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The Ten Greatest Nintendo Series

Updated on January 2, 2012

Nintendo has been either one of the larger names, or the largest name in the video game industry for nearly thirty years now. Something like that doesn't happen by accident, or by chance: it can only happen through maintaining a solid track record, and by producing games that people really want to play. There's the business aspect of things too, of course, but the ability to produce good games is integral. Nintendo doesn't seem to be going anywhere any time soon, and here's why: their games are fun.

For this list, I'm going to be counting down the top ten greatest Nintendo series. Here's hoping it incites discussion, and is even a little bit controversial -- not too controversial, I like living in a house that is not on fire -- but a little bit.

Advance Wars (2001, Game boy Advance)
Advance Wars (2001, Game boy Advance)

10. Nintendo Wars

Nintendo Wars: it's a title that might have rung a few more bells if I had instead referred to it as "Advance Wars." Here's a little known fact in the English-speaking world, though. The Advance Wars series pre-dates the 2001 game boy advance game by quite a bit. In fact, the first Advance Wars is the seventh game in the series that date backs since 1988. Yeah, it actually started out on the Famicom. If you're wondering what's changed, well... not a whole lot. The games have become a lot more sophisticated and more enjoyable to play, but the ideas have been pretty consistent: mobilize your army of super-deformed soldiers and use them to wage war. It makes for pretty standard turn-based strategy gameplay, but the series picked up some steam with the advent of wireless multiplayer gaming on the Nintendo DS.

First Game: Famicom Wars (1988, Famicom, Japan Only)
Latest Game: Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (2008, Nintendo DS)

Fire Emblem (2003, Game boy Advance)
Fire Emblem (2003, Game boy Advance)

9. Fire Emblem

In terms of prominence in the western world, Fire Emblem is getting there: even if it took a certain blue haired prince appearing in Super Smash Bros. Melee to raise awareness of its existence. Like Advance Wars, it's a strategy game series that has existed in Japan for a good long time (debuting on the Famicom in 1990), that made its jump to the West on the Game boy Advance. Fire Emblem, specically, is a tactical role-playing game series. Even though basically no one's played the earlier entries in the series, the ones that have been localized have been hits, critically. It's probably here to stay. It's been a while since the last game, but there's one in the pipeline for the 3DS, so that should be good.

First Game: Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryū to Hikari no Tsurugi (1990, Famicom, Japan Only)
Latest Game: Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (2007, Wii)

Punch-Out!! (2009, Wii)
Punch-Out!! (2009, Wii)

8. Punch-Out!!

Punch-Out!! originally began its life as a series in the arcade. In fact, its spin-off title, Arm Wrestling, was Nintendo's last arcade title before switching exclusively to developing for their own consoles. More of us will remember this game for its NES release: Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! Specifically, and then most likely remember Iron Mike sending us to the canvas repeatedly. All of the games in this series -- and why Nintendo ever thought it was a good idea to have three titles all called "Punch-Out!!" and two more called "Super Punch-Out!!" still eludes me -- follow the same concepts: puzzle-based, and reflex-testing matches, rather than simulation-sports-style matches. Each boxer has a number of quirks and patterns, and many of them are horribly racist. That's Punch-Out!! and it's really, really fun. Punch-Out!! sat on the sidelines for fifteen years before Nintendo finally decided to revisit it on the Wii, during which time it regularly topped lists of "series that need to be revived." Now that it's back, that spot can be taken by something else. Maybe StarTropics. Maybe Beyond Good and Evil. Hey, Ubisoft. You listening? Come on, Nintendo did there part already.

First Game: Punch-Out!! (Arcade, 1984)
Latest Game: Punch-Out!! (Wii, 2009)

Super Metroid (1994, Super Nintendo)
Super Metroid (1994, Super Nintendo)

7. Metroid

With Metroid we're starting to enter truly iconic territory. The Metroid games put you in control of an intergalactic bounty hunter named Samus Aran (whom I've picked as the all-time greatest female character in gaming) as you explore... well, you explore all sorts of things. Metroid is basically the pioneer game for the collect-upgrades-to-go-places formula that a lot of action games use. Castlevania, in particular, has taken a very strong liking to this formula of gameplay. Hey, why not though: it works. The Metroid franchise has grown to include a number of very well-respected classics like Super Metroid and Metroid Prime. Samus's most recent adventure was outsourced to Team Ninja following their success with Ninja Gaiden; and though it has failed to obtain the instant classic label that prior entries in the series have had, it's another solid notch in Aran's belt. Well, it would be if she wore a belt.

First Game: Metroid (1986, Nintendo)
Latest Game: Metroid: Other M (2010, Wii)

Donkey Kong Country Returns (2010, Wii)
Donkey Kong Country Returns (2010, Wii)

6. Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong has the honorary distinction of being Nintendo's very first series: pre-dating even the Mario games (although Mario and D.K. make their debut together in the classic arcade game of this franchise.) For it's time, Donkey Kong was a very enjoyable arcade experience, offering something a bit more involved than many other games of the time, with its varied levels and platforming. However, historic significance aside, its not the original game that boosts Donkey Kong onto the list: its the Donkey Kong Country games. I'm not sure what happened with RareWare after parting ways with Nintendo, but when they worked under The Big N's umbrella, they struck gold, time after time, delivering some of the best platforming games on the Super Nintendo. Donkey Kong 64 was a lot of fun too. The Gamecube days were kind of slow for our favorite ape -- because even though Jungle Beat was excellent, the average consumer shys away from the idea of buying a bongo controller that only three games make use of. Thankfully, last year Nintendo went the distance and brought Donkey Kong back to true form with another classic platformer. And it was wonderful.

First Game: Donkey Kong (1981, Arcade)
Latest Games: Donkey Kong Country Returns (2010, Wii)

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008, Wii)
Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008, Wii)

5. Super Smash Bros.

What began on the Nintendo 64 as nothing more than an enjoyable sideshow, allowing players to do battle with some familiar characters (and Captain Falcon, whom has since become a familiar character) has grown to become so much more. The original Super Smash Bros. had a relatively small roster, and it lacked polish, but the unique gameplay was exciting. Rather than attempt to deplete health bars, the idea of battering your opponent and sending them flying off of the screen was refreshing. Nintendo knew what was up, and that they had a great idea. So what they did was take a couple of years, shine it up really nicely, and release its sequel, Melee, almost immediately following the console's release. It's remembered as one of the best Gamecube games, and for good reason. And even though Brawl didn't make many improvements on it, Smash Bros. still maintains its spot as one of the best games to pull out at any gathering of nerds. Because nerds party hard.

First Game: Super Smash Bros. (1999, Nintendo 64)
Latest Game: Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008, Wii)

Kirby Super Star Ultra (2008, Nintendo DS)
Kirby Super Star Ultra (2008, Nintendo DS)

4. Kirby

Kirby games are some of the most consistently enjoyable games around. Whenever I pick up a Kirby game, I know I'm going to be in for something special. There hasn't been a bad Kirby platforming game yet: the worst one is probably Epic Yarn, and that was still downright charming. Even during Kirby's extended break from the consoles -- the planned Gamecube title, which looked absolutely amazing, was cancelled, and I am still grieving -- Kirby's been tearing it up on Nintendo's handhelds. Squeak Squad is one of the finest DS games available, and I can totally dig the Metroid / Castlevania thing Amazing Mirror had going. Now with Return to Dreamland, gamers can get their home console fix of swallowing enemies stealing abilities.

First Game: Kirby's Dream Land (1992, Game boy)
Latest Game: Kirby Mass Attack (2011, Nintendo DS)

Pokemon Black (2010, Nintendo DS)
Pokemon Black (2010, Nintendo DS)

3. Pokemon

Don't even pretend that you haven't played a Pokemon game. Almost all of you have probably played the card game too, and I bet a few of you can still remember the Pokerap. There's nothing wrong with it. Personally, every time I've been drinking, the theme song makes its way from YouTube onto my laptop speakers for a karaoke session -- and I've never had to sing it alone. Someone always knows the words. Pokemon was huge. And here's the thing: even though the craze has kind of passed, the games really haven't. The reason for that is simple: they're actually really good. Addendum: The main series games are really good. Pokemon is a virtual wasteland of crappy spin-off titles. But the RPGs in which you catch cute animals and force them to bludgeon each other to a pulp? Good stuff. And I must say, I was thrilled by how the games came back into prominence right around the time I was graduating high school. I finally traded for a Machamp. Winning.

First Games: Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue (1998, Game boy)*
Latest Games: Pokemon White and Pokemon Black (2010, Nintendo DS)
* There is an asterix next to this due to all the shenanigans surrounding its release. Just roll with it.

Super Mario Bros. (1985, Nintendo)
Super Mario Bros. (1985, Nintendo)

2. Mario

Mario. Mario. Mario is Nintendo's first protagonist, and by far the most prolific and recognizable video game character of all time. He's been in nearly 200 video games. Think about that for a minute: it's absolutely ridiculous. Really, he's been in everything from platformers, to sports games, to roleplaying games, to board games, to fighting games, and he even had that light-gun rail shooter using the SNES Super Scope. Mario has done it all. Clicking onto this article, most of you probably assumed the Mario games were going to be in the top spot, and not without good reason. Super Mario Bros. basically breathed life into a dying video game industry, Super Mario Bros. 3 all but perfected the 2D platformer, and Super Mario 64 revolutionized the way the third dimension was handled in games. And between these moments of innovation? Most of the other games were great too. Mario games rule.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (2011, Wii)
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (2011, Wii)

1. The Legend of Zelda

And topping the list at number one -- you knew that as soon as you saw Mario sitting at number two -- The Legend of Zelda. Back on the classic Nintendo, The Legend of Zelda made a few key contributions to gaming. It is pretty much the innovator behind what we now call the action adventure genre. It was also the first console game to contain a save function. But it has nothing to do with contribution, or legacy that makes Zelda so great: it's the sheer number of masterpieces that have come from it. I almost feel as though rather than to try to justify this pick with a paragraph, I'd need only paste a list of the games that have been released. That's a list that would include classics like A Link to the Past and Link's Awakening, as well as the more recent additions to the treasury, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. Oh, there's also this one game, maybe you've heard of it. It's called Ocarina of Time. Yeah, that one. By the numbers, it is the highest reviewed game of all time. Now if you'll excuse me for a moment, I'm going to go get a Triforce tattooed somewhere on my body.

First Game: The Legend of Zelda (1986, Nintendo)
Latest Game: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (2011, Wii)


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    • profile image

      YOO DU 

      6 years ago

      Smash Bros should be 3rd and Metroid should be 4th. Pokemon is the same game they have recycled over and over for decades.

      Mario has more classics than Zelda

    • Chris Qu profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Qu 

      6 years ago

      Castlevania is one of the greatest series ever... but its also a Konami series. :)

    • RolyRetro profile image


      6 years ago from Brentwood, Essex, UK

      No Castlevania? I suppose this series wasn't exclusively Nintendo so doesn't count...

      My next door neighbour created the music for Advance Wars on the GBA, how about that for a fact?




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