The third console generation was when the video games industry reignited, thanks in no small part to Nintendo. The NES was hugely popular, going on to sell almost 62 million units worldwide. The Sega Master System was released soon after, and Atari was still in play with the Atari 7800.
But it was the games for the NES that were the most popular. Titles like Super Mario Bros., Mega Man 2, and The Legend of Zelda set the standard for video games at the time. Sega released a number of notable titles, but there can be no doubt the third generation was dominated and defined by games published by Nintendo.
10 Metal Gear (NES) Brought Stealth And Style To Home Consoles
Originally released in Japan and Europe on the MSX2 in July of 1987, Metal Gear was ported to the NES and released in North America in June of the following year. The game marks the first entry in a series that now spans over three decades. Although stealth elements had been used in other games, the way they were used in Metal Gear was novel and spawned countless other games in the genre. The NES version was a huge success worldwide, selling 1 million units in the United States alone.
9 Dragon Warrior (NES) Introduced A New Genre To Consoles
Dragon Quest was released in Japan on the Famicom in 1986, and it wasn’t until 3 years later that a North American localization brought it to the west as Dragon Warrior. While it failed to replicate the success it had in Japan, it was still 1989’s third best-selling game in North America, behind only Tetris and Super Mario Land. Dragon Quest/Warrior spawned a franchise that would go on to have 11 mainline games and counting, including several spinoffs.
8 Phantasy Star (SMS) Bolstered Sega In Their Battle With Nintendo
Phantasy Star was a title that bolstered Sega’s ranks at a time when Nintendo was really flourishing. The Star Wars-inspired medieval/science fiction setting was unlike anything else in gaming at the time. The Phantasy Star franchise is still going strong today, some 35 years after the release of the first game, although in a much different guise. What started out as a traditional turn-based JRPG with dungeon crawling elements is now an online RPG.
7 Super Mario Bros. (NES) Heralded A New Dawn In The Video Games Industry
Super Mario Bros. was the game that reinvigorated the video games industry. It didn’t do it alone, but it’s hard to overstate just how important a game it was and still is.
It’s still cited as one of the greatest video games of all time, despite having been released on an 8-bit system in 1985, which shows the level of game design that Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka were able to achieve.
6 Ninja Gaiden (NES) Is Infamous For Its Difficulty
One of the first examples of “Nintendo Hard,” Ninja Gaiden is a punishing side-scrolling beat-’em-up released in 1989. Players were faced with an onslaught of enemies, each one seemingly placed in such a way as to make progression as hard as possible. The series is still around, although it now exists as a series of 3D hack and slash games. The level of difficulty has stuck with the franchise, which comprises over 20 titles, but perhaps the most difficult entry is still the very first one.
5 Mega Man 2 (NES) Is A Platforming Triumph
The second Mega Man game was a huge success compared to the first, which sold poorly despite being well received by critics. Mega Man 2 stands as the highest-selling game in the series, selling over 1.5 million units. The game had better audio-visuals than its predecessor and included new power-ups, while the difficulty was scaled back to improve the gameplay. It’s hard to argue against Mega Man 2 being the best 8-bit game in the series and one of the best NES titles ever released.
4 Alex Kidd In Miracle World (SMS) Was Sega’s First Answer To Mario
Before Sonic the Hedgehog, Alex Kidd in Miracle World was Sega’s answer to Super Mario Bros. A fun, colorful, and varied platformer in which the titular character uses his punch to defeat enemies and break obstacles, the game was critically acclaimed and was one of the highlights of the Master System’s roster. A remake titled Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX featuring new levels, NPCs, and alternate boss fights was released in June of 2021.
3 Final Fantasy (NES) Laid The Foundations For Immersive JRPGs
Role-playing games wouldn’t be what they are today without Final Fantasy. While the visuals aren’t the best by today’s standards, they don’t take away from its compelling story, diverse character classes, and engaging leveling-up system.
The North American release was actually more successful than the Japanese Famicom release, and it has been ported to several other systems, including the PSP, Nintendo 3DS, and mobile phones. Since its release, it has consistently featured in lists of the best games of all time.
2 The Legend Of Zelda (NES) Was Such A Hit It Helped To Sell Consoles
The Legend of Zelda is one of the most popular franchises in the history of video games, and it all started with the NES title released in 1987 in North America. The gameplay was groundbreaking at the time, and the music and writing still hold up today. As with Super Mario Bros., the game was a console-seller, convincing those who were skeptical about the NES to pick one up if only to play Zelda.
1 Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES) Is As Good Now As It Was In 1990
Released towards the end of the generation—1990 in North America, two years after Japan—Super Mario Bros. 3 is lauded as one of the greatest games ever made. The game’s mechanics are similar to the of the first Super Mario Bros., but improved graphics, new abilities like sliding, climbing and throwing blocks, and new power-ups like the Super Leaf and Tanooki Suit added new dimensions that took the series to new heights.
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