Top 10 NES Multiplayer Games

Top 10 NES Multiplayer Games

8-bit fun with a chum

A.J. Maciejewski

Written by for NES on

Put your modern contraptions aside and enjoy some retro games with a friend. Here are the 10 best multiplayer games for NES!

Note: only games with simultaneous multiplayer gameplay qualify for this list. Games where you just take turns don't apply.

Caveman Games

Although it's often derided, Caveman Games is a blast to play with pals. It's a collection of 6 ridiculous mini-games where you'll pole vault over a T-Rex, throw your mate as far as you can, bash each other with clubs, race on dinosaurs in an obstacle course, try and start a fire as fast as you can, and outrun an encroaching sabre tooth tiger. There's a knack to each game and mastering them is quite challenging which is perhaps why many gamers don't like this gem but that's what makes it such an excellent multiplayer experience.

Dr. Mario

There aren't many competitive multiplayer puzzle games on NES so thankfully, Dr. Mario provides a unique and satisfying formula. Racing against your gaming pal to see who can deal with all of their viruses first makes for a steep and highly competitive challenge that rewards careful planning, quick thinking, and precision. Then, a load of garbage blocks will fall down your playfield and mess everything up.

Also featured in: Top 10 NES Puzzle Games
Dr. Mario screenshot
I've got a fever and the only prescription is more Dr. Mario!

Balloon Fight

Balloon Fight is an impressive blend of both competitive and cooperative gameplay. In other words, you can try and sabotage your friend by popping their balloons so you can get the higher score or you can try and work together to see how far you can get. Sure, it's heavily inspired by Joust but it's still a fantastic NES game that offers a great deal of multiplayer fun decades after its initial release.

Balloon Fight Review

Kung Fu Heroes

On the more obscure side of the NES library, Kung Fu Heroes tasks you and a friend with beating up as many onscreen enemies as you can until the stage goal opens and you can then advance to the next stage. Punching and flip-kicking your enemies is extremely enjoyable and when you factor in the rewarding power-ups, hidden warp zones, and silly mini-game levels, you're left with one frantic multiplayer formula. Fun fact: believe it or not, Kung Fu Heroes is known as Super Chinese in Japan.

Kung Fu Heroes screenshot
Very few NES heroes kick as much ass as Jacky and Lee

Mario Bros.

Before the Mario Bros. were Super, this arcade game port was similar to Balloon Fight in that it provided an excellent blend of both competitive and cooperative elements. You can either be a jerk and bump enemies to revive them just as your chum is about to kick them off the stage or join forces and see how far you can progress. It's a challenging and simple formula that's still oodles of fun.

Arcade Archives: Mario Bros. Review

Shadow of the Ninja

Here's another NES hidden gem that makes for a great multiplayer game. Shadow of the Ninja has you and a friend control ninjas named Hayate and Kaede through action-filled stages where you'll progress past tricky platforming segments, fight loads of cleverly designed enemies, and battle a handful of memorable bosses. What makes it more fun is when you strategize by having one player use the kusarigama to reach faraway foes and the other stick to close-up melee combat with their default katana.

Also featured in: Top 10 Overlooked NES Games on Virtual Console
Shadow of the Ninja screenshot
No boomerang-throwing punk is a match for Hayate and Kaede!

Contra

Of course, Contra has to be on this list. As the original game in the classic run 'n' gun series, it paved the way for future super-difficult high-octane shooting action games. However, your ability to enjoy it in multiplayer almost entirely relies on who you play it with so if you have an equally skilled gaming pal then Contra is definitely a must-have game. Make sure to check out its sequel Super C as well.

Contra Anniversary Collection Review

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game

On a more casual note, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game is a port of the 1989 TMNT arcade release and is far superior to its single player NES predecessor. You and a friend control 2 of the 4 turtles on your quest to rescue April O'Neil and Splinter. Doing so involves working through 7 distinct scenes filled with tough enemies, tricky hazards, and iconic boss fights. As if this beat 'em up classic wasn't cool enough, you also get a Pizza Hut coupon with your purchase but it might be expired by now...

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game screenshot
Leonardo and Raphael show the Foot Clan what's up

River City Ransom

Kunio-kun has starred in dozens of super-fun beat 'em ups and sports games over the decades yet River City Ransom remains his most famous game and for good reason. It's extremely enjoyable to take to the streets as Kunio and his ex-rival Riki (or Alex and Ryan in the west) while beating up gang members using an impressive open-ended gameplay system that allows you to throw and use various objects, perform tricky moves, and utilize RPG elements. It's timeless beat 'em up fun that's even more enjoyable with a friend.

River City Ransom Review Double Dragon vs. River City Ransom

Bubble Bobble

Taito's arcade classic Bubble Bobble and its faithful NES port are as rewarding to play with a pal now as they were in the '80s. It may start simple enough but don't let its adorable bubble-blowing gameplay fool you because the difficulty ramps up fast and trying to figure out how to master some of the later levels can require a lot of outside-the-box thinking. From its catchy music to its cute graphics and deceptively simple gameplay, it's easy to let hours pass as you enjoy the multiplayer phenomenon that is Bubble Bobble.

Also featured in: Top 10 Games of 1986 Bubble Bobble vs. Bust-A-Move Arcade Archives: Bubble Bobble Review
Bubble Bobble screenshot
The NES version of Bubble Bobble is very faithful to the arcade version pictured here
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