1. Legend of Zelda
C'mon. Open world exploration. A story of a boy hero against a powerful evil. Sub-item inventory, an expansive overworld filled with dungeons, secrets hidden all over and a second play through that changes the layout of everything. The Legend of Zelda is not just one of the best NES games, but one of the best games of all time.
2. Final Fantasy
So, if LoZ is one of the best, here comes another fantastic game to also wedge in a spot. Now, here we have an argument about the quality of early RPGs, and Dragon Warrior being earlier, but that doesn't quite make it better to me. Form a party with different class skills, massive open world to explore (especially once you obtain the ship and airship) and a sprawling story that spans thousands of years. Here is established some of the franchise staples, excalibur sword, the aforementioned airship, an engineer named Cid, white and black schools of magic, four elemental fiend/bosses and a beautiful musical score. However, the complex and convoluted story can put some folk off, and the small clues on where to go next at times can be frustrating. Still a fantastic game for its time.
3. Mega Man 3
While for most the second game in the series is the one that turns it around from a platform shooter that might have faded into obscurity and instead makes it even more lovable with a more in-depth plot and even greater character design and I would not argue it. However as per my criteria, I never owned MM2. I did own MM3 and I love it just as much, if not more. There's hints here of the decline of robot masters, however (Top Man, really? Hard Man? *siiiiigh*) it still holds up as a great platformer and the addition of Rush adds charm to the sub-items that have appeared in prior games. (I can do without Flip-Top and Beat, however)
4. Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers
Another fantastic Capcom game to come along, this one taking the Disney license of, what I admit, to be one of my favorite TV shows growing up. (In fact I loved most of the "Disney Afternoon" line up. Gummi Bears, Ducktales, Rescue Rangers, Talespin and Darkwing Duck) I think it might have been due to the success of the Ducktales game that led to this gem. Platforming at its finest but more importantly, 2-player simultaneous play. In a platformer! Unheard of and remarkably well done.
What? Not Gradius for best space shooter? While the Vic Viper clone is one of the earliest and best shooters around for the NES (followed by 1942 and 1943) again, by my criteria, this is the one I owned and the one I played the living heck out of. It's a fantastic game anyway, with a perspective that was reminiscent of Tempest (a favorite of mine from the arcades), a rocking sound track and some intense boss battles (I'm looking at you Jupiter) lead this one to be my choice for a favorite.
Super Mario Land. Yeah, I know, not in my initial list and to be honest while it ate up a lot of my hours as a kid, there was only so many times I could play it. Once you learned about warp zones, did you ever visit world 2 or 7 any more?
Dragon Warrior. The first console RPG to give us the genre standards of magic, fighting, SLEEP spells and of course, money and experience grinding. I just think FF does it all better.
Must Avoids: Yeah, I had Deadly Towers. I was snowed by the cover art. Shush. I also had Rush 'n' Attack. That one is pretty terrible. I'd like to see an Until We Win on it due to the 1-hit kill your character suffers against an onslaught of rocket pack wearing bad guys shooting at you while your only weapon is a fricking knife. You're gonna die, a lot.