So you’re quarantined, stuck inside until who knows when. We feel your pain. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be all bad all the time. There’s a wealth of games to play. But nothing helps take you out of your own head like revisiting gaming’s glory days of old. From Mario’s oddest adventure to a trip forward into an unrecognizable world, we’ve put together a list of the nine best old-school Nintendo games to rediscover while in quarantine.
Mega Man Legacy Collection (Mega Man 1-6)
It’s hard to find something more old-school than Capcom’s classic Mega Man titles. Rather than finding them individually — and paying those outrageous eBay prices — do yourself a favor and pick up the Mega Man Legacy Collection. It’s available on Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo Switch, as well as other platforms if you’re feeling particularly blasphemous. More importantly, it’s affordable and includes all six NES Mega Man titles.
Those first six Mega Man games were among the best-received on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Their gameplay elements hold up even today, none more so than the innovative level selection system. You’ll choose which order you tackle levels in, so it’s not a fully linear experience. While there’s not always a “right” order, you’ll quickly find certain abilities make your time much easier. Mega Man gains new powers after defeating bosses. Many of these offer significant advantages over another Robot Master or a level’s set of challenges too. It’s classic platforming at its best.
Want old-school Nintendo games for that bone-grinding, sometimes unfair challenge that’s often missing in today’s games? These are a no-brainer. But the Legacy Collection offers a range of improvements and bonuses for the modern palette as well. These including mid-stage save options, challenge modes, and Turbo options to get around slowdown inherent in the original titles. They’re definitely among the best old-school Nintendo games to rediscover on their own, but quality-of-life improvements never hurt.
Chrono Trigger will be a bit more difficult to find on a Nintendo platform, but it’s worth your time. Your main (legal) options are having it already on an old Wii system, using a still-functioning SNES cartridge, or playing it on Nintendo DS. If none of those are viable, though, you can play Chrono Trigger on the PlayStation 3 and Vita. There’s also the now-functional PC port on Steam, if you’re supremely desperate.
Whatever path you choose, you get to re-experience a true RPG gem. Chrono Trigger combined the talents of multiple luminaries in the Japanese RPG development world, including Dragon Quest artist Akira Toriyama and Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu. Yes, that means Chrono Trigger‘s soundtrack is as wonderful as you’d hope. You take control of Crono, a young hero-in-the-making, on a journey that really has no parallel in games. It’s a combination of time travel and science fiction, all wrapped around a traditional RPG story of good versus evil.
What’s less traditional is how it all unfolds, making Chrono Trigger even more unique as an old-school game. Battles are turn-based but emphasize movement and positioning like in a tactics title. Encounters aren’t random either. You’ll run into enemies on the field and immediately transition into battle. Best of all is the ending — or, more accurately, the set of endings. Chrono Trigger features multiple endings based on decisions you make during your journey, encouraging more than one playthrough. There’s plenty here to keep you busy for a long while.
Super Mario Bros. 2
If you think old-school and Super Mario, chances are you think Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario Bros. 3. Super Mario Bros. 2 deserves some of that attention too, though, as Nintendo itself recognized earlier this year. It’s pretty easy to find Super Mario Bros. 2 as well, since the classic platformer is available on Wii, Wii U, 3DS, and the Switch Online NES library.
You may already know the game’s history, so we’ll keep it brief. Japan’s Super Mario Bros. 2 is what we later received as The Lost Levels. Because developers worried about the higher-challenge level in Lost Levels, the West got something… rather different. Our Super Mario Bros. 2 is actually a game called Doki Doki Panic with Mario characters slapped on. That’s why the title is so radically different from anything else in the Super Mario series.
Different it may be, but SMB2 shaped a lot of Mario’s character design and world-building nonetheless. Luigi’s speed, Toad’s diminutive power, and Peach’s float-y jump all came from this title. The gameplay here is special too. You’ll deal with enemies differently, run for your life and probably have nightmares because of the Phanto masks, and explore wacky and surprisingly large worlds. Even better, you’ll do it as one of four characters, making it the most unique and varied Super Mario title outside 3D World.
The NES wasn’t short of action titles with an RPG bent, but Crystalis is definitely one of the more interesting old-school Nintendo titles. There’s a Game Boy Color port alongside the original NES game. However, your best bet is just taking advantage of the Nintendo Switch Online NES library of titles or playing it as part of the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection.
Crystalis’ fundamentals are similar to those of the older Ys games and the original The Legend of Zelda. You take control of a hero, explore a vast overworld, swing swords (okay, so not like Ys in that regard), and defeat the big bad at the end. What makes Crystalis different is its setting. Most NES-era RPGs aside from Shin Megami Tensei favored the medieval settings Dragon Quest and Wizardry helped popularize. Crystalis takes place in a post-apocalyptic future. Science helped destroy the world, and now the game’s villain seeks to combine science and magic to create the ultimate power. The nameless hero awakes from cryogenic slumber to stop him as well, so it’s all very futuristic in a campy sort of way.
Despite that, most of Crystalis’ locations still look like your average RPG areas. It’s not bleak and depressing at all, so it’s still a good choice for an old-school Nintendo game to rediscover. In fact, it’s quite colorful and detailed for an NES title.
Secret of Mana (Collection of Mana)
It’s difficult to talk about the best old-school games without bringing up Secret of Mana. Action RPGs were hardly few and far between by the time the SNES rolled around. But Secret of Mana did several things differently and still holds up as a fun experience today. While you won’t easily find the classic Secret of Mana on its own, you can download Collection of Mana on Nintendo Switch, complete with two other must-play old-school games. There’s a physical copy as well, but the digital is often half the price on sale.
Secret of Mana includes three characters in your party, unlike most action RPGs at the time. Each controls completely differently as well. If you don’t go alone, you can have friends drop in to control them for a multiplayer RPG experience — unheard of at the time. A stamina system controls skill use, and you can further change up your play style by using the eight different weapon types. It’s a surprisingly expansive combat system for the time and one we still see traces of today.
Secret of Mana’s story is fairly basic by today’s standards, true. But there’s something to be said for an earnest good-versus-evil story. That goes double when it’s told through nostalgic SNES graphics and style, and triple when you can follow it up with two more old-school Mana games in the collection.
Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation
Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation is often regarded as both one of the best Dragon Quest titles and one of the best classic RPGs in general. It was a huge step forward for the series that contributed its DNA to many RPG systems we take for granted now. Most notable among these advancements are job systems (though Final Fantasy predated it in a way) and a more complex system of stat improvement. Square Enix finally made the game’s modern port available on Nintendo Switch last year, and it’s on mobile devices as well if you prefer mobile.
Dragon Quest III completes a trilogy begun in the original Dragon Quest. However, for spoiler-ish reasons you don’t have to play the first two titles to understand this one, which is handy if you don’t want to go full-on old school. DQIII’s combat system is smoother, and the soundtrack is much more robust. You’ll start with a full party of characters that you create yourself, including selecting their class. Combined with a bigger map and more coherent story, this all serves to make Dragon Quest III a perfect old-school RPG to while away the time.
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is another classic old-school platformer. The Super Nintendo title was on the Wii Virtual Console, and it’s part of the SNES Classic, Nintendo Switch Online SNES library, and New 3DS Virtual Console. Don’t let the quirky mashup of concepts and styles fool you, though. It’s also one of the hardest SNES games around and a great candidate for one of the best old-school Nintendo games to rediscover.
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts has you play as Arthur, a knight. His task is rescuing Princess Prin Prin from the Demon Realm, where Arthur finds all manner of monsters trying to stop him, from zombies and ghosts to gargoyles and fiends straight out of mythology.
One of the game’s signature challenges is its unforgiving health system. Arthur gets one hit before his armor shatters. He’s left in his boxers (gasp!), and one more hit finishes him off. To be fair, we suspect we wouldn’t last long either if a demon attacked us whilst we wore nothing but underwear. Fortunately, Arthur can find another set of armor in chests, and he gets a double jump to help him on his way. It’s short like many old-school games, but Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is stuffed full of challenge and color, making it more than worth your time.
River City Ransom
River City Ransom isn’t your average RPG by any standard. It eschews fantasy epics and traditional settings for a gritty, urban cityscape — gritty by NES standards at least. Though it, too, was released on the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS Virtual Consoles, you can also find it in the Switch’s NES library if you have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. However you go about it, River City Ransom‘s unique take on design is what make it one of the best old-school Nintendo games to rediscover.
You’ll control two high school kids fighting their way across the city to rescue the protagonist’s girlfriends from a gang leader and probably be very confused along the way, but hey, this is old-school gaming after all. River City Ransom is an ambitious title for the time, incorporating an open-world-ish design and complicated method of character progression. You’ll raise stats like strength and defense in unorthodox ways. These include listening to music, eating certain foods, and even wearing the right clothes. Good luck figuring out the best ways for each, though.
Most of your time is spent beating up thugs and student gangs though, as you punch and kick your way across the city. Sadly, River City Ransom itself is pretty short. But if you like it, there’s the recent River City Girls on Switch that stars the original game’s kidnapped girlfriends as they tear up the town in a riot of fun.
There’s been a delicious glut of Metroidvania games in recent years, which is the perfect excuse to go back where it all began: Super Metroid. Yes, Metroid is even older-school, but Super Metroid’s expansions and improvements make it much more filling as one of the best old-school Nintendo games to rediscover. Super Metroid is also pretty easy to find. If you don’t already have it on your SNES, Wii, or Wii U, you can play it off the New Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console, on the SNES Classic, or off of Nintendo Switch Online.
Samus explores a redesigned Zebes (setting of the original game) full of visual variety rendered in glorious SNES 16-bit style. Her goal this time around is recovering the baby Metroid from Metroid II after her longtime foes the Space Pirates kidnap it. The story is good, basic sci-fi material. But it’s really just a front for a fantastic mix of platforming, exploration, world design, and fast-paced combat that still sets a standard for the genre and the Metroid series.
You’ll start out with nothing but the most basic of weapons and abilities. That changes as you explore, though. You’ll gradually gain more abilities that let you reach previously inaccessible places and handle stronger foes. Super Metroid expertly balances logical progression with a sense of open exploration too, as all good Metroidvania titles do. You might get lost for a little while, but you’ll never be fully stuck. And the feeling of satisfaction once you do find your way again is unparalleled.
We’ve tried to include old-school Nintendo games you can find without hassle and without spending too much. While we think these represent the best old-school Nintendo games you can play during quarantine, there are plenty more out there of course. What old-school Nintendo games are you playing to help make it through quarantine? Let us know in the comments!