Best Nintendo Game From Every Year In The 80s

Best Nintendo Game From Every Year In The 80s
  • Nintendo's biggest shift occurred in the 1980s, when they rose to global prominence in the video game industry.
  • Their best games from each year in the 1980s included classics like Donkey Kong, Mario Bros, and The Legend of Zelda.
  • These iconic games paved the way for Nintendo's success and established them as a leading force in the gaming world.

Every company has its dramatic shifts over time. Nokia went from being one of the biggest names in the cellphone business to selling off that division to Microsoft. Sega began the 1990s as Nintendo’s biggest rival to the decade’s biggest loser after the Saturn and Dreamcast failed to take off. By contrast, Nintendo's biggest shift took place in the 1980s, when they reached new heights.

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While there are many timeless titles on the NES, these games didn't have the same staying power.

They went from a Japan-only company that made playing cards and a few arcade machines and Pong consoles, to the international byword for video games by the decade’s end. They were still rising stars in some territories, but they ruled the roost in Japan and North America. But they had to release some fantastic games to get there, with these being the best Nintendo games from each year in the 1980s.

1980: Game & Watch - Fireman Fireman

GameFAQs Score: 3.62/5 Stars (Game & Watch Gallery)

  • Developer: Nintendo R&D1.
  • Release: July 1980.
  • Platforms: Game & Watch, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance.
  • Genre: Puzzle game.

While it seems odd for a playing card company to get involved in video games, the way Nintendo got into the market was rather mundane. By the 1970s, the company had caught on in Japan for its novelties and gadgets, like the Ultra Hand, Love Tester, and Light Gun series. Their Color TV-Game machines and Yakuman mahjong devices were just part of the trend. As were their Game & Watch handhelds.

While they’re functionally just cheap LCD games, they were unique in 1980 and had more variety in their game types and shapes than their counterparts by Tiger Electronics. Some even had dual screens, like the Nintendo DS decades later. The best-selling entry from its debut was Fireman Fireman (or just Fire for short), where the player controlled two firemen and had to bounce people falling from a burning building to safety with their trampoline.

1981: Donkey Kong

GameFAQs Score: 3.88/5 Stars

Donkey Kong
Platform(s)Arcade, Nintendo Entertainment System, Atari 2600, Game Boy Advance, Commodore 64
ReleasedJuly 31, 1981
Developer(s)Ikegami Tsushinki, Nintendo R&D1

Nintendo also made arcade games, though most of their early entries consisted of Space Invadersclones. One such game, Radar Scope, was critically praised, but it wasn’t a big earner. Luckily, when Nintendo of America asked for a new game to replace it, Scope’s creator Shigeru Miyamoto had an idea. One that would eventually turn him and the company into global names.

Donkey Kongwas the first game to introduce the titular ape, alongside the distressed damsel Pauline, and a mustachioed hero called Mr. Video/Jump Man/Mario. It practically needs no introduction after that, as it became the highest-grossing game of the year in Japan and North America, inspired a ton of clones (remember Crazy Kongfor the Commodore VIC-20?), and leagues of players still seeing how high they can try to get their score up.

1982: Donkey Kong Jr.

GameFAQs Score: 3.66/5 Stars

Donkey Kong Jr.
Platform(s)Arcade, Nintendo Entertainment System, Atari 2600
ReleasedJune 30, 1982
Developer(s)Iwasaki Electronics, Nintendo R&D2, Nintendo R&D1

Now that Nintendo had a big hit on their hands, they had to keep its momentum going. They could’ve made Donkey Kong 2, where everything but the level design was the same. Instead, Nintendo R&D1 switched things up with Donkey Kong Jr. Now the player has to save Donkey Kong from Mario after he and an unnamed partner bagged his dad and locked him in a cage.

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Instead of jumping over barrels, Junior would climb up vines, ropes, chains, and dodge enemies in search of fruit to knock them out, and then grab a key to free Donkey Kong Sr. Nowadays, it’s largely remembered as "the game where Mario is the baddy." But it still holds up as a neat, climbing-based variant of the Donkey Kongformula.

1983: Mario Bros

GameFAQs Score: 3.64/5 Stars

Mario Bros.
Platform(s)Arcade, Nintendo Entertainment System, Atari 2600, Switch, Game Boy Advance, Commodore 64, Nintendo 3DS
ReleasedJuly 20, 1983
Genre(s)Platformer, Arcade

Donkey Kong Jr.saw DK Sr. get captured by two Marios. Whether this was supposed to be Luigi or not is up in the air, as Mario’s lean, mean, and green brother officially made his debut in 1983’s Mario Bros. It was also when both brothers were officially designated as plumbers, as they had to clear the pipes of a variety of enemies in each of the game's stages. Those Shellcreeper enemies look familiar too.

Both brothers can survive long falls, but they can’t jump on the enemies like they could in their Super follow-up. They had to knock them over by hitting them from under the platform, and then jump on them before they turned upright. If push came to shove, they could hit the POW block to leave every grounded enemy prone. Whoever got the most points won, so both players had to do their best to make sure their Mario Bro got the high score.

1984: Excitebike

GameFAQs Score: 3.59/5 Stars

Platform(s)Nintendo Entertainment System, Wii, Wii U, Switch, Game Boy Advance, 3DS
ReleasedNovember 30, 1984
Developer(s)Nintendo R&D1

Nintendo was doing well in the arcades, with the original Punch-Outand their Vs series making it into game centers across Japan and North America. But they wouldn’t be the company’s biggest earners for long. Inspired by the ColecoVision, Nintendo introduced their Famicom to Japanese homes in 1983. But it would gain more traction in 1984 when Namco and Hudson Soft became its first third-party supporters.

It was also the year Nintendo released Excitebike for the console in Japan. This motocross racer was a fun game where players had to time their boosts and jumps correctly to complete the preliminaries and win the Excitebike Championship Race. Players could even design their own racecourses. It would become a launch game for the Famicom’s Western equivalent, the NES, alongside another game that used its smooth, sidescrolling engine.

1985: Super Mario Bros.

GameFAQs Score: 4.17/5 Stars

Super Mario Bros.
Platform(s)Nintendo Entertainment System
ReleasedNovember 17, 1985
Developer(s)Nintendo R&D4

What is left to say about Super Mario Bros. that hasn’t already been said? Using Excitebike’s sidescrolling tech, the game practically reinvented the platform genre. Instead of static-screen jumpathons, SMB1made them more exploratory, where players had to hop over pits, enemies (like those Shellcreeper-looking Koopa Troopas) and other threats to save Princess Peach from Bowser.

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Instead of playing the same few stages endlessly (or until the player got a kill screen), they now had eight worlds with four stages each to complete before they could beat the game and see its ending. Savvy players could see it sooner if they knew where the warp pipes were, but the rest would have to master its mechanics. Released as the NES' launch game, it's still arguably the console's most iconic entry.

1986: Metroid

GameFAQs Score: 3.86/5 Stars

Platform(s)Nintendo Entertainment System
ReleasedAugust 6, 1986

SMB1didn’t invent sidescrolling platform games, nor the concept of "move right to progress." However, it was the most popular example, as players couldn’t even go leftward in the game. If the player missed a mushroom at an earlier part of the level, then they had to leave it behind and find another one elsewhere. Luckily, Nintendo produced Metroid, where players could move left, right, up, down, and in any other direction possible.

Using their new, Japan-only Famicom Disk System tech, players control Samus Aran as they explore the planet Zebes for the Metroid parasites that were stolen by the Space Pirates. It was a new experience, where exploring the planet could reward them with new powerups that would open new areas of Zebes, or challenges to get past. Alongside Konami's Castlevania, it would popularize the search-action ("Metroidvania") sub-genre of games, leading to the likes of Shantae and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

1987: The Legend Of Zelda

GameFAQs Score: 4.13/5 Stars

The Legend of Zelda
Platform(s)Nintendo Entertainment System, Wii, Wii U, Game Boy Advance, 3DS
ReleasedNovember 15, 1987
Developer(s)Nintendo EAD

The Famicom Disk System was meant to succeed the Famicom/NES, but its design flaws led to most of its big hitters getting ported back to its predecessor. While they lacked the graphical and audio flourishes of their disk-based versions, they were still able to offer larger levels to explore thanks to their new microchips, as well as offer saves via their battery backups. This came in handy for The Legend of Zelda.

It offered a bigger world to explore in Hyrule, and more things for the player to do, as they helped Link collect all eight pieces of the Triforce to save the land from Ganon. For 1987, it offered an epic adventure full of different foes like Moblins and Like-Likes, and a wide selection of tools to fight them with, from arrows and bombs to the trusty Master Sword. It's no wonder the game would produce one of the most iconic fantasy franchises in gaming.

1988: Super Mario Bros 3

GameFAQs Score: 4.54/5 Stars

Super Mario Bros. 3
Platform(s)Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy Advance
ReleasedOctober 23, 1988
Developer(s)Nintendo R&D4

By 1988, Nintendo and the NES were the top names in home gaming. That year alone saw North America receive classics like Contra, Blaster Master, Double Dragon, Bubble Bobble, Bionic Commando, and Xevious. But they were also all third-party releases. By themselves, Nintendo brought Super Mario Bros 2, Zelda 2: The Adventures of Link, and (via Rare) R.C. Pro-Am.

35 Years Later, Super Mario Bros. 3 is Still the Benchmark for Platforming Games
Today marks the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. 3's initial release, and the title still stands as the exemplar of the platforming genre.

Those games are fun, underrated experiences, but are they better than Super Mario Bros. 3? The game wouldn’t reach the West until 1989, but Japanese players got it right at the tail end of 1988. It was bigger and better with multiple worlds, minigames, and an expansive list of powerups (including the infamous Frog Suit). In other words, it was Mario-style platforming with a Zelda-esque scope with everything it had to offer.

1989: Tetris

GameFAQs Score: 4.16/5 Stars

  • Developer: Nintendo R&D1.
  • Release: June 1989.
  • Platforms: Game Boy, Game Boy Color.
  • Genre: Puzzle Game.

Obviously, Nintendo didn’t invent Tetris. The USSR had been tinkering with it since 1984, and by 1989 it had appeared on a wide variety of home consoles. It even appeared twice on the NES via Tengen and Nintendo, with the former arguably being slightly better than the latter. However, 1989 saw the game reach portable systems for the first time via the Game Boy, where it was the perfect fit for the handheld.

Its core concept (build-up lines by stacking tetrominoes) was simple to grasp and offered players of all ages a comfy difficulty curve for them to adjust to. Puzzle masters could test themselves directly with its harder settings. They could even use the Link Cable to connect two Game Boys and take each other on in its two-player mode. While there are more modern versions of Tetris out there, few of them were as successful as its Game Boy port.

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