8 – Virtual Boy
We almost didn’t include the poor Virtual Boy in this list, but it is, in fact, a thing that existed, and so it must be ranked. And of course it’s in last place. Oh Virtual Boy, we don’t know if you were too far ahead of your time or too behind, but whatever you were, you just didn’t land. The Virtual Boy had such an unsuccessful run that you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has even played one in real life. But what we know is this — it’s 2019, and VR games still have a long way to go. So, the prospect of playing whatever the heck Virtual Boy was back in its day just doesn’t sound terribly appealing. Oh Virtual Boy, may you rest in peace.
7 – Wii
The Wii was, in many ways, Nintendo at its highest and lowest. Led by a thirst for incredible innovation, the Wii wowed us all when it launched, and we couldn’t stop imagining the incredible potential it had to revolutionize gaming as we knew it (the console’s pre-release codename, even, was Revolution). And while the Wii pumped out some great hits, it wasn’t long before it was consigned to a much more dreadful role — a gimmick console that couldn’t keep up with the competition.
Nintendo had some amazing hits with the Wii, such as the Mario Galaxy games and Metroid Prime 3, but when all was said and done, it ended up being a system chock-full of shovelware designed to appeal to little kids and their oblivious parents. Even the Nintendo flagship franchises hit their lows during the Wii era. Skyward Sword is considered to be one of the weaker Zelda titles, as well as Super Smash Brothers Brawl.
The Wii represented a change in Nintendo’s philosophies which set them on a downhill path that has only begun to rebound with the runaway success of the Switch. While the Wii will always have a spot in my heart, I’m also kind of glad that we’ve moved past it.
6 – Wii U
Many would expect the Wii U to be at the bottom of this list, due to its laughably poor performance from a financial standpoint. Everybody owned a Wii, and almost no one owned a Wii U. Many would look to the Wii U as the point where Nintendo had lost their way, but we don’t entirely agree.
The Wii U was a relative failure, yes, but the failure was with the marketing, not the console itself, nor its games. The Wii U was actually kind of a great idea, and it was the original blueprint for what would eventually become the Nintendo Switch. The Wii U ditched the Wii’s motion controls, embraced HD graphics, and pumped out some pretty great games.
The problem? Nobody knew it existed. The Wii U’s marketing campaign could be a Harvard case study on how not to sell your product. It’s name, appearance, and marketing campaign made it look like some kind of add-on or accessory to the Wii, a console that everyone had already had their time in the sun with at that point. The Wii U wasn’t Nintendo’s proudest moment, but it had potential, and it ultimately provided the groundwork for the Switch, something we can all be thankful for.
5 – NES
Don’t get me wrong — the NES is absolutely legendary, and if it hadn’t existed, it’s possible that the entire gaming industry as we know it wouldn’t be what it is right now. The NES was an absolute game-changer, and it’s the birthplace of countless Nintendo classics.
But when you put aside the NES’ role in the history of gaming, it leaves a bit to be desired. The late 80s were a time when gaming was still highly experimental, and not terribly pretty as far as graphics were concerned. I have a deep, abiding appreciation for the NES games that kickstarted many of Nintendo’s flagship series — such as Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros, and Metroid, but the fact remains that all of these games are more fun to play in the form of their more developed sequels.
The NES is by far one of the most important consoles, but its games haven’t aged in such a way to where I’m itching to go back and play them. And that’s not just because they’re old — the SNES, after all, has some of the greatest masterpieces in gaming which still hold up to this day. It’s simply because video games were so rudimentary back than that almost everything that came afterward was a substantial improvement. I love you, NES, and I thank you for your service, but I have moved on.
4 – Nintendo 64
In many ways, the N64 is similar to the NES. In its time, it represented major breakthroughs in the gaming industry which produced ripple effects which are still seen today. In its time, it had an absolutely killer collection of quality games. In its time, it was the more powerful answer to its competition. But now, it’s appreciated more for what it did in its era, rather than what it still has to offer.
The N64, like the NES, is an incredibly important system. And, also like the NES, its games just haven’t aged as well. Don’t get me wrong — I grew up with the N64, and it’s arguably my favorite console of all time. It took everything I had to not put it at the top of this list! But I have to face the facts — the N64 was paving the way for better things to come.
But still, can we just appreciate its catalogue for a second? Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Super Mario 64? Those games are among the best ever made. Goldeneye and Perfect Dark led the groundwork for FPS games to eventually explode on consoles, and there are countless other games which have that unique charm that has been hard to replicate in any era of gaming since. Banjo-Kazooie, anyone? While I don’t think the N64 is objectively Nintendo’s best console, it may very well be my favorite.
3 – Gamecube
The Gamecube was arguably the last point in Nintendo’s history where their console was on reasonable footing with the competition. While it was hindered in some ways by its mini-disc format, the Gamecube was more or less on par with its rival systems, the PS2 and the fledgling Xbox. This is an era of Nintendo where they still had reasonable third-party support, and it’s a time to be remembered fondly.
The Gamecube was Nintendo’s last moments of being “normal.” No strange control gimmicks, no major third-party alienation, just good games, played with good old-fashioned controllers. And how great so many of those games were! Super Smash Brothers Melee. Mario Sunshine. Wind Waker. Twilight Princess. Metroid Prime. Animal Crossing. These are all games that continue to have a lasting legacy today, and there are many more that haven’t even been listed.
Let’s not forget that controller, either. The Gamecube controller, despite its weird design, still sits as one of my favorites of all time, and is still sold to people who just couldn’t give it up for Smash Brothers.
Gamecube might not have sold as well as its competition, but it was one hell of a system with a knockout list of incredible games.
2 – Super Nintendo
The thing that amazes me about the Super Nintendo is that so many of its games, to this day, hold up as being the best in their genre. We’re not talking “best relative to the time.” We’re not talking “best if you consider the limitations they faced.” Nah, the SNES has some of the greatest games of all time, and they still hold up like fine wine.
Super Mario World? Arguably the best side-scrolling Mario game. A Link to the Past? The pinnacle of top-down Zelda. Final Fantasy VI? Still counted among many as the greatest Final Fantasy. Donkey Kong Country 2? There was never a platformer to rival it, before or since. The list goes on and on — Chrono Trigger, Mega Man X, Super Metroid, these were all games that were not only revolutionary in their time, but mind-blowing to this day. As an added bonus, this was the era where 2D graphics had become pretty sophisticated, making the games easy to return to and un-aged, even 20 years later.
But relative to its era, SNES was also a knockout for Nintendo. Their third party support was never as strong as it was during the console’s tenure, and the system sold like hotcakes. The SNES, in just about every way, is Nintendo at its very best.
1 – Nintendo Switch
Aside from its catalogue of games, which is absolutely breathtaking (and only halfway into the system’s life cycle), the Nintendo Switch has something very special — it boldly reminds us what gaming is all about in the first place. In today’s gaming industry which is becoming ever more corporatized, money-driven, and manufactured, we needed the Nintendo Switch now more than ever.
The Nintendo Switch is designed to remind us that gaming is all about bonding with other people — not over a headset in a dark room, but together, laughing and cheering at the same screen. It’s here to remind us that it’s not all about graphical fidelity and fine-tuned framerates, it’s about losing yourself in an imaginary world that stays with you forever. It’s here to remind us that there’s something magical in video games, something that can be felt and shared with other people, something that can be experienced anywhere, at any time.
In short, the Switch reminds me why we need Nintendo. Its hardware is designed to make us rethink the way we look at gaming, and its games are conspicuously absent of the worrying, greed-driven trends that are so prominent in the industry today. If the Super Nintendo was Nintendo at its best in the 90s, the Switch is Nintendo at its best today. And while I do appreciate what Sony and Microsoft do, I think we can all agree that when Nintendo is doing well, everyone wins.