If you're a person of a certain age that can define their childhood with countless hours spent playing original NES games, there are a few things that you know to be irrefutable truths. Things like blowing into a game cartridge in just the right way to get it to work, wrapping your t-shirt around your finger to slide rapid-fire over the A and B buttons before turbos existed, and--perhaps most of all--knowing that NES box art didn't always tell the truth.
Some early games came with a larger 8-bit representation of the game you were getting but once the Nintendo Entertainment System rose in popularity, game designers seemed to go off the rails in their artistic representations. The promises made by the box art on the shelves of video stores everywhere weren't always kept and the small screenshots of game play on the back hardly deterred gamers from thinking twice. We knew the 8-bit limitations of the system but time and time again we still made our choices based on the epic battle scenes depicted on the covers.
Sure, there will be some classic games in this quiz that everyone will recognize but they're really only there to balance out the ones that--for whatever reason--seem to be completely unrelated to the games they housed. Let's see if you can identify these 25 classic NES games from their cover art.
This game was the first adventure for Solid Snake
This action-adventure video game started an empire of games that still keep audiences playing today. Back in 1987, Konami developed this stealthy game taking inspiration from movies like The Great Escape. While other games at the time were all about blasting through countless enemies with unlimited ammo, this one put the focus on escaping detection and avoiding a fight at all cost which helped to define a new genre of gaming. The cover art may look familiar for another reason as it's purportedly a recreation of a picture of actor Michael Biehn posing as Kyle Reese from 1984's The Terminator.
The game most remember for the "Konami Code"
Mention the "Konami Code" and this game is what most people remember. An incredibly action-packed shoot-em-up game was nearly impossible without the extra lives the cheat code gave you. As the game loaded, hitting "up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start" awarded players with 30 lives in which to rampage through the alien hordes ahead of you. The game itself sported a few different level designs that made this game a side-scroller, a vertical scroller, and one of the earliest attempts at 3-dimensional action for the head-on forward shooting stages.
You could play as Rash, Zitz, or Pimple in this totally radical 90s game
Originally released in 1991, this amphibious beat-em-up game has plagued players for decades with its infamous "Turbo Tunnel" levels that could rarely ever be beaten. Like some modern folktale, every kid heard rumors of someone's cousin's neighbor's sister being able to expertly navigate the tunnel's fast-paced jumping and dodging but it was rarely, if ever, witnessed first hand. The game series has been a fan favorite since its introduction spawning sequel games and even a short-lived cartoon series in 1992.
Simon Belmont's first NES adventure was way back in 1986
While a lot of the games in this popular series eventually matched their cover art promises, the original may be the example most people can point to for cover expectations vs. game reality. That's certainly not a knock at the game itself since it's probably in the top three favorites for anyone who grew up in the 80s. However, there's a pretty big disconnect in comparing the epic vampire hunting artwork of the cover to memories of the slow-moving Simon Belmont in the game.
Time your moves right or face the wrath of your own explosions
There's not a NES gamer out there that will tell you this game wasn't fun but the cover art didn't originally do it any favors. The mechanized soldier on the cover promised an action packed time running away from explosions that, inexplicably, appear to shout the word "Bomb!" upon detonation. While the game players got what was decidedly slower than the art suggested and involved fighting sentient balloons and onions at times--it will still go down as one of the more enjoyable action-puzzle maze NES games of all time.
Frisbee Dudes? Blousy Commander? No, this box art is for a far more popular game!
Ironically, one of the most recognizable NES characters other than Super Mario had box art that was seemingly plucked out of nowhere. The only thing that possibly makes sense is that the art was either created before the game itself existed or it was drawn by someone being told what the game looked like by another person who saw it from about 100 feet away. If all the games in the series actually looked as weird as this box art, one has to wonder if they ever would've gained popularity.
Shoot, jump, and roll your way to defeating the Mother Brain
Unbeknownst to players at the time, this game broke the glass ceiling of space-heroics with a female main character. Navigating the alien planet of Zebes, protagonist Samus Aran blasted her way into everyone's hearts on a quest to keep space pirates from using alien organisms as weapons by destroying the Mother Brain. Should players finish the game in under five hours, they were rewarded with the reveal that Samus was a woman all along and capable of kicking as many butts as any male video game protagonist.
This NES racing game sported customizable levels and the best dang theme song ever beeped!
Long before the technological marvels of games like Super Mario Maker there was this motor-cross racing game with the unique ability to build your own levels to compete on. The game was ahead of its time in more ways than one. In addition to allowing players to customize tracks, it was one of the first games where you had to pay attention to in-race strategy and not expend too much energy. Lay on the throttle for too long and your bike would overheat. This resulted in a slower bike and wasted seconds while it cooled.
The malpractice suits involved in this game's world had to be ridiculous
No one is really certain where Mario found the time to go to college--let alone the years required to become a medical professional--but for a time he spent a portion of his time diagnosing patients. Hindsight being 20/20, there's something a bit off about a recognizable children's icon solving ailments as fast as he can by literally throwing handfuls of pills at the problem but that's the early 90s for you. Thankfully, he's stuck to his better known "super" salutation for the most part ever since.
This damsel-saving game battled inside castles, trees, caves, and volcanos
Despite how misleading this cover art was, the game itself was still pretty darn great. What was promised on the cover was a Conan the Barbarian-like adventure of slaying wizard-controlled monsters with your flaming sword. The actual gameplay involved an endless amount of jumping while frantically avoiding giant spiders, bats, and trying not to step on lava as a spindly armored knight. Still, this game (and its sequel) remain in classic NES gamer's hearts enough to show up on most "top NES games" lists.
Kick and punch your way up a tower to save your girl in this early martial arts game
True old school gaming fans know that before your Street Fighters, Tekkens, and various Mortal Kombats--there was one game in particular that let you fight your aggression out in all its 8-bit glory. The game's design is clearly based on Bruce Lee's 1972 movie Game of Death but was tied-in at the last minute (without official permission) with Jackie Chan's Spartan X. Oddly enough, the Spartan X film didn't even keep that name as it is best known as Wheels on Meals.
Swing into action fighting baddies that are totally "not" Nazis in this 1988 game
Other than the relatively misleading box art motif that this quiz has pointed out a few times, this particular game has the distinction of originally being named--and we're not kidding here--"Hitler's Resurrection: Top Secret." Thankfully, basic common sense kicked in at some point and several changes were made before the game was distributed worldwide. Most Nazi imagery was changed and the game's final mustachioed boss got a new name of "Master-D." The game itself gave players a chance to swing a bit like Spider-Man long before Marvel got into the NES racket.
This 1990 action side scroller is a lesson in not judging a game by its cover
If there were awards for misleading cover art, this game would receive quite a few nominations. The action on the cover promised a flaming projectile shield to destroy baddies while hopping over others with ease. The game players got was a confusing mess of puzzling tasks, low health, a single life, and no save points. The "flaming shield" that was so bad-ass on the cover was, in reality, nothing but a large yo-yo-like weapon that occasionally stuck and pulled enemies closer to you. With each death returning you to the beginning of the level, it was truly a feat if you ever legitimately found your way to beat it.
This top scroller is as definitive an NES game as it was an arcade classic
Not many games made the jump from arcade to NES console as successfully as this 1988 game did. The fantasy-themed hack and slash "dungeon crawl" game allowed multiplayer experiences for players much in the same way it did in arcades but without spending an entire paycheck in quarters. Choosing between Thor, Thyra, Merlin, and Questor (a warrior, valkyrie, wizard, and elf respectively) players navigated dungeon levels from above collecting gold and destroying monsters. The game featured 100 levels on the NES version which was beyond impressive for the time.
This game's protagonist severely underestimated the importance of pants going into battle
Some games are memorable for very specific reasons. This 1985 side-scrolling platform game by Capcom remains in most people's memories for one thing, boxer shorts. When you think about Arthur, the game's protagonist, he might be one of the most brave characters in video game history. He's ready for a fight to save his Princess Guinevere at all costs even if that means charging into battle with nothing else but his underwear on. Personal safety be damned! There's a princess that needs rescuing!
Other than Bonk and Bomberman, this Hudson Soft game ranks as one of their best!
In this NES classic gamers played as "Master Higgins" a young man on a mission to save a princess. Pretty standard video game on paper but this 1988 NES game sported some unique character design and in-game mechanics. Players could run, jump, and attack like you'd expect but also gained the ability to skateboard across stages at a much faster pace. Power ups were hidden in eggs which also housed items of negative effect like the dreaded eggplant. Oddly enough, this wasn't even the first game to associate eggplant with evil.
Armed only with their hammers, Popo and Nana have been playable characters for 30 years
The early days of NES and its Japanese counterpart Famicom saw a handful of games that have been mostly forgotten by the public. Though, some of these early games quintessentially define the beginnings of serious home gaming. This one, from 1985, was such a staple for NES that its main characters live on to this day in ports to modern game systems and even as playable characters in the Super Smash Bros. series. Other than the obvious Super Mario Bros.--not many games from the mid-eighties have such staying power.
This game's main character made a cameo in 2012's Wreck It Ralph
This was another successful game to make the arcade to console jump thus cementing it in most people's minds as a classic NES game. In it, you play as Peter Pepper tasked with creating some of the best giant hamburgers anyone could ask for. For whatever reason, the game's enemy sprites REALLY dislike the idea of delicious burgers and will do their best to stop you. Thankfully, you hold a shaker of your namesake spice and can stun them into submission.
Kidnapped girlfriends and turned into dragons. Tale as old as time.
Some may not remember that this game's plot had some pretty wacky details before it even involved encasing enemies in regurgitated bubbles. After the girlfriends of brothers Bubby and Bobby are kidnapped the boys are turned into "bubble dragons" by the nefarious Baron Von Blubba. From there, the reptilian brothers start their rescue mission through the Cave of Monsters. Surprisingly, although released back in 1986, the game featured multiple endings depending on how you played. Playing through twice with a friend gave you the happiest ending where you turn back into human form, save the girls, and also your parents.
Robot dinosaur space battles? How has this game not been remade?
This 1990 game developed by Bandai may not always be on people's top ten lists but it has everything that made NES games and the 90s great. It offered two game modes. One as Professor Proteus in his battlesuit and the other piloting a robot dinosaur appropriately named "Cyborasaurus." Although the box art remains a bit misleading in terms of detail, it still was a game with an original story and gameplay with with no tie-ins to larger properties. An accomplishment in any light, especially in the 90s.
This game sought to cash in on the popularity of early 3D technology
A truly obscure forward-scrolling rail shooter from 1987, this game is usually put into one of two categories. Either you've never heard of it or spent an embarrassing amount of your formative years trying to master it. Your character constantly runs forward over various pseudo-3D grid worlds while you move, jump, and shoot your way through them. Each level became infuriatingly more difficult requiring impeccable timing and memory of previous levels and obstacles. Also, it very well may have been one of the first games to implement a rear following third-person view that's now become so ubiquitous in modern gaming.
A rare NES game tied in with a famous surf company
While kids today know the joys of more realistic sports games like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, there was a time when players had little choice in extreme sports games. Likely trying to capitalize on the success of games like Skate or Die, this one added big wave surfing to the mix and character choice between Joe Cool, Tiki Man, Kool Kat, and Thrilla Gorilla. Players could choose between riding big waves or skating on streets riddled with dangerous potholes. Both were equally frustrating to navigate.
Ahh the good ol' days when pizza chains released their own video games
As far as fast food video game tie-ins go, this one by Capcom in 1990 was definitely...one of them. Domino's Pizza sought to capitalize on the popularity of their weird pizza-ruining claymation mascot by releasing a video game and did so by having Capcom re-skin an existing Japanese game called "Kamen no Ninja Hanamaru." The games are pretty much identical in terms of gameplay and mechanics and only differ in small ways like story and inexplicably giving the pizza-centric main character a yo-yo as a weapon.
This platform game was likely inspired by E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
As far as anyone is concerned, this 1989 puzzle platform is the gold standard when it comes to games involving feeding candy to an alien creature that's decidedly NOT E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The game involved interesting mechanics in which your character fed jellybeans to his alien buddy to varying effects. Can't walk through some spiderwebs? No problem! A cinnamon jellybean will turn your pal into a blowtorch with ease. While not the most popular game back in the day, a new version of the game was released in 2009 for the Nintendo Wii.
The cover art of this adventure game wrote checks that the gameplay couldn't cash
Whoever designed this game's cover either had no idea what the actual gameplay was or was told to do everything in their power to trick people. A highly detailed depiction of a cool-looking warrior standing his ground before a mace-wielding giant in order to save a damsel in distress has VERY little to do with the actual game. In it, you certainly play a warrior but instead of a sword, you wield something that looks more like the blades of a windmill as you attack an endless onslaught of multicolored ninjas.