Chosen by: Alex Chalmers
Console: Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer: Nintendo SRD
Released: September 13, 1985
I grew up in a household where video games were regarded as malignant audiovisual pollution, conspiratorially designed to drive parents insane and undermine reading/comprehension skills of every child in the western hemisphere. There was always, however, a PC in the house. As such, I became one of those snivelling, elitist hobnobs that scorned console peasantry for decades in an attempt to validate the misfortune of my parents’ attitudes toward gaming…but really, I was just in miserable because I never got to enjoy Mario for myself.
Super Mario Bros. will always stick with me as Nintendo’s greatest game because it was the first game I ever saw an entire family enjoy. Everyone in this family of seven, even the parents, joined in on finding secrets, trying to beat Bowser, voicing their disappointment in Peach’s absenteeism, and singing along to the irrepressibly joyful melodies. While I only once got a chance to play for myself, promptly died, then had to hand it over, I never forgot it. In those few, fleeting moments of wonder, I came to understand why Mario is loved by so many.
It’s the very best place to start a new or young gamer. The pace is forgiving, yet challenge is always present, its imagery is cheerful, and the music is playful without being maddening with constant repetition. Also, unlike its competitive counterpart, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros. invites you to explore, rather than rushing you with an arbitrary need for hasty movement. It lets you soak in the world, and as all wonderful toys do, it wants you to have fun and gives you the room to do it. Now that I have my own family to share things with, I know that Mario is first on the agenda. Old and wise enough to know that I am still a child on the inside, I bought my first Nintendo console last year, and my daughter is already in love with the controller, even though she has no idea what it does. I can’t wait to see what joy the pudgy plumber brings to her life.
Chosen by: Connor Weightman
Console: Super NES
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Released: January 21, 1993
I saw a meme the other day that told a partial truth. The gist of it was that your favourite Mario Kart is inevitably the one that you first played; their design differences are largely irrelevant. Such a conjecture seems fitting for a series which has long been called the socialism of games, the great field-leveller, that of which everybody gets a turn to win. They are objectively equal, subjectively partisan. Supposedly, anyway.
However, most of the first incarnations all brought something to the table; at different times of my life, I’ve loved them all. The original Super Mario Kart looks and feels quaint now, but as the original kart racer, it deserves a respectful nostalgia vote. Mario Kart 64 still retains a sense of grandeur, with its funky shortcuts and surprisingly punishing courses. I took a while to warm to the smorgasbord co-op of Double Dash, but the series has never been as tactile. And the portable social pliancy of Mario Kart DS meant that for a while in 2006 it seemed like everyone was playing everyone else in some kind of non-stop carnival.
These have all been great titles – couch gaming done right, and something for the pick-up-and-play crowd as well as those who still wanted to play Mario Kart when everyone else went home. And while the series fell away (in my opinion) with the Wii iteration (reaching a tipping point with too many rubber-band mechanics and control-wresting sections), I think the fact that it managed to be good for such a long time is something to marvel at.
Chosen by: Tim Sezer
Console: Super NES
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Released: March 19, 1994
The impact of Super Metroid on the platforming genre simply cannot be overstated; least of all, to be half of the namesake of the platforming sub-genre known affectionately as ‘Metroidvanias,’ where nonlinear adventuring was pioneered over the more traditional formats of side-scrolling action (as seen in Super Mario Bros. and Contra). Super Metroid also brought snappy and responsive shooting mechanics, elaborate yet elegant platforming, as well as a dark and brooding atmosphere seldom seen on the Super Nintendo.
Not only is it a thoroughly engrossing adventure, but it’s also one of the most beautiful and richly detailed game worlds ever created on the humble 16-bit platform, right down to the tiny details of Samus’ Power Suit having unique left and right-facing sprites, complete with splashing footsteps in the rainy outdoors areas, and electrical sparks emanating from broken, derelict machinery, hearkening back to its classic Science Fiction influences and the hugely diverse landscapes encountered. Even by modern standards, this is a beautiful game that stacks up more than adequately as both a cohesive gaming experience and as an often lauded classic in our collective modern-day retro renaissance. Furthermore, Super Metroid still remains a popular choice for speed-runners and has garnered a hardcore fanbase that continues to grow to this day, while in no way alienating casual gamers or newcomers.
Super Metroid also boosted the already iconic heroine, Samus Aran to new heights. Long before there was extensive discussion around gender roles in video games or social discourse on the meanings and representations of gender in gaming, Samus was quietly kicking Space Pirate ass and taking interplanetary names in her bounty hunting contracts for the Galactic Federation and encountering unfathomable danger and threats along the way. Though in some ways she’s Nintendo’s answer to the seminal DOOMguy (both are silent, heavily armed, gun down hordes of monsters and navigate hostile alien terrain) Samus one-ups DOOMguys’s raw brawn by tempering it with intelligence, strength, speed and problem-solving. Any self-respecting Nintendo fan owes it to themselves to give Super Metroid a spin.
Chosen by: Ellen Boylen
Console: Game Boy Color
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Released: May 13, 1994
My purple Gameboy Color was the first console I didn’t have to share with my two brothers. We were a Pokémon family, through-and-through. But between Pokémon titles, I would need something to get me through. One birthday, I got money as a present, so I could buy whatever I wanted. The freedom was exhilarating. The problem, however, was I didn’t know what I wanted. I was dragged to JB Hi-Fi and picked up a random game, which I thought was like my brother’s Super Mario Deluxe Edition. I opened it, started playing, only to realise the cover said WARIO, not MARIO. I couldn’t hide my disappointment. Dad asked if I wanted to take it back, but I was a stubborn little girl and refused to admit my mistake. After grappling with the unique intro scenes, I realised that it was a somewhat complicated game. Even harder than Super Mario. I obsessively played it for months on end. It was the first game that challenged me. Eventually, 12-year-old me finished the game.
A couple of months ago, I stumbled across my original copy of Wario Land 3 and dusted off my original GBC. I fired up the old girl and got straight into it. Something surprised me. I was bad. Really bad. I didn’t remember how difficult this game was! And complicated. I had to follow along with a Mexican YouTuber just to finish the campaign over a couple of weeks. I didn’t complete even 50% of the content. I had no idea how I did it when I was young. That, in a nutshell, is why I love Wario Land 3. It contained hours of puzzling content and took real discipline to finish. There were no guides back then, only grinding. No fancy achievements. To this day, no one I know has even heard of it, let alone played it. It was just mine, and it will forever have a special place in my heart.
Chosen by: Patrick Waring
Console: Super NES
Released: April 27, 1995
Once again, I was beaten to the punch by Nick, so instead of my favourite all-star mash-up, I’ll talk about one of the most excellent 3rd party Nintendo exclusives ever made. Way back before Square Enix was a thing, Enix was churning out absolute classics like Illusion of Time.
Set in a rough approximation of our world, Illusion of Time is a hack’n’slash RPG that used the ancient wonders of the world as dungeons. The player character, Will, is a ten-year-old psychic on a journey to find his father, who perished while searching for the fabled Tower of Babel. You hop around from ruin to ruin, fighting demons in various forms (loosely based on the legends of whatever ruin they inhabit) while searching for clues. Occasionally, you’ll enter a gap in time-space to speak with Gaia, who also bestows you with the power of a great and powerful knight. This was all achieved plot-wise through a combination of Deus Ex Machina and black magic fuckery, but I promise that it all makes a kind of sense in context.
This game is solely responsible for a lot of my misconceptions about world history as a child, but I’m glad to have been fooled if it meant playing this game. After my first playthrough, I wondered when I would find some ancient ruins to adventure into, and how did the sky-gardens above the Nazca lines stay afloat? The presented locations are a little grimdark for a SNES game, and some of the game’s events didn’t pull any punches. One of your friends literally gets eaten by a giant fish near the beginning, and that’s honestly one of the better fates met by the characters of this story. The music was also unlike anything at the time; a unique set of compositions that invoked feelings of dread, cosmic wonder, and contented peace across its score. Illusion of Time plays like a fever dream from beginning to end, and, if you’ve not had the pleasure, it’s worth finding a copy and giving it a crack.
Chosen by: Kit Fox
Console: Nintendo 64
Released: July 17, 1998
There’s a particular kind of achievement in being labelled one of the best anything of all time, and it’s with that in mind that I carefully consider my options and make an infor… ah, who am I kidding, its Banjo-Kazooie, hands down. All those people who insist Super Mario 64 is the best, you can leave right now. It earns its place on many a list (though not this one, interestingly), but the old bear and bird outdid that portly plumber in just about every way!
The “do a thing, get a thing” gameplay of the action platformer (or collectathon) genre is quite simple to replicate, yet how Rare chose to do that makes Banjo-Kazooie what it is. The worlds feel alive and react to changes. Characters are witty with risque dialogue that probably passed by many a young kid, but no doubt made their parents chuckle. The music is among the best of any video game ever, thanks to the supreme talent of Grant Kirkhope. Even the challenges are brilliant. A perfect example is alongside the standard racing, climbing or puzzle Jiggies, the devs decided it would be an excellent idea to turn Banjo and Kazooie into a pumpkin and flush ’em down a poopy, farting toilet. Then the villain tells them to wash their hands. In rhyme. Genius.
Rare didn’t just jump on the three-dimensional bandwagon as every other developer did in that decade. They took that wagon to town, fitted some slick rims, a sound system and painted on some flames! Banjo-Kazooie is still one of my favourite games of any genre, and I’ll just as happily play it again today as I did twenty years ago, cross-legged in front of a big fat CRT in my pyjamas.
Chosen by: Blade Shaw
Console: Nintendo 64
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Released: November 21, 1998
Someone had to pick it, right? Well, I’m THAT guy! Without a shadow of a doubt, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is my favourite Nintendo game. Upon reflection, though, I believe this is honestly because it was the culmination of a number of different personal and timing factors.
The first time I witnessed Ocarina of Time was when my siblings and I went to a family friend’s birthday party. Their youngest son was playing a Nintendo 64 game that I hadn’t seen before. As I sat down to watch, I remember instantly being mesmerised as he traversed the Lost Woods near the beginning of the game. I had played the prior LoZ games and enjoyed them, but there was something different about this game. Eventually, I would get my own copy and embark on my very own epic adventure as the Hero of Time.
In the spirit of full disclosure, Ocarina of Time posed as the perfect vehicle to allow a young boy like me to escape the problems I was having at home. When the world felt like it was coming down around me, I could always flick on the TV and boot up my Nintendo 64. Perfectly, the tale of Ocarina of Time is so suiting for any child who is growing up. A young boy slowly grows into a man, and faces insurmountable odds only to triumph and save the day. It felt like I literally grew up with Link as he did before my eyes, and it allowed me to feel understood and safe during a time in my life that was volatile and isolating.
Over the years, Link has taken on many different shapes and sizes in a multitude of adventures. However, I will always vividly remember riding across the plains of Hyrule Field to suffering through the difficult Water Temple; I loved every single minute I played. And when it all comes down to it, the young boy from Kokiri Forrest will always be MY hero.
Chosen by: William Kirk
Console: Game Boy Color
Developer: Game Freak
Released: October 13, 2000
To say I was obsessed with Pokémon as a kid would be putting it lightly; more accurately, my enthusiasm for the brand was more akin to that of a movie star in the 1980s looking for their next hit of cocaine. (Dark, but accurate.)
What further added to this obsession was the fact I didn’t actually own a Game Boy at the time – I won’t lie, it hurt to miss out. However, as fate would have it, on one crucial afternoon, I would stop by a friend’s house and walk in to find his older brother sitting at his PC, totally mesmerised, and playing…wait, Pokémon Red!? “HOW?!” I immediately proclaimed. Obviously, it was via emulation (which I can’t condone now), but my mind was blown, and as quickly as I learned this was a thing, I was running home with a floppy disk in hand (go ahead, it’s okay to giggle) containing my own copy of the game. I proceeded to play the hell out of it, and I loved every single second.
Why pick Pokémon Gold and Silver, then? Well, they (and their remakes) are the definitive Pokémon games, not to mention some of the best games to grace any Nintendo platform. They improve on Red/Blue in every way, basically include the original games’ content, and it was before the franchise started to get out of hand. They were incredible games then, and they still hold up today. But you want to know the real reason why? It’s because I got to play them well before the Western release. I stumbled across a ROM (while browsing my dial-up internet), and before I knew it, I was catching Pokémon that none of my friends had ever heard of, and in a game only ONE of my friend’s “uncles” had already beat. Mind you, it was all in Japanese, and the eventual fan translation would get basically every name wrong, but it didn’t matter. It was nirvana for a ’90s kid! It’s also the reason I’d go on to save up and buy a Game Boy.
Chosen by: Nick Ballantyne
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Released: May 31, 2002
No game comes close to Super Smash Bros. Melee. There are games I play that amaze me and ignite new passions in my heart, but Melee will always and forever be the only Nintendo game I truly cherish. With an all-star line-up of characters and damn near flawless mechanics, it’s no surprise that I sunk more time into the game than developing proper social skills. And you know what? It was worth every damn second.
Melee plays like a warm river of butter softly melting into Atlas’ gaping maw. Every action you make is fluid yet precisely defined, and there is an amazing amount of depth considering it is a party game. Each character is unique (even the copycat ones), sporting their own move sets and timings that you can take weeks to fully master. Despite the hardcore appeal, the game never alienated nooblets from joining in by keeping everything intuitive enough to grasp after a couple of minutes. The gameplay is enjoyable down to the finest details, but when I didn’t have anyone to play with, the game still kept me entertained.
Along with the obvious multiplayer appeal, Melee has a bunch of other game modes. You can try destroying targets on character-specific maps or taking on the 100-Man Melee to test your Spartan honour. There are also event matches, challenges that put a spin on the mechanics in various ways to show your ultimate domination of the game. And if you just want good ol’ Melee, you can always crank up the AI to 9 and git gud with Marth. The depth, the variety, the attention to detail, it all comes together to make a one of a kind experience that, even to this day, holds a special place in my heart.
Chosen by: Harry Kalogirou
Developer: Retro Studios
Released: November 17, 2002
If you’d asked me what my favourite game of all time was five years ago, I’d have given a half-hearted shrug followed by a response that could include anything from Batman: Arkham City to Dishonored. My heart couldn’t settle on a decision when it came to what I considered to be my all-time favourite games, but Metroid as a franchise and I hadn’t yet crossed paths. In 2014, my first exposure to Metroid was in the form of Metroid Prime, and this experience quickly led to me heralding Prime as my favourite game of all time – and what is, in my opinion, the best Nintendo game of all time.
There are few games I can replay every couple of months and have the experience be just as enjoyable as it was the first time, if not more. Prime never fails to emanate that timeless loop unlike any other game I’ve played – and that’s a LOT of games. There’s an endless amount of charm to Metroid Prime’s exuberant atmosphere, and as far as Nintendo games go, Metroid is its own unique sci-fi driven beast. The ever-satisfying exploration coupled with an immense sense of atmosphere that’s equally filled with dread and the lure of curiosity makes for an experience unlike any other of Nintendo’s franchises. It has an enthralling soundtrack, an art style that’s aged well over time, and its distinct environments still look beautiful.
If you dismissed Metroid as a franchise, give it a go. It’s understandably underrated next to Nintendo’s behemoths like Zelda and Mario, but you’ll never know if bounty hunting in space is your new favourite thing unless you try it.
Chosen by: Ben West
Console:: Nintendo DS
Developer: Square Enix
Released: July 27, 2007
Your first experience with The World Ends With You will certainly define your impression of it. You’ll either find the character sprites disproportionate, or uniquely stylistic. You’ll either find the combat system overcomplicated and difficult to manage between the two screens of the DS, or a challenge to your skills as a gamer. You’ll either find the soundtrack absolutely amazing, or perhaps one of the best ever. In all the above instances, I fall into the latter category and will never forget this game as a result.
And that’s just scratching the surface. Once you’ve gotten the hang of controlling a character in a real-time fight, including move cool-downs and dodging, while trying to achieve an essentially unrelated combo on the side, you can then start ramping up the difficulty to obtain specific rewards from a wide range of enemies. The amount of things to collect through this method is massive, and the room for you to test your skills to their peak is plentiful.
Don’t go pick this one up just yet, though. Instead, keep a sharp eye open in the future: Nintendo, in their infinite wisdom, are giving us a tidied-up version for the Switch in the near future, and I couldn’t be more pumped. Once it’s released, I’d recommend you pick it up immediately and prepare to lose countless time to this entertaining, addictive and zetta challenging gem of a game.
Chosen by: Bernadette Russell
Console: Nintendo DS
Released: December 10, 2009
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (999) is one of few Nintendo games which has stuck with me for years after playing it. Some time ago, when I was quite unwell, I passed the time by playing my way through a huge DS library, and it was then that someone suggested I check out 999. It had already been out for a few years when I finally got it, and even now I can’t believe more people aren’t obsessed with the series.
999 and the following titles that complete the Zero Escape series are hard to explain, and probably not for everyone. The very first scene sets up a cross between a drama, horror, sci-fi, and something that makes the little hairs on the back of your neck stick up. It’s a gruesome game with almost certain fatal consequences which has 9 people trapped together, with 9 hours to solve 9 possible pathways. Every time you think you know what’s happening, you’ll have your decisions thrown in your face in the most brutal of ways, and often, thanks to the crazy time travel mechanics, you get chances to relive the horror.
Finishing the game is just one thing, and understanding it is not guaranteed. Each game can take between 60-100 hours if you want to find all the story pieces and end things the right way, but it’s gripping and satisfying the entire time. 999 will mess with your head, have you second-guessing everything, and bidding insane prices on eBay looking for the next game in the series. You will also probably never wear a digital watch again, ever. Definitely check it out.
Chosen by: Lliam Ahearn
Console: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Released: October 27, 2017
Super Mario Odyssey is a culmination of Nintendo’s most iconic series. Odyssey embraces and builds upon the mechanics and styles of each of Mario’s 3D (and many of his 2D) adventures, offering a tasting plate of everything the series has ever done with only the finest samples. This is a pure, traditional Super Mario 3D platformer, despite all the new stuff it’s coated in. This is a game about visiting an exciting new place and running and jumping all over it. Exploring is so rewarding not just because of the immaculate placement of Power Moons and coins, but because utilising Mario’s simple yet deeply robust move-set to overcome an obstacle is empowering, satisfying and so much fun.
The new stuff isn’t to be overlooked, though. Odyssey introduces a brand new central mechanic in Cappy’s ‘capture’ ability, that fundamentally changes the familiar, elevating the most tired of Mario scenarios into new and creative challenges. The extensive opportunities for completely new gameplay instances are taken full advantage of, too. Capturing a new critter means playing as a brand-new character with their own properties and abilities, and there are dozens of these completely unique creatures and objects to capture. So many of these captures are interesting and fun enough to star in games of their own, yet they exist as a smorgasbord of good times within an already broad adventure.
Without the capture mechanic, Super Mario Odyssey would still be an excellent and comprehensive exploratory platformer that represents the greatest parts of its monumental lineage. Put Cappy on top, and the result is extraordinary. It’s so classic and comfy, but through elaborate craft, not through reliance on nostalgia (though it knows how to tickle that itch when the time’s right). But it’s brand new too, and it feels it from beginning to end.