A lot of games made the shortlist, but I couldn't include them all. Some, like Duck Tales, I love but are really just copies of other games (Mega Man, in that case) with a different skin on them, so I went with another game.
Honorable mention: Tecmo Super Bowl
Possibly my most played game, as a football loving kid growing up. My brother and I would always play a season being in control of multiple teams, often having 3 or 4 at a time each. Still, even playing so many games we'd go through multiple seasons a day as we had this rented from the video store (that's an old fashioned sentence nowadays), since games usually took about 5 minutes. But sadly, the game hasn't aged well, as many things you want in a sports game have come in and have been done better in the years since. Still, nostalgia couldn't keep this game off the list in some way.
10. Metal Storm
The main character of this game, the M-308 Gunner robot, is, I think, one of the coolest video game robots ever. Bulky but still humanoid and awesome looking, he has a badass laser gun and can find the usual upgrades that action shooters bring to the genre. But the M-308's greatest tool is the ability to control his own gravity. Some puzzles and parts of the game require you to change from jumping from the ground or jumping from the ceiling and back and forth to get the right angles and to evade enemies. Because this was one of those games, like many NES games, where to say you've beat it was really saying something, since one hit and you're dead, I boasted often that I beat this. An underplayed game, Metal Storm is a must play and well remembered by those who played it in those great old days.
9. Blades of Steel
Okay, I know I bumped Tecmo Super Bowl off the list saying sports games have improved so much in the years since its release, but Blades of Steel is still awesome. You don't even mind that this was in the pre-licensing days, so this isn't an NHL partnered game and the teams don't even have mascots, it's just New York, Chicago, etc. The hockey action is fast and engaging and the fights are still fun to this day. I also love that the guy who loses the fight is the one who goes in the penalty box, a great incentive to win the fights.
Making the most famous use of the most famous video game code in history, Contra is near impossible at its normal setting of giving you just 3 lives to make it through 7 blisteringly amazing levels. But give us 30 lives (whether solo or co-op) and the game is a blast. Switching from side scrolling and faux-3-D behind the back levels, Contra is great to look at. Obviously influenced by Predator and the Alien franchise, the jungle setting and alien villains are well done and memorable. The gun upgrades are fun to mess around with, the differing levels and constant difficulty keep us always engaged. I have no idea how many times I've played through this game, but it's a bunch and I'd happily do it again right now.
7. The Legend of Zelda
The beginning of my favorite franchise, The Legend of Zelda introduced most of the elements present through the rest of the series: hero Link, damsel in distress Princess Zelda, the Triforce, and so on. Revolutionary at the time for its seemingly open world, hidden passages, and ability to save your progress on the game's battery, it's hard to say something about this classic that hasn't been said countless times before.
6. Final Fantasy
Though it became more famous on SNES and eventually Playstation, my favorite Final Fantasy has always been the first. The epic scope of the game, constant fighting, and different vehicles you can acquire are a lot of fun to experience. And that you can have different team combinations of your 4 characters from 6 character classes lends it a great replay factor. It gave birth to one of gaming's most successful and famous franchises but I love where it all started.
Heavily influenced by one of my favorite movies, Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Crystalis didn't get the recognition it deserved. It had an epic story, changeable weapons, with one of the coolest, most atmospheric, and "I want to play this game right now" opening cut scenes ever. It can be a grind to play, killing countless foes to level up in this action RPG, but that's part of the fun, the amount of work it took to beat it. Combining Zelda's dungeon crawling with a post-apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy setting and world exploring, it's one of the NES's richest games, and one that I wish I didn't get so many blank stares about when I try and talk about it.
4. Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!
One of the first games I remember playing with my family, we all loved gathering around and watching the crazy characters this game paraded in front of us. Although I always had problems with Bald Bull, I would still just play up until then over, and over, and over again. Of course, Mike Tyson is one of the hardest "boss battles" in gaming, but I still remember 007-373-5963 (the code to cut straight to the Tyson fight) as though it were my social security number.
3. River City Ransom
Another that not enough people know about, River City Ransom is a goofy, awesome, difficult action/RPG/beat 'em up that you didn't forget once you played it. It takes a long time to build up the money you need to buy food and upgrades in this game, but the fighting is so fun and satisfying that it never seems like a slog to do. The different gangs you fight on your way to save your girlfriend each give different amounts of money upon their defeat so it was often about finding a gang you could beat up without dying and making your money that way. Again, a game that feels open world-y, setting the stage for all the great sandbox games of today. The only real question is, are you a Dragon Feet or Stone Hands kinda player?
2. Mega Man 2
Some point to Mega Man 3 as the pinnacle of the franchise, but I say it's this second entry. It's my favorite set of villain robots, and may have even been the only one I played enough to beat when I was young (again that theme of games now being made to be beaten, whereas in the NES days it was really saying something when you beat these much, much shorter games). One of the most prolific franchises in gaming history, there have been literally dozens of Mega Man projects over the years, but in my book this one was never bested. Also, Metal Man's saw blades are my favorite weapon in the series.
1. Super Mario Bros. 3
One of the most hyped games ever, Super Mario Bros. 3 debuted in a Hollywood movie (The Wizard), and instead of being a letdown by the time us gamers got to it, it actually exceeded beyond the hype. Impeccably designed levels with endless secrets to discover, I loved playing this game at age 7 when it came out, or age 31 that I am now. It is simply the best NES game, and might get my vote as single best game ever made. And that's with knowing that I'm almost sure I've never beaten it, even with the Game Genie. Or maybe with the Game Genie and I just didn't count it because of that.