Back in late September, I started a list of the 10 greatest Nintendo games ever made. You can read part 1 here. I'm not a fan of leaving things unfinished, so without further ado, here's the thrilling conclusion of the ten best Nintendo games. Same rules with this list as the last one: one entry per franchise, this list is my opinion, etc.
5. Pokémon Silver (Game Boy)
A main Pokémon game was going to end up on this list one way or another. The question though was which one was I going to pick? Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow are the games that started the series, Pokémon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum are the games that personally brought me back into the series, Pokémon Black/White/BL2/WH2 are the games that improved the online first introduced in Pokémon Diamond/Pearl, and despite them being my least favorite games in the entire series (and almost made me stop playing the games altogether), I can’t deny the impact that Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald had on the series by introducing Abilities and Double Battles. Hell, you could probably make a solid case for the recent Pokémon X/Y games for having a robust online network, streamlining a lot of the meta game, and introducing Mega Evolutions, as well as adding the Fairy type, which completely wrecks Dragon types. But after thinking it over, I just couldn’t in good conscience put anything but the second generation of games, otherwise known as Pokémon Gold/Silver/Crystal; and when I say I’m discussing the second generation of Pokémon games, I of course mean Pokémon Silver, since that’s the one I played and owned (also because Lugia > Ho-oh).
Much like Donkey Kong Country 2, Pokémon Silver is the definition of a good sequel, building on the already solid foundation established by the original games, as well as adding some ideas of its own. For example, this was the first game to include a day and night cycle (complete with a built in clock), with certain events, characters, areas and even Pokémon showing up at certain times of the day; an already impressive feat made even more so when you consider the fact that the average memory size of a Game Boy/Game Boy Color cartridge ranged from 32KB-1MB, which on the high end is about one one-thousandth the size of The Shivering Isles DLC for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. This game also introduced breeding, an idea that would be further built upon by later installments like Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald. It’s also a really nice looking and sounding game for the time, as the land and people of Johto pay homage to Japanese culture with the towers of Ecruteak City or the Kimono Girl Trainers that you occasionally battle; it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that this game was one of my earliest exposures to Japan and its culture, and helped foster a newfound respect and admiration to their culture. But easily the biggest contribution that Pokémon Silver brought to the series in my opinion was the introduction of two new types of Pokémon: the Steel types, which had strong defense but were mostly weak against Fire and Fighting types, and the Dark type, which was strong against Ghost and immune to Psychic Pokémon (which I found out the hard way after using my level 100 Mewtwo from my Blue game against an Umbreon), but were weak against Bug and Fighting types. Both of these types not only changed some Pokémon types (like Magnemite and Magenton), but also changed how Trainers set up their teams, as both of these new types were weak against the aforementioned Fighting-type.
Pokémon Silver came out at a pretty important time in my young life. By the time it came out in 2000, the Pokémon series as a whole was starting to wane in popularity among many of my classmates, with many of them leaving the franchise behind to get in on the new hip, edgy series at the time called Digimon. I was on the verge of being one of those poor unfortunate souls, until I got a copy of Pokémon Silver as a gift for renewing my subscription to Nintendo Power (R.I.P.), and it’s without a doubt the game that showed me that I was ready to stick with this Pokémon thing in the long run. Not only does it stand out as a good Pokémon game, but it’s also a good game in its own right, and while I’ve had a bit of a rocky relationship with the series over the years, I’ll never forget my time and the memories I had playing Pokémon Silver. Oh, and for those of you wondering (since I’m sure you’re going to ask): Gen 2 > Gen 6 > Gen 5 = Gen 4 > Gen 1 > Gen 3.
4. Mother 3 (Game Boy Advance)
So I know this goes without saying, but if you own a Wii U and still haven’t done so, stop reading this and go download Earthbound off the Wii U Virtual Console; it’s easily the best ten bucks you can spend outside of two Hot-N-Ready pizzas from Little Caesar’s. But as much as I love Earthbound, it’s the GBA sequel Mother 3 that holds a special place in my heart. Originally meant to be released on Nintendo’s doomed N64 DD, Mother 3 was moved to the N64 before being cancelled (due to the development team being unfamiliar with 3D technology), before ultimately being revived on the Game Boy Advance, this time using sprites and telling a much darker, sadder story than the one present in Earthbound. However, since everyone and their mom (ha) has already gone over the story and world in Mother 3 (I myself may do that one of these days), I’m not going to be talking about it too much for this list, though do know that it’s one of the few instances in any medium where a story made me cry. Instead, I’ll be mainly focusing on another aspect of Mother 3 that people don’t talk about as much, but they really should; the combat.
While the game follows the same turned based system that was in the original (which in turn was loosely based off of Dragon Quest’s combat), Mother 3 adds something to make the combat much more interesting: a combo system, or Sound Battle as the game calls it. The way it works is this: whenever you do a regular attack, hit the attack button again according to the rhythm of the song playing during battle (represented by an enemy’s heartbeat, which you can hear by putting them to sleep). The twist is that the music that plays in battle is never the same, and that each enemy has a different heartbeat; some enemies have a fast beat, requiring you to hit the attack button at a fast rate, while others have slower beats, which means hitting the button a little slower. If it sounds complicated and confusing to you, it’s probably because it is complicated and confusing (especially if you’re someone like me who lacks rhythm), but that makes the combat all the more interesting and deeper than most game. And when you do successfully pull it off? Man what a genuinely great feeling.
Everyone already knows the story about the release of Mother 3 at this point that it almost doesn’t need repeating; Mother 3 released near the end of the Game Boy Advance’s life, Nintendo decided not to release it outside of Japan, and currently has no plans to localize it anytime soon. Yeah it sucks, and it’s one of those Nintendo decisions that I absolutely hate, but it’s ancient history by this point. Besides, it’s not all bad, as a group of dedicated fans went out of their way to not only translate the game into English, but also distributed it for free and is pretty painless to use (provided you’re cool with emulation). I’ve used the translation myself when playing the game, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to give the game a try and can’t speak Japanese. In fact, I would recommend playing Mother 3 regardless, as it’s an absolutely wonderful game, with interesting characters, a great story, a surprisingly deep combat system, and an excellent soundtrack; it’s easily my favorite RPGs of all time, and I don’t say that lightly. And much like Earthbound, even if you’ve seen videos and screenshots of it and it doesn’t look all that appealing to you, play it anyway, since there really hasn’t been many games like it before or since its release.
3. Metroid Prime (Gamecube)
One of the biggest things that Nintendo is famous for is its willingness to try new things and take risks, and in 2002 there was no bigger risk than Retro Studios’ debut game: Metroid Prime. Started in 2000 after Miyamoto paid a visit to the studio and suggested they make a new Metroid game using a new action adventure game engine that Retro had developed, the game had a troubled development, with problems ranging from the team being unable to get the camera to work in third person (prompting the game to become first person), to having most of what was worked entirely scrapped at one point (mainly due to the switch to first person), and even Retro supposedly missing various deadlines; heck, by the end of the development cycle, Retro was working eighty-one hundred hours a week to meet their final milestone. There were also reports coming out at the time that Retro had some internal strife, with some people at Retro reportedly being very unhappy with how the company was being managed; the cancellation of a bunch of games that the company was working and laying off employees certainly didn’t help either, and Metroid Prime ended up being the only game they were working on. Oh yeah, and the gaming press and Metroid fans weren’t exactly thrilled that Nintendo and Retro were taking a beloved 2D franchise and making it a first person shoo-sorry, I meant first person adventure. But despite all of these shortcomings, the game released in North America on November 17th, 2002….and it bombed horribly, going down in history as one of the worse games ever made, dooming the Metroid franchise to a life of obscurity, and guaranteeing that Nintendo would never outsource their big franchises to outside companies ever again. Naw, I’m just messing with you guys; Metroid Prime is freaking awesome.
Ironically, the first person gameplay that everyone was vehemently opposed to prior to the game’s release also happens to be its most defining feature. The Metroid games are famous for giving off a sense of isolation and loneliness via exploring strange alien worlds, and Metroid Prime has this in spades, because this time you aren’t looking at Samus move around on screen; you ARE Samus, exploring the mysterious Tallon IV, and Retro wants you to remember that. Everything from rain rolling down Samus’ visor to a pair of eyes that show up whenever you shoot your Charge Beam in the dark go a long way to make you feel like you’re badass bounty hunter Samus Aran and you don’t need to crawl. It’s easily one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played, and I don’t make that statement lightly. The game is also incredibly beautiful, both in terms of sound and visuals; if there was a game that I would love to see an HD upgrade of, it’s Metroid Prime.
I know a lot of you are reading this and are going to say “Y U NO PUT DOWN SUPER METROID?” While I do feel that Super Metroid is an excellent game (seriously you should download it on the Wii U Virtual Console), the original Metroid Prime I feel is the superior game in every possible way. It’s one of those games where it has a bunch of ideas that you don’t think would work (i.e. “let’s make Metroid first person”) not only absolutely work beautifully, but work so well, you’re not sure if you can play another game without them (see Ocarina of Time and Sonic the Hedgehog 2). This was the game that put Retro on my short list of developers I get excited for, alongside other great developers like Platinum. And while I thoroughly enjoyed how Retro handled the Donkey Kong Country series, I would absolutely love for them to go back to the Metroid series. It couldn’t be any worse than what Team Ninja did.
2. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Gamecube)
Let me just get this out of the way right now: The Wind Waker is my all-time favorite Zelda game, and it always has been. I know that that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s very easy to forget that many gamers were singing a different tune when Wind Waker was first announced. After showing off a pretty sweet tech demo of a realistic Link fighting Ganondorf at Nintendo Space World 2000, Nintendo showed off the first footage of what would be known as the Wind Waker a year later, and it was completely different than what everyone had expected (despite Nintendo saying that the tech demo was basically that…a tech demo). Instead of a realistic Link, Nintendo decided to go with a cartoony look for titular hero, and instead of exploring an open world, players were exploring a vast ocean. Zelda fans and some game journalists were furious at Nintendo over this; the game was slammed leading up to the launch, with some people saying that it looked childish (no it didn’t), that Nintendo was abandoning their older fans to appeal to children (gee, never heard that one before), and that it was unfit for a Zelda game (no it wasn’t). Video Gamer X, the webmaster for one of the earliest Zelda fan websites known as The Odyssey of Hyrule went so far to compare early screenshots to the Philips CD-i games, and called it “animated C-quality Disney garbage”; so yeah, to say initial reaction of Wind Waker was lukewarm was an understatement, but then a funny thing happened. People played the game, and what a surprise; it was actually really good, taking the best elements of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask and refining them while doing some cool stuff of its own.
Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw of Zero Punctuation fame once called sailing across the open sea in Wind Waker as “lending itself wonderfully to that eternally misused adjective ‘epic’”, and that’s an apt description in my opinion. The Great Sea is a huge, vast body of water that has a ton of memorable land marks and islands to explore, and while the Great Sea isn’t as big as say San Andreas or Skyrim, it’s still very easy to get lost in the best possible way sailing from one quadrant to another. Even though I’ve one hundred percent completed the game hundreds of times, I still find myself just sailing on the ocean for a bit with no real purpose, looking for treasure, or just chatting it up with the locals on the various islands. Speaking of the NPCs, the NPCs in Wind Waker are easily some of my favorite in any video game, like ever, as they each have unique looks and personalities that really go a long way in making me care about my quest; I’m not just going to stop Ganondorf because reasons, I’m stopping him because I care about these oddballs that I’ve met over the course of my adventure and have grown to love (except Tingle; screw that guy). And speaking of Ganondorf, I’m not really a fan of the character, but this version of the Great King of Evil is easily my favorite, as not only is he genuinely powerful and intimidating, but this is the game where we learn a little bit of his early life and understand some of his motivation for why he wants to take over Hyrule (at least in this timeline); I didn’t agree with him, but I could totally see where he was coming from and why he did what he did. This version of Link is also my favorite as well, as he’s not some stoic hero who goes out to save the world because it’s his destiny, but rather he’s some kid who goes out and explore this world that’s foreign to him because his sister was kidnapped by a giant bird; he’s young, reckless, and kind of an idiot (he gets his ass kicked three times during the game), but he’s still a likable character who has depth, and who has to earn his title as a great hero.
Now as much I gushed over how awesome Wind Waker is (seriously you have no idea how much I want to play it right now), I will be the first to admit that it isn’t for everybody. While I didn’t mind the sailing and the now infamous Triforce Shard quest near the end of the game, I can see why some people aren’t. Hell if I didn’t play when it first came out (I was 14 at the time), I don’t know if I would have appreciated it as much as I did. It’s also the reason why I’m a little hesitant to recommend the Wii U remake, since unlike the Ocarina of Time remake on the 3DS, there are still elements of the original game that are still in the remake, like sailing and collecting the Triforce shards. However, for those of you who still haven’t played or want to give it a chance, I highly recommend you try it out. Wind Waker is a beautiful game (both in terms of art style and sound), with interesting characters and dungeons, a story that is both silly and sad at the same time, and respects and pays homage to the N64 games in wonderful and fun ways (I won’t spoil it here if you haven’t played it yet). You know what screw it, I’m playing through Wind Waker again; be right back.
1. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
I make no secret of the fact that the original Super Mario Galaxy is my personal favorite game of all time. But as much as I adore the game, I almost wasn’t going to include it on this list. The Mario franchise is so iconic and well known that I could have put any game in the main series on this list, and I would have had a good case for it being number one. The original Super Mario Bros. laid the ground work for the series (and Nintendo as a company) going forward, Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced flying, World gave us Yoshi, 64 brought the plumber into the 3rd dimension, Sunshine was a…..interesting experiment, the list goes on. So for me to include Super Mario Galaxy on this list simply because it’s my personal favorite feels a little unfair, especially compared to other games in the series. But after thinking about a bit more, I realized that Super Mario Galaxy is worthy of being on this list, and at number one no less. Super Mario Galaxy is the best game Nintendo has ever made, and is the kind of game that I want to make.
Super Mario Galaxy is, at its core, a 3D Mario game, but IN SPACE. If it sounds like a straightforward simple concept, that’s because it is, but that works in the game’s favor, as the team took a concept as simple as gravitational platforming and came up with some truly amazing ideas. The levels (or galaxies as they’re called) are rich with color and life, with many platforms acting like a planet (complete with its own gravity), and playing on familiar platforming tropes we’ve become all too familiar with (like an ice world mixed with a lava world), and the things you’re doing in these galaxies are truly some of the most fun things I’ve ever done in any video game. One minute you’ll be surfing on a manta ray on courses that wouldn’t feel out of place in Mario Kart 8, and the next you’re pulling a Shadow of Colossus and climbing atop a giant robot, which has its own center of gravity, as if it was a planet of itself. All of this is accompanied by the most beautiful soundtrack that’s fully orchestrated a first for the series. Speaking of firsts, Super Mario Galaxy is the first game to introduce us to Rosalina, who has quickly become my favorite character in the Mario series.
I realize now that three paragraphs isn’t enough space for me to talk about how amazing Super Mario Galaxy, and I doubt I’d be able to convince anyone of that with a full blog post. But that’s fine; because as far as I’m concerned, Super Mario Galaxy is not only the best game on the Wii and the best Mario game, but also the best representation of Nintendo’s design philosophy, in which gameplay is king. It doesn’t have an open world to explore or a moral choice system, and outside of Rosalina’s Storybook (which you can skip if you want because it’s super sad as hell), there isn’t a deep narrative that asks hard hitting questions. But Super Mario Galaxy doesn’t need any of that, as it can stand toe-to-toe with any modern game just on its gameplay and fun levels alone. It’s also one of the few games on the Wii that not only did motion controls well, but also did it in a way that actually made sense. There really isn’t much else I can say without being redundant; Super Mario Galaxy in an amazing game that is just as fun now as it was seven years ago, and is easily the greatest game Nintendo has ever made.
So what do you guys think? Do you agree or disagree? Maybe you think I was being pretentious when talking about Super Mario Galaxy (it’s really amazing guys, I swear)? In any case, let me know what you think. Apologizes that this didn’t come out sooner; real life can be crazy like that. Anyway, thanks for reading. Good night and good luck.