The NES helped to resuscitate the near-dead video game market, while simultaneously introducing wolrds, concepts, and characters that have been in mainstream culture for 40 years. It was also home to the Wayne’s World game, which feels like it’s actively causing your brain to rot as you play it.
This look at the worst NES games will touch on titles we all know and have suffered through together. However, we’re going to try and dig deep to find the real contenders for the absolute bottom of the very deep NES barrel.
With that in mind, we’re only going to be focusing on licensed NES games for consideration. That’s right, the absolute worst games to ever grace the NES have to come with that Nintendo seal of approval. They have no one to blame but themselves.
Even religious imagery plays a role in the excruciatingly simple gameplay, which has players receive a Tarot card reading. That’s literally it, save for some lottery numbers you can get by putting in the state in which you live (or whatever, honestly,since nothing matters when you’re playing this). The game was obviously not marketed to children, with warnings on the label stating the game was not mere entertainment, nor should it be played by anyone under 14. It’s also hard to imagine adults having much fun with this game either.
Taboo: The Sixth Sense is not very evocative of the promised experience. The graphics are dreadful. The soundscape is hideous. The entire asinine endeavor will take you roughly ten minutes. Then you can go again. Even NES fanatics in the late 80s said no to this one, which proved the adage that just because you can make something into a video game, doesn’t mean you should.
14. The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island
Developer: Human Entertainment Publisher: Bandai America
Human Entertainment would later put out the much better Clock Tower series, but those games seem very far away from this festering turd of a single-player adventure. Even fans of the 1960s sitcom had a difficult time liking a game with terrible controls, a steep degree of difficulty, and gameplay that amounts to one seemingly endless escort mission.
What do we mean? Players take control of the Skipper, who has to clear four levels by gathering stuff, wandering around, and talking to the other losers who are stuck on the island with you. Gilligan is with you every step of the way, and in keeping with a major theme on the show, is constantly getting into trouble and without him, you will not be able to complete the game. He can fall into holes, get killed by enemies.
Just about anything can destroy this utter failure of the “human being” named Gilligan in the “video game” called The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island. This is where the game becomes something that tries your soul, forcing you to replay areas over and over, and god help you, over again. Only you can break the cycle of madness by never picking up this tangible tool of human suffering to begin with.
13. Dragon’s Lair
Developer: Motivetime Publisher: CSG Imagesoft
An NES port of an extremely complicated animated Laserdisc video game sounds like some real bullshit. Yet such an spectacularly dumb idea exists, with the NES getting its own version of Don Bluth’s classic Dragon’s Lair in 1990. To be fair to developer Motivetime, they didn’t try to bring the arcade experience to the home console. The game instead puts players in the heroic role of Dirk in what amounts to a series of platforming stages that are horrible to look at, and somehow almost impressively even worse to play.
There’s absolutely nothing fun about the NES version of Dragon’s Lair, unless you’re in the midst of a nervous breakdown that includes playing the many, many versions of this game that currently exist. You’re going to have a blast with the input delay (a full 1-2 seconds may pass before Dirk performs the action you asked him to) and thousands, upon thousands of one hit deaths.
There is no light. There is no hope. There are only the inscrutable demands of Dragon’s Lair for the NES.
12. Dash Galaxy in the Alien Asylum
Developer: Beam Software Publisher: Data East
Looking at Dash Galaxy in the Alien Asylum for the NES, it’s astonishing to realize Super Mario Bros 3 was released in Japan less than two years prior. There wasn’t much of an excuse for an NES title that looked like several shades of vomit laced with LSD and played as though it actively wanted to remind you of the futility of life itself. Yet Dash Galaxy suffered from both of these issues, trapping the player in the titular asylum and forcing them to struggle with a game that seemed fundamentally dedicated to being as shoddy and frustrating as humanly possible.
You can also look at the miserable sound design and drunk toddler physics of Dash Galaxy in the Alien Asylum. Consider these things the pillars of a game that basically boils down to finding certain items to get to the next part of the hideous, prohibitively difficult maze.
If dealing with feeble, unfair traps and constantly aggravating enemies sounds like your idea of a good time, Dash Galaxy in the Alien Asylum will be your dream come true.
Developer: Pack-in-Video Publisher: Acclaim
Even if Rambo was a fun NES game, which we can assure it is not in even the most sarcastic definition of “fun”, it would still be saddled with one of the most insipid password systems ever conceived. Giving players respite in the form of a password system in a stupefyingly hard game? Good idea. Making that password thirty-two characters, without even the promise that the game would recognize the password later? Not as good of an idea.
Think of the password system for Rambo as the creamy center of deep existential despair in a chocolate treat made of broken dreams and the wretched souls of the damned. Terrible hit detection, counterintuitive layouts, and grating music/sound only makes this whole thing worse. Imagine being stuck with this game for your weekend rental.
No wonder some elder millennials who grew up in the age of the NES are embittered freaks today. Getting Stockholm Syndrome from a game that plays like Zelda II on homemade cough syrup is something no child deserves.
10. The Simpsons: Bart vs. The Space Mutants
Developer: Imagineering Publisher: Acclaim
The Simpsons: Bart vs. The Space Mutants is not without its admirers, but the game nevertheless ranks high among the worst for, among other things, its completely wasted potential to be something interesting, or at least something better than a lazy tie-in.
This thought nicely complements the clunky controls and needlessly vague gameplay demands. It’s hard to imagine a small child being able to decipher the game’s mission of collecting certain themed items to stop the titular space mutants from taking over the world. It’s even harder to imagine any child actually having fun with Bart’s terrible jumping mechanics, and level designs which start strong, but deteriorate to visual gibberish by the game’s insufferable end.
The Simpsons: Bart vs. The Space Mutants also has some interesting ideas buried deep within the bloated corpse of what we actually get. The game’s graphics are not bad by 1990 8-bit standards, and the game’s efforts to do something a little different from the standard action platformer are worth commending to a point. To a point being the key phrase there. Ultimately, Bart vs. The Space Mutants is just plain terrible.
9. Hudson Hawk
Developer: Special FX Publisher: Ocean Software
Regardless of how you feel about the movie (it’s actually great), almost all of us can agree that the 1991 NES game from Ocean is one of the worst platformers to ever appear on the console.
The stealthier elements of this game might be intriguing, except that the rest of the game is the kind of pixelated trainwreck that seemingly existed only to make children sad. Atrocious controls, vague missions (have fun dying all the time!), and one of the worst weapons ever given to a player (a tennis ball) all doom Hudson Hawk to the trash heap of history. It also doesn’t help that Hudson Hawk looks awful, with the sort of chaotic level designs and ugly sprites that players would come to expect from Ocean.
It’s worth emphasizing that Hudson Hawk was developed by Ocean, a British studio infamous today for crapping out several godawful titles based on movies. Seemingly determined to ruin as many children’s weekends as possible, Hudson Hawk is notably terrible, which god help us all is saying a lot.
8. Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Developer: Advance Communication Publisher: Toho (JP) and Bandai (NA)
If sheer infamy counted for everything, it’s possible that Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde would be the worst NES game. However, a litany of profoundly bizarre choices for narrative and gameplay makes it at least something with trainwreck fascination. That’s more than we can say for most of the games we’re discussing here.
To be clear, Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is still a bottomlessly unpleasant playing experience. From objectives that could sincerely qualify for pure abstract thinking, to a degree of difficulty that will almost literally age you beyond your years, Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde more than earns the reputation it’s received from the likes of the Angry Video Game Nerd.
A useless weapon, birds voiding their bowels on your head (yes, really), and a feature in which you will seemingly instantly die at random (it’s not random, but it’s not even worth explaining). These are the treats that await the truly discerning, possibly insane, player. Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde should be experienced at least once, regardless of the spiritual damage it will almost certainly wreak upon your being.
7. Where’s Waldo?
Developer: Bethesda Publisher: THQ
Where’s Waldo? at least has some name power. Bethesda is a big wheel these days, with games like Doom Eternal and the iconic Fallout series on its resume. THQ at one time was one of the biggest publishers in the world, and the name is still fondly recalled by many in the present, although THQ still exists in a form as THQ Nordic. So, what the shit are they doing with a video game based on a series of books in which your objective is to find some clod named Waldo amidst a crowd of lunatics immersed in bedlam.
That’s a rhetorical question! Because clearly the point was to make as much money as possible off Waldo, some loser in a red and white sweater whose job to find is yours. The honest-to-god video game adaptation follows the point and structure of the books, with terrible graphics that make it very, very difficult to discern anything, let alone this idiot Waldo.
And if it seems like we haven’t really talked about Where’s Waldo for the NES much, it’s because that’s literally it. There’s a practice mode, and some differing degrees of difficulty, but it all amounts to the same waste of time.
6. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends
Developer: Radical Entertainment Publisher: THQ
You know what, never mind. Go to hell, THQ, for crimes such as Where’s Waldo and the regrettable 1992 atrocity Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends.
The Super Nintendo was well out by this point, meaning most of the NES games that were released in this era ran the gamut from not great to almost unplayable. Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, based on the influential 1960s cartoon series, gets closer to the almost unplayable section than it probably wanted to.
Because you have to imagine that someone somewhere in the development of this hideous game at least liked Rocky and Bullwinkle. You may not be able to gather that from the end result of this game, which features horrible graphics and sound, combined with hateful, minimalist side scrolling action gameplay that effectively assumes you’re as unhinged as the people who developed this nonsense. Oh, and did we mention that this game was notorious for crashing all the time? The only positive for Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends that we can think of is that it’s very, very, very short.
5. WWF WrestleMania
Developer: Rare Publisher: Acclaim
We don’t say this very often, but truly, when it comes to pro wrestling games, the kids of today don’t know just how good they’ve got it. In 1989 wrestling fans at the height of the WWF’s (now WWE) first major wave of global popularity didn’t have a lot of video game options to choose from. The NES in particular would be home to some of the truly worst wrestling games of all time, including Pro Wrestling and Tag Team Match: M.U.S.C.L.E., but WWF WrestleMania is the Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion of almost decadent failure.
While visually the game looks okay, with some catchy midi renditions of WWF entrance themes like “Real American”, the wrestling part is a horror show. Clunky controls and poor hit detection create a situation that at no point feels even vaguely like professional wrestling. A lack of interesting game modes also means you’re going to be bored quickly.
It’s a bit of flash with very little substance, which is how many critics described the WWF in the 1980s.
Developer: Bits Laboratory Publisher: Activision
The initial 1984 release of Ghostbusters to the Commodore 64 is arguably an enjoyable combination of busting ghosts with a surprisingly engaging business management system. The 1986 NES port decided to completely destroy what little potential enjoyment you may have had, leaving players with a game so universally disliked, there’s an easter egg about its ending in the 2009 Ghostbusters: The Video Game.
No longer building your ghostbusting business to the point where you can take on Zuul, although Gozer is the actual villain in the extremely beloved 1984 film, Ghostbusters on NES finds other ways to be “fun.” This includes endless, difficult, and visually awful driving sequences. Don’t forget about the ghostbusting sequences that are also far too difficult to be enjoyed by anyone. Then there’s a button-mashing sequence in which you must climb to the top of the “Zuul” building, which offers yet another example of difficulty so severe, the game is nearly impossible.
Everything about Ghostbusters runs against your efforts to have a good time. Even if you happen to actually love hearing a horrific midi version of the theme song on an endless loop.
3. Back to the Future Part II & III
Developer: Beam Software Publisher: Acclaim
Back to the Future II & III is legendary trash. Unfortunately, whereas that can be a winning quality for other types of media, here it just means a game that doesn’t even have nostalgia to fall back on. Almost no one liked this combination of the two Back to the Future sequels in 1990. That reception has not improved even a smidgen with time. Beam Software developed some of the worst Nintendo games of its day, including a take on the first Back to the Future that would not feel out of place among these titles.
Despite implying that you might be getting two games, Back to the Future Part II & III is really just one brutally long fetch quest. Fight vicious enemies, collect items, take those items to another place, solve a shitty word puzzle, and pick the right item to have it returned. This goes on for a very, very, very, very long time. With no save feature. No passwords.
Nothing except a desire to further hate yourself and your life by seeing the hellish Back to the Future II & III through to the end.
2. The Uncanny X-Men
Developer: N/A Publisher: Acclaim
Here we have another grand mistake from Acclaim (once more under the LJN banner) that sucks on toast so much, we don’t even know who developed the damn thing, although there are guesses. For all we know, the developers behind The Uncanny X-Men are in some sort of witness protection program because would you want someone to know you were responsible for one of the worst-reviewed Nintendo games ever?
Cryptic gameplay that seeks to overwhelm the player almost immediately makes The Uncanny X-Men a chore from the moment you start. Pick among several ugly blobs purportedly known as The X-Men in order to make your way through overhead stages that are fundamentally broken and will require nothing less than actual luck to get through. People have finished The Uncanny X-Men, but it’s hard to imagine any of them are happy about it.
The Uncanny X-Men doesn’t look, play, or even sound like something vaguely associated with the Marvel heroes. Whether you choose Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, or whoever, you’re going to die in chaotic agony, with the curious feeling that nothing actually happened.
1. Super Pitfall
Developer: Micronics Publisher: Activision
Writing about the worst games ever in any context lends itself well to hyperbole. While that can sometimes go a little too far, the 1986 NES title Super Pitfall leads you to realize that sometimes, a game comes along whose flaws collectively defy an appropriate description. Super Pitfall boils down to item hunting across dozens of the worst-designed levels in quite possibly the entirety of the NES library. Instant kills populate the landscape of your boundless frustration like grains of sand in the desert, and that doesn’t even cover how easily and often you will die trying to jump over some of these pits.
The brief music loop in Super Pitfall reminds you every step of the way that you have abandoned hope and all things good. You have nothing to guide you but severe glitches and the absolute worst hit detection of any game we’ve discussed. You have nothing in front of you. Nothing behind you. Time bleeds into a swirling pool of oblivion, a never-ending cycle of instantaneous birth, death, and rebirth.
Every second spent playing Super Pitfall feels like an eternity in Hell. A terrible loose remake of Pitfall II: Lost Caverns, Super Pitfall claims to be developed by Pony, but was in fact one of the many crimes against entertainment by the company Micronics, who also developed mediocre ports of Ghosts ‘n Goblins and 1942. Do yourself a favor, and don’t even bother with this game as a curiosity. Playing this for longer than ten minutes reveals a title that’s about as much fun as a funeral for someone you’ve never met. You deserve better. Or not. Maybe, you’re in a self-destructive spiral of failure and relentless disaster. In which case, sure, play Super Pitfall.
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