Let's explain ranking the top-101 Nintendo games ever

Here's how a comprehensive ranking of Nintendo's history is going to work.

Nintendo has released a game or two in its time. Maybe you weren’t aware of this, but they, as the creators of many a home video game console over nearly 40 years, have developed and published hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of video games. Some are better than others. Some are worse than others! This project aims to look at the ones that are the… most better than others? There has got to be a more effective way to word that, but I’ve got 101 games to cover, there’s no time!

I’m going to spend the next however many weeks, months, however long it takes unveiling a ranking of the best 101 games that Nintendo has ever developed and/or published in their lengthy history of video game creation. Each game will get its moment in a full write-up, and you won’t be seeing the entirety of the list, top to bottom, until all of those write-ups are published.

Putting together this list took a significant amount of time, but it also served to give me something fun to focus on in between [gestures at everything]. I played and replayed far more Nintendo games than just the 101 you’ll see here, taking notes on the lot of them, figuring out what made them work or not work for me in this, seven years after the year of Luigi. I had to develop a few rules for how this would all work, what exactly was eligible, how the list was constructed, and I’d like to walk you through all of that now.

“What qualifies as a Nintendo game?” was an easy question to answer in most cases, to the point I won’t even get into the obviousness here, and more difficult in others. Let’s look at the Dragon Quest series for an example. Dragon Quest IX was released as a brand new title for the Nintendo DS as a system exclusive, published by Nintendo in every region it was released in besides Japan. That is a Nintendo game, eligible for inclusion on this list. A remake of Dragon Quest V also released exclusively for the DS, but this title was published by Square Enix, and the original version, though initially exclusive to the Super Famicon (Japan’s version of the SNES), was published by Enix, not Nintendo. Exclusivity does not a Nintendo game make.

Exclusivity not being enough is also why some Rareware titles and not others were eligible for this list. Perfect Dark might be one of my favorite games ever, but it was both developed and published by Rareware, not Nintendo, and then the rights to it sold off with the rest of Rare’s intellectual property to Microsoft nearly 20 years ago. So, yes, Donkey Kong Country games and other classic Rareware titles published by Nintendo are eligible for the list, but Perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and plenty of others never received consideration because they lacked eligibility.

Then there is something like the Professor Layton series, which got its exclusive start on the Nintendo DS, but has since been ported to essentially every handheld device with an Apple or Android OS you can think of, and not because Nintendo put them there. Layton’s games are great, but ultimately, they were removed from consideration for this reason.

Other decisions were more like judgment calls. Take Ogre Battle 64. In North America, Atlus published this triumph of tactics gaming. When the game was initially released in Japan, though, it was Nintendo that published the Quest-developed title. I’m comfortable giving that status as a Nintendo game.

Other judgment calls came in the form of games that never received an official North American release. Some were published by Nintendo in Europe and Australia: since Nintendo was responsible for the English localization of those games, and that’s the form an English-speaking North American audience could play it in if they [redacted], Nintendo is responsible for the version they played. Nintendo game! Others were localized into English by fans, and are significant enough releases within those communities that they merited not just eligibility, but in some cases, inclusion, too.

That’s enough about eligibility. Now, let’s talk about determining what should even be considered. For one, I kept historical importance out of the discussion. Yes, Super Mario 64 was a truly landmark title that changed the industry and helped usher in an era of polygons. Yes, Super Mario Bros. helped revive video games as an industry at a time when confidence in it as more than a fad that had already passed was nearly nonexistent. There have been better games released since, I promise you this. This will not be one of those bait-and-switch lists where the author feels compelled to put a nostalgia-laden title of historical importance at the top as a way to avoid picking an actual best game.

On the other side of that, though, don’t expect the list to just be full of brand new entries in every series, either. This is a retro gaming newsletter, after all. I like old games, too.

There were some attempts made at ensuring there would be space for a diversity of titles and franchises as well. So, in some cases, you might simply see a ranking of an entire series where it made more sense to do things that way. Think of some puzzle series that only get tiny little changes from platform to platform, but whose core concept and playability still rule hard enough to bother getting those kinds of iterative releases in the first place. Or [deep breath] Super Smash Bros., which has a whole bunch of great games to its name, but honestly, I’m not going to write like, four separate lengthy entries about games with different rosters and some gameplay tweaks when it will also cost me the chance to talk about some games people know much less about. Smash Bros? That’s a series rank. Put down the pitchforks, please: getting ranked as a series also means a boost to the ranking.

For some franchises, rather than getting a series rank, I tried to pick the game that was the most successful representative of the whole. If there was a unique entry in the same franchise that deviated from that model (think earlier Mario Karts vs. more modern ones), it received consideration as well.

And that’s about that, other than a warning that none of this has been approached from the “bang for you buck” mentality that reviews tend to have in the moment. We’re looking back through history to gauge quality: how much a game costs you per hour isn’t part of that discussion in the way it might be with a review for a 2020 AAA release. Mostly this is a way for me to prepare you to learn that I have absolutely ranked puzzle titles and games that take a few hours to complete ahead of some 100-hour behemoths. Depth has more value to it than just length.

So, now you know how I put this together. Next week, let’s get to writing up those games.

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