The Best Action-Adventure Games from the NES Era

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers. This iconic console introduced a plethora of 8-bit action-adventure games that revolutionized the gaming industry. The NES, alongside the Sega Master System and Atari, played a pivotal role in popularizing gaming and setting the stage for the console gaming industry we know and love today.

In this article, we will explore five wildly popular action-adventure games from the NES era that are still worth playing today. These games not only captivated players during their initial release but have also stood the test of time. So, dust off your NES console or fire up an emulator, and get ready to embark on a nostalgic journey!

1. Super Mario Bros. 3

The Super Mario series has undoubtedly left an indelible mark on the gaming industry, and Super Mario Bros. 3 is considered one of the best NES games of all time. This side-scrolling masterpiece took the world by storm, selling over 18 million copies worldwide.

In Super Mario Bros. 3, players once again take on the role of Mario or Luigi as they embark on a quest to rescue Princess Peach from the clutches of the villainous Bowser. The game presents players with a plethora of creatively designed levels, each filled with obstacles, hidden rewards, and alternate paths. Along the way, players can collect power-ups, including the iconic Tanooki Costume, which grants temporary flying abilities.

The game’s memorable soundtrack, including the iconic overworld theme, continues to be celebrated and has even inspired numerous memes and references. Super Mario Bros. 3’s timeless gameplay and charming visuals make it a must-play for any NES enthusiast.

2. Contra

Contra, originally an arcade game that was later ported to the NES, remains a fan favorite to this day. Released in 1988, this sideways-scrolling shooter offers intense action and challenging gameplay.

In Contra, players assume the roles of two commandos on a mission to uncover and eliminate an alien presence controlling enemies in a futuristic world set in 2633 AD. The game’s cooperative mode, allowing two players to team up, added an extra layer of fun and excitement. Players can move between the foreground and background to dodge enemy fire and shoot in all directions.

Each level in Contra is packed with enemies, keeping players on their toes. Power-ups are scattered throughout, providing players with different weapons and shields to aid in their mission. Notably, Contra introduced the famous Konami code, allowing players to start with 30 lives instead of the standard three, making it a bit more forgiving for those seeking a challenge.

3. The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda franchise has become a cornerstone of the gaming world, and it all began with the NES release of The Legend of Zelda. This action-adventure game follows the hero, Link, on his quest to stop the villain Ganon from using the Triforce to reshape the world.

The gameplay of The Legend of Zelda combines exploration, puzzle-solving, and combat. Players traverse a top-down view of the expansive map, battling enemies and collecting useful items and utilities. The intricate and maze-like world of the game draws inspiration from early role-playing games, providing a sense of discovery and adventure.

While the franchise has expanded with newer titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, the classic NES version remains a timeless gem that every gaming enthusiast should experience.

4. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse is a classic action-adventure game released in the 90s. Serving as a prequel to the original Castlevania game, it introduces Trevor Belmont, the ancestor of the series’ protagonist, Simon Belmont.

The game’s non-linear narrative offers multiple paths and endings, providing players with a sense of choice and replayability. Alongside Trevor, players can also control three other playable characters: Sypha the Sorceress, Grant the Pirate, and Alucard, the son of Dracula. Each character possesses unique abilities and attributes, adding depth to the gameplay experience.

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse features hidden secrets and challenging gameplay that will keep players engaged from start to finish. Though minor differences exist between the Japanese and American versions, the overall gameplay remains consistent, making it one of the best NES games of all time.

5. Mega Man 3

Mega Man 3, developed by Capcom and released in 1990, brings the beloved blue robot protagonist back for another thrilling adventure. This action-adventure game follows Mega Man as he battles against the renegade Robot Masters and collects Gamma Power Crystals.

Mega Man 3 features classic 2D lateral scrolling gameplay, showcasing an extensive map filled with different sections and enemy-infested areas. The game’s challenging level design and boss battles offer a satisfying and rewarding experience for players. As with previous Mega Man titles, defeating each Robot Master grants Mega Man a unique weapon power-up, adding strategic depth to the gameplay.

While some retro games have been discontinued, a few NES classics, including Mega Man 3, are still available on the Nintendo Switch and Wii platforms. Additionally, players can enjoy these games on their computers through emulators, and some websites even offer online emulators to relive the nostalgia of the NES era.


The NES era introduced a treasure trove of action-adventure games that have left an indelible mark on the gaming industry. Super Mario Bros. 3, Contra, The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, and Mega Man 3 are just a few examples of the unforgettable experiences this era offered.

Whether you’re a seasoned gamer looking to relive the nostalgia or a curious newcomer eager to explore the roots of modern gaming, these NES classics are guaranteed to provide hours of entertainment and a glimpse into the formative years of the industry. So, grab your controller and immerse yourself in the unforgettable world of NES action-adventure games!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *