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1. Batman: Return of the Joker
Licensed games have been largely awful for decades now. And because of that, it’s easy to pass on playing Batman: Return of the Joker on the NES. But if you don’t play this game, you’re seriously missing out.
The moody atmosphere helps to channel both the pomp and the gravitas of the 1989 Tim Burton Batman movie. And the fluid animations help bring Batman’s fist of fury into life.
Real talk? Before the Arkham Asylum games, this was the best Batman title you could play. And it remains a technical marvel for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
2. Panorama Cotton
It’s not really a secret that Genesis had less raw power than the SNES. But every now and then, a game came along to show us what this aging hardware was truly capable of. And Panorama Cotton is one such game.
The pseudo-3D graphics are jaw-dropping, and the landscapes use pretty much every color in your old crayon box. Honestly, this game is so colorful and so pretty that you’ll forget you are playing on the Sega Genesis!
3. Rendering Ranger R2
Look, we get it. This is one of the titles on this list that will make you ask “what the hell is that game?” But aside from its wordy title, Rendering Ranger R2 is a stunning game.
It was a Super Famicom game that combined large sprites, large sprite counts, and large amounts of Parallax effects. If you like futuristic SHMUPs, then this is one of the best you will ever play.
Back in the day, it was always popular to debate whether the SNES or Genesis version of a title was better. Sometimes, though, there was no contest. For example, the Genesis version of Aladdin is better in every way.
Compared to other Genesis games, this title was colorful, with vibrant graphics and silky-smooth graphics. And unlike the SNES version, you got to have plenty of daring swordfights with guards.
When it comes to an adaptation of a cartoon, the best thing we can say is that this game makes you feel like you’ve taken control of the movie itself!
It seems quaint these days, but Mode 7 graphics were once the hottest innovation in gaming. And there was no better showcase for Nintendo’s Mode 7 capabilities than the racing game F-Zero.
The special graphics did more than make the game look good. Thanks to Mode 7, players could advance down very varied tracks at lightning speeds. In fact, this was arguably the first home racing game that made you feel like you were actually driving on the edge of your seat.
Contra on the NES was an instant classic. And it’s such a fun game that you might not realize how much it is pushing the technical envelope.
This game combined tons of enemies, a “bullet hell” level of firepower, and giant bosses into an 8-bit game with hardly any slowdown. The scrolling was smooth and the explosions were satisfying. And in the best possible way, Contra felt like you were playing an 80’s action movie.
7. Sonic and Knuckles
These days, backward compatibility isn’t that special (though Microsoft and Sony could both do a better job of it). But with Sonic and Knuckles, Sega took the concept of backward compatibility to a whole new level.
The backgrounds and animation were better than any cartoon, and the music (which may or may not have been created by Michael Jackson) will definitely make you tap your toes. But the most impressive feature was that you could plug in earlier games and now play as Knuckles in both Sonic 3 and even Sonic 2.
Honestly, this was like ROM hacking before that was even a thing. And once again, Sega was ahead of the curve.
8. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
The original Super Mario World is beloved by gamers, and rightly so. Sadly, too few gamers have experienced its unexpectedly awesome follow-up featuring Yoshi.
Thanks to the Super FX 2 chip, this game brought in vibrant, colorful backgrounds and detailed sprites. And the huge bosses gave the entire experience a “larger than life” feeling. Plus, once you get past how differently this game plays, the mechanic of firing Yoshi’s eggs at enemies feels very rewarding.
Battletoads is a game that lives in infamy. In fact, countless gamers are still so mad about the difficulty of this title that they don’t want to return to this NES classic.
But if you can look past the difficulty level, this game was a technical marvel. Large sprites combined with backgrounds that rotated and scrolled, giving levels a sense of depth and immersion.
Sure, the game will make you throw your controller a few times. But at least it’s pretty to look at!
10. Virtual Racing
For a long time, Sega focused on creating 3D “virtual” experiences. And while we all remember titles like Virtua Fighter and Virtua Cop, Virtua Racing was a landmark title for Genesis.
Thanks to the Sega Virtua Processor, this game provided a genuine 3D experience on a 16-bit console. That was already impressive, and the game even had a widescreen display mode.
In a time where Sega ruled the arcade scene, this game felt like you were bringing the arcade into your house.
11. Donkey Kong Country
There were many great qualities about the Donkey Kong Country series, including the awesome characters and stellar music. But the real standout quality is, of course, the graphics.
Younger gamers cannot understand that this game looked like something magical on the SNES hardware. The 3D (sort of) graphics, the detailed and fluid animations...it genuinely felt like a next-gen experience on aging hardware, and the game still looks fantastic to this day.
12. Kirby’s Adventure
Kirby’s Adventure came out towards the end of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s lifetime. And that is fitting because this title might as well be an SNES game!
The use of color is almost hypnotic. And the fluid animations push the NES beyond almost any game before this. And the fact that this game combined such technological marvels with iconic character design helped this upgraded Game Boy port become a killer franchise of its own.
In retrospect, it’s weird that we never got more Vectorman games beyond the first one and its sequel. And that’s because these games pushed the Sega Genesis to the absolute limit.
The 3D models and fluid animations made this look more like a PSX game than a genesis one. And the blend of color, shadow, and lighting makes any given screenshot look like a painting. Throw in fast action and huge bosses and this is a title you will never forget.
14. Star Fox
On the SNES, one way to identify the most technically impressive games is to see which ones used the Super FX chip. And of those games, the most impressive one is definitely Star Fox.
Thanks to that chip, we got actual polygons on the SNES. And while designs (such as the Arwing) were pretty basic, the fast and fluid gameplay was enough to make you think you were really in the cockpit of a futuristic fighter.
15. Super Mario Bros. 3
To this day, Super Mario Bros. 3 is considered the best franchise entry by many fans. And on top of that, this game took the NES in some exciting new directions.
This game squeezed an insane amount of detail into every sprite. And the colorful levels are wildly memorable. And the smooth diagonal scrolling helped to redefine what platform gaming could be like on an 8-bit system.