The NES has quite a few good two player games. When you have a friend over and want to play the NES, it would be nice to have a good game or two ready. However, two player alternating games are not much fun when you are watching the other person play all the time. Not all two-player simultaneous games are great either. Here I am going to give my recommendations for good two player simultaneous NES games. Since I am not a big sports fan, I am excluding those games.
Archon is like Battle Chess without the strict chess rules. It is a port of the Atari 8-bit game. Each player gets a nearly mirror image set of "pieces" to use, one side representing the Light and the other side representing the Dark. When a piece enters the square of an opposing piece, the players control the pieces in an arena and fight to the death. You can win the game by controlling all five squares or by killing the enemy wizard/sorceress. The various pieces have different strengths and weaknesses. Some pieces have a melee attack, some have a ranged attack and some have a touch attack. The color of the board and some of the squares shifts between light and dark, giving the favored side an advantage. The wizard and sorceror have some one-time use magical spells. As a one player game, the AI is exploitable and cheap, but two players can have a lot of fun with this game. The game is easy to pick up and play and there is plenty of strategy to be employed.
Balloon Fight is essentially Nintendo's clone of Joust. The object of the game is to break your opponents' balloons by landing above them. Then you have to kick them off the platform, otherwise they will inflate another balloon. You have to dodge lightning sparks and the computer enemies. Be careful, you can break your friend's balloons just as easily as you can an enemy's. It's pretty simple, but the late Satoru Iwata's classic really captures the spirit of Joust. The control is easy to grasp yet hard to master, like all good Joust ports. Its even better than the official Joust NES port.
Battletoads & Battletoads & Double Dragon
Battletoads can be a fun game with two players, but is not a forgiving game. Battletoads is a beat-em up game, a vehicle-obstacle avoidance game and a platforming side-scroller. Don't expect to beat it, because really you can't. Battletoads Level 11 has a glitch where the second player's controller stops responding. You can get two extra lives to start by entering a code, but this is still a pretty feeble concession to the game's difficulty. Even if you die and allow player one to complete the stage, you will need a lot of lives to beat the last stage. Apparently the developers never play tested the game to that level in the two player mode and missed the bug. Battletoads and Double Dragon offers more variety and a slightly fairer challenge and it has level select and extra lives codes.
The original Bomberman is a one player game, but its sequel supports two or three players. You will need a Four Score or Satellite for three player support. You will fight against each other and select a 1 to 5 win requirement for a match. You can obtain more bomb and flame powerups, and in three player mode you can get "poisoned" which gives various side effects.
Bubble Bobble is a good port of the arcade game. You and a second player can go through the game together and trap enemies in bubbles and figure out the levels. In fact, in order to get the good endings, you need to beat the boss with two players (or give a life to player two just before you pop the boss' bubble).
Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers & Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers 2
Both games allow you to cooperatively play as Chip and Dale to defeat the game. These sidescrolling games are very fun and full of the Disney-charm to which Capcom almost always did justice. I would caution new players to take their time going through the levels.
Contra & Super C
Do these games this even need an explanation as to how awesome they are? 30-man and 10-man codes, respectively, make these games easy and reasonably challenged, respectively.
Two player wargames are not common on the NES, but this is a really good one and not too complex. You move units around on the map and can attack enemy units when adjacent to one. You can have ground and air units, tanks, heavy guns, armored trucks, infantry, bombers, fighters and transport trucks. Each type of unit tends to be strong against certain enemy units and weak against other enemy units. You can adjust the numbers of each unit you will have before starting a game. You win by defeating all units or capturing the enemy base. Think Advance Wars for the 80s.
Double Dragon II: The Revenge & Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones
Double Dragon II allows for two-player simultaneous gameplay, unlike the original NES Double Dragon. This is an excellent beat-em up for the system once you have mastered the controls.
Double Dragon III looks and plays similarly to its predecessor but is very challenging even with two players. You won't get far without mastering the special techniques. In this game you can eventually find new characters so you can play as something other than carbon copies of each other. You may want a Game Genie code to help you out.
Each game has two two player modes, one where you can hit your partner and one where you cannot. The enemies never hit each other, so why should you?
Even though this is not exactly a port of the arcade game, this game plays pretty well with two players. In this Gauntlet you have an end goal to reach, passwords to save your progress and the ability to level up and regain your health in the treasure rooms.
This game is Ikari Warriors done right. None of the three official Ikari Warriors NES games are very good. The action in Guerilla War is very fast, the control is tight, the special weapons are fun and the game is not over complicated. The graphics are colorful and clear and the music is catchy and you can continue after game over with a special code.
A fine top-down scrolling shooter. The music is great and the jeeps control very well. You can rescue hostages for points (extra lives) and deliver them safely to the helicopter in each level. You also power up your grenades to missiles by saving flashing hostages. You can share lives with your partner by pressing A and B when they lose their final life.
This game takes some ideas and sound effects from Kung Fu, but the graphics are incredibly cute. You and a buddy can explode the bad guys by punching them and stomping on them. There are secrets to find in the rocks too. You can continue your game with holding A and pressing start when the Game Over screen appears.
Legendary Wings is an overhead vertical shooter from Capcom. You each control a flying angel. It has multiple weapon power ups and you will not die unless you take a hit when only equipped with a standard blaster. You also have a bomb you can drop like Twinbee and Xevious to destroy ground based enemies. There are also very cool horizontal scrolling Danger and Lucky stages. The first is a slog through enemies and a hostile environment before you fight a mini-boss to a theme reminiscent of the Adam West Batman TV show. You can bypass this stage by dodging the giant gusts of wind spouted by the Big Head. The second is a hidden, enemy-less bonus stage where you can acquire lots of points for extra lives and powerups. After you fight a dragon mini-boss, you will go through another horizontal stage and fight the real boss. While there is a bit of slowdown, the game is pretty neat, just remember to ask your friend to bring his own NES Advantage, because this game really can find a use for a turbo feature.
Konami's peerless two-player SHUMP for the NES comes with a 30-man code.
Mario Bros & Super Mario Bros. 3
Two player Mario Bros is often an exercise in killing your friend, either intentionally or unintentionally. Nintendo liked this aspect of the gameplay so much that they included it as a Battle Mode in SMB3. Even though the main portion of SMB3 is not a two-player simultaneous game, you can work together toward a common goal of beating the levels.
This is another Atari 8-bit port, and usually easier to get working with four players than the Atari version. Three or four players requires a Four Score or NES Satellite. The game is all about how you develop the planet. You are given a plot each turn and can mine for smithore, generate energy or grow food. You need to buy a MULE for each plot configured for one of the three activities. However, operating MULEs consumes energy and food and it takes smithore to build new MULEs. The game is carefully balanced and the person with the most developed plots and cash at the end of the 6 or 12 turns wins the game. The more players the better.
North & South
North and South is a port of an Amiga strategy-lite game. In this Civil War reenactment, you move your troops around the United States, capturing states to increase the amount of money you get every turn. Eventually you can buy new armies. Each army consists of six infantry, three calvary and one cannon, and when you meet on the field of battle you try to kill your enemy. Some battlefields have obstacles like rivers, ravines and destructible bridges, all of which can kill your troops. If you have two or three armies combined, you can call in your reserves once your front line has been killed.
In addition to the army battles, you can capture forts and payroll trains. The game goes to a side-scrolling view where your one hero has to dodge obstacles and multiple enemies (controlled by the other player) and get to the end of the stage before the time runs out. Capturing a fort also captures the state and the money when the train passes by the fort. Capturing the payroll train and the enemy's cash goes into your safe.
Rampart is not quite as well-known as it deserves to be. In this game your goal is to destroy the walls of the enemy player's castles. You have cannons and can fire them freely during the battle phase. When the battle phase ends, the rebuilding phase begins. You have a limited amount of time to repair the damage with Tetris-style blocks. If you fail to completely enclose a castle, you either lose the castle or the game if it is your last one. More castles = more places to place cannon. Its a very fast paced game.
River City Ransom
River City Ransom is a classic side-scrolling beat-em up with RPG-like elements. The goal is to rescue your girlfriend from the leader of the gangs, but you have to get through the gangs and the leader's chief henchmen first. While the basic moves are simple, you can find many weapons strewn throughout the game. You can earn money from defeated enemies and use this money to restore your health, learn special techniques and permanently raise your stats. A long password will restore your game.
Don't overlook the unfortunately named S.C.A.T., this is a solid shooter. It has the feel of a horizontal shooter like Section-Z, where you can attack facing left or facing right. However, it is a much, much better game. The power ups are much nicer, the graphics are impressive for the most part. The music is enjoyable to listen to, although the whole sound experience reminds me of a Konami game. You have two orbs that can also shoot and can be set in a certain position or be set to free-movement. The orbs can fire in one direction while your main gun is firing in the opposite direction. The stages scroll horizontally and vertically instead of just one way or the other.
Shadow of the Ninja
If Ninja Gaiden were a two-player game, this would be it. The ninja in this game are incredibly agile and beating enemies can really benefit from cooperation. The graphics are good and the music is kick-ass fantastic.
This is a suprisingly good arcade port released by Acclaim. Arcade Smash T.V. controlled the player with dual joysticks. The NES can simulate this surprisingly well by using the D-pads of two NES controllers. It is light years better than using the single-controller scheme. A NES Four Score or Satellite is required for two players to use dual-controller control. There is a level select code available.
Spy vs. Spy
This is a port of the Commodore 64 game. The object of the game is to search for various spy items found in the various rooms. Your opponent is also searching for those items. If you have all the items, you can escape to the airport. You can also set traps in rooms, behind doors, in bookcases and behind portraits to temporarily kill your enemy. You can also defeat your enemy in hand to hand combat. While he is incapacitated you can search for the items freely. Try to go to the Airport without all the items also results in a temporary death. Both of you are looking for the same items in the same building, so are bound to come across one another sooner or later.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game & Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project
TMNT II is a good port of the arcade game considering the NES's vastly inferior hardware. The game has been lengthened by new stages and the control scheme has been simplified to make the control much more predictable. There are codes for extra lives, a stage select and both extra lives and stage select. TMNT III is an original game that adds greater variety to the gameplay while making the game a little easier. Entering a code gives an option screen to select difficulty, starting stage and number of lives.
Nintendo's NES Tetris is one-player only, but Tengen's is two player. You can compete head-to-head to see who can earn the most points. If you get a game over, your opponent gets to continue playing until he gets a game over. You can set the speed and handicap for each player individually. Unlike Game Boy Tetris, you do not shift rows of completed blocks to your opponent. There is also a cooperative mode you both try to build lines on the same pit.