Nintendo has a very strong history of bringing some of the best games to it’s consoles. Whether or not you like the company, there’s a rich heritage of games that makes the companies consoles feel unique. From Mario to Metroid, Star Fox to Link; it’s arguably the biggest cast of recognizable characters outside of the silver screen. We love them all and wanted to see where they all ranked next to each other in the grander scheme of things. Obviously it’s just an opinion, so feel free to offer up your suggestions.
For the benefit of this article, we’ve decided to include second party games that were designed for Nintendo’s consoles by third parties. These games may have gone on to feature on other consoles, but they were originally designed for Nintendo hardware which is good enough for us.
21. Earthbound (SNES, 1995) – Earthbound’s devout fan base may sing the games praises whenever the chance arises – but there’s a good reason for that. Its narrative involves a kids rising tot he challenge of taking down the illusive Giygas. It wisely adds improvements to buying and selling equipment and has one of the more fun RPG combat systems around. This game deserves so much more love than it gets from gaming on the whole.
20. Mario Kart DS (DS, 2005) – Mario Kart DS wasn’t the first portable outing for the franchise, that honor falls to the GBA Super Mario Circuit. But this was arguably the first attempt to truly bring the console experience to the handheld; something Nintendo managed wonderfully. Mario Kart DS makes good use of the franchises history, bringing a wide selection of courses from past games to tickle the gamers nostalgia. The driving mechanics were tight and with a wider range of characters, karts and mods available for gamers to tinker with; there was no end of personalization on offer. Yet it’s in multiplayer where Mario Kart DS truly shines. It’s generous allowance of one card play allows up to 4 friends to play with one copy of the game. And thanks to the Nintendo DS’s ambitious WiFi capabilities, was the first time gamers could jump online and challenge their friends. All in all Mario Kart DS was the pinnacle of what the series aspired for and achieved it aplenty.
19. Punch-Out (NES, 1987) – From the word go Punch-Out is a different kind of fun. It’s clever veiling of button-mashing against memory and puzzle-remembering grants the game a deeper sense of purpose. The line-up of iconic characters helps to give the game a sense of personality while remaining fun for all ages. By the time you reach the closing fights the game provides an intense challenge, one that feels fulfilling to overcome.
18. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch, 2017) – It’s perhaps most fitting of all that the most recent outing of the Mario Kart series is also one of its best. Bustling along as a smooth 60fps, the game looks stunning and has the kind of brilliant soundtrack that stays with gamers long after they’ve turned off their Nintendo Switch’s. What puts Mario Kart 8 ahead of its console peers is it’s blending of new and old. The anti-gravity gimmick feels perfectly woven into the experience, allowing for classic tracks to feel new again. It lends the gameplay a greater sense of enjoyment. Add in the social features like Youtube recording and the Online Nintendo Network that allows gamers to go online and face each other; and we’re talking about a Mario Kart experience that can’t be beaten.
17. Pokemon Red/Blue (Gameboy, 1997) – For a generation of gamers, Pokemon Red and Blue are the definitive handheld games. From the 151 collectible Pokmon through to the deep pool of moves available, everyone could build their own team and carve out their own adventure. It’s this aspect which lends Pokemon a sense of personal grandeur that many RPGs lack, and helps elevate the experience. The world of Kanto is interesting and stuffed to the brim with novelty and secrecy just waiting to be uncovered while the multiplayer features granted the game an expansive lifespan. The biggest praise you can give to Pokemon Red/Blue is perhaps how entertaining it remains, despite it’s age.
16. Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door (Gamecube, 2004) – The Paper Mario series is something of an enigma within Nintendo; forever destined to be treated as the awkward stepchild to the main Mario games. Yet TYD shines through beyond its impressive visuals; with a focus on RPG elements that bring the Mushroom Kingdom to life in a way not experienced before. Its cast of characters are beautifully realised, each packing their own punch and bringing their own quirky sense of humor to proceedings. The world is fun to explore, the battles engaging and overall, it’s a great alternative slice of Mario action. It’s just a shame Nintendo don’t see the value in it.
15. Metroid Prime (Gamecube, 2002) – Bringing a 2D franchise into 3D has been the downfall of many characters. It’s a bridge the likes of Sonic just haven’t been able to cross without harming the core aspects of their appeal. So for Nintendo to bring its much-loved Metroid games into 3D, no less shifting the genre to focus on shooting, was brave. Yet Retro Studios excelled, managing to capture the dreary caverns of Super Metroid perfectly in 3D without losing of the appeal. The combat is glorious, the world is magnificent to look at and thanks to the huge amount of data logs; gamers have a lot to bury themselves in. Metroid Prime manages to rise above many other shooters thanks to its unique sense of style.
14. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker (Gamecube, 2003) – The initial reaction to Wind Waker was one of abject horror – how could Nintendo turn the sequel to Ocarina of Time into such a cartoony mess? The joke was on the haters though, Wind Waker came packed with its own ideas for the franchise. A more personal story for the protagonist Link and a much more engaging cast of characters managed to carry the can while the combat was improved no end thanks to clever new mechanics. The Great Sea was beautiful in its cel-shaded wonder and thanks to the , Wind Waker managed to win over its haters and then some.
13. Tetris (GameBoy, 1989) – Who hasn’t played the GameBoy version of Tetris? From its iconic music through to its addictive gameplay, there’s very little to hate. Perhaps most impressively at all it cements the gameplay of the iconic Tetris brand (a series that stretches all the way back to the NES) and managed to get Nintendo a guaranteed hit out the gate on its portable platform. Many credit Tetris with defining what a handheld game should be, and it’s hard to argue with those calls.
12. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64, 1998) – While Mario 64 was many people’s first real dip into the world of 3D gaming, Ocarina of Time was the first showcase of how deep that could go. Here was a world the was just as deep as those created in 2D environments, except fully realised in three dimensions. The core combat is solid, the dungeons were expansive and filled with iconic moments that would come to define the expectations of gamers going forward. From stepping out onto Hyrule Field for the first time through to getting to ride Epona across the world; nothing at the time came close to capturing the majesty that Ocarina of Time presented.
11. Super Mario Bros (NES, 1985) – Iconic doesn’t cover it for Super Mario Bros. The music, the core gameplay and the graphics have all transcended age and become legendary in their own right. The use of jumping and blocks gives the game a sense of strong verticality that makes it feel bigger. Choices are given to the gamer in how to approach the levels, granting a strong replay-ability to proceedings. It’s arguably the most important game Nintendo’s ever put out and one that’s influenced everything that came after.
10. Super Smash Bros Melee (Gamecube, 2001) – Whether or not you see Melee as the peak of the Super Smash Bros franchise, there’s no denying the influence it had on everything that came afterwards. Nintendo’s all-star mashup brought together the companies biggest stars in a collision so frantic and fun that many couldn’t help but buy into it. Whether it’s the extensive multiplayer options, the single player adventure mode which felt more akin to classic platformers or just fighting through the arcade mode; Melee had a lot going for it. The variety of maneuvers on offer made each character feel unique and thanks to the deep selection of stages, the challenge of beating your opponent was kept fresh. While bigger rosters would follow and different approaches to multiplayer enacted, Melee is arguably the most well-rounded package of all the Smash Bros packages.
9. Pokemon Gold/Silver (Gameboy, 1999) – If Pokemon Red/Blue introduced the world to the franchise then Gold/Silver cemented it. Adding in more Pokemon while expanding on the core concepts grants Gold/Silver a grander sense of scale. It’s the addition of new mechanics such as breeding and baby Pokemon created whole new approaches to how gamers crafted their team which makes the experience feel more full. If nothing else, Gold/Silver is a huge love letter to Pokemon. Offering 16 gyms for gamers to battle through, the return of characters from the original and a deeper move pool to choose between; it’s a more complete offering and arguably the pinnacle of the Pokemon series.
8. Goldeneye (N64, 1998) – While Goldeneye wasn’t the first 3D console shooter – it was arguably one of the most influential. Breaking away from the DOOM clones that had populated the market, Rare created a game that felt tailor-made for the console gamer. The result was a stunningly detailed experience that had gamers believing they were playing as Pierce Brosnan. Missions were fun, gunplay was frantic and the music was divine. Perhaps most important of all, the games multiplayer mode gave rise to many hours of late-night gaming with friends; creating memories and defining the expectations of multiplayer shooters going forward. It arguably paved the way for the console shooter to finally have its moment. While the game hasn’t aged well, it still retains a quirky sense of charm and it’s a damn shame that we’ll probably never get the remake fans are desperate to experience.
7. Mario 64 (N64, 1996) – It’s easy to look back now and see Mario 64 as a simplistic outing, yet to those of us who saw it back in 1996 – Mario 64 represented a watershed moment. Everything this game did was jaw dropping – it was ambitious and wasn’t afraid to experiment. Luckily Nintendo managed to marry the consoles controller to the tight mechanics – creating a true sense of 1-to-1 control. Traversing the different worlds was a treat, seeing the variety of enemies and puzzles on offer made for hours of entertainment. The use of stars allowed for variety while the game was never afraid to test your abilities. Mario 64 may have been surpassed by those it inspired, but there’s no question that this trendsetter was, and remains, incredibly enjoyable to this day.
6. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES, 1988) – Hugely ambitious and one of the strongest Mario offerings around. Bros. 3 throws concepts galore at the audience, never tiring in its desire to make the gamer feel like they’re experiencing new and fresh mechanics. It’s this variety and undaunted attempt to appeal that drives the game forward and pushes it ahead of other offerings. From the enemy designs to the challenging level offerings; there’s a lot to love in Super Mario Bros 3.
5. Super Metroid (SNES, 1994) – While the original Metroid was ambitious, its shortcomings are well noted. Super Metroid takes the formula laid down in this game and turns them up to 11. Everything from the atmosphere to the music are crafted to devise a specific feeling of menace, something that hangs throughout the entire game. The combat feels dangerous as you’re forced to explore and survive among the tight caverns that litter Super Metroid. Every turn feels like a challenge and every power up feels like an achievement unlocked; the games reward for persisting. It’s this clever design that makes Super Metroid iconic and grants the game a sense of scale.
4. Mario Galaxy (Wii, 2007) – Mario Galaxy was important for many reasons, if nothing else because it helped the 3D Mario games to finally escape the shadow of Mario 64. Here was a game that was more focused on making Mario utilise the skills in intricate and diverse ways. The games stunning soundtrack and vivid graphics only provide half the tale here, it’s the blend of wonderfully designed worlds and clever features that set the game apart. The clever use of gravity made every leap feel like an adventure and turned otherwise typical boss battles into full on flights of fancy. Galaxy is a beautifully realised package that showcases the importance of strong core mechanics. There is also a very strong argument that Mario Galaxy 2 betters Mario Galaxy, but to us it’s important to acknowledge the template Galaxy set.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch, 2017) – Gamers had to wait a long time to jump into the latest Legend of Zelda – but they weren’t disappointed when they did. Arguably the biggest departure from the series traditional format, Breath of the Wild is a hugely inventive outing that manages to capture the spirit of the series while throwing in a ton of new ideas. Now weapons break, dungeons are non-linear and the whole world is explorable. It results in a hugely fresh experience on the Zelda franchise – offering choices and ideas that haven’t been seen before in the franchise. The only reason it isn’t higher is that I feel its decision to eject traditional dungeons was somewhat misguided.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES, 1991) – Ocarina of Time may have had the visual edge but that game drew all its inspiration from Link to the Past. In this game there’s a much more frantic pace that underlays the experience. The world is expansive, beautiful and deep. Traversing it never feels like a chore while the characters that fill it are charming and wonderfully realised. On top of this the combat is fluid, the dungeons are iconic while the enemies are varied and challenging. Link to the Past is Legend of Zelda at its peak; a franchise that’s confident in its direction and knows what it was doing. Even to this day it’s arguably still the best overall Legend of Zelda experience; trumping its 3D outings through competence. It’s the Zelda game that future games look back at for inspiration and there’s a reason for that, it’s that good.
1. Super Mario World (SNES, 1990) – Mario’s 16-bit debut was the system seller for the SNES, being bundled in with the system. A huge visual upgrade over Super Mario Bros. 3 – the core Mario experience remained strong with a selection of power ups to compliment the gameplay (Reduced from the previous game). The addition of Yoshi into the series added a new dynamic while the variety of stages on offer opened up a world of possibilities – the games designers not afraid to ask a lot of their audience. It’s the complete Mario package, throwing in challenge fun and variety by the spade load. It’s this balance that makes Super Mario World one of the strongest offerings Nintendo’s ever offered up and presents the pinnacle of game design; something the company has borrowed heavily from in future Mario games.