NES games work Wii-ly well

Nintendo has always been a company that marches to the beat of its own drum, and this console generation is no different. With Microsoft and Sony pushing the technical limits (and the price tags) of the PS3 and Xbox 360 to unprecedented heights this console cycle, Nintendo has taken its own path with the Wii. Choosing innovation over horsepower, Nintendo intends to change the way gamers view their hobby with innovative controllers and fun game design, while keeping the console much cheaper than the competition. In short, Nintendo is betting gamers want to have fun more than they want to be wowed by gorgeous graphics. With 20 years of experience in crafting games many regarded as timeless classics, it’s a sound strategy for Nintendo. In fact, that staple of classic games comes to the forefront of the current console war with the ability of the Wii to download and play a growing game library.

This gaming library is composed of games released on the original NES, the SNES, the N64, as well as Sega developed games that appeared on the Genesis, and also games that appeared on the short lived Turbografx-16 system. Downloading these games to the Wii costs between $5 and $10, depending on the game. By putting all the games from the systems that mattered in the post-Atari, pre-Playstation era of the ’80s and 90s, Nintendo has created a classic gaming mecca for those old enough to remember them, as well as newcomers who never got a chance to experience these gems. Currently, 41 classic games can be downloaded with this service, and Nintendo plans to expand the selection. For now, here are the five best games currently released for download to the Wii.

“Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” was released in 1991. The third chapter of the Zelda series marked a return to the original top-down Zelda formula (abandoning the side-scrolling perspectives from Zelda 2) while pioneering new gameplay dynamics that are still key components of the series to this day, such as the hookshot. This game not only ranks with many gamers as the best Zelda game of all time, but is consistently referenced by many gamers as the greatest console game of all time. The game enjoyed five straight years on Nintendo Power’s top game list until the retirement of the SNES. Along with “Super Mario 64,” this game still stands as a shining example of game design; a game that is fun, addictive and deep. They just don’t get any better.

“F-Zero” was also released in 1991 for the SNES. This futuristic racing game was one of the first console games to create realistic 3-D. The gameplay was fast, frenetic and fun (albeit sometimes frustrating), and until the release of “Super Mario Kart” this game was undisputedly the best racing game on the SNES. Incredibly addictive, this was the type of game that could eat up a massive amount of gaming hours without a second thought. While it has a lower profile than the blockbusters that fill the rest of the list, this game is a classic for anyone who’s played it.

While “Street Fighter” officially launched the fighting game genre, it was a game that largely went unnoticed in popular culture due to its blandness (consisting only of two fighters, Ken and Ryu). Street Fighter II, however, hit the gaming culture with the force of a megaton bomb, with its impressive stable of memorable characters and almost perfectly balanced fighting mechanics. Also released in 1991, this game absolutely dominated arcades and living rooms (after being ported to the SNES), and set the model for fighting games for at least a decade.

“Super Mario 64” was released in America in 1996 and was the marquee title for the Nintendo 64 system. In historical context, the N64 was a failure for Nintendo that relegated the former gaming giant from the No. 1 company to the No. 3 company in the gaming world-a setback Nintendo is still trying to recover from. This game still stands as an all-time example of game design perfection. It converted the platform genre from 2-D to 3-D, disproving many skeptics who thought that transition couldn’t be done. This game remains a model of how to do game design right, and is still the example of how 3-D platformers are done. Addictive, fun, and without a doubt one, of the greatest video games ever.

“Sonic the Hedgehog,” released in 1991, put the Sega Genesis on the map in America. By taking the standard platforming genre formula and adding an extreme sense of speed and height, Sega managed to take an overdone style and breathe a new sense of life to it. It may seem ironic to old-school gamers to see Sonic on the Wii, considering this franchise was Sega’s main weapon against Nintendo for nearly a decade, however, it’s still as addicting.

Although the Wii’s innovative technology opens up a new world of gaming possibilities, these classics are an essential part of every gamer’s collection.