Ranking the top 101 Nintendo games: The Just Missed Games
For one reason or another, these games didn't make it into the top 101, 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 for the list was in order. We’re not quite halfway through the project as of publication time, but hey, if anyone looks back at the rankings later on, it’s not going to much matter when the honorable mentions equivalent post published, now will it?
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, just not at the same length as the games that did make it in.
Pokémon Shuffle - developed by Genius Sorority, 3DS, 2015
The best of the Pokémon spinoff titles to not make the list, Shuffle is a tile-matching puzzle game in the vein of Puzzle Quest, with quite a few twists, and, as expected from the series it spun out of, complexity and depth you might not notice at first but will need to master to truly make it through.
Pokémon Shuffle features you catching Pokémon to use as puzzle pieces, which you’ll deploy in teams to defeat and catch other Pokémon you meet along the way. The Pokémon you select for your party will make up the pieces within the board, with one Pokémon being given priority as the one that will be able to fill a meter for mega evolution, the proper use of which can be the difference between completing or failing a stage.
You will want to organize your team with type match-ups in mind, just like you would in a proper Pokémon title. It’s vital that you build the best possible team for a given encounter, as you have a limited number of moves within which you can complete a stage. You can go back and replay past levels to achieve higher grades on them — the game uses your typical C, B, A, S system — and also to help you gain experience points to level up your Pokémon and make future encounters easier slash winnable.
It’s a highly addicting game, and while free-to-play, I’ve caught myself spending money on it on more than one occasion. That’s where the little bit of downside is: not so much in the fact you can pay for more opportunities to play the game, but that its a puzzle game I wish had just cost $40 upfront as a physical release so none of the freemium model stuff kept me from playing as much in one sitting as I would actually like to. It’s not on the gacha level of randomized items or anything like that, as you pay for jewels, the in-game currency that can be traded in for, well, other in-game currencies. (Nintendo has some weird, sometimes outright hostile business practices, but they seem to be much more on the level when it comes to free-to-play and mobile experiences than some publishers we could mention.) But still, just let me Shuffle for more than 10 minutes at a time without having to have cleared some kind of bonus benchmark or having spent real money. I want to play your game, Genius Sorority!
Art Style: Orbient - developed by Skip Ltd., WiiWare, 2008
Orbient is a seemingly simple game, simultaneously relaxing yet full of tension, beautiful and haunting. It’s part of the Art Style series of games, which were developed by Skip Ltd. for Nintendo’s early forays into digital storefronts: the Wii’s WiiWare service and the DSi’s — wait for it — DSiWare. It’s also the best of the five Art Style games that arrived on the Wii (but not the best of the series overall, as that one made it much higher up on the list).
Orbient is actually something of a second attempt at this game, as, prior to the Art Style games, Skip developed games under the “bit Generations” banner, of which Orbient’s predecessor, Orbital, was one of them. These games never saw a release outside of Japan, however, and were late-life Game Boy Advance titles in the first place, so Orbient, for all non-Japanese intents and purposes and even some Japanese ones, was a brand new experience.
In Orbient, you are playing as a very small star, with the aim being to grow into a large star. You’ll do this by colliding with other stars of similar size, absorbing them into your own. You aim yourself at these other stars by utilizing gravity (the A button) and anti-gravity (the B button), and in your way are much larger stars which you would take damage from were you to collide with them in your present state, as well as black holes, asteroids, and more.
Your star will be sucked into the orbit of larger stars, and you’ll use that to avoid obstacles or slingshot yourself across space toward stars you can absorb. Each stage has a crescent moon that appears once you’ve grown your star large enough to complete said stage, and you’ll want to take the risk of collecting that, too: you don’t want to collide with it, though, but get it to orbit your star as a satellite. You’ll also want to do this with the stars that your own outgrows, rather than colliding with them. Your own star has its own gravity that the objects smaller than you will react to, much like your star reacts to the gravity of the larger objects around it, and using that to collect your own satellites is how you earn additional lives and unlock all of the possible galaxies.
Orbient has a wonderful atmosphere, with the sounds and music and simple premise all coalescing into a relaxing, enjoyable experience. Sadly, it’s just not available anymore if you didn’t buy it through the WiiWare service when that was still active. Nintendo should make it available for download some other way, though, especially since it just uses the A and B buttons, not even the Wii remote’s IR or motion capabilities. In the meantime, well, there’s always the option of [redacted].
Baten Kaitos Origins - developed by Monolith Soft, GCN, 2006
Baten Kaitos Origins is the prequel to Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, also released on the GameCube. Unlike that game, which was published by Namco, Origins is a Nintendo-published property, and the development partnership here helped set the stage for Monolith Soft becoming a Nintendo subsidiary, which in turn led to the three stellar Xenoblade titles that overshadow everything else Monolith has produced in their decades-spanning existence. And I say that as someone who really enjoys Monolith’s pre-Nintendo work, which was often as flawed as it was ambitious. (You should read this history of Monolith Soft sometime, to understand how what would eventually become that company wasn’t appreciated by Squaresoft, then wasn’t given enough guidance from Namco, but found their eventual creative and financial partner in Nintendo, and that relationship allowed them to become what their initial work with Square, Xenogears, made them out to be: one of the best Japanese RPG devs out there.)
The voice acting isn’t quite what Monolith manages to put out with their Xenoblade games — possibly because tri-Crescendo, co-developer on both Baten Kaitos games, handled sound duties — but the ambitious battle system and stories you know the company for already existed in Origins. In fact, Origins’ battle system was a bit streamlined from its predecessor’s. You see, Baten Kaitos is a deck-building, turn-based RPG. In the first game, each character in your party had their own deck and character-specific cards, and it could be A Lot to keep everyone updated and set for battle. In Origins, though, the party shares one deck, and you can instead make specific decks for specific scenarios that can be switched between depending on the situation. I actually prefer the more complicated setup of Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, but thanks to streamlining and improvements elsewhere, the games are about the same in quality, anyway.
In battles, the game looks good enough for a late-life GameCube title, but it’s while traveling around on foot that the art really shines. The Baten Kaitos games used a mix of pre-rendered backgrounds and 3D art to tremendous effect, giving the locations you traveled to a sense of detail and beauty that, even when viewed today through the GameCube’s pre-HD Progressive Mode (component cable-enabled), is capable of wowing you. That, plus a stellar soundtrack by Motoi Sakuraba that perfectly fits this oddball of a world devised by Monolith, brings this world where somehow you fight with swords and guns that are powered by cards to life.
Origins released on the GameCube in North America the same year that the Wii did, and never received a release in territories besides that and Japan. While Nintendo doesn’t own the rights to the first Baten Kaitos game, surely something can be worked out with Namco Bandai to get re-releases of these two games out there, bringing this art to an HD era. And, uh, maybe redoing the extremely of its time voice acting, too. Like with Orbient, there is always [redacted] in the interim.
Kirby: Canvas Curse - developed by HAL, DS, 2005
There was a somewhat short era in Kirby games where HAL seemed to tire of the little pink puffball moving around in the way we were used to: with his legs. Floating, too, that was just right out. First, on the Game Boy Color, we got Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble, the cartridge of which came with an accelerometer, because you weren’t going to need buttons in order to move Kirby. No, you tilted your Game Boy Color so that Kirby would tumble throughout stages instead of walking, and you flicked the handheld console in your hands to get Kirby to jump. It’s a weird game, but in a good way.
HAL would take the motion controls out of it on the Nintendo DS’ first Kirby title, but stuck with the idea that Kirby wasn’t going to move on his own. This time, Kirby was cursed to be just a ball: no arms, no legs. The good news is that now the player had a stylus in their hand, and could draw paths for Kirby to follow. These paths can be used to cross gaps, to get Kirby to hard-to-reach items, as defensive walls, and by pressing Kirby with the stylus, you can get him to do a little dash, too.
It’s really a lovely little Kirby title, and I debated between this and Kirby Mass Attack at the back end of the top 101 for quite a while. Mass Attack won out in the end, but don’t sleep on Canvas Curse.
A Kappa’s Trail - developed by Brownie Brown, DSiWare, 2010
Nintendo subsidiary Brownie Brown has been around for two decades now — they’re currently known as 1-Up Studio — and have spent about half of their existence assisting on titles primarily developed by other studios. Did you know: 1-Up Studio has credits on Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker? On Ring Fit Adventure? On Animal Crossing: New Horizons? How about on Super Mario Odyssey? Before they were in this role as a studio that helped out on some of Nintendo’s most significant releases, they developed their own games for Nintendo’s handheld systems. And before that, as with so many other developers (hello again to Monolith), they were mostly disgruntled Squaresoft employees who wanted to work somewhere else.
While their work making their own games for Nintendo systems tended to leave them in the RPG space that their Square pedigree prepared them for — Brownie Brown is responsible for Magical Vacation, Magical Starsign, the Mana-series games Square Enix made for Nintendo after the two made up following their 90s falling out, and, of course, the crown jewel of their solo time, Mother 3 — the game you’re reading about right now is a platformer. And despite its status as a little known, digital-only release on the underrated DSiWare storefront, likely contributed in part to their shift to assisting on major platformers for Nintendo.
A Kappa’s Trail is a deceptively difficult and involved platformer, where you use the stylus to draw a path for a Kappa to reach the exit of the stage. A simple enough premise, but the path is full of enemies that you cannot directly attack, you have limited health, the floor is constantly falling away or the lights are turning off or boulders are falling from the ceiling or the floor is vanishing in some kind of fall-to-your-death memory game, and also, a giant demon hand falls from the sky and perfectly follows the path you drew for your Kappa, and if it reaches him, you fail and have to start the stage over.
So! You are attempting to draw a path to safety and continue to update that path to navigate around enemies, around obstacles, and to make sure you don’t accidentally double back into the hand chasing you. You need to collect coins so you can purchase health items, upgrades, and so on, but attempting to collect coins also makes the stages significantly more difficult. However, without the upgrades coins can buy you, the stages become significantly more difficult! This game is as tough as it is cute, and let me tell you: it is cute.
Unlike the WiiWare shop, DSiWare is still active through the 3DS’ eShop. If you have $5 and love a tough platformer, I cannot recommend A Kappa’s Trail enough. I didn’t even get into the fact it comes with bonus platforming games that are plenty tough and rewarding in their own right, but the main game is lovely on its own.
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