Picking only 25 titles from Nintendo’s glorious back catalog caused quite a ruckus at our office. Tears were shed, friendships ended, but we put together an exciting list. Click to write an angry comment on why your favorite game wasn’t included.
Top 25 Nintendo Games of All Time
We’ve had to pick only 25 games; whoever came up with that idea? It’s an impossible task. Nintendo is probably the most iconic developer in the history of gaming. So by no means is this list definitive; we cobbled it together by consensus around the office. However, we feel like we’ve done a decent job. So enjoy (don’t send us your hate mail)!
25. NBA Jam
The 1990s were one of the NBA’s golden eras, with legends like Jordan, Rodman, Pippen all gracing the court. It was during this time that NBA Jam was released.
NBA Jam was a hit in its time and is still fondly remembered. With its fast two-player-per-team gameplay, catchy soundtrack, and lifelike characters, it left a mark in sports gaming history.
It was the first game of its kind to be officially licensed by the NBA, giving it an important edge over its competitors. Due to the license, Midway was able to use real-life players, which added to the flavor of the game.
The gameplay is fast and arcadey, not really going for realism, but instead, creating a silly and fun yet competitive experience.
NBA Jam is proof that excellent game design trumps graphics and high production values, which is why NBA Jam is, to this day, a memorable and fun experience.
24. Donkey Kong
Few games are as ever-present in pop culture as Donkey Kong. This evergreen arcade game shaped a whole generation.
The goal is very simple; you, as Mario (then called Jumpman), need to jump over barrels, evade fires, and climb the ladders to save Pauline (then called Lady).
With that simple gameplay loop, a standard was set for arcade games. Many wills were broken trying to finish Donkey Kong with the number of quarters that you have.
Even though, by today’s standards, the visuals and the sound are dated, the game’s core gameplay loop is so solid that Donkey Kong remains a solid game to this day.
23. Super Metroid
Ah, Super Metroid — very few games have received such universal acclaim.
And Super Metroid lives up to it even today.
The reason this game is special compared to its brethren is because Nintendo has perfected the formula on this release. The explore, gain a new ability, backtrack to access new areas loop is still here. It’s an idea that Metroid has perfected. This loop gives you a sense of a fully interconnected world, and that’s the main reason why Metroid is as satisfying as it is.
In many ways, Metroid gave birth to the speedrunning culture in gaming, when players started to compete who could finish the games the fastest, with the least amount of upgrades, etc.
While Super Metroid lacks many innovations, every aspect of the Metroid franchise is pushed to near-perfection. The mood, the combat, the upgrades, the plot, everything is perfectly crafted to give the player a sense of isolation, exploration, darkness, and wonder.
22. Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger, a sadly often overlooked masterpiece of Japanese RPGs. Chrono Trigger was one of the most original and innovative RPGs of its time. Even today, not many RPGs boast such a unique story and gameplay.
We’ll attempt, in three key points, to explain to you why Chrono Trigger is definitely worthy of your time.
The first one is time travel.
The story starts with Chrono, a young man living in AD 1000. He becomes embroiled in a quest when a mystical portal opens up and snatches his friend Marle. He foolishly jumps in to rescue her, setting in motion one of the greatest narratives of gaming history.
We will stop right there because spoiling Chrono Trigger is a grievous sin. What we will say is that the time-traveling concept really set Chrono Trigger apart from its peers. While most RPGs were a Tolkienesque struggle of good versus evil, Chrono Trigger offered a riveting and interwoven tale of time hopping with actual consequences and branching paths.
The second point is the combat. You lead a party of three heroes; everyone can attack and use items; so far pretty standard stuff. However, there are so-called “Tech” abilities, which make everything different. Tech abilities are high-damage or support, moves, spells, and maneuvers done by individual heroes, but you are able to chain different Tech abilities from different heroes for devastating results. This creates a gameplay loop with almost infinite potential, thus making the combat feel fresh and satisfying.
The final point that we’d like to stress is “New Game+.” After you’ve completed the story, guess what — you haven’t! You can choose to start again with your fully leveled and powered character. This was a new concept at the time, and it increased the replayability of Chrono Trigger tenfold. If you were not content with the choices you made or an ending that you got, you could just play again and not lose any of your progress through the game.
A mandatory addition to any collection, as far as we’re concerned.
21. Goldeneye 007
Ah, the unfortunate Bond games. Unfortunate because Goldeneye 007 was the only good Bond game ever released — and boy, is it good.
Built around 18 levels, Goldeneye 007 was the first game to deploy spy-style tactics and sneaking to a first-person shooter game. The game requires that you think before rushing in to destroy your enemies, which oddly enough was a pretty new concept at the time.
Boasting an impressive arsenal variety, players will figure out soon enough that certain weapons are better in certain situations.
The game’s AI is actually very smart. Smarter than most of today’s shooter’s AIs. For example, the AI won’t rush in through the door if they know you’re waiting on the other side.
In time, Goldeneye 007 would spawn a hardcore speedrunning community, due to the cleverness of their design.
Oh, did we forget to mention the ton-of-fun multiplayer? The up-to-four-player multiplayer mode was top-dog back in the day, and it is still super fun to this day.
If you’re itching for some amazing old-school shooters, you need not look any further.
20. Wii Sports
With the release of Wii, Nintendo was trying to ensnare a completely new demographic in gaming, i.e., non-gamers. That is one of the reasons why Wii Sports was bundled in with the console itself.
Wii is basically a quaint simple party game. What makes it different than other titles is the controls. They are completely intuitive and simple, tailor-made for the Wii’s motion controls.
The game is basically made out of five mini-games — baseball, basketball, boxing, golf, and bowling.
The simplicity and popularity of Wii Sports, as well as the fact that it was bundled, made it a hit. While fun to play with friends on a cozy afternoon, it sorely lacked any more depth than that. On the other hand, it never tried to.
The point of Wii Sports is to be a fun, casual party game, to play a game or two while cracking a cold one with the boys, and it masterfully succeeds in doing just that.
19. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Releasing an enhanced version of a last-gen title is a pretty standard tactic during the early days of a new generation. The Nintendo Switch is no different. However, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an amazing package.
Mario Kart 8 is the pinnacle of modern Mario Kart games. With enhanced graphics, more balanced races, and new features, it really pushed the franchise into the future.
18. F-Zero X
Remember when, during the ’90s and early ’00s, gravity racing games were all the rage? Whatever happened to them? Well, that is a question for another time. Let’s jump right into the game that started it all — F-Zero X.
The word that describes F-Zero X the best is “speed.” The entire game is focused on sating your need for speed. They went so far that the graphics quality was sacrificed for performance — a bold move at a time when graphics were king.
F-Zero X is set in the far future of the 26th century, where you and 29 other pilots compete against one another in extremely fast hover cars.
Each track has its own hazards and features. There are 24 tracks to pick from.
The blistering heavy metal soundtrack perfectly complements the fast pace and intensity of the game.
Simple graphics, fast cars, and rockin’ solos — could you ask for more from a racing game?
17. Donkey Kong Country
The famous barrel-throwing ape’s swing from antagonist to protagonist met much acclaim when it was initially released on the SNES, and with good reason.
The visuals were something of a revolution at the time and seemed to have given the SNES a second life.
Donkey Kong Country is a platformer, but instead of jumping over barrels thrown by the titular character, you are the one jumping over things.
In DKC, you take control of the famous ape and his smaller cousin Diddy. Each character has unique mechanics and is better at different things.
You’ll be fighting and jumping through 39 different levels filled with various enemies, obstacles, jump sequences, and themes. There are even secret bonus levels, which will earn you more bananas and balloons.
Even over two decades later, Donkey Kong Country manages to remain a quirky fun-filled experience worthy of your time.
16. Resident Evil 4
Originally intended solely for GameCube, it was also released on PlayStation 2.
15. Super Mario World
While Super Mario World doesn’t deviate a lot from the path laid by its predecessors, when it comes to gameplay at least, it still brings us one important innovation — Yoshi.
Yoshi is perhaps the reason that Super Mario World is remembered so fondly — in addition to nigh-perfect level design, visuals, and soundtrack.
Another important innovation is the ability to go back and revisit older levels to unlock secrets as well as the ability to save.
SMW is yet another in the line of classic Mario games that every gamer should experience.
So what are you waiting for?
14. Super Mario Galaxy 2
Super Mario Galaxy 2 continues the proud legacy of 3D Mario games, and it even goes further; it perfects the formula.
While SMG2 might not be the most experimental or innovative release in the Mario back catalog, it does everything it sets out to do really well.
It’s almost annoying how little there is to complain about with this release; it’s nigh perfect.
Everything you expect is here — platforming, collectibles, Yoshi, many beautifully designed levels, many different modes. This game will keep you occupied for a while.
If you ever wanted a sure bet, it’s this game.
13. Metroid Prime
After more than ten years of complete absence of the Metroid franchise, it was revived in 2002 as a 3D game; oh, and it was first person. The deck was stacked against this game, yet it somehow managed to pull through.
Metroid Prime manages to skillfully transfer all of the main pillars of the Metroid franchise into 3D.
The isolation, the exploration, the mood, they’re all still here, in some ways stronger than ever, in no small part thanks to the jump to 3D first-person. The art direction is beautiful, dark, and stunning. The soundtrack is very ambient and textured and fits perfectly with the feeling of loneliness that Metroid Prime conjures.
The controls take a bit of getting used to, but when you do, they become second nature.
Metroid Prime is a truly stunning and unexpected masterpiece worthy of anyone’s time.
12. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, is as close to a perfect old-school RPG as humanly possible. From the graphics, story, and gameplay to world-building, everything is nigh perfect in A Link to the Past.
A Link to the Past takes everything the first Zelda did and improves on it, while simultaneously adding even more features. This version of the world of Hyrule is large and filled with things to do.
The plot is based around stopping Ganon from destroying Hyrule — a pretty standard Zelda affair. This time, however, you’ll be able to travel to a darker side of Hyrule filled with monsters and dungeons.
While we’re on the topic of dungeons — the dungeons in A Link to the Past do not disappoint. They’re expertly designed and filled with interesting puzzles that will make you scratch your head.
The graphics of the game still look beautiful, rivaling today’s 8-bit and 16-bit inspired indie games.
If you want to claim to be an RPG connoisseur, at least one playthrough of this game is mandatory.
11. Banjo Kazooie
Banjo Kazooie is a tragically underrated and underappreciated platformer.
Staring Banjo, a calm, down-to-earth bear with an insatiable thirst for adventure, and Kazooie the sarcastic breegull, Banjo Kazooie conquered the hearts and minds of many a gamer.
In many ways, Banjo Kazooie is the perfect 3D platformer, which is why it remains a mystery to us why it never took off like many of its peers.
The controls are very much based on Super Mario 64. However, they take the general scheme of SM64 and improve upon every aspect. In addition, the different abilities that Banjo and Kazooie have spiced up the gameplay tremendously.
The game contains nine levels and a huge world which connects them. This, combined with a beautiful plot of saving Banjo’s sister from an ugly evil witch, tight controls, and fantastic world design, makes Banjo Kazooie a game to remember.
10. Street Fighter II
Street Fighter II is undoubtedly one of the most influential fighting games. It took the subgenre to new heights when it came out and kicked off a fighting video game craze.
There are eight fighters with completely unique movesets and styles. Each character has a heavy, medium, and light attack, which can be combined with directions to perform unique moves. Each character also has the ability to block by going backward.
This sort of tactical complexity is what made the Street Fighter franchise so great.
Street Fighter II was the first game to look the same on arcades and home consoles, which was an incredible achievement at the time. The characters were large and superbly animated, the backgrounds detailed were beautiful, even the sound of the game didn’t suffer compared to its arcade counterpart.
Truly a classic and a landmark in fighting game history.
9. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
What happens when you combine modern open-world RPG mechanics with the plot, characters, mood, and exploration of Zelda? Well, you get a masterpiece open-world game.
Nintendo took the Zelda franchise in a new direction for their latest release, combining an open world in the style of Witcher 3, RPG mechanics, and the sense of exploration and wonder that always characterized Hyrule.
Everything about Breath of the Wild exudes thought-out quality. The world is breathtakingly beautiful, with its slightly washed-out cartoony color palette. The characters and creatures are wonderfully designed with a slightly more grown-up look. The plot is touching and a bit darker. There’s so much to discover, so many secrets to uncover. Breath of the Wild will keep you busy for a long while.
We can’t praise this bold step from Nintendo enough. It truly is a next-gen Zelda game.
8. Super Mario 64
When Super Mario 64 came out, it changed the game completely. It was the first 3D Mario game, which was a completely unexpected leap for Nintendo.
Even to this day, the greatest debate between gamers is whether SM64 or Super Mario Bros. 3 is the ultimate Mario game. But in many ways, the debate is pointless. SM64, being a 3D game, is a completely different beast than its 2D predecessors.
There are few games with more interactive environments. That, combined with the massive size of all 15 levels, makes this game a game of experimentation.
Graphics-wise, SM64 is, in many ways, a landmark achievement in gaming. It, more or less, plays like an interactive cartoon — Miyamoto’s ultimate vision for Mario. SM64 demonstrates the power of the N64.
Truly a revolution in gaming.
7. Super Mario Kart
The original Super Mario Kart started it all.
When Nintendo came up with the idea of putting all of their Mario characters in a racing game, many people scratched their heads, but Nintendo managed to pull it off.
Showcasing the SNES’ Mode 7 graphics, SMK creates an amazing illusion of 3D, which looks good to this day. The sense of speed is there, which is amazing considering the technological capabilities. The design is gorgeous yet clear enough for you to grasp what’s going on.
There are eight characters from the Mario-verse for you to choose from. Characters have different strengths and weaknesses, so they accommodate most playstyles.
The main innovation of SMK was the introduction of weapons. Simply driving over a box marked with a question mark would give you a weapon that you could then use whenever you want. This allowed players who were falling behind to catch up by sabotaging the ones in front of them.
Even though SMK was obviously designed for local multiplayer, it still offers plenty of content for those gamers playing alone.
SMK offers something for everyone and is a mandatory addition to any Nintendo fan’s collection.
6. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time — what could you say about the greatest adventure/action game of all time?
It defined a whole generation of gamers when it came out on the N64. Furthermore, it defined a whole generation of games.
You wake up as Link, tucked away in your small village and set off on a quest which will lead you through dark dungeons, beautiful fields, burning volcanoes, and time itself.
Everything about this game is perfect — the visual design, the gameplay, the plot — it’s no wonder it made such an impact on release.
We wouldn’t like to spoil too much for you, and it is a grievous gaming sin to spoil such a masterpiece for someone. We just want to spur you into purchasing Ocarina of Time and having the ride of your life.
5. Super Smash Bros. Melee
Some games are just better with friends.
Nintendo always emphasized local multiplayer, ever since they shipped the N64 with four controllers instead of two, and Super Smash Bros. Melee fully embodies this approach.
For the few ascetics still left who don’t know what Super Smash Bros. is, it’s basically an excuse for Nintendo to smash (pun intended) all of their franchises together and create an extremely fun casual fighting game.
The original Smash Bros., while being a fun game, lacked content. So HAL Laboratories and Nintendo decided to rectify that in this sequel. SSBM is jam-packed with content, with three different campaigns, a bunch of new characters, and modes.
SSBM boasts 25 different characters, dozens of stages, and over 300 trophies; this game will keep you busy for a while.
While the original Smash Bros. made a decent splash, the quality of its sequel was truly a tidal wave in gaming history.
Did you know that none other than Tetris was the very first game played in space?
Did you also know that Tetris is the most successful game in the universe?
Did you know that a huge part of Game Boy’s success was due to Tetris being bundled with it?
What is a Nintendo list without the mandatory mention of Tetris?
What can we tell you about Tetris that you don’t already know?
It’s Tetris — just go and play a round.
3. Pokémon: Gold/Silver/Crystal
Wait! Don’t get upset because it isn’t Red, Blue & Yellow. Hear us out first.
RBY might be the first Pokémon game to grace our screens, but we claim that GSC is the superior sibling.
With the perfect number of Pokémon, the new day and night cycle, as well as other innovations, GSC stands head and shoulders above its peers.
The day and night cycle, complete with an internal clock, adds another layer of immersion to the gameplay. It locks out certain Pokémon based on the time of day, which makes “catchin’ ’em all” a much more interesting and challenging task.
Pokémon: GSC is also the pinnacle of Pokémon designs, with most of the, by now, more recognizable Pokémon being added during this period.
If you’re a Pokémon fan, you’ve probably already played these games. However, if you’re not, we suggest that you begin here.
2. Final Fantasy VI
What can you say about the greatest JRPG of all time? Very much, it turns out. However, we don’t have enough space here to honor FFVI properly, so we’ll try to be brief.
Featuring an utterly amazing plot and cast, tremendous combat, and an epic soundtrack, FFVI has full right to the title of the best JRPG.
What can we tell you without spoiling too much?
You’ll get up to 14 party members with unique abilities, which will make combat feel fresh all the time. The world’s tileset is beautiful and varied, and the game even has cinematics!
The plot revolves around stopping the evil Empire, but don’t let the generic set-up turn you away. The story will lead you through many unexpected twists and turns, and you will experience the narrative ride of your life.
Combat-wise, while the combat is interesting and doesn’t get old, the game can become a bit easy later on in the game.
We really don’t wish to spoil too much. If you have never played FFVI, just do it!
1. Super Mario Bros. 3
There are two factions in the Great Nintendo Wars: the “Super Mario 64 is the best” faction, and the “Super Mario Bros. 3 is the best” faction.
By now, it should be obvious in which camp we are, and we’ll tell you why the other faction is wrong.
While SM64 made that incredible jump to 3D, the core experience of Mario was always dependant on 2D platforming. 2D is the pure essence of Mario. While SM64 might be a truly amazing game, it is still not that true Mario experience.
Super Mario Bros. 3 utterly perfects the 2D Mario experience, and it stands head and shoulders above other NES games and even other games in general.
Need we say more?