Listing The Greatest MSX Games For The Iconic 80s Computer

A collection of MSX games placed on the Retro Dodo background

Take a trip with us back to 1983 as we discover the best MSX games of all time!

For those of you who thought the Xbox was the first console Microsoft put their name to, then think again. They announced the MSX back in ’83 alongside the ASCII Corporation, a goliath team set to conquer the eastern gaming market.

And to be honest, things were looking pretty good.

The MSX sold 5 million units in Japan alone, and while it didn’t take off as planned in America, it still proved a lucrative console for developers such as Hudson Soft and Konami.

Until the Famicom came out, that is…

Yes, Nintendo put all of the nails in the MSX’s coffin and sealed the lid with lead.

That’s the brief history lesson over. Let’s crack on and take a look at the 15 best MSX games and get our nostalgia on, shall well?

1. Golvellius (1987)

Golvellius game box for the MSX
Credit: Compile/Sega

Golvellius, the Zelda-esque adventure with the Lemmings colour scheme is the best MSX game of all time!

Not only does it involve a fantastic quest to rescue a princess from the evil Golvellius, but it also uses a password entry system to bring up your last level as a selling point!

Man, I love old games!

Golvellius gameplay, with a character moving up some green blocks with a stone in wall in the background.
Credit: Compile/Sega/Youtube

Gamers take the green-haired Kelsis through a series of side-scrolling levels as they take down Golvellius’ evil minions.

Ok, so it’s hardly Skyrim, but the gameplay is still awesome, especially considering that this was cutting-edge back when the MSX was in its heyday.

Converse with fairies, chat to wise women (the ones your mother would like to meet), and receive help from mystical witches.

Collect gold from enemies you slay in battle (a bit like Link’s rupees), and upgrade your energy and health after every boss.

Ok, so it’s basically every early Zelda game, but does that matter? We all love the Zelda games, after all, so why not have another title that’s a little bit different to sink our teeth into!

2. Metal Gear (1987)

MSX Metal Gear game case cover art
Credit: Konami

The iconic Metal Gear secures the second-place spot by brute force and tactical brilliance.

Solid Snake’s epic journey into Outer Heaven (not sure it’s run by the big man in the sky) is legendary. How many games do you know of where a solider has to take down a nuclear walking tank?

And, this is an MSX original too!

Gameplay of Metal Gear, with Solid Snake moving away from two enemies viewed from a top-down perspective
Credit: Konami

Snake starts each mission with no guns and must find firepower to take on the many enemies lurking stealthily around each corner.

Speaking of stealth, that’s the main aim of the game. You’ve got one chance to pick off enemies if they spot you, otherwise, all hell breaks loose and the screen becomes filled with goons.

Pick up keycards, rescue hostages, and do all the kind of stuff that covert operatives get up to in their spare time.

If you’re a fan of Metal Gear Solid, one of the greatest PlayStation games of all time, then this needs to be in your collection!

3. Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter (1988)

YS II - Ancient YS Vanished - The Final Chapter game art
Credit: Falcom

YS II: Ancient YS Vanished – The Final Chapter proudly takes home today’s bronze medal. It’s the direct sequel to the first YS game The Vanished Omens and is oozing with epic RPG action from start to finish.

In a weird twist, players must time angled runs into opponents in order to properly destroy them. There’s no planning attacks or hitting a button at the right time, just concentrate on running and let the computer do the rest.

Credit: Falcom/Youtube

In true RPG fashion, there are tonnes of side-quests to complete and opportunities to level up along the way.

Plus, magical attacks make their debut in YS II. Use fire attacks, stop time, and use a spell to turn yourself into a monster for a limited time in order to chat with enemies.

Yep, if you like your games nerdier than a lunchtime hangout with your local Dungeon Master, then YSII should certainly keep you occupied for weeks and months to come.

4. Thexder (1987)

Thexder game box for the MSX
credit: Compile

Thexder is up next, providing robot run-n-gun gameplay on the mighty MSX.

This game has a bit of a Metroidvania feel to it in terms of gameplay. It was one of the only PC98 games that didn’t have naked elven maidens in it and proved a hit on the MSX and the NES too.

There seemed to be a big demand for mech warriors in the 80s; maybe developers thought we’d all be driving autonomous flying cars by now?

Thexder Gameplay - a robot moving along a walkway made of blue squares
credit: Compile

It’s pretty impossible not to hit your mark in this game which makes it a joy to play if you’re just trying to wind down and shoot the heck out of bad guys.

Oh, and Thexder can transform into a plane too… I probably should have mentioned that earlier!

Players take our robot hero through 2D futuristic-looking levels. Use auto-aim to hit enemies with ease, leaving you to move through the levels and take in the blank scenery…

So it’s a little simple visually, but does that really matter? I guess you could always imagine there’s more going on or stick an overlay over your screen…

5. Knightmare (1986)

Knightmare game box for the MSX
Credit: Konami

Forget Keith Courage; Knightmare brings a new protagonist to the table, and his name is Popolon.

That’s right, Popolon the Knight, the only one brave enough to (you guessed it) save his beloved from an evil tyrant.

Popolon must set out on a quest of epic proportions to save Aphrodite from Hudnos. Shoot arrows and battle witches as you fight to keep love alive… literally your love, in this case.

Knightmare gameplay - a knight firing swords towards an enemy standing by a brick wall
Credit: Konami/Generation MSX

It’s weird having a medieval-style game where the main character (who looks a bit like Shovel Knight from the back) just fires arrows instead of getting up close while using a sword.

Still, it works, and the forward-scrolling nature of the gameplay keeps players continuously guessing about what could be popping up through the next door or gateway.

Add to the arcade-style feel and play with a mate too, because nothing says ‘witch slaying’ like Popolon and Popotwo playing side by side.

6. Legacy Of The Wizard (1987)

Legacy of the Wizard game box for the MSX
Credit: Falcom

From that front cover, I’m sensing an epic quest for justice with a load of mysterious dungeons to explore. I’m also getting a hint of evil dragon, possibly with an undertone of a courageous family.

That’s a recipe for success right there!

Yes, players take charge of a brave family on a mission to destroy a dangerous dragon that has broken its bonds in Legacy Of The Wizard. The seal has perished and said dragon is about to wage war on the world.

A character standing in front of hedges below a castle
Credit: Falcom

It might not look like it, but this side-scrolling RPG is superb. It’s not the world’s most in-depth RPG in terms of turn-based battling and tactical gameplay, but it’s still a damn good one and one that helped spawn other famous series that we play religiously today.

Play as different members of the Drasle family, including their tame monster, as you take down the fiendish Wyrm.

There are plenty of gruesome (albeit pixelated monsters) and magic throughout as you search for the crowns that will unveil the greatest weapon of the age – the Dragon Slayer.

I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it!

7. Vampire Killer (1986)

MSX game art for Vampire Killer
Credit: Konami

Vampire Killer looks a heck of a lot like Castlevania. The main character is even called Simon… and he hunts vampires.

Same game, right?

Well, almost…

Vampire Killer follows the same general plot as Castlevania but uses more puzzle and explorative elements than the original game.

It’s like a remix that improves on an already amazing song, adding skeleton keys and more hidden items into the mix.

Vampire Killer gameplay, with Simon moving past a big picture of Dracula
Credit: Konami/Youtube

Simon must make his way through 18 stages filled with gothic demons and satanic decor (it’s like a ‘guess whose house this is’ TV show!).

Wield the iconic Belmont clan whip or upgrade to an axe, dagger, or cross. There’s even holy water to burn undead enemies into dust.

Instead of an enemy at the end of every stage, players take on bosses every three levels. And you just know they’re gonna be big!

Listen, if you like Castlevania and have an MSX, then you’ll certainly enjoy this alternative take on the original game.

8. Gradius 2 (1987)

Gradius 2 game box MSX
Credit: Konami

Dr Venom is wreaking havoc in our next best MSX games entry, Gradius 2.

He might have a cool villain name, but Dr Venom is a nasty piece of work. He’s already been exiled for causing a coup against the planet Gradius’ government and is now trying to take over again, this time with an army at his back.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is simple – take down Venom and save your homeworld.

Gradius 2 gameplay - a craft scrolling sideways across a screen while shooting at enemies. There are green turrets and elongated parts of the roof to avoid.
Credit: Konami

Gradius 2 is actually called Nemesis 2 outside of Japan. Still, with the world being called Gradius, this version makes more sense to me.

The game has an Asteroids meets Star Wars feel to it. There are little walking robots to bomb and lots of flying enemies to take down along the way, with levels taking on that Death Star run vibe.

Complete mini stages after every boss battle to stock up with new weapons. The napalm missiles are my personal favourites, closely followed by the back beam!

Oh yeah; this is one spaceship that’s seriously tanked up for combat!

9. Antarctic Adventure (1983)

Antarctic Adventure game case for the MSX
Credit: Konami

Antarctic Adventure slides cooly into the 9th spot on our list.

Chill down and experience a n-ice little racer featuring Penguins trundling through the Antarctic.

I don’t know how many other cold jokes I can make without you getting all frosty-faced, so let’s carry on.

MSX gameplay of Antarctic Adventure, with a penguin moving along a stretch of ice. There are two ice pools and a red object to collect.
Credit: Konami/Youtube

I’ve always been a huge fan of penguins, and having them take the spotlight in a racing game is basically all I’ve dreamt about since childhood.

A racing game with penguins instead of cars… what’s not to love?

Take brave Penta the Penguin on a trip between Antarctic research station checkpoints, increasing his remaining race time in the process.

Sounds easy, right?

Well, it would be if there weren’t tonnes of sea lions and dangerous patches of cracked ice along the route!

Antarctic Adventure gets harder every time you complete the game, which means it feels different every time you come to play it.

Give it a go; there’s snow way you won’t enjoy it!

10. Salamander (1986)

Salamander MSX game box
Credit: Konami

Ever heard of Zelos? He’s the cretin that’s causing all of the stress in Salamander, and man is he a piece of work!

He’s the type of guy who thinks nothing of eating up a galaxy for breakfast and polishing it down with a cup full of stars.

Things have just got real though; your planet is the latest to fall into Zelos’ guzzling path, which means you now care a lot more about what he’s up to!

Salamander gameplay, showing a shoot-em-up with crafts moving sideways across a screen
Credit: Konami/Youtube

As you might have guessed, it’s your job to get out there and put a stop to this madness.

One thing that I like about Salamander is that it swaps between being a side-scroller and a vertical scroller as you move through the game’s 6 levels.

Pick up insane weapons, fly into battle with kick-ass power-ups, and team up with a mate for double the firepower.

Salamander has always been one of my favourite shoot-em-ups of all time, and now it’s time for you to experience the magic too!

11. The Castle (1986)

The Castle MSX game case
Credit: ASCII Corporation

The Castle is up next, a pesky puzzle title in which a little Robin Hood-type fella has to save a Princess from an evil fiend.

It’s the tried and tested format of boy saves girl that, while undoubtedly dated, served as the basis for pretty much all these old games.

Maybe you could make a ROM hack where the Princess has to save the Prince instead? Is anyone up for the challenge?

The Castle MSX gameplay, with a character standing outside of a door. Through the door is castle with three floors and enemies to beat.
Credit: ASCII Corporation

There are 100 rooms in total to play through in the Princesses’ castle, each with a different puzzle to solve and enemies to thwart.

Collect keys to open corresponding doors, bag bottles for extra lives, and try not to get on the business end of one of those crossbows!

The Castle is pretty basic, but it’s still enjoyable to play in 2021. Sure, you’ll blast through it pretty quickly, but it’s certainly one of the best MSX games that came out for the system, which makes it a bona fide legend!

12. Aleste 2 (1989)

MSX game box for Aleste 2
Credit: Compile

If you’re a fan of Aleste and bought the special edition Game Gear Micro to celebrate your love for the series, then you’ll no doubt know all about this epic game.

For newbies to the canon, this is one of the speediest shooting games I’ve ever played. Your ship flies vertically faster than the Millennium Falcon navigating the Kessel Run, for crying out loud!

Aleste 2 gameplay, with a craft moving up a screen. The background has eyes and alien-looking organisms, creating a eerie scene
Credit: Compile/Youtube

Gamers are tasked with defending the world against a barrage of firepower from massive floating fortress.

These games always know how to think big!

As the daughter of the hero from the first Aleste game, players take a tiny fighter jet into some of the stickiest situations known to space gaming kind. We’re talking humongous bosses that could eat the Hulk for breakfast!

Shoot everything in order to stay alive; that’s the only thing you need to remember!

13. Bomberman (1986)

Bomberman game box for the MSX
Credit: Hudson soft

Listen, we’ve all been in dead-end jobs like Bomberman in the first title of the series.

He was working as a robot in a cocktail bar (one for the Human League fans), or rather a bomb-making factory in this case, dreaming of becoming human.

The word on the street is that getting to the surface above the factory grants robots the ability to become human… though it’s hardly going to be a walk in the park.

Nothing worth having ever is!

Bomberman gameplay, showing a maze made of red bricks, 4 bombs, 3 balloons, and an explosion made up of white squares.
Credit: Hudson soft

This Bomberman game is so simple it hurts. Viewed from an overhead perspective, players put down bombs in order to try and find an exit hidden beneath a block.

Like all the classic Bomberman games on the Mega Drive, explosions spread out in a ‘plus’ shape. Use collectibles to enhance blasts and bomb-placing speed as you destroy all the enemies on every level.

Don’t blow up the exit, however, otherwise, you’ll have to defeat even more enemies before you can leave!

14. Space Manbow (1990)

MSX game art for Space Manbow
Credit: Konami

Fans of side-scrolling shooters will be all over this R-Type-inspired game. Grab power-ups as you shoot down enemies through insanely busy levels.

Remember Flappy Bird? Well, Space Manbow has those same small gaps and can be just as annoying… if not more so at times!

Space Manbow gameplay, showing a space craft moving through a level of green pillars. There is a small space in between each one and enemies to defeat.
Credit: Konami

Wondering why the game is called Space Manbow?

Well, players pilot a ship based on a mambo fish. Mambo fish don’t have weapons, obviously, but the general shape is the same!

Fire forward, backward, up, or down as you blast past weird skulls and insectoid aliens, all while trying to avoid exploding in a torrent of flames.

It’s simple and certainly far from original, but we love it all the same!

15. Road Fighter (1985)

Road Fighter game box for the MSX
Credit: Konami

So what’s the score here then? Is there any fighting in the middle of a busy highway? Fisticuffs on the freeway?

Well, Road Fighters is actually a racing game where players need to watch their fuel tank levels and remaining time as they race through top-down levels.

Sorry, but there isn’t any fighting…

MSX Road Fighter gameplay, showing a red car driving down a road towards a red truck.
Credit: Konami

Crashing into walls or vehicles loses gasoline, and gasoline can cause crashes… so I guess there could be some fighting going on if you don’t have any insurance.

Pick up gas while driving and top up fuel on the go. Purple cars are driven by absolute idiots, so watch out for them as they change lanes like maniacs.

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