The 7 Absolute Best NES Sandbox Games of All Time

Nintendo Entertainment System NES

The 7 Absolute Best NES Sandbox Games of All Time

The Nintendo Entertainment System is one of the most iconic consoles in gaming history. From the good old days of Super Mario Bros. to the more recent The Legend of Zelda, plenty of games have been released for this classic system. 

It’s hard to believe that Nintendo has been around for over 30 years, but they’ve made some great memories along the way. If you’re looking for classic sandboxes on your NES, here are some of the best you can find.

What is a Sandbox Game?

A sandbox game is one that allows players to roam freely through an open world without any restrictions or artificial barriers. This means you can go anywhere, do anything, and interact with anything you want.

Sandbox games range from RPGs like Fallout 4 to survival titles like Ark: Survival Evolved or Rust; even shooters like Fortnite or Realm Royale have elements of sandbox gameplay mixed in with them as well.

A Brief History of the NES Console

The NES console was released in Japan on November 21, 1983. It launched in North America on October 18, 1985, and was later released in Europe and Australia.

The NES was a huge success and helped Nintendo dominate the video game market during the 1980s and early 1990s. The NES console has sold over 60 million units worldwide since its release.

The NES influenced how we play video games today by introducing the concept of controllers with its popular joysticks and button layouts.

7 Best NES Sandbox Games of All Time

There are plenty of great NES titles today, but here are some of the best sandbox games you can find based on user ratings from Nintendo Life.

#7. Final Fantasy II

The NES was a great console, and it had many great games. But, if you were to ask any gamer what the best NES games of all time are, they’d probably give you an answer that involved either Super Mario Bros. or Final Fantasy II.

Final Fantasy II may not be the first Final Fantasy game, but it’s by far the best one ever released for the NES. 

It features an epic storyline full of interesting characters and places that will keep you entertained for hours. It also features real-time combat instead of turn-based combat like every other RPG at the time, making it feel much more like an action game.

Number of Players1
GenreStrategy, Sandbox
Release DateDecember 17, 1988
Final Fantasy II is a fan favorite for a reason.

#6. Final Fantasy

The original Final Fantasy is one of the most beloved games in all video gaming. It was a huge deal when it came out and is still a fantastic game today, with an incredible story and memorable characters.

The original Final Fantasy has become a classic RPG, which is why people still play NES to this day. The game has over a hundred hours of gameplay, the story is excellent, the music is great, and the game just does it.

Number of Players1
GenreStrategy, Sandbox
Release DateDecember 18, 1987
final fantasy
Final Fantasy, just like its sequel, is an all-time classic.

#5. EarthBound Beginnings

EarthBound is one of the most beloved RPGs of all time, and it’s no surprise. It has everything you could want from a console game: charming characters, a great story, and plenty of hilarious moments. 

This version is unique because it was only available in Japan until a few years later and became an instant hit. It also has some extra content over the NES version, adding another layer of depth to your adventure.

Number of Players1
GenreAction, Sandbox
Release DateJuly 27, 1989
earthbound beginnings
EarthBound Beginnings is a classic for a reason.

#4. Crystalis

Crystalis may have been one of the earliest action RPGs, but it was also one of the best. You play as Nats, a young boy who must save his world from an evil sorceress named Aisha who has unleashed monsters upon it. 

Crystalis‘ gameplay is simple but fun, and its story is engaging enough to keep you playing until the end. Crystalis is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a good old-fashioned RPG experience on the NES. 

Number of Players1
GenreAdventure, Sandbox
Release DateApril 13, 1990
Crystalis is considered to have some of the most fun gameplay for the NES.

#3. Dragon Quest

Dragon Quest is one of the best NES games of all time. It was released in 1986 and has since been followed by numerous sequels and spin-offs. The series is still going strong today.

Dragon Quest is a role-playing/sandbox game set in a fantasy world where you control a hero who has to save the world from evil forces. 

The original Dragon Quest had a simple gameplay system that consisted of walking around towns, talking to people, and fighting monsters. Battles were turn-based, where you would choose which action each character should take during their turn.

PublisherSquare Enix
DeveloperSquare Enix
Number of Players1
GenreRPG, Sandbox
Release DateMay 27, 1986
dragon quest
Dragon Quest brings everything you love about sandbox games to the NES.

#2. StarTropics

StarTropics is one of the most underrated games in Nintendo’s library. It’s an action game with a touch of exploration and puzzle-solving and an unforgettable cast of characters.

StarTropics follows Mike Jones, a boy who travels to the tropical island of C-Island to visit his uncle Dr. Steve Jones, who is studying sharks. While on the island, Mike meets many weird and wonderful characters who help him collect pieces of an ancient stone tablet that can unlock the secrets of an ancient race.

Mike must use his yo-yo weapon to fight off enemies like sharks and dinosaurs while also solving puzzles using items like a boomerang or slingshot.

Number of Players1
GenreAction, Sandbox
Release DateDecember 1, 1990
StarTropics has tons of great elements that make it loads of fun to play!

1. The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda is one of the most beloved franchises in all gaming, and for a good reason. It’s a long-running series full of memorable moments and iconic characters that has truly stood the test of time.

In The Legend of Zelda, you play as a young hero named Link who must save Hyrule from an evil wizard named Ganon. You’ll use your sword and shield to battle enemies, solve puzzles, collect items and find new weapons and armor.

Despite being over 30 years old (and having been released on multiple systems), The Legend of Zelda is still considered one of the best games ever made by critics, fans, and players alike. The game was revolutionary in its day as it introduced many modern staples to video games.

Number of Players1
GenreSandbox, Action, Fantasy
Release DateFebruary 21, 1986
legend of zelda
The Legend of Zelda is a classic for a reason — find out why!

Wrapping Up

The NES was a revolutionary system for its time. It had great graphics and sound, but the real magic came from the games. From RPGs to side-scrollers to first-person shooters, the NES did it all. Hundreds of titles came out for this system, and we outlined the absolute best NES sandbox titles.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the number 1 NES sandbox game?

The best NES sandbox game is The Legend of Zelda. It is one of the most beloved franchises in all gaming, and for a good reason. It’s a long-running series full of memorable moments and iconic characters.

What is the rarest NES game of all time?

Super Mario Bros. (Test Launch Version) is the rarest NES game of all time. The only known still-sealed copy of the “test launch” version of Super Mario Bros. sold for $140,000 in 2019, and some suspect the game could go for close to $1,000,000 if it was sold on the current market.

Which NES game has the best graphics?

The Batman sprite in Return of the Joker might be the best-looking game on the NES. It’s almost comic-accurate. More importantly, this game’s levels are large, varied, and highly detailed.

Is NES better than Gameboy?

Some think the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was better than the Gameboy, simply because it was more advanced and had more games. The NES had more options for games, like sports and fighting games, as well as RPGs.

What is the largest sandbox game?

Minecraft has the largest land-based open-world to explore out of any game in recent years.

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