Ranking the top 101 Nintendo games: The (Other) Just Missed Games
For one reason or another, these games didn't make it into the top 101 or the first edition of Just Missed, but they still deserve a little bit of (shared) spotlight.
I’m ranking the top 101 Nintendo developed/published games of all-time, and you can read about the thought process behind game eligibility and list construction here. You can keep up with the rankings so far through this link.
As I’ve alluded to or maybe even explicitly said both in these write ups and on Twitter, I left quite a few games that I love and would go to bat for off of the top 101 Nintendo games rankings I’ve put together. Some of these were, at one point or another, on the list itself, but were either pushed off as I (re)played through even more of Nintendo’s back catalog, or were last-minute cuts during some editing of the rankings.
Since they were titles in real consideration for the top 101, I figured an intermission of sorts before we officially hit the top 10 were in order. I’ve already written up one such post, around the halfway mark, and yes, I am reusing much of that intro text for this followup.
As with the last edition in this vein, don’t consider this an extension of the rankings in a literal sense: I’m not quite sure this is really game number 102 and beyond or what have you. It’s just a bunch of games that I’m, for one reason or another, disappointed didn’t make the top 101, because I would have liked to have spotlighted them and written about them. So, now I will, in smaller capsule form.
Mischief Makers - developed by Treasure, N64, 1997
Treasure got its development start in what ended up being a partnership between them and Sega for their various early 90s systems. Gunstar Heroes, Dynamite Headdy, Alien Soldier, Light Crusader, and Guardian Heroes were all, with the exception of the last one, Genesis games, with Guardian Heroes being a Saturn title. When the Nintendo 64 arrived on the scene, though, Treasure was attracted to the idea of developing for it, and partnered up with Nintendo for a few system exclusives. Much like the power of the Genesis had helped convince a group of Konami devs to strike out on their own and create Gunstar Heroes earlier in the decade, the N64 lured Treasure away from what, to that point, had seen them exclusively developing games for Sega systems.
The first of three N64 games Treasure would develop (the others being Bangai-O and the Nintendo co-developed Sin & Punishment (number 28) — yes, the original version of Bangai-O was a Japanese-exclusive, limited release N64 game) was published by Nintendo in North America and in PAL regions, and Enix in Japan. Mischief Makers is a 2.5D platformer, and certainly lesser known than some of the more action-oriented games listed in the above paragraph, but it’s really a lovely little game, as Treasure’s platformers tend to be. It takes some getting used to the control scheme, which is why the whole first world is basically a playable tutorial, but once you know what you’re doing and what your character, Marina, is capable of, you can fully appreciate what was managed here.
Marina is a robotic maid, and her way of dealing with enemies is to grab them. She grabs them — and various objects — and then either throws them into other enemies or other objects, or shakes them until they start dropping items. The game is loaded with environmental puzzles and jumping challenges and some physics to sort out — Marina has a variety of jumps and rolls and such to tackle these along with her ability to grab, shake, and throw — and while each level is timed in order to grade your effectiveness in completing it, it’s all meant to be more exploratory than anything. Your first goal is to just complete the level by learning all about it, which you do by exploring it and finding out where its secrets are hidden. You can replay it afterward to try to do all of that much faster, if you’re looking to get top grades on all of the game’s 52 stages.
The gameplay is wonderful, it’s relaxing unless you’re purposely trying to complete levels as fast as possible, and, as Treasure games tend to do, Mischief Makers is loaded with some wonderful boss fights. Rather than shooting again and again like you normally do in Treasure games, though, you need to be a bit more thoughtful since all of your offense is grabbing-based. Some bosses will require you to grab them and shake the heck out of them, or throw them, and some will force you to grab projectiles they shoot at you, so you can throw them right back.
Each stage — including the boss ones — includes a a hidden yellow gem to collect. Sometimes they’re just well shrouded by the environment, and other times you need to figure out which enemy — or even which ally NPC — needs to be shaken to release that gem. Like with the level grades, a tracker tells you if you’ve found the yellow gem in each stage. And like caring about the grades, these are optional, but you get a longer final cutscene the more of them you collect, and you can’t complete the game 100 percent without them, if that’s more your motivation. They might not be necessary to collect, but solving the problem of where they’re hiding is lots of fun, since it requires you to fully deploy the skills you’ve learned. Whether that’s in launching yourself through a vertical platforming stage where you can fall all the way back to the beginning with one mistimed jump, or defeating a boss without taking any damage whatsoever, some of the best parts of Mischief Makers are hiding those yellow gems.
Mischief Makers received pretty mixed reviews, with much of the criticism revolving around its short length (yawn) and its “ugly” graphics. The graphics thing… that seems to be more due to an obsession of the time that everything be fully 3D post-Super Mario 64. Mischief Makers actually looks pretty good these days — better than so many of the fully 3D games of the era, even — as the power of the N64 helped the pre-rendered 3D backgrounds hold up better than that method did for some SNES games, and the pure 2D portions of the game, like protagonist Marina and the many bosses, still look great and animate well, too. The game is very much in Treasure’s art style, so sure, if you think Gunstar Heroes and Dynamite Headdy and so on are ugly, Mischief Makers won’t convince you otherwise. But if you’re into their whole thing, it’s a good-looking game all this time later, albeit one with a weird style.
So, it’s not as ugly as said, not even close, and it’s really only short if you fly through the game once and never go back to it to find hidden gems or improve your grades. And the gameplay is very different, to the point it still feels unique today for its genre. Mischief Makers is some time well spent, even now in 2021, if you can find yourself a copy secondhand.
Starship Defense - developed by Q-Games, DSiWare, 2010
Dylan Cuthbert’s Q-Games is known in part for their tower defense series, PixelJunk Monsters, but they also made a tower defense of sorts for a Nintendo system over a decade ago. Q-Games actually spent quite a bit of time making DSiWare games, not just Starship Defense — Trajectile is another, as is X-Scape, the sequel to Cuthbert’s Star Fox-inspiring Game Boy title, X, and the only game in the Art Style series not developed by Skip Ltd., Digidrive. All four were published by Nintendo, and while all four are legitimately good and made a run at these rankings, Starship Defense is maybe the best of the bunch, and the one I go back to the most often. So it gets the nod here.
Starship Defense, like PixelJunk Monsters, is a fixed map tower defense game, where you have specific slots to place your defenses. While not my preferred method of tower defense play — I yearn for the freedom of defense-building offered by Warcraft 3 TD mods, dammit — Starship Defense has enough wrinkles and challenge to make it one of my favorite examples from this version of the genre.
You go from base to base, building defenses from scratch, but there is more to it all than simply surviving the waves. The currency you use to build more and stronger defenses piles up much faster if you try to get away with building as little as possible: at the end of each wave, you get a five percent bonus of whatever your remaining funds are. Play things economically enough, and you can defeat every enemy ship and save enough to install extra weaponry to help you survive those last, much more difficult waves, as well as the area boss. Get ahead of yourself with spending early on, and you’ll suffer for it.
On top of this, each completed wave awards you a crystal, which you can use to unlock the more devastating and unique weaponry on offer. Or you can use crystals to boost how much space cash you’re pulling in, or to utilize one of the three power-up cards you’re holding on to. These cards include a bomb that wipes the screen of enemies, a mercenary pilot to help you thin the ranks, a boost in cash, a health boost, and more. Sometimes, those cards might be the difference between winning and losing a stage.
Your basic defense is a laser, which isn’t particularly powerful, but it can target cloaked ships that the more powerful missile launchers and Gatling guns cannot. You can use crystals to unlock weapons like the mines, which de-cloak ships so that all weapons can target them, or a magnetized beam that holds enemies in place so your weaponry can do more damage while opposing ships are severely slowed or stopped altogether in their tracks. There are also spaceports for little fighters that will follow enemies, and more beyond these options, too. Figuring out what works best for each enemy type, and the waves you’ll be seeing, is where much of the challenge lies. Enemies that can take a ton of abuse and can also cloak are a particularly difficult problem to solve, for instance, since the weapons that can target them are weak, singular shot defenses. You won’t be shocked by what’s to come, though, as the top screen of your DS (or 3DS) shows you what waves are left, and what order they’ll come in.
If you can complete a level without allowing a single enemy to escape, you receive a score boost and a “Perfect” on the level-select screen. You need to keep racking up perfects in order to unlock the game in full, so, you’ll learn the ropes and then go back to do an even better job later on. It’s for this reason that I find myself going back to this game every few years: just long enough for some rust to form and make it all a challenge again.
MaBoShi’s Arcade - developed by Mindware Corp, WiiWare, 2008
MaBoShi’s Arcade — known outside of North America as MaBoShi: The Three Shape Arcade — is a fascinating little WiiWare title. It’s a single-player experience, but one that can be played with two other players. What one player does in their portion of the arcade — with their shape, as it were — can influence the games of other players. When you play solo, eventually, two computer players end up filling the other two arcade slots, impacting your game just like you were playing with friends on the couch. That alone would make it stand out, given how you don’t tend to see games designed like this, but the real reason MaBoShi’s Arcade is fondly remembered by critics and this guy right here is because of the quality of the games contained within it.
Mindware Corp does not develop games very often. In fact, they stopped altogether for a significant stretch of time, as their founder, Mikito Ichikawa, had become “disillusioned” with the creative state of the game industry. Mindware resurfaced after the release of the Nintendo DS and Wii, with MaBoShi’s Arcade, and it certainly features original game design. The three games are Circle, Stick, and Square. All three are controlled by just one button, and play vastly different from each other.
In Circle, you control the direction that a ball spins and travels in within a larger circle. Enemies emanate from the center of the circle, and your goal is to crash into each one before they can escape the stage. You get bonus points for chaining together enemy clears, and there are multipliers to collect while you spin around the circle, as well. If one single enemy escapes, it’s game over. No continues, no lives, just game over. So, as enemies appear in great numbers with greater diversity of movement, the game becomes a significant challenge. Especially because there is a shape at the center of the circle, and it changes in each stage. Which means your own ball will bounce off of it differently, depending on if it’s a circle hanging from some ropes, or a stick doing the same, or a square, or whatever. Physics play a vital role in clearing stages both at all and well.
Then there is Stick, which has you controlling a “core” attached to a, well, stick. The stick swings around and around, and you hold down the A button in order to use the stick’s momentum to launch the core upward through a stage. The stick will also clear blocks impeding your progress and defeat enemies, which can be pinballed into other enemies or blocks, and you’ll get items to help you out, too, like the constantly ricocheting pinball — see a theme here? This is deceptively difficult to play, like Circle, as you can easily launch the core much too far and into an object or enemy in your path if you aren’t patient. Like with letting an enemy go free in Circle, having the core touch any object or enemy is an instant game over.
Lastly we have Square, which is the most puzzle-focused of the bunch. You use just the Wii Remote’s directional pad for this one. You control a small square, which has a trail of squares behind it. When your square touches a grouping of blocks in its path, those blocks set on fire. You need to burn all of the blocks in a given stage before the bottom of the screen catches up to you: it moves up with each movement you make. You can’t just rush to the top and touch everything in your path, though: the levels are designed so that you accidentally trap yourself in your own fire blocks, or down dead ends. You need to sniff out these potential roadblocks and time all of your movements so that no block fails to burn before the screen catches up to it, while also ensuring that you don’t trap yourself before you reach the goal. It’s tough, but extremely satisfying when you make it work.
As said, all three of these games are going at once, even if you’re just playing one of them without any friends. Cleared blocks or defeated enemies in one game can become multipliers for you in whichever game you’re playing, upping your score significantly. It’s a wonderful experience that doesn’t require the Wii at all to play, and it would be great if Nintendo would re-release this game on the Switch so people can realize just how good these simple, yet deceptively deep arcade games are.
Kirby: Planet Robobot - developed by HAL, 3DS, 2016
Planet Robobot makes great use of the Nintendo 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D tech, as the game just flat-out looks better with the slider up. Well, not the “flat” part of that phrasing: it looks great in part because of the extra depth it brings to the visuals, but it also makes the backgrounds and foregrounds pop in a way that benefits the player, since you’ll be spending time in both. Thanks to the 3D elements, you’ll more easily spot items, enemies, secret entrances, what have you in the background while you’re playing in the foreground, and they also help make boss encounters that much more intriguing, too, especially since how the platforming works can change in those instances, by opening up beyond your standard left-to-right platforming setup.
The gameplay, in general, was an excellent way to change up the basic Kirby-with-copy-powers formula, with the introduction of not just a powerful robot to ride in sometimes, but also the impact it brought to Kirby’s copy powers. They work differently in the robot than without it, so not only do the robot — or robobot, whatever — and Kirby, as well as their respective sections, play differently, but you get to discover all over again what the copy powers do in this new context. As an example, when you’re just Kirby, if you have the Bomb power, you throw bombs like usual. Riding in your robot, the bombs have legs, and can be used to solve environmental puzzles.
Each level has a number of computer cores to find, which are then used to unlock each world’s boss stage. You also open up more difficult and longer EX stages upon finding all of the core’s in a given world. There are stickers to find, which look pretty cool with the 3D slider turned up, and are also neat for the same kind of reasons, artistically speaking, as the stamps in Super Mario 3D World. It’s just some good-looking 2D art, hidden inside a 3D game, and it’s fine to admit you appreciate looking at it.
It’s an easy pick over Kirby: Triple Deluxe as the best game among the many starring the pink puffball on the 3DS, and not because I dislike the other full-scale title, Triple Deluxe. That’s a good game! Robobot is a great game, though, that just wasn’t quite great enough to knock the first Kirby in the rankings (number 99, Mass Attack) off of the top 101.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again! - developed by Nintendo Software Technology, DSiWare, 2009
You could argue that this is the best original game that Nintendo Software Technology has ever developed. The American wing of Nintendo’s development arm is responsible for games like Ridge Racer 64, Pokémon Puzzle League, and Metroid Prime Hunters, so it’s not due to a failure to make anything else of note. It’s just that this miniaturized version of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong games they’re also known for developing is that good. While plotting out the original versions of these rankings, I had assumed this would end up toward the back of the top 100, but alas, it ended up relegated to this kind of honorable mention duty instead. It turns out that Nintendo has developed and published a few other pretty good games over the years, who knew.
What makes this game stand out among the Mario vs. Donkey Kong games is that you don’t directly control the titular minis. You instead have to analyze the stage they’re in — which are designed like even more elaborate Donkey Kong ‘94 (number 60) levels — and then set them loose, considering environmental puzzles and obstacles as well as timing. You can manipulate the environment around the minis to make them turn, or climb, or fall, or what have you, but you do not control the minis themselves other than tapping them with the DS’ stylus to make them start their march. This means you need to solve puzzles before they’re even fully revealed, and account for the puzzles that only reveal themselves as the minis are in motion, too. It’s layered, enjoyable gameplay.
It’s not as long as the other Mario vs. Donkey Kong titles, but that’s fine: the core gameplay is better, and this one doesn’t overstay its welcome. There are collectibles in each level that help you unlock additional, tougher stages, and you’ll want to do that, as the gameplay and its puzzling challenge really shines in those.
You’re graded for how long it takes you to complete a stage, as well as for how many points you managed to score by collecting coins and such, so you’ll find yourself mastering stages to extend game length. Completing a stage without any of that isn’t particularly tough, as it’s more a matter of timing everything so that your minis end up at the exit close enough together that none of them are left behind, causing you to lose a life. You won’t get the full experience of the game if you’re just rushing through it avoiding the challenges, though: figure out how to collect all of the coins and the tokens that unlock bonus stages and the extra lives, and the game becomes much more difficult, but also far more satisfying to play.
Sadly, the portions of the game that let you create, upload, and share your own puzzle stages are no longer operational: you can still create your own levels, but to share them, you have to physically hand your DSi over to someone else to play them. I can’t imagine it costs very much to keep servers like this active, and yet, level-sharing and online leaderboards from past generations go from things you brag about as features to ghosts of the past in a hurry. So it goes.
The core game is still worth playing even without that construction feature, and you can still pick it up on your 3DS, since that eShop has all of the still-listed DSiWare games on it. It’s easily worth the low price, even today, since there hasn’t been a better Mario vs. Donkey Kong before or since.
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