When it comes to the first Nintendo console, there are the obvious fan favorites that we all know and love, but what about those hidden NES gems?
Those underrated NES games, that have been under the radar, are hidden in the shadows of the likes of Mario, Mega Man, or Link.
Those long-lost forgotten NES games, if only people knew that these titles could measure up to the “big guns”, would probably be part of any old-school gamers collection or must-play list.
I have made a list of my top 9 hidden NES gems that you should probably look into, you might just find that special game you never knew existed.
What are those Hidden NES Gems?
8 Eyes – Taxan
One of my hidden NES gems and ironically enough, it is a game in which you must collect 8 powerful gems from power-hungry dukes who are located in their castles in seven parts of the world. You must defeat them in order to free the king to save the world from annihilation.
The game is an action-adventure that looks a lot like Castlevania II also on the NES, in regards to the levels and the hero design.
It also shares some similarities to the Mega Man series, as you have the main screen with a stage select, in which you must choose between seven worlds where you will find an “eye” after defeating that world’s duke or boss.
After defeating all seven, you gain access to another stage where you will find the last stone after running a gauntlet of defeating the bosses all over again.
You play as a falconer accompanied by your loyal falcon, which you can control to flip switches and obtain hard-to-reach items.
You can also have a second player play as the falcon. The character and falcon each have their own health bar.
It is a very nice game if you enjoy early Castlevania type of games.
Felix the Cat – Hudson Soft
Another game that had gone unnoticed or overlooked by some is Felix the Cat, a simple, cute, yet amusing platform game sort of resembling a Super Mario type of game, where you go through several stages, collecting items to replenish health, magic, or gain a 1up.
You play as Felix the cat and you must go through nine three-part worlds in order to rescue Felix’s girlfriend, who was taken by the evil professor. Each of these nine worlds has its own boss.
As you venture across the levels you collect Felix tokens, which you gain a life after collecting 100 of them.
You sometimes come across a magic bag that will warp you to a secret room where there are more items to collect. It seems pretty familiar, right? Sure, but it is also a bit different as far as the game mechanics go.
In this game, Felix has magical powers most probably due to his trusty magical bag that he likes to carry around.
His bag can change into a variety of forms like a tank to move around and is capable of firing cannonballs. It can also turn into an airplane to fly around or transform into a dolphin to swim across those watery stages and the list goes on.
So it does a good job at keeping things fresh and it has a good replay value. Enjoyable for the whole family. So check it out, if you can.
Shatterhand – Jaleco, Natsume
In this game, you play a law enforcer in the future, in the year 2030, who is facing an army of cyborg soldiers who is led by the main antagonist. You are equipped with bionic arms after losing those limbs to that same army you are up against.
You start off with the introductory stage, then after clearing it and defeating the first boss, you are brought into a stage select screen, where you have a choice of five different stages to complete before tackling the final stage and meeting up with the leader of that cybernetic army.
This one is side-scrolling, so a lot of platform jumping, enemy killing, action kind of game.
What makes it a bit different from the rest is that in some parts of the stages, there are fence-like backgrounds that you can climb, so it is not just limited to the usual platform jumping like most of the other games.
As you go, you collect money that you can then exchange for certain power-ups or health restores.
These power-ups can be obtained by stepping on special platforms that you will come across during a stage. These platforms will tell you the type of power-up it has and its price.
Along the way, you will also collect tiles with script symbols “L” and “B” as per the game’s manual, but I find that they resemble the Greek letters “a” and “b” on them, so I’ll go with that.
Collecting three of these tiles, you will get a special robotic helper called a “satellite robot” that will hover over you and provide offensive assistance.
Based on the combination of tiles you obtain, the type of weapon of that bot will differ, there are eight possible combinations in total. So let’s say you obtain the combination “a-b-a”, your bot will swing a sword, but if you get “a-a-b”, it will fire a laser beam.
So depending on your strategy, you may want to grab a specific tile combination. These helpers will also allow you to reach a high platform that you would not be able to reach with a normal jump, so that is pretty neat for diversity.
If you happen to get another of those tile combos while a satellite robot is still out, then you gain a power suit for massive firepower, but it is only good for 15 seconds, so make it count while it lasts.
This is truly a game that you should not miss out on if you like this type of game. A whole lot of fun and worthy of being called one of the hidden NES gems.
Shadow of the Ninja – Natsume
This little gem is a fun action side-scrolling platform game that kind of resembles Ninja Gaiden with a smidge of Contra and nice weapon power-ups to collect along the way.
It is set in the now near future of 2029AD, which was a long time from 1990 when the game was created, the United States is under the dictatorship of Emperor Garuda under which countless lives have been lost and two shadows stand in his way.
As you begin the game, you have to choose to play as one of the two shadows or ninja, as you can select either Hayate or Kaede from the player select screen, which there is no real difference between the two other than their color palette.
If you wish, you also have the option to play in 2-player mode and go at it simultaneously.
Your weapons of choice are either a katana or what they call a kusarigama which is kind of like a sickle on a chain, so you have a longer reach with this one than with the katana and you can switch between the two as you go.
There are other weapons as you play through, such as limited projectile weapons like shurikens.
The game is pretty straightforward as you make your way through several stages battling enemies and the usual bosses at the end of each stage. Altogether it is lots of fun and action. A must-play in my books.
Faxanadu – Hudson Soft
You may have heard about this game, as it is among the top RPGs for the Nintendo era, but for others, it may have gone under the radar, despite the good reviews. It is for this reason that a lot of people just like me consider it as being one of the hidden NES gems.
In this game, you play the hero that arrives home after a long journey, only the find that a conflict has emerged between dwarves and elves after an Evil One has appeared from a fallen meteorite, turning dwarves into monsters and unleashing them to fight the elves.
Your job is to reach the dwarf king to get his sword, which is the only thing capable of vanquishing the evil one.
This game is a screen-by-screen type, where you pass through towns, dungeons, castles, acquiring items to move on further into the game.
Unlike some RPGs, you do not level up to get stronger, you rely on buying better weapons, armor, and spells from merchants across the land/towns.
You will also require to keep an inventory of different kinds of items and keys to unlock doors on your journey.
In order to keep track of your progress, you will need to visit the church in the towns, where the priest will grant you a password as opposed to saving your game.
As you progress and defeat enemies, you will get experience which will then convert into a rank for your hero, granting him more gold as you rank up.
This gold is issued at the church after being defeated as you will lose all of your gold when you die.
All and all, it is a fun game to play if you like RPGs.
Power Blade – Natsume
Here is number 2 on my list of hidden NES gems, Power Blade. It’s a great platform action game that reminds me a lot of a Mega Man title as it contains a stage select screen where you must go through six different levels before accessing a final area. The stages and music are very similar to what you would find in a Mega Man game.
The plot of the story is set in the future, where a master computer is being controlled by an alien lifeform and to restore it, you are NOVA, a security officer, that needs to go through different sectors of the supercomputer to disarm each of them, to then be able to access the master computer and to free it from the alien boss.
As you venture through the different sectors, you come across a contact person which is located somewhere on the stage.
The agent will give you a key card to gain access to the security room where you can deactivate the security after defeating a boss that is guarding it.
Your weapon is a boomerang and you will collect weapon power-ups along the way, increasing damage, range, and number of projectiles being thrown.
At some point during a stage, the player will be able to collect a power suit, which will enable you to throw powerful boomerangs or “Power Blades”, which can be fired in all 8 directions.
This game is a lot of fun and if you enjoy playing this game, you can get twice the fun by playing its sequel, Power Blade 2.
Kick Master – Taito
Of all of my hidden NES gems, this one is by far my favorite, and not a lot of people know of it, but definitely worth checking it out.
It is an action game by Taito and much like 8 Eyes, it also has the looks and feels of a Castlevania game in terms of level design, enemies, and music, the big difference being that you use kicks instead of a whip.
The plot is pretty straightforward, a kingdom was attacked by monsters controlled by a witch, killing its rulers and then kidnapping the princess in the process.
You play as a martial artist, the brother of a knight that was killed during an attack and entrusts you with the task of saving the princess.
You battle through several stages acquiring items to help you along the way, granting you abilities to use against enemies and boss fights.
Overall, the game is fun to play, the controls are good, a very enjoyable experience.
Honorable mention: Mega Man 6 – Capcom
Okay, I know the Mega Man games are among the well-known titles of the NES, but back in the day number 6 of the series was overlooked due to the Nintendo Entertainment System approaching the end of its life cycle, with the spotlight shining over the rising popularity of the 16-bit Super Nintendo console.
Like all of the Mega Man series, the blue bomber must battle its way to several stages to reach the fortress of a Mr. X, who had reprogrammed 8 robot masters to do his bidding and take over.
Fun fact about this game: there have been contests in Japan for the design of the robot masters in the Mega Man titles, which began with Mega Man 2.
For game number 6, it was the first time that a boss was designed by someone outside of Japan. In this case, there were actually two of them, Knight Man and Wind Man.
This was featured in Volume 44 of the Nintendo Power magazine.
So for anyone familiar with this franchise, you know you can’t go wrong and if you happened to have missed out on this one, it is definitely worth checking out.
If you can’t get your hands on a copy of the game, it is available on other consoles with their “Anniversary” collection.
So, make sure you try these hidden NES gems out, enjoy, and game on.