Super Mario World – Nintendo’s best game? (Picture: Nintendo)
Readers try to decide what their favourite Nintendo video game is, from the early days of Super Metroid right up to Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom.
The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Onibee, who was inspired by this week’s release of Super Mario Bros. Wonder and the (assumed to be) imminent announcement of the Switch 2.
Given the wide range of options there was no real agreement, although Super Mario World, Zelda: A Link To The Past, and the two most recent Zelda games got the most mentions.
Pros and Cons
My favourite Nintendo game is Super Mario World on the SNES. It’s a great game, very easy to start off with and brilliant level design/gameplay. The same can be said about the majority of Mario games but the reason I remember this game the most is playing with friends to complete the game.
Nintendo is one of my top three games developers but my favourite developer now is Firaxis, especially the XCOM series.
I would recommend a book called Game Over for those interested in the history of Nintendo. It goes over their strengths and weaknesses in great detail.
Strengths include a focus on gameplay, technological innovation and quality, but their weaknesses include few high quality games being released each year, arrogance, and antagonising key people/companies in the industry.
I suspect at the time this Hot Topic goes to press my current favourite Nintendo game will be Super Mario Bros. Wonder but that is the joy of Nintendo for me. They rarely disappoint me with their first party games, to the point where I am usually happy to pre-order a game that interests me just on the basis of it being a Nintendo game.
My first Nintendo console was SNES so Super Mario World (probably the only game I know like the back of my hand whenever I play it), Zelda: A Link To The Past, F-Zero, and Pilotwings will always be special to me as they just felt amazing at the time. I didn’t play Earthbound until many years later and it is another cast iron classic.
N64 era I was at university and wasted lots of time playing multiplayer Mario Kart 64 and GoldenEye 007 in a shared house, good days.
Each new instalment in Zelda/Mario/Mario Kart since has always impressed me but I’m rambling.
If I had to pick an all-time favourite I would probably go with Super Mario World, I was playing it the other day and despite having completed it hundreds of times it never gets old for me.
I have a lot of favourites among Nintendo games: Super Mario Bros. 3, Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Yoshi’s Island, Zelda: A Link Between Worlds… but if I really had to pick a single game that stands out even amongst those it would be Super Metroid.
From the beginning, the Metroid genre, of a world slowly opening up to you with each new ability is one I love. I enjoy trying to remember half-forgotten dead ends from hours of previous play that the new ability could make a difference to. And Super Metroid is a master of these unfolding worlds.
I do also love most of the later games in the franchise – especially Fusion and Dread, which make the controls even better – but I do find the later entries somewhat too hand-holdy, which cause me to miss the isolation of Super (they do still have their own unique advantages like the SA-X chase in Fusion and the EMMIs in Dread). The visual identity of Super is also first-rate with beautifully varied areas, and it has what is to me the best soundtrack in the series, and one of my all-time favourite video game soundtracks.
Nintendo is one of my favourite developers, but their key strength is also their key weakness to me, in that they’re always trying to do new things. While it is no doubt one of the key things that has kept them at the forefront of game development for decades, it does also mean that some franchises which they don’t have a new idea for, like F-Zero or 1080° Snowboarding, can suffer extremely extended periods of time between games.
And that they cast aside advantages in a console with every new gen (though hopefully they’ve learnt this time for evolution rather than revolution for the Switch successor).
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Battle of the Zeldas
Ooh, now this is interesting! Well, for me. As this is practically a ‘What’s the best Zelda debate?’ Breath Of The Wild versus Tears Of The Kingdom or Ocarina Of Time versus the both of them? As good as Breath Of The Wild is it felt heavy going towards the start, the Divine Beasts were too brief and only two of the bosses in the base game were enjoyable: Master Kohga and Calamity Ganon himself. And even then, only if you came prepared.
Ocarina had two major advantages over the 2017 title: better bosses and better level design. The Deku Tree, Dodongo Caverns, Forest Temple, Fire Temple, Under The Well, Shadow Temple, Gerudo Hideout, Spirit Temple – all incredible. And the Spirit and Forest Temples remain as two of the greatest levels of all time.
So, what about Tears Of The Kingdom? It isn’t better than Ocarina. But, and yes I’m well aware that it’s a cop-out, it is its equal. While still not really up there with the series’ best (there are levels and boss fights in Twilight Princess that are superior), they are much better. Somehow, maybe it’s thanks to the new systems, it’s more accessible – especially from the off. Bullet time (or should that be arrow time?) combined with homing arrows make you an extremely formidable threat – against anything! Never mind all the weirder stuff you can do!
One small gripe I would have with Tears is the horses. Once again, they’re fine, just superfluous. As they’re treated like a disposable commodity, you never have that bond like you did with Epona – in any of the games she’s featured in. And as you can build vehicles that can fly why would you ever settle for a horse? Not a big deal but seeing as it was an issue the last time around, I thought Nintendo would have done something more meaningful here. Oh well.
Passing the torch
For a long time, my favourite Nintendo game was Super Mario Bros. 3, which is arguably still the best 2D platformer ever made (It’ll be interesting to see if Wonder betters it).
I didn’t own an N64 until very late, so games like Zelda: Ocarina Of Time and Super Mario 64, whilst still very good, never quite grabbed me in the way they have for others. As a result, it wasn’t until Metroid Prime on GameCube that Super Mario Bros. 3 was surpassed.
Aside from the Super Mario Galaxy games, the Wii and Wii U were a bit disappointing, so Metroid Prime kept its crown until Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, which breathed fresh new life into the open world genre. It was hard to see how it could be bettered, but Tears Of The Kingdom did just that thanks to the amazing new abilities, and so it is currently my favourite Nintendo game of all time.
Asking what is my favourite Nintendo game is pretty much the same as asking what my favourite game is, with the first Portal game being the only other contender for that title.
After some consideration I am pretty much left with three contenders:
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, which is my all-time favourite role-playing game
Super Mario Galaxy 2, which is my favourite platformer
The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom, which is my favourite action adventure game
Those also represent three of my four favourite genres. (The fourth genre is strategy, which Nintendo also fair well in with Advance Wars 2, but no game in that genre really is favourite game material as I generally see them more as challenges to overcome as opposed to experiences to enjoy.)
Now how on earth do I chose between those three Nintendo titles I listed? Going by the rudimentary metric of how much I enjoyed any given moment it has to be Super Mario Galaxy 2, as it is pure joy for nearly its entire run time, whereas the other two have lengthier periods of downtime. That might not be the best way to differentiate them, but the question was favourite game not best.
The Mario games are a considerable margin ahead of all other contenders in the 3D platforming genre, to the point where other developers have broadly given up trying to compete. Super Mario 64 redefined the genre, the two Galaxy games are both excellent and Super Mario Odyssey is also a masterclass. Even the Bowser’s Fury expansion is exceptional. The Legend Of Zelda might be the series that has earned the most 10s but unlike Mario it has not been so good it scared off the competition.
Mario has had some decent competition in the 2D space though, with Rayman Legends and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze both edging out Super Mario World for me, but one of those was also made by a Nintendo subsidiary and by the time of this Hot Topic Super Mario Bros. Wonder will be out and potentially reclaiming the top 2D spot.
PS: I should probably confess how much I love Sonic 2 as well, due to nostalgia, but even as a hardened Mega Drive fanboy I know it is nowhere near as good as the other platform games listed and it is not even the best 2D Sonic game.
A lifetime of entertainment
There can be few companies across the world who have had such an extended cultural impact as Nintendo. Now 134 years old, it was the 1980s that saw the Kyoto-based company invade our childhoods with their 8 and then 16-bit entertainment systems, spawning franchises such as Super Mario, The Legend Of Zelda, Metroid, Mario Kart, and more; some of the most consistently critically acclaimed video games series of all time.
How they have managed to maintain such an endless level of creativity, imagination, and technical proficiency has been astonishing. Their games have created and redefined genres, launched memorable soundtracks, generated endless memes, helped us get fit and even turned grandparents into video gamers. Astonishing!
So choosing a single favourite game is almost impossible. Almost. I have always viewed Super Mario World on the SNES as the perfection of 2D video game form and have replayed its levels countless times since it’s European release in 1992. The joy of movement is ever present as you run, jump, bounce, float, fly, and swim through each level.
Mario games are always packed to the brim with secret pathways, often hidden ingeniously in plain sight, and this was no exception. Progressing through the various castles, uncovering secret exits, conquering the Star Road highlights level design at its finest. And on top of all that there is Yoshi.
Not every Nintendo IP appeals to my gaming senses. Popular series such as Animal Crossing, Pikmin, Fire Emblem, Pokémon, and Super Smash Bros. have all been tried to some degree but ultimately discarded. And that’s fine. I’m happy that millions of other players enjoy these games and that there is such a wide variety on offer. Which is part of what saddens me to see the attitude of other companies and CEOs towards Nintendo.
The recent Financial Times article suggesting that Nintendo should be sold as a ‘shock therapy’ to the Japanese stock market, or Phil Spencer’s leaked comments referring to the Big N as the ‘prime asset’, and that they don’t know what is best for their own future (‘It’s just taking a long time for Nintendo to see that their future exists off of their own hardware’) are, frankly, embarrassing.
As I’m writing this, I look around my living room and realise the extent of Nintendo’s touch on my life. There are Super Nintendo game placemats on the coffee table, a Banksy-Mario print on the wall, three consoles (the Switch, a Mini NES and Mini SNES) and a couple of amiibos under the TV, all within eyesight. Old consoles, video game collections and a plethora of further merchandise is not far away.
I’m pleased that I’ve been able to share some Nintendo-related moments with my son. Experimenting with cardboard creations with Labo sets, sharing our different experiences of each other’s run through of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, and playing competitively on Splatoon have all been memories that I hope he’ll reminisce on fondly in years to come.
I actually feel like a child again as I’m currently waiting to pick up Super Mario Bros. Wonder and immerse myself in it over the weekend. The swathe of 10/10 reviews, including from GC, have me itching for that dopamine hit that few other companies can offer. For me, at least.
retro_gaming_san (PSN ID)
A very particular set of skills
The thing about this topic is for many of us it’ll essentially be the same question as ‘What’s your favourite game?’
I’ll stick with Zelda: A Link To The Past, as when you look at everything that came before it (including the earlier Zelda games, but also probably every game ever made) as well as 99% of what has come after it, over the past 30 odd years, it just really stands out. Beautiful presentation, amazing ideas, hugely ambitious, perfectly paced, consistently entertaining and, most importantly, leaning hard and successfully into the spirit of exploration, experimentation, and discovery that Zelda – and a big part of truly interactive entertainment in general – should always be distilled down to.
The most interesting aspect of the topic to me, though, is Nintendo’s key strengths and weaknesses. For me their key strengths are keeping their best series relevant through regular pioneering innovation and reinvention, to the point where they essentially write the rule book for how so much of gaming past and present works.
Their key weakness arguably comes packaged with that triumph, as all of the above takes a lot of time, as well as very specific skills and resources, and it sometimes feels like they don’t have enough of the latter. So what they tend to do in the interim, while they’re waiting for the next generation defining title to be ready, can feel like treading water and we can go years between the titles that really live up to expectation.
I’m not suggesting they should only make games of that calibre or they should make compromises to get them out on time, but I think they should be as proactive and organised as possible, so they have enough great stuff in hand to counter inevitable delays. When the Switch launched I saw that as a huge opportunity for Nintendo to pool all its best talent onto one platform for the first time since the 80s, and that could mean far better software momentum and the end of their almost signature first party dry spells.
In a way, that has panned out pretty well (despite an understandable dearth of first party output during the pandemic) but I still feel like there’s plenty of scope for some of their less pioneering teams to really graduate to that S-tier, where the devs of the tentpole Mario and Zelda games sit, so it doesn’t feel like such games are too spread out across multiple years.
That said, it feels like 2023 through 2025 might just start demonstrating they’re starting to address that, as we’ll still likely have their next 3D Mario, Metroid Prime 4, and who knows what else on top of Tears Of The Kingdom and Mario Wonder. If they managed at least one such game every year, and they all lived up to their promise the way they have been recently, I’d have very little to complain about.
It’s a kind of magic
My all-time favourite Nintendo game is quite simply The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past. The amount of nostalgia I have for this game is quite remarkable really. It’s the scope, precision and presentation that makes this a 11 out of 10 game in my own opinion.
The story begins on a dark stormy night, with rain hammering down with an atmospheric and foreshadowing feeling with helpful music which gets your emotions rising to breaking point! Your uncle says he’ll be back when his errand is complete, as he exits your house with sword and shield, leaving young Link very mystified indeed!
As curiosity takes the better of you, Link follows the route to Hyrule Castle and finds a secret entrance and underground passageway to see the demise of your uncle, who in turns gives his sword and shield to you to complete his rather ominous task.
If the above is not enough to get your adventurous juices flowing, then nothing will. The next massive genius leap is finding the three pendants from three tough dungeons with, three bloodthirsty bosses, and then following Agahnim the dark wizard into a whole new world from Hyrule Castle! A dark world the size of the light world you’ve just come from, with even more dungeons to explore!
Musically, this game set the standard for Zelda symphonies and the most beloved music ever was expressed most triumphantly here, from the original Legend Of Zelda game on the NES. This was SNES technology and boy did it show off the abilities of this new generation of consoles gloriously.
I am a big Nintendo fan but I’m not a fanboy who does not touch anything else but Nintendo. Nintendo just seem to know how a perfect game is to be developed. And Nintendo, because of this, can run their own business without the need to comply to the regular rules that third party or other first parties need to get their product into the spotlight. No advanced graphics to run the games and you don’t need the best TV to handle or show off these creations.
The sound is good because the composers create magic within limitations and the same for the visuals and gameplay mechanics. Nintendo follow their own road with the rules that they created and will spend whatever amount of time is needed to develop the game and release it into the world when they know it’s 100% done! And not before!
Long live this great company. Many years ago I had the great honour to visit their Kyoto headquarters, to pay a homage to a company who took me by the hand into the next stage of my gaming journey. And boy it is still going strong, with the Switch doing what it does best.
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Readers try to decide what their favourite Nintendo video game is, from the early days of Super Metroid right up to Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom.