The NES selections available on the Switch Online service are, for the most part, pretty solid. There aren’t as many low-quality, cheaply-secured titles as there are populating the SNES library. But maybe you’ve already played the classics to death, or maybe you’re a little younger, but you’ve already dipped into hits like Punch-Out!! and Kirby’s Adventure, perhaps after learning about them from Super Smash Bros. What then? Well, here are seven titles available on the NES Switch Online service that might have flown under your radar — if you’re looking for a new-to-you retro game, you can’t go wrong with these.
1. S.C.A.T.: Special Cybernetic Attack Team
Ok, yes, the title is bad. At least it was called Action in New York in Europe. But S.C.A.T. is a solid shoot-em-up that’s similar to Forgotten Worlds, in that you’re navigating a floating soldier around rather than the more typical spaceship. You get to pick between two characters, amusingly named Arnold and Sigourney, and have the added benefit of two orbiting satellites that help you take out enemies above and below you. The soundtrack, composed by Kyohei Sada — the same guy who did the jazzy Spanky’s Quest music — is also a standout.
2. Super Dodge Ball
Part of the Kunio-kun series, Super Dodge Ball sees the familiar chunky little dudes from games like River City Ransom and Crash’n’ the Boys playing in high-stakes games of that old gym class standby, dodgeball. This version on the NES is actually a port of the original, and you can tell that the hardware is struggling to handle all of the action — there’s significant flickering and some slowdown here and there. But Super Dodge Ball on the NES is still a lot of fun, especially when you’re taking out a stubborn member of the other team with a special attack, which may or may not actually be fatal.
3. Adventures of Lolo
Before there was Kirby, HAL made Lolo — a similar little puffball of a character who would later go on to make cameo appearances in Kirby games. But Adventures of Lolo plays much different from Kirby titles, being instead a top-down block-pushing puzzle experience. Lolo has to deal with a range of enemies, but the real goal in each stage is to open a treasure chest and collect a gem, which sends you to the next level. If you’re into logic puzzles with a side of action, Adventures of Lolo will be right up your alley.
Best known to people of a certain age as that game that came with a letter you needed to physically dip into water to progress in, StarTropics is a top-down action-adventure title that was never released in Japan. In contrast to most games of its ilk, it has a contemporary setting with sci-fi elements, letting you travel around the world on a submarine and attack enemies with a yo-yo. Certain elements of the narrative haven’t aged well and weren’t terribly well-written in the first place, but StarTropics has a unique chapter-based rhythm to it that makes it a fun playthrough with natural resting points. Oh, and when you’re asked for the secret code in the professor’s letter, it’s 747 — the Switch release doesn’t actually tell you that.
Probably the most “acquired taste” of all of the games on this list, Nightshade may not be for everybody, but it’s certainly ambitious. You play as a guy named Mark, who steps up to try and fight crime after the city’s resident superhero bites it. You start off the game tied to a chair with a bomb behind you, and you’re thrown into similar deathtraps you must escape whenever you “die” in lieu of the more traditional extra lives or password systems. Nightshade is a point-and-click/action-hybrid that’s totally unlike anything else on the NES, and is funny to boot. On the Switch, you can use quick saves to get around the game’s lack of a battery save feature, which makes the game a lot more manageable.
6. Fire ‘n Ice
The followup to Solomon’s Key (which is also in the NES Switch Online library), Fire ‘n Ice was actually called Solomon’s Key 2 everywhere but North America. It follows a similar formula, casting you as a wizard in single-screen stages who has to eliminate all enemies onscreen. But you can’t directly attack your foes — instead, you can create ice blocks diagonally down from you. These can be stacked, pushed, and dispelled to solve the game’s many puzzles, which start off pretty straightforward and rapidly become challenging. Solomon’s Key is good too, but Fire ‘n Ice is one of my favorite games on the NES.
7. Shadow of the Ninja
There were a lot ninja games on the NES. American pop culture was in love with ninja in the 80s, depicting them as essentially the coolest of the cool, even though they’d often end up as fodder for film and game protagonists to chew through. Shadow of the Ninja is by no means the most well-remembered or regarded ninja game on the NES, which would have to be Ninja Gaiden, but it’s a solid action platformer in its own right. The biggest thing it has going for it is the fact that it’s a rare two-player simultaneous cooperative game on the NES, letting you and a friend play as the surprisingly not-renamed-for-western-audiences Hayate and Kaede. And on the Switch, you can get the co-op experience online. Shadow of the Ninja may have gotten lost in the shuffle of ninja titles when first released, but it holds its own against some of the best action platformers of its era.