The Absolute Best NES Platformers of All Time

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was a revolutionary console when it launched in 1983. With powerful 8-bit graphics and sound capabilities paired with accessible cartridge-based games, the NES quickly became a sensation. It popularised side-scrolling platformer games, a genre that has thrived to this day. But what are the absolute best platformers released on this iconic system?

The Platformer Genre – Running, Jumping and Stomping

Platformers are games where players control a character navigating through obstacles and enemies by running, jumping, climbing and dodging. The term comes from the raised platforms in many early games that served as the floor for the player character.

The typical platformer involves moving from the left side of the screen to the right, with challenges coming in the form of pits, enemies and other hazards. Players must time their jumps correctly, bonk heads or stomp on foes, and avoid dangers using quick reflexes and clever thinking. Powerups that grant special abilities like higher jumps or projectile attacks also feature prominently.

The NES‘s responsive controls, smooth side-scrolling graphics and chiptune soundtracks provided an ideal environment for platformers. These technical capabilities paired with creative game design drove the evolution and popularity of platforming on the NES.

10. Metal Storm

Gravity-flipping robot action – a platformer without jumping!

Metal Storm garnered attention for its unique gravity mechanic. Players control a robot that can walk on floors, walls and ceilings by flipping gravity at the press of a button. Instead of jumping, you reorient yourself and shift environments to progress.

This innovation created mind-bending gameplay scenarios unseen in other platformers. Expert timing of gravity shifts while avoiding hazards and enemies kept players on their toes. The vibrant robotic visuals and techno soundtrack accentuated the futuristic setting.

Metal Storm demonstrated that platformers didn‘t need jumping – creative ideas combined with NES capabilities brought fresh ideas to the genre.

9. Batman

The Caped Crusader‘s heroic NES debut

Sunsoft‘s 1989 Batman game coincided with the Tim Burton movie for maximum impact. The engaging platformer had Batman swinging across rooftops, gliding through the air and battling the Joker across 12 action-packed levels.

The wall jump technique where Batman briskly taps left and right while pressing against a wall to climb vertically introduced more complexity to platforming navigation. Responsive controls, strong visuals and the iconic Danny Elfman Batman score also helped it stand out as one of the decade‘s best movie tie-in games.

Playing as the legendary Batman in his first major NES outing was hugely appealing and Sunsoft nailed the execution.

8. Bionic Commando

Swing into action with your grappling arm

Bionic Commando broke platformer norms by ditching jumping entirely. Instead, hero Rad Spencer uses his bionic grappling arm to zip around levels Tarzan-style. This swinging mechanic made Bionic Commando almost play like a puzzle game at points, as you determine where to latch onto objects and how to build momentum swinging across gaps.

The lack of jumping forced developers to innovate level designs to match this unique form of navigation. Players must also consider terrain below as Rad takes constant fall damage without jumping‘s cushioning effect against gravity. These innovations built an intensely satisfying progression system that distinguished itself among NES platformers.

7. Ghosts ‘n Goblins

How Sir Arthur laid the foundation for Nintendo Hard games

As one of the earliest and most difficult NES games, Ghosts ‘n Goblins tested the reflexes of a generation. Playing as knight Sir Arthur, you run and jump through cemeteries, forests and dungeons blasting away demonic foes. However, enemies and traps kill you in just a few hits while scattered power-ups barely even the odds.

Even reaching the final boss requires completing the entire brutal adventure TWICE with perfectly timed jumps over deathtraps. Eventually besting Ghosts ‘n Goblins bathed players in righteous glory for overcoming profound platforming challenges through sheer persistence.

The steep difficulty curve established early Nintendo Hard design philosophies that continued influencing platformers for years. This merciless yet rewarding formula keeps luring back players.

6. Gargoyle‘s Quest II

Red Blaze soars in demonic adventure platforming

Gargoyle‘s Quest II innovated the genre by blending action-platforming with adventure and RPG elements. Set in mystical realms, the player guides young gargoyle Red Blaze who soars through skies and dungeons as a playable protagonist rather than a generic enemy.

Unique abilities like wall grabbing, ledge grabbing and the ability to shoot fireballs while flying give Red Blaze finesse lacking in most platformers. The gothic settings pair wonderfully with Mode 7 graphics capabilities to create free-roaming environments brimming with personality.

These innovations built an engrossing atmosphere beyond typical platformers. Gargoyle‘s Quest II demonstrated how the genre can successfully fuse with other game styles while still retaining rich platforming at its core.

5. Ninja Gaiden

The quintessential NES ninja platformer

Ninja Gaiden refined platforming to a cutting edge. As super ninja Ryu Hayabusa, players diced through enemies with razor-sharp steel while unleashing acrobatic moves fit for the world‘s deadliest warriors. Wall climbing, lightning fast response times and super slick play control delivers blisteringly difficult yet profoundly satisfying action.

With cinema scene storytelling, a pumping soundtrack and Console Era appropriate graphics, Ninja Gaiden brought shocking new levels of intensity to NES platformers. Training to master its intricacies became a badge of honor among serious gamers. To this day, Team Ninja‘s seminal NES work remains unmatched in delivering breakneck ninja action.

4. DuckTales

Woo-oo! Pogo-jumping fortune hunting has never been so fun

Uncle Scrooge‘s money grubbing adventures based on the popular Disney DuckTales cartoon made masterful use of the unique pogo jump mechanic. By balancing atop his cane, Scrooge bounces to remarkable heights off enemies and environmental objects alike in search of hidden treasures on Earth, in space and everywhere between.

The ability to change direction mid-air while bouncing added nuance to platforming gameplay. Pairing this with vivid sprite art and catchy 8-bit versions of the show‘s classic songs created a thematic tour-de-force that effectively brought a beloved franchise to gaming greatness.

3. Mr Gimmick

An overlooked gem where a gifted plushie saves the day

On the surface, Sunsoft‘s Mr Gimmick looks like a cute kids game about a stuffed green bulb with a blue pitchfork taped on its head. However, the imaginative charm gives way to brilliant platforming action and thrilling set pieces across multiple worlds.

Our adorable hero shoots glowing yellow stars to defeat enemies, activate platforms and access new areas. This versatile projectile mechanic combined with springboards, vehicles and colorful locales makes Mr Gimmick an endlessly inventive adventure.

Despite limited release outside Japan, its ingenious design saw Mr Gimmick become a hidden NES classic renowned for outshining more popular platformers of the era. Pick this one up and let it charm you like few games can!

2. Castlevania

Slaying vampires for 30+ years – the eternal legacy of early gothic horror gaming

Castlevania codified an iconic formula of gothic action platforming still employed today. Gripping baroque music accompanies lone hero Simon Belmont storming Dracula‘s demonic castle using only a holy whip and subweapons. Slaying bats, ghouls, the Grim Reaper and more color an epic sidescrolling quest leading to Count Dracula himself!

With measured difficulty introducing new hazards at clever intervals, Castlevania teaches players how to survive its many horrors screen by screen. Multiple characters, hidden secrets and alternate routes also provide strong replay value that beckons fans to return year after year.

Castlevania‘s premiere NES outing still compels three decades later thanks to tightly honed fundamentals driving an engrossing horror adventure etched permanently into gaming history.

1. Super Mario Bros 3

The quintessential masterpiece platformer

Super Mario Bros 3 represents the absolute peak of Nintendo‘s pioneering platforming prowess. Building on its superlative predecessor, SMB3 introduces dozens of new power-ups while polishing core gameplay to utmost perfection across vast new lands.

Raccoon Mario‘s whirling tail enables limited flying for unprecedented platforming freedom. Frog suits gracefully swim through underwater levels as Penguin Mario skillfully slides across ice. Traditional mushrooms and fire flowers return alongside incredible new additions like the Hammer Suit letting Mario hurl hammers as projectiles.

From navigating map screens to unlocking hidden warp whistles and embarking on ever more challenging quests, SMB3 distills endless replayability into the ultimate NES cartridge. Its sheer magic has etched permanent memories into millions since 1990 while influencing the design of countless platformers henceforth.

Whether you played back then or discovering its joys today, Super Mario Bros 3 shall forever be the quintessential platformer against which all others must be measured.


The Nintendo Entertainment System birthed many of history’s finest platforming games that developers still draw inspiration from today. These 10 titles represent the absolute best the genre achieved during the NES era for their creative vision, technical brilliance and masterful gameplay nuances. Revisiting these certified classics will immerse you in purity of platforming fun beyond what most modern games can ever hope to replicate!

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