As I already mentioned, culling this list’s candidates was an agonizing process, and there were more than a few modern classics that missed the boat. For all my painstaking efforts in fairness and balance, there undoubtedly remain those who’re tut-tutting over the absence of their favorite games, so I thought I’d at least explain myself in why the following twelve games were excised. Yes, I understand such honesty will only further fan the flames, but I figured it’d at least be fair to evaluate my thought process. Anyway, on with the unlucky saps!
1. Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Next Level Games, Switch, 2019)
Next Level Games has settled quite comfortably in their role as a Nintendo second-party, and what better evidence then their work with Luigi’s Mansion? Luigi’s Mansion 3, particularly, is a triumph — a spine-chilling offering of humor, animation, and puzzle-solving keeping us captivated from beginning to end. Might Polterpup be the Nintendo MVP?
Why It Didn’t Make The Cut: It just missed the boat, really — certain concepts in Boos/E.Gadd’s store felt half-baked, and Nintendo’s insistence on limited preset messaging plagues the otherwise-entertaining ScareScraper. As eagle-eyed readers may’ve noticed, 2019 is the only year not represented (as far as original debuts go, anyway; Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn was a port, after all); naturally, the perfectionist in me’s not having it. Regardless, you’ll spot two other candidates hailing from last year just below.
2. Super Mario Maker 2 (Nintendo, Switch, 2019)
2019’s sequel to Super Mario Maker takes us back to the Mario construction yard with some new toys; namely, a tongue-in-cheek campaign (“I blame the union!”, grumbles Toadette — NOA Treehouse at work!), new level types (complete with Koji Kondo”s music wizardry!), and a 3D World mode (Cat suits for everyone!). Also, online co-op is a blessing unto itself.
Why It Didn’t Make The Cut: We’d like to think Super Mario Maker 2 needs more time to prove itself; namely, in providing a steadily updated infrastructure — a common complaint among fans. Online Co-op, Ninji Runs, and new tools are good starts, but we’ll see how committed Nintendo is to this sequel. Anyway, if you’re that bothered by a 2019 game missing the boat, you can close your eyes and pretend this sequel was chosen instead; really, if it didn’t cut the Mystery Costumes, it would’ve made it.
3. Super Mario 3D World (Nintendo, Wii U, 2013)
2013’s Wii U Mario adventure may’ve ignored the GamePad, but that didn’t stop this expertly-crafted platformer from being critically acclaimed. Bursting with ideas in everything from train sieges to Super Mario Kart-esque Playskool sets, the adventures of Cat Mario and co. was 3D Mario‘s very first application of on-screen multiplayer. Popping with colors reminiscent of Mario‘s SNES days to the tune of an infectious big band soundtrack, many Mario fans hail this as the series’ platforming apex.
Why It Didn’t Make The Cut: Look, I tried with this one; I really did — 100% completion with all five characters and everything. And yet for all its imagination, it didn’t capture me as the 3D-inspired 3D Land. Ambitious in ideas, yes, but not in concept. Regardless, rumor has it there might be a Switch port in the works, so I’d love to give it another whirl!
4. Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition (Koei-Tecmo, Switch, 2018)
This one might be cheating, considering the publishing rights ultimately belong to Koei-Tecmo, yet you can’t deny this collaboration with Nintendo was a genuine labor of love for Zelda. While Hyrule Warriors originally began life on Wii U, its transition to 3DS and ultimately to Switch proved itself a four-year labor of love. Brimming with content and fanservice in reimagining Zelda characters famed and obscure, the nostalgic Adventure Maps alone prove themselves quite the time-sink.
Why It Didn’t Make The Cut: A Link Between Worlds and (naturally) Breath of the Wild took priority as far as Zelda goes, and while this was a spin-off, my one remaing rule was to ensure no series — no matter how prominent — dominated the list.
5. Pushmo (Intelligent Systems, 3DS, 2011)
Intelligent System’s little eShop puzzler that could stole 3DS players’ hearts and wouldn’t let it go, and not just becasue of those squishy sumo munchkins. This brain teaser’s’s concept of push and pull made for some mind-bending puzzles, taking on the shapes of everything from rocket ships to familiar NES sprites. Equipped with a studio feature compatible with QR codes and StreetPass, the practice of sharing our own puzzles fostered a community of dedicated craftsmen for years to come.
Why It Didn’t Make The Cut: I wanted at least two left-field picks for this list, but StreetPass’s ubiquitous association with 3DS edged this one out.
6-8. Fire Emblem Awakening/Fire Emblem Fates/Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Intelligent Systems, 3DS and Switch, 2012/2015/2019)
Be it the seminal Awakening, the three-pronged Fates, or the runaway smash hit in Three Houses, there’s no roof to Fire Emblem‘s modern resurgence. Between potential remakes and the ongoing success of Heroes, we’re looking forward to how the series will continue reinventing itself!
Why They Didn’t Make The Cut: Truth be told, Fire Emblem was easily the biggest headache for the list — while I could’ve easily included two games back when the list first gestated, as it morphed and bent to the wills of certain mandates and restrictions, it became evident only one Fire Emblem game would make the cut, and so I began a dreadful process of elimination; problem was, the games’ respective strengths and weaknesses frequently cancelled each other out. Observe my brief opinions:
Awakening: Absolutely integral to the series’ revival, but not even top-tier production values or an iconic cast can mask the shallow gameplay unveiling itself in subsequent playthroughs.
Fates: Probably the most appropriate balance of gameplay (for my tastes, anyway), but the games’ “choice” theming was undermined by how predictable and binary the games’ storytelling/world-building were.
Three Houses: Absolutely the most charismatic, thought-provoking, and morally-gray cast yet in the series, but even if we ignored the diluted gameplay, such strides were betrayed by a completely unacceptable graphical engine. (Seriously, every time I learned towards choosing Three Houses, my strident reasoning for denying it a 4.5 rating — “this game’s fluctuation in production values render that an unjust reward.” — halted any such notion.)
Throwing my hands up at this impasse, I recognized Heroes wasn’t met with much resistance (relatively speaking, anyway; not to be an apologist, but micro-transactions are what they are), and I believed its value as a mobile representative would best illustrate Nintendo’s strides in that field. A cop-out, I’m certain some of you will proclaim, but that’s how the cookie crumbles. (Or should I say that’s how the Levin Sword wears?)
9. WarioWare Gold (Intelligent Systems, 3DS, 2018)
WarioWare‘s fading into obscurity was over the past decade was a saddening decline to witness, not the least in its tone-deaf devolution in 2013’s Game and Wario. Thankfully, WarioWare Gold is a veritable return to form, ceaseless in its off-the-wall-barrage of hysterical Japanese humor. Framed as a “Best Of” compilation, it showers us with content new and old.
Why It Didn’t Make The Cut: I confess — earlier versions of this list did feature this game, but I felt The Wonderful 101 and StreetPass Mii Plaza were more compelling “left-field” picks. (That, and I didn’t want to be too biased, as we’ll explain below.)
10. Kirby’s Return to Dream Land (HAL Laboratory, Wii, 2011)
Adorned with an with aptly localized name, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is a game unabashedly ’90s, taking cues from Sakurai’s finest hits in Kirby’s Adventure and Kirby Super Star as it blazes forth with new concepts in Super Abilities, inter-dimensional treks, and hard-as-nails time trials. For a title over seven years in the making, what better vindication could you ask to kick off a Golden Age?
Why It Didn’t Make The Cut: Appealing to my desires as the No. 1 Kirby fan, I had this and the other two Kirby games in the running, but it was their presence that illustrative how many iterative sequels dominated the list, and so began another painful process of elimination. Believe it or not, the competition was so cutthroat that Return to Dream Land was the HAL representative in the rough draft; originally, I chose it over Planet Robobot in its value of starting the Golden Age, but upon reviewing the list I knew the advances made in the 2016 title triumphed the (however humbling) familiarity here, and that’s how we ended up with the one-and-only last minute change.
11. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Monolith Studios, Switch, 2017)
Shulk may’ve been immortalized via Smash Bros., but Xenoblade Chronicles 2‘s runaway success was what truly vindicated Monolith Soft’s ambitious RPG series. With a lovable cast, awing orchestrals, and even a DLC campaign in Torna — The Golden Country, it’s an authentic evolution certain to set the standard for the series moving forward. Poppi Power!
Why It Didn’t Make The Cut: While there’s undeniable improvements over the original game — the side quests, for one, and I’d like to think the story’s character arcs are more rounded-out — its predecessor was an unforgettably confident debut that paved new ground for Nintendo, so I went with the first game.
12. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Retro Studios, Wii U/Switch, 2014)
After successfully revitalizing Donkey Kong Country for a modern age, Retro’s subsequent sequel in Tropical Freeze delved into a more original setting. Tagging Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong along for the ride, the four apes bop along rural countrysides, fruity jungles, and tribal savannahs as David Wise’s score trumpets across the wilderness. In case you skipped it on Wii U, the Switch edition adds another old friend in Funky Kong — true to deepest lore, it turns out our outdated ’90s stereotype’s the strongest Kong of all.
Why It Didn’t Make The Cut: Contrary to what I said about Planet Robobot/Return to Dream Land, I happen to think Tropical Freeze maintains more consistent highs than Returns — a common consensus among the DKC faithful. So how’d it end up losing to its Wii predecessor? Truth be told, despite all its more original ideas and David Wise music, it’s akin to Mario 3D World for me in that it always felt a little too iterative for my tastes: the dynamic camera angle was underutilized, familiar concepts in bonus rooms and animal partners remained static, and its lively art direction never wowed in terms of graphical process (I could never put my finger on it, but maybe it’s the flat Wii-esque lighting?). Even so, it was a close battle, but I already had more than enough Wii U titles, so I chose the game that brought back Donkey Kong.
And that’s a wrap! Be it nods of approval or lobbings of rotten Juicy Jungle produce, offer your opinions in the comments below; naturally, I’d love to hear whatever you believe deserve the honors of Best Nintendo Games of the Decade!