1. The Legend of Zelda
Fun Fact: The Legend of Zelda was the first home console game cartridge to include batteries for the storage of save data.
Lists like these often present our final two choices in the opposite order. We stated at the beginning of this feature that our goal was to put together a list of 100 NES games that could demonstrate the history and value of the system, and The Legend of Zelda is the only single game on this list which, if paired with an NES unit, can tell the entire tale of the Nintendo Entertainment System by itself.
Players donned the role of Link, a young man who wandered upon an old woman and begged for his help in freeing her Princess from the clutches of the evil Ganon. To defeat him, Link would have to reunite the eight pieces of the magical Triforce of Wisdom, which were hidden in dungeons throughout the land of Hyrule.
The game was played in a top-down view, and as the player moved out of each screen the game paused and slid the next screen into place. This clear partitioning of space made the construction of homemade maps a little easier conceptually, which came in handy as in order to find the locations of those dungeons, unless they wanted to cheat by asking friends or reading help guides players had to explore the environment on a very granular level.
By encouraging players to experiment by pushing every rock and burning down every bush and trying to blow holes in every wall with bombs, The Legend of Zelda took a compact space and made it feel huge. This was the goal of designer Shigeru Miyamoto, who wanted to recreate the sense of wonder he felt as a child exploring nature in Kyoto, Japan. The Legend of Zelda was filled with little discoveries to be made.
That's what the Nintendo Entertainment System did for everyone. It gave us a very small thing, a little grey box to hook up to our television, and out of that box poured adventure, and majesty, and beauty and all the things we take for granted as modern day video game players. The Legend of Zelda created a sense of wonder like no other game ever released for the system. The gold cartridge was not just ostentation. It was a truly special game whose design holds up to this day.
We would like to thank NESguide.com for their efforts in curating a fantastic collection of game video recorded from original Nintendo Entertainment System consoles and original cartridges, which helped make this feature possible. Thanks also to Complex's Brian Conlon for his assistance in the production of this feature.
Dennis Scimeca is a freelance journalist from Boston, MA. His weekly video game opinion column, First Person, runs Thursdays on The Escapist. You can reach him through his blog, Punching Snakes, or follow his random excitations on Twitter: @DennisScimeca.