The 10 Greatest Nintendo Games Ever
In this list I’ll be collating what I deem to be the 10 best Nintendo-published games ever released. Games exclusive to Nintendo consoles, but published by a second or third-party studio don’t count (Banjo Kazooie, Goldeneye etc).
These 10 are the cream of Nintendo’s crop, the jewels in the crown of the company. Any gamer who hasn’t played all of these should do all they can to experience them.
I’ve judged each title in a holistic way – taking into account how influential they were at the time of release, and how well they hold up today. Something true of most Nintendo games is how well they stand the test of time compared to their rivals’ releases, and it’s true of every title on this list that they can be enjoyed thoroughly when played today.
So let’s crack on…
10. Wii Sports
Wii Sports is one of the most groundbreaking games of all time, and probably the most influential of the 21st Century. Launching with the Wii as an in-box launch title, everyone who bought a Wii was treated to the compilation of tennis, boxing, golf, bowling and baseball, each demonstrating how the never-before-seen mechanics of the Wii-mote work.
What’s interesting about Wii Sports in hindsight is that no game subsequently released for the Wii came close to capturing the potential of the Wii’s motion controls as well as it did. Bowling, golf and tennis were all intuitive and fun to play, and really did provide an experience unlike anything on the market. Wii Sports became a global phenomenon, reaching demographics that would never have touched a games console previously.
Since then, Nintendo have tried with mixed results to capture the lighting in a bottle that was Wii Sports, and it’ll forever mark a turning point for the industry, as well as a bloody fun game in its own right.
Wii Sports is available here from Amazon.
9. Super Smash Bros Melee
I remember seeing a trailer for Melee, and my mind was blown. The jump from a technical standpoint from the N64 to the GameCube was huge, and comparing the fidelity of Melee to the simple, blocky graphics of the original was night and day.
But it turned out it wasn’t just the presentation that had been revolutionised. Melee’s gameplay mechanics took Smash Bros from a fun, frantic party game to one of the most deep, balanced and competitive fighting games on the market. New techniques are still being discovered and developed by pro players even today, and it’s generally considered that subsequent Smash Bros titles, whilst excellent, haven’t yet matched up to Melee’s quality.
Melee is available here on Amazon.
8. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Majora’s Mask might be Nintendo’s bravest ever release, and is certainly its most unique in terms of design.
Following up the acclaimed Ocarina of Time, Nintendo were both artistically and commercially under pressure to deliver with the sequel. No one would have blamed them for delivering a game with the same structure as Ocarina (and prior Zeldas), perhaps just in a different world with different dungeons and characters.
Instead, what we got was a game that couldn’t really have deviated more from the formula. A three-day time limit with a Groundhog-Day time travelling mechanic, dozens of masks with different abilities and a moon overhead threatening to crush the world if you don’t complete the game.
On paper it sounds ridiculous, but it was executed masterfully. The more time you spend in the game, the more you discover about how well everything is knitted together. It’s a masterpiece of game design and still plays brilliantly today.
Majora’s Mask is available on 3DS here.
7. Super Mario Kart
Mario Kart is the best-selling racing franchise in gaming history, and it all started with this game. Initially mocked as a gimmicky spin0off by critics, as time went on people began to gradually appreciate how well Nintendo did with the driving mechanics, the courses and the fantastic music and graphics come together to make a delicious whole.
This game spawned a whole new sub-genre of mascot racers, but no games since have quite managed to capture the brilliance of the original. As with most of Nintendo’s multiplayer-focused games, it’s easy to pick up, but tricky to master, and hopelessly addictive. Everyone should have played this game.
Super Mario Kart is available from Amazon here.
6. Metroid Prime
Nintendo are often at their best when the odds are stacked heavily against them, and Metroid Prime is probably the best example of this rule.
Entrusting one of their most beloved franchises to unproven in-house developers Retro Studios was risky enough, but taking the decision to switch Metroid to a first-person perspective meant this game had no right at all to be as good as it was.
What Retro Studios produced was the most critically-acclaimed game on the GameCube. Prime is a near-perfect experience. Placing the player in a lush, atmospheric alien world that loops back on itself beautifully as you explore it and unlock new areas via new abilities. The game’s unconventional gameplay mechanics requiring to scan your environment to learn more about it and discover enemy weaknesses doesn’t sound too appealing on paper, but it just works wonderfully.
A true masterpiece of the medium.
Metroid Prime is available here from Amazon.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
After a mixed response to the Wii’s Skyward Sword, many felt the once-untouchable Zelda franchise was becoming increasingly less-relevant to modern gaming. The series had grown increasingly safe, sticking to the tried and tested Zelda formula and becoming more ‘handholdy’ in its approach in an attempt by Nintendo to appeal to as broad a consumer base as possible. In doing so, Nintendo was losing what made the series great in the first place, and loyal fans were becoming increasingly alienated.
Thankfully, with Breath of the Wild, Nintendo showed it had become more than aware of the series problems. In this brave new Zelda, the shackles were off – no dungeons with a specific order, no items needed to unlock parts of the world, no annoying sidekick telling you what to do and where to go – and a world at least fifty times larger than those in any of the previous games.
The freedom given to the player is unparalleled compared to most others. You can go anywhere, climb any mountain, and even run straight to the final boss battle if you’ve got the skill.
It was a much needed breath of fresh air for the series, as well as being a meticulously crafted game.
Breath of the Wild is available on Wii U and Switch here.
4. Super Mario Bros
The game that started it all.
Practically every platformer released today owes its existence and any success it gets to this game, and what’s most impressive about Super Mario Bros is that when playing it today the running and jumping mechanics still feel fantastic. How Nintendo managed to get the momentum and weight of 8-bit Mario so right as you pound enemies and travel down pipes is quite astonishing, as they had nothing to go by or base the mechanics on.
Super Mario Bros is also a real challenge, especially compared to today’s 2D Mario games. There are plenty of levels and worlds, with a surprising amount of variety, and it’s well worth playing today.
3. Super Mario World
The SNES launch title is arguably the best 2D platformer ever made. It takes everything that made Super Mario Bros. 3 great and expands upon it, adding a bigger world, better graphics, better music, more abilities and smoother controls. And also Yoshi.
Mario World’s universe is a joy to experience. From ghost houses, to enchanted woods, to Dinosaur-inhabited chocolate mountains; every level is a new surprise and a new mechanic. A great feature is how you take take the power-ups or a Yoshi into every level and experience them differently – with secret exits accessible only if you have certain power-ups at hand, which then open up new levels and areas of the map.
Super Mario Bros. invented the 2D platforming genre, and Super Mario World perfected it.
2. Super Mario 64
Jaws were on the floor when Mario 64 was revealed in 1996. Never before had a fully-3D platformer been attempted, and for Nintendo to attempt it with their mascot and most valuable franchise for the launch of the N64 was a bold move.
Fortunately, like their previous Mario launch titles, they created a classic. Moving Mario around in 3 dimensions was a joy; again, somehow Nintendo had nailed the momentum, movement and weight of Mario with no blueprint.
Immediately placing the player in a castle courtyard with no enemies or dangers, the player is free to experiment with Mario’s now impressive move-set. Long-jumps, triple jumps, backflips, crawling, punching and kicking have all been added to his repertoire, and Nintendo understood the player needed a safe place to get used to them.
Once you’re ready, you can go into the castle and begin an epic adventure, collecting 120 Power Stars as you ascent the castle looking for Bowser and the Princess. The levels are ingeniously found in paintings throughout the castle, allowing again for the variety the series is known for.
As with all the other games on this list, Mario 64 is still great to play today, minor camera issues aside. And it stands alongside the original Super Mario Bros.in terms of its influence on the industry.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
In a 2016 survey of game developers, Ocarina of Time was the most cited as their strongest influence and inspiration.
When released, this game was hailed by most as the greatest game of all time, and is still considered by many to still be. It’s an adventure that excels in every department, from gameplay, sound, graphics, scope, length and depth.
Playing through Link’s adventure in 1998 was a unique and special experience; doing so made you realise games could do things other mediums couldn’t, and were capable of so much more than had been thought up to that point. The jewel of Nintendo’s crown.
Ocarina of Time is available on the 3DS here.