Love them or hate them, there’s no denying the impact Nintendo has had on the video game industry. Originally a card maker started in 1889, Nintendo tried its hand in multiple industries (including rice, taxi cab services, and love hotels), settling on making toys in 1966, and then getting into the video game market by securing the exclusive right to distribute the Magnavox Odyssey console in Japan in 1974. While they began developing their own console in 1977 called the Color TV Game and their first portable device called the Game & Watch in 1979, it wasn’t until 1981 that Nintendo first found success in the video game industry by converting unsold arcade cabinets of a game called Radar Scope into what would become their first smash hit; Donkey Kong. The game would go on to do much better than Nintendo expected, quickly becoming a major success in North America, spawning multiple ports to the Atari 2600 and Colecovision, toys, a sequel the following year (with a spinoff soon after that), and even two cartoons that were loosely based on the game (which weren’t very good). Nintendo used this newfound success to release another home console in 1983 called the Family Computer (or Famicom) in Japan, and in the US as the rest of the world as the Nintendo Entertainment System a couple years later; and the rest is history.
I personally make no secret of the fact that I love Nintendo. Ever since I got a SNES one Christmas from my godparents despite the objection of my parents, I’ve been a huge fan, with many of their games being some of my favorite games of all time. And while they do things that I don’t always approve *cough* Virtual Boy *cough*, there’s no denying the company has left an indelible mark on me. Hell, I’d go so far as to say that there games are one of the reasons I’m the man I am today, though the jury is still out on whether that’s a bad thing or not. This year, Nintendo is celebrating their 125th anniversary as a company (September 23 to be exact), and to celebrate this momentous occasion, I’ve compiled a list of my ten all-time favorite first party games, starting with numbers ten through six.
Before we begin, a few things to go over. First, this list is only covering Nintendo’s first party games (I promise to do a list about third party games one of these days). Second, I’m only including one entry per franchise, so as to give every series a chance and to have a bit of diversity. Finally, when I was coming up with this list, I considered the various Mario spinoff games (Mario Kart, Mario Party, etc.) as well games starring characters that originated from Mario (like Wario and Yoshi) as their own series; also as always, this is my personal opinion, this list shouldn’t be taken as fact, etc. And with all of that out of the way, let’s get started. *does Iwata Nintendo Direct hand thing*
10. Kirby Super Star (SNES)
I love the Kirby series. Ever since I played the original game on the original Gameboy, I’ve enjoyed every game in the series. From its bright colors and music, to its unique Copy ability mechanic, the series is one that I hold very close to my heart. And unlike most Nintendo franchises that I love like Mario and Zelda, I’ve yet to find a Kirby game that I didn’t like. They’re all very good games for different reasons, but the one Kirby game that sticks out in my mind is easily Kirby Super Star, a game that came out late in the Super Nintendo’s life cycle.
Marketed as eight games in one, Kirby Super Star is unique in that there’s no overarching story in this game; rather, each game has its own self-contained narrative, akin to something you would see in a sitcom. And these aren’t simple mini-games either; each of the games present feels like it could have been a full blown game if HAL Laboratories wanted to, and it would be pretty awesome. One minute you’re playing the abridged version of Kirby’s Dream Land, and the next you’re exploring a huge underground cavern for treasure in The Great Cave Offensive; my personal favorite is Meta Knight’s Revenge, where Kirby has to board Meta Knight’s flying ship the Halberd (a.k.a that one stage from Super Smash Bros. Brawl) and disable it bit by bit, all while Meta Knight and his colorful crew taunt you over the intercom. Super Star is also the game that introduced a lot of core concepts that would be later implemented into future Kirby games (like a health meter, Kirby wearing hats whenever he got powers, co-op, etc.), as well as introducing some fan favorite Copy abilities, like Plasma, Jet, Wing, Ninja, and my personal favorite, Yo-Yo.
Kirby Super Star wasn’t the best game on the Super Nintendo, but it’s still an excellent platformer, and is easily the best Kirby game. Hal Laboratories really put a lot of effort into making Super Star an excellent game, and they succeed as far as I’m concerned. It’s just a shame that the game came out so late in the Super Nintendo’s life cycle, that most people never got a chance to play it. Thankfully, it’s out on the Virtual Console and there was a remake released in 2008 for the DS, not to mention it was a game on the Kirby 20th Anniversary Collection. Regardless of where you get it, you should definitely check out Kirby’s Super Star; you’ll be glad you did.
9. Super Smash Bros. Brawl (WII)
Before I go any further, let me just address the three-hundred pound gorilla in the room right now (no, I’m not talking about Donkey Kong); tripping in Super Smash Bros. Brawl is stupid. It adds nothing positive to the game, it makes matches more chaotic than they need to be, and if it wasn’t in the game, Brawl would be much higher on the list. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about how awesome Super Smash Bros. Brawl is. So it’s no secret that the Super Smash Bros. series is a love letter to all things Nintendo, uniting the Big N’s most recognizable (and not so recognizable) characters, where they ultimately beat the crap out of each other with baseball bats, fans, and the occasional Pokémon. Brawl takes this concept and love for Nintendo and amps it up to eleven.
From the incredible opening (complete with awesome and totally out of place music) to the roster and stages, Super Smash Bros. Brawl oozes with Nintendo fan service, which on its own wouldn’t be enough to warrant a spot on this list. No, what puts Brawl on this list for me over the much popular Super Smash Bros. Melee is quite simply I had more fun with Brawl than I did Melee. Yeah that’s really all there is to it; I wish I could say more, but that’s really the main reason. The characters were a blast to play as (Lucas and Pokémon Trainer were my go to mains), the Final Smashes were as awesome to use as they were to see, and unlike in Melee, I was able to have fun with both my casual friends and my hardcore serious friends without one group feeling left out. And while it’s no Super Mario World, the Subspace Emissary mode was a fun diversion that did what it was supposed to do, which was to provide you with an entertaining alternative to unlocking all the characters.
I know some of you are going to read this and disagree with me, and I don’t blame you. There’s a reason why Super Smash Bros. Melee is still being popular among the fighting game community to this day, being a prominent game at major fighting tournaments like EVO. However, while I do enjoy Melee, I had a lot more fun and much fonder memories of Brawl. Yeah, it’s a bit slower and tripping is the dumbest mechanic I’ve ever seen in a game, but it’s still fun and one of the best local multiplayer games to play with friends on the couch. And that alone makes it my favorite game in the Super Smash Bros. series and worth being put on this list; at least until Super Smash Bros. 4 comes out.
8. Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)
Like many of you, I was first introduced to the Fire Emblem series by way of Marth and Roy being playable characters in Super Smash Bros. Melee; I knew next to nothing about these characters when I first saw them, but it didn’t take long for me to want to know more about this strange series they hailed from. So when a new Fire Emblem (subtitled Sword of Flames in Japan) game was first announced to be localized for the U.S., I jumped at the chance to see what the heck this Fire Emblem series was all about; and what I got was……completely different than what I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved the game when it came out and I played it; I just didn’t think it would be a turn based strategy game with permadeath, a rock-paper-scissor combat system (otherwise known as the Weapon Triangle), and weapons that had a finite use before breaking. But once I got over the initial shock, I fell in love with the game and the series, and before long I was checking out the past games via an emulator (without English subtitles I might add) and looking forward to the future games in the series. I played all of them in some capacity over the years, but the one that stuck out the most in my mind was the latest game in the series, Fire Emblem: Awakening, which was both a new game and a love letter to fans.
You see, even though Fire Emblem Awakening doesn’t alter the core gameplay too drastically, it did bring back and refine some mechanics from previous games. The marriage and child system (first introduced in the fourth Fire Emblem game) is in this game, as well as a world map (from Sacred Stones), and having a player created character like in the remake of Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem (I’m not even going to try spelling the Japanese name) are just a few of the examples of Awakening paid homage to its roots; that’s not to say Awakening doesn’t have original ideas of its own. This is the first game (and hopefully not the last) to incorporate a mechanic called Pair Up, in which two units become one and attack an enemy as a pair, increasing certain stats depending on which classes are paired up (a Knight increases Defense, a Mage increase Magic, etc.), as well as gaining certain benefits in battle depending on how close the two units are, such as blocking an attack or helping out in taking down an enemy. It sounds like a simple addition (and it is), but it adds a lot of depth to an already deep game, since it strikes a perfect balance between having less units to work with on the map and having two units hook up so that their daughter can reclass into a Dark Flier and learn Galeforce.
Of course, no mention of Fire Emblem: Awakening would be complete without talking about the units themselves; I’ve played a lot of the Fire Emblem games, but Awakening is the first game in which I can remember who everyone in my army was without having to look them up on a wiki. Granted, none of the units you recruit are all that special on their own (and in fact some of them are a bit cliché), but as a whole they’re a charming group of individuals, with support conversations that are at times somber and serious while funny and wacky at other times. It really goes a long way into making you care about these characters, which in turn makes you more aware of the battlefield to insure that your favorite Pegasus Knight doesn’t get an arrow in the butt. And that’s the root of what makes Awakening so great; it’s one of those rare games where the gameplay and the narrative go hand in hand, resulting in a game that’s not only one of the best Fire Emblem games, but also one of the best games on the 3DS. Oh, and before anyone asks on who the best spouse is, the correct answer is Lucina; it’s always Lucina.
7. Star Fox 64 (Nintendo 64)
The Nintendo 64 (or N64 for short) and the Wii U have a lot in common (okay technically you can include the Gamecube as well, but I’m going somewhere with this). They both used technology which was considered out of date at the time (N64 with cartridges, Wii U with graphics and processing power from the previous generation), both had weird controls that divided the gaming community (the N64 controller and the Wii U Gamepad), but most importantly, both had pretty lousy third party support (though to be fair, the N64 fared a bit better in that department than the Wii U has so far). But if there was one thing that N64 owners could be proud of (other than being able to play four player splitscreen), it was the fact that it was the only place to get some high quality first party Nintendo games. Indeed, many of these games released by the Big N not only became the gold standard for their respective genre (Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, Goldeneye) for years to come, but were also well made fun games (Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, Paper Mario). Not every N64 owner owned every Nintendo game, but if there’s one game that every N64 fan had in their collection (or at least every N64 kid I knew had it in their collection), it was Star Fox 64, which was not only a blast to play, but was also the first game to heavily use the then newly released Rumble Pak, a device that would attach to the N64 controller and vibrate every time something happened; it was the first of its kind, and rumble would later become the standard for all controllers going forward.
But the Rumble Pak isn’t the reason I put Star Fox 64 on this list. No what puts the game on this list is the fact that besides being a blast to play, it also has a surprising amount of depth. Yeah, at its core it’s still a scrolling shooter (albeit in 3D), but Star Fox 64 handles the core gameplay in a way so that it doesn’t feel boring by either having different mission objectives that go beyond the usual “take out the boss” or using different vehicles in certain missions like the Landaster (a hovering tank) or the Blue Marine (a sub with infinite torpedoes). One mission for example tasks you with taking out a certain number of enemies in a massive space battle that wouldn’t feel out of place in Star Wars, while another requires you to shoot out search lights so you can fly into an enemy base without detection, and another mission even has you defend your personal ship, the Great Fox, from a barrage of missiles; my personal favorites are a mission that recreates the final battle from the movie Independence Day (complete with a giant UFO), and a mission where you pilot the aforementioned Landmaster to take out a supply train. The best part is that you can pick and choose which missions you play and in what order you do them; yeah you always start off at Corneria and end at Venom, but the missions in between are completely up to you, with you ultimately getting one of two endings depending on how well you played and what your final route is.
I guess if there’s one complaint against Star Fox 64, it’s the fact that it’s a pretty short game. Even on the harder difficulties, you can beat the game in an afternoon if you know what you’re doing, especially if you decide to take the easy route. But while I know for some people that might be a problem (and I don’t blame you if you feel that way), for me personally, I don’t mind the length of a game as long as it accomplishes what the developers intended, and with Star Fox 64 I feel that they did. The game feels like eating a well-cooked filet mignon meal at a five star restaurant; it’s well made and goes above and beyond what you would expect, and while it’s over sooner than you like, the experience stays with you for years to come. Of course, the difference between eating a steak at a nice restaurant and Star Fox 64 is that during your meal, a random waiter doesn’t yell in your ear and tell you to take care of the guy behind him.
6. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest (Super Nintendo)
While we can argue until the end of time on whether or not games should get yearly releases and sequels, I think we can all agree on what makes a good sequel….good. First, it has to iron out the kinks and rough patches that the original had. Second, it should build on the foundation of the first game and improve the ideas that worked, while at the same time adding some new ideas of its own. Finally, the sequel in question has to actually be a good game, in case that wasn’t obvious. With these requirements and through the power of science, I can safely conclude that not only is Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest a good sequel, it’s also an excellent game and one of the best platformers for the Super Nintendo. And that’s saying a lot, considering this is also the console that gave us Super Mario World and Megaman X.
If I could describe Diddy’s Kong Quest in one word, it would be more. There’s more diversity in the enemies and bosses (this time most of the enemies are pirates), ranging from small enemies like rats bugs and pirate grunts, to big club wielding brutes, giants crows, ghosts, and even a possessed sword. The levels and areas that you explore are more diverse and varied, ranging from a pirate ship, a swamp, even an amusement park and a creepy castle (again with a pirate theme). Diddy and (at the time) newcomer Dixie are much more agile and even have more moves this time around, including Dixie’s helicopter hair (which lets the duo slowly float across gaps or down winding paths), and a team throw where one of the Kongs throws the other one up to reach higher places; heck even the bonus levels from the previous game have got an upgrade, this time falling under one of three categories that go beyond the original’s mostly guessing game bonus rooms. Of course, more doesn’t always mean better and wouldn’t mean a hill of bananas if the core gameplay was up to snuff; thankfully, the game feels just as fast and fluid as the original game was, and then some.
Of course, no mention of Donkey Kong Country 2 would be complete without mentioning its amazing soundtrack. I’m not kidding when I say this is one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard in a video game. Every song from this game is catchy and fits the atmosphere of each level, ranging from mischievous like Disco Train (the music heard in the rollercoaster levels) to spooky and intimidating like Forest Interlude and Krook’s March (the music heard in the forest stages and castle stages respectively), and even strangely calming with Stickerbrush Symphony, the music that plays during the Bramble levels of the game, which are some of the toughest levels in the game. It’s clear that David Wise put a lot of effort into the soundtrack (ironically, he’s said in interviews that he doesn’t like the soundtrack and thinks it’s “too gamey”); in fact, I would say that about everyone at Rare who worked on Diddy’s Kong Quest. The game is polished to a pristine shine, and stands as a shining example of good game design; and while Rare and Nintendo have long since parted ways, this game is without a doubt one of the studio’s finest.
So that's part one of the best Nintendo games ever made. I was originally going to do the full list all in one go, but due to both my busy schedule and the fact that I tend to write a lot (the Word document for this list is almost at six pages with just these five games), I decided to split it up into two lists to make it easier for you guys read, and me to do. I promise part two will be up sooner rather than later, though things can change. In any case, thanks for reading, and let me know if you agree, disagree or think something needs to be changed with the list. If a certain game wasn't on this list, it's either higher up or it's not on here at all, so keep that in mind.
I will be nice though and leave you with a list of games that were considered but ultimately didn't make the cut. I love Nintendo and their games, but narrowing it down to ten games was pretty tough. Good night and good luck.
11.Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
12.Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
13.F-Zero GX (Gamecube)
14.Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (Gamecube)
16.Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (Nintendo DS)
17.Tetris Attack (Super Nintendo, Game Boy)
18.Kid Icarus: Uprising (Nintendo 3DS)
19.Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (Super Nintendo, Game Boy Advance)
20.Wario Land 4 (Game Boy Advance)