10 of the best forgotten NES games that deserve a comeback

Contributed by
Jun 6, 2016, 7:54 PM EDT

For every Mega Man, every Castlevania, every Final Fantasy, there are infinitely more classic games from your youth (or your parents' youth, as the case may depressingly be) that lack the kind of franchise longevity they deserve.

Some games deserve better. Whether they were good ideas gone bad or franchises long forgotten, there are countless games that need a remake, a sequel, a reimagining or a resequelmagining.

Yes, countless titles due for a comeback. So countless ... let's count some!

And let's start with the Nintendo Entertainment System (Miss Famicom, if you're nasty), not just because it's the system your Grammy Dany grew up on, but because it so thoroughly dominated the gaming market in the '80s and early '90s that there's a spoil of riches worth of forgotten games to march forward into the modern era.

This is my list. There are many more games with potential that I won't mention here. I'm doing that for you, friend. So you can say, "I can't believe you didn't mention Adventures of Tom Sawyer!" "No Legend of Kage, bruh?" I want you, dear reader, to comment with your own list, which I assume will definitely include both those excellent titles, especially Legend of Kage, which keeps getting re-released on every console for some reason.

Ready, player one?


The Guardian Legend

Developer: Compile
North America Release Date: April 1989

I remember renting this game from our local liquor store, Brewer's World (which is where we got all our games in the dark ages (aka New Jersey circa 1989) for the box art alone. There were these evil eyes and, above the nose, was a bonus evil snake face. Two evil faces for the price of one? SOLD!

But the best was the game itself, which started as a space shooter only to, unexpectedly, turn into an action-adventure game when the spaceship you control turns into a robot lady! Holy Justin Bailey! Whereas you had to jump through all manner of hoops to find out Samus Aran was a cool lady with funky hair in Metroid, Guardian Legend lets you know what's up within five minutes.

And what is up is an adventure game mashed up with a space shooter in what I would describe as one of my favorite games of the 80s, and still one of my favorite games ever. There was exciting space battles, mysterious planets to explore, upgrades to buy and collect -- really all that's missing is a more coherent story to push the action along.

Which is exactly where a sequel/requel/whateverquel could come into play. Honestly, Guardian Legend doesn't even need a huge graphics overhaul. It could happily remain 2D top down and fancy free. Just give it a stronger narrative, add some complexity to your protagonist, include different difficulty levels, maybe a crafting system...? Voila! Just be sure to make homage to the killer score composed by Masatomo Miyamoto and Takeshi Santo.



Developer: Hudson Soft
North American Release Date: November 19, 1989

Technically, Faxandu is a spin-off of the second installment in the Dragon Slayer series, Xanadu. The name was derived as a portmanteau of Famicom and Xanadu. And while there have been other games in the Dragon Slayer series, there have been no other Faxanadu's since the golden age of the NES.

That's a shame considering what a great little RPG platformer Faxanadu is. Some people even say it's better than The Legend of Zelda and Castlevania, which... is pretty crazy, but who knows what might have been if Faxanadu had more console entries.

Featuring a war between dwarves and elves, an Evil One from a fallen meteorite, an expansive overworld, cool weapon and armor upgrades, and a host of neat temporary items to vary gameplay, Faxanadu was basically the game Zelda II: The Advenure of Link should have been. It seamlessly combined action and RPG elements in a way very few games did during the NES era.

Other than the 1,500 gold in your pocket, the game sort of drops you into a place where you have to figure everything out on your own. Which makes me think an Elder Scrolls type of approach could serve this game well provided it was given another shot. Open world to explore, an adventure to complete, but plenty of opportunity to just walk around collecting weird items.


Legacy of the Wizard

Developer: Nihon Falcom
North American Release Date: April, 1989

I don't want to blow your mind, but apparently I was a big fan of the Dragon Slayer series as a kid which had a surprising amount of variability in the sort of games it had under its banner.

Legacy of the Wizard, originally Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family, featured, you guessed it, a family of warriors you could choose from to troll the dungeons. Each family member has a different skill set and you basically have to choose different people depending on which area of the game you want to conquer. From dottering grandpa, Douel, to brave daughter, Lyll, there was a broad swath of gameplay styles. You could even play as the family pet, Pochi, who was actually a monster and hence could travel around the game unharmed by other enemies.

As a kid, I haaaaaated this game so much. It ruled supreme for a long time as the game most likely to get me in trouble with my dad for throwing the controller at the TV. As an adult, though, there's something really compelling about how challenging and diverse a game like Legacy of the Wizard can be. And the idea of having to Metroidvania your way through a fantasy world with multiple different characters within a family of heroes is exactly as intriguing now as it was in 1989.

Really the only thing I'd want to change is that, in the original, Jiela, the grandmother, was unplayable. Come on, dudes -- granny gotta be able to get hers, you know? #JielaOrBust


Milon's Secret Castle

Developer: Hudson Soft
North American Release Date: 1986

Despite a few Japan-only sequels and a mostly-unrelated DS puzzle game, Milon's Secret Castle is a secret to most modern gamers. It's got a very weird story that involves a race of people who communicate through music and the one man who can't, Milo, who has to save his home when all the musical instruments are stolen by an evil force.

For all that music talk, though, Milon is mostly a very odd puzzle platformer where you must search each floor of the castle using bubbles to unlock secret doors in order to travel upwards. There are collectable items and money along the way and even a music-related series of minigames.

Milon, in a word, is HARD. As a kid I got nowhere in this game and, as an adult, I didn't feel bad while watching a speed run on account of how all over the map the player (literally) has to travel in order to find all the secret doors to win.

But that's Milon's appeal. Almost like modern day puzzler, The Witness, what keeps people playing is the grueling process of figuring out all the secrets the game holds. And there are A LOT of them.

In fact the only thing I could see adding in a new verson of Milon's Secret Castle, would be the ability to unlock musical instruments as you go in order to travel deeper into the castle. Otherwise, though, a new version of Milon could have the challenging mysteries of The Witness mixed with the difficult enemy battles of Bloodborne.



Developer: Nintendo
North American Release Date: December 1, 1990

Do I need to say it? StarTropics is the ultimate game franchise that Nintendo forgot. Startropics' sequel, Zoda's Revenge, was the last game developed by Nintendo for the NES (and often considered to be one of the best games of that era). And yet, despite the virtual console re-releases, Nintendo's got no love for this, one of the greatest adventure games of all time. You've got tropical islands, you've got submarines, you've got dungeons, you've got aliens, you've got a kid hero with a yo-yo -- what more could you possibly ask for?

StarTropics, along with the Master System's Neutopia series, are the Zelda games that, for one reason or another, never got the fan obsession Link and the Triforce did. But StarTropics was, in many ways, a better game than both NES Zelda titles. 

I literally don't have a lot to add. This was the game you knew would be on this list because StarTropics and Zoda's Revenge are legit two of the best games for the NES and two of the greatest top-down adventure RPG's of all time. With the Zelda franchise limping in many of its more recent entries, now seems like the perfect time to tap young Mike in and give Link a well deserved rest.



Developer: Data East
North American Release Date: January, 1988

True story. My uncle owned this arcade port of Karnov, featuring a Russian ex-circus strongman. I loved the game so much that my aunt and uncle let me sleep over once so I could play it for as long as I wanted. I played Karnov all night, entranced by its weird mix of boulder throwing golems, winged beasts, and all manner of weird creepy crawlies. I also ate a ton of butterscotch candies until I threw up. Repeatedly. As a result, my aunt and uncle decided to hold off on kids for another decade and I lost my taste for butterscotch.

But I still love me some Karnov, epic case of the pukes be damned. I think it's the interesting art style and challenging boss battles that keep me coming back. Despite appearing as a villain or just a background character in other Data East games, though, Karnov never earned himself a sequel. And that's a shame. Of all the sidescrolling Golden-Axe-style games, this one always held a special place in my heart, and I think, much like the brawler genre in general, Karnov is just aching for a come back.


Wizards and Warriors

Developer: Rare
North American Release Date: December, 1987

Alright, so this is a bit of an admitted cliche game -- a knight, Kuros, must fight enemies, collect items, face an evil wizard, Malkil (WHAT A NAME) and save the princess. You've heard it.

But, you know, that's kind of Mario's story, too, and look how many games that dude good. Plus, Wizards and Warriors is only Rare's second NES game ever after Slalom of all things. Just think of all the colorful characters and tight gameplay Rare's been responsible for over the years, and then imagine taking a Dark-Souls-style game but giving it that arcade joy. That's what a new Wizards and Warriors game could be, but only if you collect the boots of force first, obviously. 

There was already a sequel in Ironsword -- Rare's gotta complete that trilogy.


Blaster Master

Developer: Sunsoft
North American Release Date: April 25, 1991

Okay, so this is a cheat. You don't need to say, "Hey, Dany, they made a few of these and even released a reimagining in 2010." I know. But I want a proper sequel, one that's, you know, GOOD.

And if any game deserves a true successor it's Blaster Master. What a cool game. You play a kid, Jason, who chases his frog down a hole (as you do), finds a giant tank, and then pilots it to fight against mutants. Also the tank's name is SOPHIA. Also, also you can exit the tank for top-down adventuring. Similar to The Guardian Legend in that it seamlessly combies the gameplay of multiple styles of play. But, there's a key difference, my dudes -- in The Guardian Legend you're a plane -- in Blaster Master you are in a TANK. Totally different. Ridiculously awesome, and one of the most fun scores of any NES game.

In 2010, Sunsoft said there would be a sequel to this game? You know when they said that? April 1st. So if you were a nerd who had never suffered any true hardships, that might've been the worst day of your life. Sunsoft owes the world one Blaster Master sequel. Please?


Deadly Towers

Developer: Lenar
North American Release Date: September, 1987

Yes. Really. Deadly Towers, perhaps moreso than any other game ever, deserves a second chance. You may have heard that, by some personal metrics, this is the worst NES game of all time. And having dedicated untold hours to it, I can say that, yes, Deadly Towers is not #AGoodGameBro. But it had (and still has) more potential than almost any other game that was ever released on the NES.

Here is what child me knew about Deadly Towers -- I was a knight, I had the most impotent excuse for a sword in history, and there were definitely some towers somewhere and I had to... fight them? Fight the towers? Who even knew? Not I.

The game was massive for its day, full of a horde of different enemies, secret passages galore, and, eventually, a bunch of towers with giant bosses that had bells. Collect the bells, win the day.

But the problems, they were many. The NES was not designed for so many enemies on a screen at once so the slow-down was epic. Getting hit by enemies often meant geting knocked totally off-screen, frequently to your completely unnecessary death. Building up items and strength required legendary grinding, but it was easy to save your password incorrectly and lose all that work.

Let it be known that I am not good at beating games. Check my tweets, and you will find many people saying #GitGudCasual and multiple variations thereupon. But, after many attempts, I beat Deadly Towers. It felt awesome. Fun fact -- the credits hint at a sequel.

Friend, I want that sequel so bad I can taste it. There's nothing technological holding Deadly Towers back anymore from having one of the most labyrinthine world maps ever. Given a little forethought, the secret levels, the items, the boss battles -- they could actually make sense!

Surely, I cannot be the non-robot out there who has waited nearly three decades for Deadly Towers 2



Developer: SNK
North American Release Date: July, 1990

Okay. It's a post-apocalyptic world. You wake up in what appears to be a technological sleep chamber, but the world you wake up in is decidedly anti-tech. And, indeed, part of the reason there was an apocalypse at all was because of technology. So now there's just magic. Real swords and sorcery type stuff.

But, in secret, dark forces have relearned the advanced sciences and are combining them with magic to rule the world.

Crystalis right from the jump is a rad story, with plot details way more intricate than any other popular NES game. The game's writers were influenced by Hayao Miyazaki's animated epic,  Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and it shows.

Crystalis is a perfect combination of deep RPG storytelling and exciting action based gameplay. Okay, so the fighting gets a little repetitive sometimes, but it's still pretty cool, especially as you get further in and gain all the myriad skills available. And the game is sprawling with tons of dungeons, bosses, new items, and intrigue.

To me Crystalis felt like StarTropics meets Phantasy Star aka two of my favorite games of all time. But despite all the influences, Crystalis also feels wholly unlike any other game on the NES. It doesn't just deserve a sequel, it deserves a time machine so someone can go back in time, slap the totality of SNK in the face, thus ensuring that Crystalis had sequels on every console from the SNES onward. It's that good.