The unexpected passing of Nintendo president Satoru Iwata last weekend got us thinking about how big a role the videogame company has played in the lives of so many of us here at High-Def Digest. With that in mind, we dedicate this week’s Roundtable to highlighting some of our favorite Nintendo games of all time.
For the purposes of this topic, we’d like to primarily focus on games developed or released by the Nintendo label itself, rather than third-party games that may have been released for Nintendo consoles.
Trying to pick out a single significant Nintendo-developed game per platform is overly challenging for someone who marveled at the movie ‘The Wizard’ as a kid. For the sake of discussion, I’ll focus on ‘Kirby’s Dream Land 2‘. Kirby, of course, is a second (or even third) tier Nintendo star, but in ‘Dream Land 2’ that familiar yet fanciful Nintendo world and gameplay really coalesced. A Game Boy gem, Kirby’s abilities and rideable pet friends made for a 2D Nintendo classic. The game is even notable for its Super Game Boy extension, where color was added into Dream Land in a “just right” manner. Though the list of Nintendo crossovers is long and distinguished (think ‘Super Mario Kart’), I believe ‘Kirby’s Dream Land 2’ really paved the way for the ‘Super Smash Bros.’ concept.
While the Nintendo Entertainment System (a.k.a. “NES”) may have been many of my colleagues’ very first home videogame consoles, it was actually one of my last – at least as far as my childhood gaming was concerned. Released in the mid-1980s, I have many fond memories of playing, renting and swapping games with my high school pals as well as hosting or going to a friend who was hosting a Saturday night game tournament, where we’d stay up until the early morning hours playing all sorts of different titles.
Here are three of my fondest:
1. ‘Super Mario Bros.‘ – For my money, this is still the best entry in the Mario catalog. Jumping for coins, smashing bricks, getting sucked into tubes… it didn’t get any better than this. I was neither talented enough nor patient enough to ever rescue the princess, but I probably logged more hours into this one game than the combined time spent on any of the other games I owned. There’s a reason it’s considered a classic.
2. ‘Tetris‘ – Playing the Russian-created game ‘Tetris’ during the heart of the Cold War had me and my friends all convinced that it was an attempt by the Soviets to brainwash the American public. I mean, just listen to that damn music. It had to be feeding us subliminal messages about the evils of Capitalism. Any day now, I expect Putin to issue “Order 66” and activate all the sleeper agents the Russkies created in the USA during the late 1980s. You have been warned.
3. ‘Ice Hockey‘ – I wasn’t a big hockey fan in the late 1980s, but I sure did like this game, which made up for in fun what it lacked in realism. My favorite bit was how you could induce a fight between players, which wouldn’t involve two guys, but the entire team swarming into an all-out melee. Sadly, I wasn’t very good at the actual game and consistently lost to my friends, but I had a blast playing it.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
‘SUPER MARIO BROS.‘ (NES)
My father was a gamer well before I was, and he had a wood-paneled Intellivision in our living room to prove it. When we got an NES as a family Christmas present in 1988, my father was the undisputed master among us of ‘Super Mario Bros.’. It’s not that he was amazing, exactly, but he could get to the second world while the rest of us were fumbling around the first batch of levels. One of my neighbors showed me the trick in level 1-2 where you could burst through the ceiling and make a mad dash towards a warp zone, and when I showed that off to my dad, that’s the moment when gaming transformed into a full-blown obsession for me.
I’ve started goofing around again with developing my own little games as a hobby, and one of the first projects I thought about was recreating the first level of ‘Super Mario Bros.’, just as something familiar to get my feet wet. There’s a lot going on! Changing sizes, throwing fireballs, kicking the shells of flattened turtles, the piranha plants bobbing up and down out of those tubes… It was a much taller order than I initially gave it credit for, and Nintendo’s developers accomplished it with a microscopic amount of processing power and RAM.
‘Super Mario Bros.’ wasn’t just another game; it was a seismic shift, an epochal moment after which gaming would never be the same. I doubt I’ve played any other game from start to finish more than this, and as much as I’ve loved the many, many Mario titles that have followed since, none of them will ever hold a place in my heart the way this one does.
‘MARIO KART: DOUBLE DASH!!‘ (GAMECUBE)
For the longest time, the NES was the only piece of Nintendo hardware I’d owned. I ultimately picked up an Atari Lynx instead of the Game Boy I’d been lusting after, I opted for a Sega Genesis over a Super Nintendo, and I sat out the Nintendo 64 / PlayStation / Saturn / Dreamcast era altogether. I tried to get a GameCube shortly after it launched, blissfully unaware that you couldn’t just walk into a store and buy one. I forgot about it and later bought an Xbox instead.
In the same way that one, single game pushed me over into buying an Xbox (‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’!), it was ‘Double Dash’ that compelled me to once again dive into Nintendo’s waters. Some friends of mine threw a party before their band’s final show, and ‘Double Dash’ wound up being one of the centerpieces. It was love at first sight, and I bought a shiny new GameCube the next day just to get another fix.
I know that ‘Double Dash’ isn’t exactly a fan favorite, but it’s still the ‘Mario Kart’ game I go back to the most, keeping my GameCube hooked up for no reason other than to play it. Its circuits and power-ups remain my favorite of the series, and being able to buddy-up with another character on one kart is a brilliant mechanic that I’d love to see revived some day.
‘ANIMAL CROSSING: NEW LEAF‘ (3DS)
‘Destiny’ would eventually unseat it, but for a while there I sunk more time into ‘Animal Crossing: New Leaf’ than any other game I’d played since at least the NES era (and possibly ever). I think the counter was north of 120 hours for a game with no distinct levels, no enemies, no weapons, and not even a health bar.
Even though a lot of what I did in New Leaf felt like chores – removing weeds, throwing away trash, collecting sea shells, doing favors for neighbors – I couldn’t put it down. I was the mayor of Cowtown (which I unsurprisingly named after a They Might Be Giants song), and I felt a real responsibility to my sleepy little hamlet. I had such an emotional attachment to the critters that called Cowtown home that when one of them would move away, I’d genuinely feel a twinge of sadness. I took a lot of pride in having paid off my virtual mortgage, something I haven’t accomplished in real life (nor have I vigintupled my home’s size or covered every square inch of its exterior in gold). I’d take the thrill of catching an elusive horned hercules beetle over pretty much anything in any game, ever.
‘SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2‘ (WII)
I don’t have a long, rambling story to weave about ‘Super Mario Galaxy 2’. Because I sat out the Nintendo 64 generation, disliked ‘Super Mario Sunshine’ enough to have given it away (which I regret), and somehow missed out on the original ‘Super Mario Galaxy’, this was my first real 3D Mario game. I can’t fathom why the ‘Galaxy’ series pales in popularity next to the ‘New Super Mario Bros.’ series. This is far and away the greatest 3D platformer I’ve ever played, boasting some gonzo and challenging level design as well as a slew of extremely inspired power-ups. And Spring Mario, but I won’t hold that against the game.
I didn’t get anywhere near as much use out of my Wii as I should’ve, but it’s hard to regret buying a console that has to its name releases the caliber of ‘Super Mario Galaxy 2’.
‘SPLATOON‘ (WII U)
Six words I never thought I’d say: Nintendo reinvented the third-person shooter. As bleak as its post-apocalyptic storyline sounds on paper (scrolls, actually), the gameplay for ‘Splatoon’ is bright, colorful and infectiously fun. “Color” is the name of the game, actually; there are all sorts of different modes, but it generally comes down to covering as much of an arena in your team’s color of ink. See, you’re an Inkling – half kid, half squid – and you can transform between your two different forms while traversing these arenas. As a squid, you can move faster through your own ink as well as climb walls, but you’re more vulnerable. Kids can fire back but aren’t nearly as mobile.
Although ‘Splatoon’ is oriented around online battles, the single player mode is a blast, often emphasizing traversal over squirting ink. There’s a pretty healthy variety of weapons and gear, and Nintendo has done a phenomenal job drip-feeding content since launch (for free!) to continually give players something new to discover. The Wii U has unexpectedly wound up being my favorite console this generation, and ‘Splatoon’ is one of its most brightly shining stars as well as Nintendo’s best new IP in ages.
M. Enois Duarte
The Nintendo games from the 1980s are the only ones I remember playing, either in the arcades or the first generation console at home. Like probably most gamers, my top two favorite games were ‘Donkey Kong‘ and ‘Mario Bros.‘. On the NES, my mom couldn’t pull me away from them. Years later, I was addicted to ‘Hogan’s Alley’, ‘Duck Hunt’, ‘Metroid’ and, of course, that always awesome ‘Tetris’, which I now have on my phone.
Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)
I have to bend the rules a little here as my favorite Nintendo games come from before the age of consoles. Born in 1967, I just missed the Nintendo craze for home consoles, but I’m quite familiar with the arcade classics. Back in the late ’70s/early ’80s, I spent way too much time at the Electric Dream Factory in Manchester, NH. I was there when games like ‘Donkey Kong‘ were born. It was a tough to get far in the game, but with practice, I could usually squeeze 20-30 minutes out of a quarter. By the way, any lovers of classic video games should definitely check out ‘The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters’. It’s a modern documentary about the near cult status of classic arcade game masters and fans, and what happens when an unknown new guy comes in to challenge the establishment with what may be a new world record at ‘Donkey Kong’. Fascinating stuff.
Now that my kids have a Wii U, my son is mad about ‘Super Smash Bros.‘, and the first time he got the Hammer, its sonic signature took me right back to my youth. I love how Nintendo keeps those classic videogame tropes, characters and sounds alive even in the modern games.
Incidentally, if any readers are in the New York City area, there’s a place called BarCade in Chelsea which has a boatload of classic arcade games (and a BAR, of course). It has ‘Donkey Kong’, ‘Dig Dug’, ‘Pac-Man’, ‘Galaga’, ‘Space Invaders’ and loads more. The machines are in excellent condition and still only cost a quarter. There’s a decent bar menu too, so it makes for a nice lunch time break or happy hour.
The NES is the only videogame console I ever loved or ever will. I still have the very unit I got for Christmas when I was in middle school, and it still works as far as I know. (I haven’t tried it in a while.) To be honest, most of my favorite games were published by Capcom or Konami (‘Mega Man’, ‘Castlevania’, ‘Contra’). However, I certainly spent countless hours playing Nintendo-developed titles including ‘The Legend of Zelda‘, ‘Metroid‘ and the various ‘Super Mario’ offerings. In fact, ‘Super Mario Bros. 3‘ may well be the pinnacle game for that console, and I say that not just because it was the featured title in ‘The Wizard’. That game actually lived up to its hype.
What are your favorite Nintendo games? Tell us about them in the Comments.