From Wii and DS’s twilight years to the unstoppable success of Switch. The little handheld that could in 3DS to undeniable flops in Wii U. Nintendo’s ups and downs this past decade are a testament to their enduring legacy — no matter how much disgruntled fans pounded away at their keyboards rambling about the company’s incoming demise (At the very least, it’s all but guaranteed you’ve encountered sarcastic cries of “Doooooooooomed!” littering Nintendo Direct discussions), the House of Mario diligently marched on even in the face of hardware bombs or Satoru Iwata’s sudden passing. Such blows stung, but even as they ominously coated Nintendo’s darkest hour with uncertain dread towards the future, not once was the company undeterred in their core gaming philosophy: the drive not merely to innovate, but to surprise.
True to the mantra of Shinya Takahashi and the recently-retired Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo’s innovative output has brought untold joy to countless players, and so yours truly set out to celebrate this past decade by painstakingly assembling their best of the best in 25 different games. This belabored process went through no shortage of revisions — over the past several months, I swapped out games on the fly (even as I wrote this final draft, even!), adhered myself to all sorts of ill-fated restrictions (“No remakes allowed!”/”I’ve got to include one game from every year!”), and, in its most dispiriting hour, found myself forced to make painful cuts when I recognized numerously repetitive iterations spilled over the rankings (Look, I may be Kirby‘s No. 1 fan, but that’s kinda why I don’t want three games for this article).
Regardless, much like how any revolutionary Zelda adventure or content-filled Smash Bros. won’t please everyone, I forged ahead with this agonizing selection knowing this list would find itself scrutinized and disparaged. I welcome such division; after all, in my eyes, the whole fun of lists is to size up your own opinions and contemplate on how they mesh together (which, human nature being as it is, they typically don’t, leading to some engagingly spicy discourse). For what it’s worth — and at the risk of uttering cheese in the same vein of Reggie’s “putting smiles on people’s faces” — I ultimately disposed with most any restrictions or minimums for these rankings and merely followed where my heart guided me. On with the show!
25. Yoshi’s Woolly World (Wii U/3DS, Good-Feel, 2015/2017)
Our first entry begins with a miracle — namely in how after twenty years, us unworthy Nintendo faithful were finally bestowed with a Yoshi game that somehow, someway found itself within throwing distance of Yoshi’s Island. Not that Yoshi’s Woolly World surpassed what’s possibly the SNES’s greatest platformer (quality-of-life upgrades aside — perfect collectible runs are thankfully scrubbed), but it turns out the formula to making new Yoshi games work doesn’t involve hashing out tired, creatively-bankrupt Yoshi’s Island clones nor make highly questionable concessions towards younger audiences; really, you just need to steadily capitalize upon the base with a new concept (In this case, adorning Yoshi’s world with soft yarn fabric). A task easier said than done, but Good-Feel’s spiritual successor to Kirby’s Epic Yarn is nothing less than delightful, for not once does Yoshi’s Woolly World forget its adorable fabric isn’t there for eye candy.
Nay, Yoshi’s Island challenged us with puzzle-solving much as it provided pitch-perfect platforming, and so this successor gets deviously clever in everything from rolling about Chain Chomps as unwitting allies or bopping snoozing Shy Guys in their foreground napping corners for a hidden Smiley Flower. Fertile for experimentation, we giddily toss yarn balls just to observe cause-and-effect (ever try to bomb a Hook Guy’s day?), marvel as Poochy fearlessly ferries us through molten lava scarves, and yes, meticulously analyze each and every one of the design logistics composing amiibo Yoshi costumes (Yoshi with Ganondorf’s sideburns? Pikmin googly eyes on his spikes?). Complete with hysterical co-op in munching up partners and smacking each other with ricocheting yarn balls, and we’re left with the best Yoshi game in over two decades. For the very final game released under Satoru Iwata’s tenure, that’s not just the greatest honor it can ask for — it’s a beacon of hope for the green dinosaur’s future.
Best Moment: Yoshi’s Curtain Call is the game’s best showcase of its dynamic camera angles — while not utilized often, they’re typically among Woolly World‘s most exciting levels, with World 5’s special stage hosting a thrilling roller-coaster that emphasizes timing, accuracy, and dreamy visuals.
Worst Moment: For all its spectacle, the final boss fight felt pretty throw-away. To tell the the truth, Good-Feel’s track-record with final bosses has never been very strong, although Yoshi’s Crafted World was an improvement.
Best Song: Let’s be real — Kazumi Totaka’s main theme is a classic channeling the airy reverie of a toddler’s imagination, but Tomoya Tomita’s compositions steal the show, and I can think of none better than Special Course — an uptempo piece instilling a dreamy trance that scrubs any and all frustration of its accompanying levels, inspiring us with meditative determination. When I played World 1’s Hang Tongue and first heard this tune, I said to myself, “This is why I play video games.”
Final Thoughts: This year’s Yoshi’s Crafted World was a solid follow-up — not the least in inspiring us artistically-challenged to get creative with arts and crafts — but now that Good Feel’s more than proven their craft, we wonder how they could challenge themselves with a new IP in the coming decade.
24. The Wonderful 101 (Platinum Games, Wii U, 2013)
Is it more than a little obvious that Bayonetta/Viewtiful Joe director Hideki Kamiya’s childhood fascination with Super Sentai heroes — or the Tokusatsu genre as a whole, if you’re feeling pedantic — lingers well into adulthood? Perhaps, but if said passion births something as sublimely unorthodox as The Wonderful 101, who am I to complain? The most obscure entry on this list — let us observe a moment of silence for its unfortunate retail flop — the titular Wonderful 101 crew of superheroes bands together in this eccentric action combo game, shifting between different “Unite Morphs” on a dime as our formations merge into an merciless amalgamation of terror towards the alien menace. Presented as an ecstatic Saturday Morning Cartoon starring the unbridled imagination of your old action figure collection, careful application of in-game teamwork injects that action game-patented endorphin surge in achieving combo mastery as a virtual combat god.
The Wonderful 101 follows every beat of the Hideki Kamiya video game: spectacle and depth scrupulously weaved together to dazzle newcomers, all for the purposes of incorporating muscle memory for repeated playthroughs and perfect Platinum runs. This isn’t always optimal for the Wii U’s bulky screen controller — sequences involving indoor puzzles are clunky, and touch controls aren’t always optimal — but such trifles are quickly overcome through the action-game mantra of practice. An festival of fireworks operating under an unforgettably colorful cast, most Wii U owners may’ve skipped it — a death sentence for an already-flailing platform — but those who engaged in Unlimited Form knew Platinum Games’s Won-Stoppable endeavor was something truly wonderful.
Best Moment: Where do I begin? The moment Tables Turns first graces our ears? Not one, but two Punch-Out!! homages? That spectacular finale? Too much hype to count!
Worst Moment: I could cite some elongated shmup sections or the aforementioned GamePad slip-ups, but really, the game starts off on the wrong foot by making certain vital commands (like Spring and Guard) unlockable purchases. It’s smooth sailing from there, but I imagine this induced some much unneeded frustration.
Best Song: Can you say, Jergingha: Planet Destruction Form? There are other great songs — Tables Turn is blood-pumping adrenaline, and the theme song‘s an infectious earworm — but as always, Rei Kondoh knows how to close a finale.
Final Thoughts: It’s not fair Kamiya will probably never get to make his desired sequel; not fair, I tell you! Word has it he wanted a game starring Wonder Blue.
23. Metroid: Samus Returns (Mercury Steam, 3DS, 2017)
As mentioned earlier, I hesitated at including any remakes — after all, we’re ranking games hailing from the ’10s here, not refurbished Game Boy games — yet after some deep reflection, I made an exception for 2017’s Metroid: Samus Returns on the grounds that MercuryStream’s brilliant reinvention of Game Boy’s Metroid II: Return of Samus may very well render it a new game altogether. Such vindication means the world after a disastrous blunder in Wii’s Metroid: Other M — an embarrassing misfire in everything from uninspired graphics and soundtrack, monotone voice-acting, its shaky mix-mash of genre concepts and most damningly of all: threatening to collapse Metroid‘s immersive identity (and, by extension, Samus’s cool-as-a-cucumber personality — an essential vehicle into her adventures) with a brain-dead cast functioning to the whims of slipshod storytelling. Harshly panned by fans, we could only watch as Metroid silently lay dormant, with Nintendo only pretending all was well with the woefully out-of-touch Metroid Prime: Federation Force.
And then, hot on the heels of Metroid Prime 4′s left-field E3 announcement, comes along the appropriately-named Samus Returns — a confident passion project that doesn’t merely jump-start the series; nay, it revives 2D Metroid — something thought all but lost in this modern age. Barring some awkward 3DS controls, it’s the perfect encapsulation of Metroid — a gripping atmospheric adventure where we become one with the planet, zapping deadly aliens as we navigate mazes and unearth power-ups. Pushing the series forward in enticing new lore and flexible mechanics (Don’t want Scan Pulse ruining the map’s surprises? Good, because it’s optional!), “Metroidvania” may’ve populated the indie scene following Metroid‘s absence, but MercurySteam’s above-and-beyond renovation proves Nintendo’s sci-fi spelunking series is still king.
Best Moment: Can you say, Diggernaut? This ancient automaton — a new enemy courtesy of this remake — antagonizes Samus throughout her SR388 mission, and their inevitable clash forges what’s to my mind one of the series’ best boss battles — a superb mishmash of dodging, innate puzzle-solving, and split-second tension. And that “I’m done with you” shot Samus unleashes at the end? Too cool.
(That, or when a familiar foe comes to crash the party at the very end; take your pick!)
Worst Moment: Locking content behind out-of-print amiibo. I guess it was an inevitability, but c’mon, Nintendo: whatever happened to unlocking in-game content on our own?
Best Song: Hmm, I actually can’t think of any new songs that were that impressive — but man, how about those remixes, eh? Given the game’s name, it’s only fitting they’d fall back on series-defining tunes.
Final Thoughts: Take all the time you need with Metroid Prime 4, Retro Studios — we’ll be waiting ever so patiently for another masterpiece. In the meantime, why not capitalize upon this remake with Metroid V?
22. Nintendo Land (Nintendo, Wii U, 2012)
The Wii U was, simply put, a failure. Between the confusing name, the clunky GamePad, and the bare wasteland that was its launch window, it doesn’t take hindsight bias to recognize why Nintendo’s sixth home console crashed and burned. At the very least, we should be grateful Nintendo’s lack of foresight didn’t come at the cost of their treasured game quality; indeed, the console’s overall output represented much of their valued A-game, with their launch title in Nintendo Land serving as a compelling “what could’ve been” case study. Designed to showcase the GamePad’s capabilities, Nintendo Land presents its mini-games as attractions in a Mii-populated amusement park — ranging from arcade Donkey Kong momentum-based hijinks, sword-swinging Zelda swashbuckling, or even Luigi’s Mansion ghost manhunts, it’s prime for multiplayer party sessions.
Yet Nintendo Land wasn’t satisfied with being a threadbare tech demo — whereas many veteran gamers tired of Wii Sports in a week, Nintendo Land‘s feedback-loop of achievements and Plaza Prizes within challenging time attacks and flawless provide plenty of replay value. Sure, not every game will click — and for my money, I’d have appreciated the three multiplayer-exclusive games (Mario Chase, Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, and Animal Crossing: Sweet Treat) offering CPUs for solo play– but just like an actual theme park, there’s no shortage of attractions suited to our tastes. The Wii U may’ve never gotten off the ground, but it left us with priceless multiplayer memories and hard-fought solo accomplishments within Nintendo’s first foray into HD.
Best Game: Pikmin Adventure was a fascinating holdover until Pikmin 3 finally arrived, and I was pleasantly surprised by how it, Zelda Quest, and Balloon Trip Breeze echoed their respective source material. As far as the multiplayer-only offerings go, I particularly enjoyed Animal Crossing: Sweet Treat validating my “Tom Nook’s armed posse wants to kill us all” conspiracy theories.
Worst Game: Despite the astounding F-ZERO remixes within Captain Falcon’s Twister Race, it’s a pretty sub-par racing game. I mean, hey, it’s not like the Game and Watch-themed Octopus Dance is that compelling either, but at least there was some inspiration there in applying the choppy LCD animation to movement.
Best Song: The adorable blend of chiptunes/xylophones — with a touch of orchestral thematics — presents a delectable blend of remixes, with Valley of Repose, Brinstar, Fire Field, and Gerudo Valley being particular highlights. I’m also quite fond of the original autumn tune for Pikmin Adventure — its melancholy could fit right in with an actual Pikmin!
Final Thoughts: I wonder how a re-release for future consoles would work? What with all these motion controls and touch-screens…
21. StreetPass Mii Plaza (Nintendo/Various Developers, 3DS, 2011-2016)
Speaking of Miis, I recognize including the entirety of 3DS’s StreetPass application is a bit of a stretch — there’s thirteen games overall, most developed by outsourced studios — yet when it including just one game, I couldn’t help but realize how much their respective experiences had intertwined together into one cohesive goal: enriching my gaming experiences through others. From memories of a burgeoning 3DS stumbling into the market with Find Mii to scoring innumerable StreetPassers in Flower Town and Warrior’s Way at conventions, I’d accumulated countless strangers through their Mii avatars — all donning their favorite colors, wearing hats of obscure Nintendo peripherals or famous Mario characters, and affably personalized through customs greetings and citing their most recently-played games. I welcomed each and every one of their company as we hunted ghosts, shot down enemy fleets, and out-muscled foreign kingdoms for world conquest.
Striking a homely balance between single-player focus and social interaction, StreetPass Mii Plaza’s gaming library encouraged lonely and sociable gamers alike to seek out repeat encounters heftier rewards (namely stronger Miis and color-coded bonuses). Sure, I could earn Play Coins on my own in earning pieces for Puzzle Swap, but knowing that I’d ultimately completed them with the help of total unknowns compelled me to step out my comfort zone and seek out fellow gamers. When I cite 3DS as Nintendo’s best handheld, I refer not just the undeniable strength of its library, but how nothing better illustrates Satoru Iwata’s genuine humanity in his goal to satisfy customers (and by association, Nintendo’s) than this.
Best Game: Man, do I have to pick? Flower Town, Warrior’s Way, and Monster Manor were my most common rotation, and I’ll also never forget nearly beating Find Mii II twice in one Otakon sitting. Puzzle Swap locking alluring 3D tech demos behind tags/Play Coins was another incentive I kept up with throughout 3DS’s lifespan, with the trove of Kirby puzzles being a particular favorite.
Worst Game: Both Slot Car Rivals and Mii Trek failed to keep my attention for very long — perhaps because I was juggling all the other games already?
Best Song: I mean, the StreetPass Mii Plaza theme’s been permanently etched into my brain, so…
Final Thoughts: Boy, was I gutted when I heard Switch wouldn’t do anything like this — losing Miiverse was bad enough, but I missed the organic feedback Streetpass provided!