Thursday, May 23, 2024

The NES was host to a legion of shooters despite its slow processor. Yet even with that handicap developers created video gaming gold on the little grey box. For many, the Nintendo was their introduction to the genre and many a franchise was born. Between arcade ports and original titles, gamers are spoiled for choice. While many of its best entrants in the genre never left Japan, the language barrier is non-existent. These are my picks for the Top Ten NES Shooters after playing nearly the entire genre on the system. And just think, there are more than enough left to make a part 2 to this list. Heh, there’s an idea. And, for the record, these are not in any order so stay off my back.

Zanac Zanac
Compile were the masters of the shooter genre and early in the NES’s life created one of the best examples of the genre. Zanac is a game full of choices: there are 8 weapons to choose from that can then be upgraded a few levels in turn for even greater firepower. For the most part these are not your standard shooter tropes, with some like the Rewind being particularly inspired. The weapons cycle in frequently enough that you’ll have every opportunity to test them all out. Good thing too as the game is extremely long. Zanac has 12 levels of the most intense action you will experience on the NES. Most probably will not ever see the end but will have a ton of fun trying. Zanac holds a special place in my heart; Gradius started my interest in shooters but Zanac made me love it.

Gun-Nac
Wow what a game. Take everything you like about Zanac to the next level and you have Gun-Nac. Well not exactly but it is the next evolution of what they created in that game. Gun-Nac has it all, a wacky story, an extensive power-up system, and puts up a fight but never feels cheap. You have five weapons and multiple bomb types that can all be powered up to multiple levels. The game throws power-ups at you constantly but if you are unlucky (highly unlikely) you can buy them in the shop. Why do you need all this firepower? Because Gun-Nac is one of the most action packed shooters on the NES. Compile were years in to their work on the system and so Gun-Nac benefits by featuring less slowdown and flicker than most shooters on the platform. Hell you can even toggle between the two. This excellent technical performance enables you to experience one of the most chaotic yet fun shooters on the platform and one that somehow still flies under the radar today. Play this game people, its great!

Gradius 2
Gradius II sadly never came to the US in any form except the arcade. While Life Force is great it’s no Gradius 2. While its PC Engine counterpart is a near perfect port this Famicom version is no slouch either. The glorious power-up system has been massively expanded with 4 preset configurations, each with their own separate weapons. You’ll need them as the 10 grueling levels that await will push your gaming skills to the limit. Gradius 2 is one of the most diverse shooters out there and would have blown minds if Konami released the Famicom version in the West. Considering the disparity in hardware Konami did an exemplary job replicating the arcade game’s graphics although it does come with a hefty amount of slowdown; slowdown which you can actually initiate on your own and take advantage of. Regardless, this port is better than it has any right to be and is a worthy addition to any shooting fan’s library.

Crisis Force
Crisis Force was Konami taking all of their years of technical expertise with the NES hardware and seeing just how far they could push everyone’s favorite grey box. Crisis Force is a technical marvel and could pass for an early 16-bit title if not for its color palette. Rather than being yet another Gradius spin-off the game has its own unique identity. At the touch of a button your ship can assume three different configurations, with each offering its own exclusive weapons. Your weapons level up as you progress like a RPG which is pretty cool. The different modes is a mechanic the game forces you to use as it is one of the most manic shooters for the console. The action is heavy but the game rains power-ups from the sky so you can experiment. Determining the best configuration in each situation is part of what makes this game great. All of the chaos comes at the cost of slowdown however. It is a small price to pay to experience one of the best shooters the system would ever receive.

Summer Carnival ’92: Recca
Without question Recca is the most technically brilliant NES game of all time and one of its best. This is a title that has the speed and pacing of a 16-bit game with almost zero slowdown. How they accomplish this on a system with an embarrassingly slow processor I’ll never know. The speed, intensity, and technical excellence are backed up with tight gameplay. Each of the game’s primary and secondary weapons can be powered up multiple times, power that you’ll need for the game’s frequent and brutal boss battles. In this regard it resembles a Treasure game, especially its last stage which is a nonstop carnival of boss fights. While the main game is only four levels long there is an arranged mode that does an excellent job of switching up the assets and order of fights to feel brand new. On top of that, there’s a Zanki mode that increases the difficulty of an already insane game to ridiculous proportions. It’s a little too hardcore for me but provides even more content for those enamored with the game’s mechanics.

Parodius
As a parody of Gradius and Twin Bee Parodius is silly but the humor does not hide a lackluster game. Parodius combines the best elements of both to create something just as good, if not at times better. It was also ported to a wide range of platforms with the 16-bit versions being particular standouts. This NES port is excellent and far better than you would expect and actually worth a spin even if you have played the near perfect Super NES game. Rather than creating a stripped down version of the arcade game Konami use it as a base and create levels that are both familiar yet new and well adapted to the NES. On top of that, there is an exclusive carnival stage as well as a two more increasing its value proposition. I went in expecting the worst but that was foolish; this was Konami at the top of their game.

1943
The NES port of 1942 was dire, the victim of Micronics and their shoddy programming. For the sequel Capcom took the game in house and the difference is night and day. The game is not a flickering mess and has an actual soundtrack instead of….whatever the hell 1942’s “music” was. It is nice to play a game that does not feel as though it will break at any moment. 1943 not only contains all of the arcade game’s content but many additions that give it depth. The stats system allows you put points in to various aspects of your ship such as offense, energy level, and special weapon time limit. This allows you to tailor the game to shore up your weaknesses as a player. The game has eight more levels than the arcade allowing the power-up system to breathe too. It does make the game a bit repetitive as a result but that is something Capcom would rectify with 1943 Kai. As a whole however, the solid performance and overall better game makes this is a great time.

The Guardian Legend
The Guardian Legend “The Guardian Legend is not a shooter it’s an action adventure game!” Quiet you I know what I am doing. Type in TGL as your password and now you have quite possibly the longest shooter for the NES. With this you go through Corridors 0-22 in sequential order. You essentially get two games…

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