carts means that the factory level is missing. It looks, plays, and sounds just like it should though.
The problem here though is the Arcade Archives once again. The full version with all levels is available on the Switch already, and it’s only a few quid. This is a good version and it’s still fun to play, but it’s not the best version of the game released on the console. It’s an interesting curiosity if you want to see the early days of Mario without forking out (he was still a builder at this point, presumably he hadn’t yet passed his plumbing NVQ) but if you actually want to experience the game properly, then buy the arcade version.
8 Balloon Fight
Originally released for the Vs Arcade system, this is a game designed from the ground up as a great 2-player experience. It does that well, playing a bit like Joust as you try to burst balloons by flying into them, all the while protecting your own balloons.
It’s one of those surprisingly simple concepts that can get very addictive very quickly and is super simple to just pick up and play. The addition of an extra mode compared to the arcade where you have to traverse an obstacle course in what is essentially the predecessor to Flappy Bird was a nice touch too.
7 River City Ransom
River City Ransom has earned something of a cult following over the years, and it’s easy to see why. The smooth scrolling and chunky, colourful sprites look great, and the game offers a much tougher challenge than the Double Dragon port that we saw in part one. The weird mistranslated screams resulting in half the enemies exclaiming “barf” when they get knocked out helps give it a bit of quirky character too.
Probably the thing that helps this game stand out is the fact that it was created especially for Nintendo’s debut console. It plays to the strengths of the machine and it’s still very playable now as a result. It’s a touch on the unforgiving side, but that was the nature of game design back then.
Excitebike is one of the games that made a name for the NES. It’s deceptively simple and easy to play, with relatively short tracks and just one aim: to ride as fast as possible. You’ll need to perform airborne stunts to keep your bike from overheating, resulting in a loss of speed.
This is another title that is well worth playing in multiplayer, as it’s a hugely competitive game. If you don’t have friends to play with, then playing the high-score chase to beat your own score is still fun, it’s just not as much fun as racing a friend.
5 Super Mario Bros.
I can’t imagine that there’s anybody left in the world who hasn’t played this game by now. Often cited as being one of the greatest games ever released, Mario’s first “proper” platform game was a mould breaker. With perfectly designed levels, great music, and a turn of speed that was unheard of at the time, it was, and still is an absolute masterpiece.
You probably already own it two or three times, so it might not be something that makes you fork out the subscription for Switch Online, but it’s still a brilliant game with so many secrets to be discovered and so much fun to be had.
4 Dr. Mario
Mario has had a lot of jobs in his time. In this list alone we have him as a builder, a tennis Umpire, a plumber, and in this puzzle title from 1991, a doctor. The game plays very similarly to other match-4 puzzles, but with the addition of viruses that need to be matched in order to destroy them.
Younger readers may not be aware that once upon a time, this kind of game was one that you bought and were then simply able to play as much as you like. Playing this again after all this time reminded me that without obnoxious microtransaction adverts popping up every five seconds, puzzle games are a lot of fun. It’s a simple but effective game that should provide hours of entertainment.
Gradius is one of the early greats in the shmup genre. This port was a huge achievement at the time, keeping most of the arcade features intact. Enemy patterns and level layouts are largely intact, with very little of the gameplay sacrificed.
Technical limitations mean that the graphics aren’t quite as snazzy, and the sound isn’t as good as the arcade, but they do the best job they can with limited resources. This is still as playable as it was in the day and definitely one of the better NES games available.
2 Super Mario Bros. 3
What a great game. Personally, I would call this one of the best games on the NES full stop, not just one of the best in this selection. There were a number of notable firsts here. It’s the first appearance of a branching overworld in the series, the first time that we saw Bowser with his trademark ginger hair, and the first time we got to fly in a Mario title.
The late arrival of this on European shores meant that it was overlooked a little, as by the time of its 1990 release, the Mega Drive was already here and much more accomplished 16-bit titles were receiving coverage. Nevertheless, this remains a tremendous game and set the foundation for the entries in the series that we know and love now.
1 Ghosts 'n Goblins
I’ll just get this out of the way right off the bat: this was the Dark Souls of the 80s. I’ve been playing it on and off for about 30 years and I’ve still never got past the second level. It’s a tough-as-nails scrolling fighter with a strict two hits and you’re dead policy. The virtual console had the superior arcade version, but as the Switch doesn’t have a virtual console, we’ll have to make do with this version.
That’s not a hugely bad thing though as the NES port is renowned for being excellent. It’s just as fast as the arcade version with most of the levels intact and it’s also just as brutally hard. The graphics are a lower resolution and the sound isn’t as nice, but it plays just as it should and that makes it a winner for me.
So that’s the end of my list. We end with a game that wasn’t even a Nintendo one, but it’s one of the best arcade ports of all time. It was a tough call between the top two, but Ghosts ‘n Goblins just edges it on account of having be re-released less times already, so I don’t have as many copies of it already as I do Super Mario Bros. 3.
How did you rate the initial selection? Feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments, and why not insult my weight while you’re there. This is the internet after all.