My Top 30 Favourite Nintendo Franchises: #5-1

5. Paper Mario

Games: Paper Mario (N64), Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (GCN), Super Paper Mario (Wii), Paper Mario: Sticker Star (3DS)

Ah, Paper Mario. Who on earth thought it would be a good idea to flatten the world’s most famous videogame mascot, not to mention all his friends and adversaries, and insert him into a world where everything (loosely) follows the physics of papercraft dioramas? Whoever it was, I’m glad that the Paper Mario Series came out of such apparent insanity. I’m even more glad that Intelligent Systems were put in charge of bringing it to life (yes, I am harping on about them quite a bit, but come on, look at all the amazing games they’ve made). Like the quirky Mario & Luigi series, Paper Mario is a humour-laden, turn-based RPG series that owes its action-esque central gameplay mechanic to the Super Nintendo’s Super Mario RPG. What sets the dimensionally challenged series apart from others like it is its endlessly creative use of paper physics in puzzles, battles and storytelling, as well as its apparent lack of fear when it comes to trying new and crazy ideas. The writing across the games is irreverent, self-aware and fun, the secrets are bountiful and the characters are endearing. All Paper Mario games are commendable, engaging RPGs (except for Super Paper Mario, which is a platformer – I know right?) but I’m not going to lie – the reason I rate the series highly enough to lift it into my top five is almost entirely based on the strength of The Thousand Year Door on the Gamecube. It is no exaggeration to say that TTYD is one of my absolute favourite games of all time, and at the very least my favourite RPG ever. I fear its near-perfect storm of meta-battling mechanics, location variety, narrative twists, subtle series in-jokes and rewarding extra content will not be matched for a long time.

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4. WarioWare

Games: WarioWare Inc.: Mega Microgame$!/Party Game$! (GBA/GCN), WarioWare: Twisted! (GBA), WarioWare: Touched! (DS), WarioWare: Smooth Moves (Wii), WarioWare: Snapped!! (DSi), WarioWare: D.I.Y., Game & Wario (Wii U)

I’m as surprised as you are right now. While I was making this list, struggling to place this fantastic series, more and more franchises fell by the wayside as I found myself admitting that I enjoyed the insane world of WarioWare more. If you haven’t experienced the delightful, positively manic wackiness of Intelligent Systems’ most universally appealing series, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. The once-unique gameplay conceit of throwing ridiculously rapid challenges at the player with little more than one-word instructions has inspired such games as Frobisher Says, Dumb Ways to Die and even Fruit Ninja, yet to this day no-one pulls it off quite as well as the avaricious plumber with the yellow overalls. With the exception of Snapped!!, which felt like a concept demo, and Game & Wario, which is barely a WarioWare game, every title in this series is of exceptionally high quality, packing deceptive depth beneath its highly energetic commitment to short attention spans. No first-party Nintendo franchise screams “Japan!” quite like WarioWare, and there are very few that can lay claim to being as regularly fun to play. And from what I keep hearing, I haven’t even played the best one, WarioWare: Twisted!

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3. The Legend of Zelda

Games: The Legend of Zelda (NES)TLoZ2: Adventure of Link (NES), TLoZ: A Link to the Past (SNES/GBA), TLoZ: Link’s Awakening (GB), TLoZ: Ocarina of Time (N64/3DS), TloZ: Majora’s Mask (N64), TLoZ: Oracle of Ages/Oracle of Seasons (GB), TLoZ: The Wind Waker/HD (GCN/Wii U), TLoZ: Four Swords (GBA/DSi), TLoZ: Four Swords Adventures (GCN), TLoZ: The Minish Cap (GBA), TLoZ: Twilight Princess (GCN/Wii), TLoZ: Phantom Hourglass (DS), TLoZ: Spirit Tracks (DS), TLoZ: Skyward Sword (Wii), TLoZ: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

What can I say about one of the greatest, most enduring videogame franchises in existence that hasn’t already been said? Never mind that – what can I say that I haven’t already said in the fifteen Legend of Zelda-themed countdowns I wrote on this very blog around this time last year? Not much, that’s for sure. Since the videogame industry’s rebirth in the mid-to-late 1980s, Zelda has been there, taking players on a fantastical journey through expansive worlds, serving up devious puzzles, enjoyable combat, cool items, epic bosses, fantastic art design and exemplary music. From the depths of Lake Hylia to the peak of Death Mountain and everywhere in between, exploring the land of Hyrule in all its many incarnations (not to mention Termina and Koholint Island) is a constantly rewarding activity that has glued me to all manner of screens over the years. In my opinion The Legend of Zelda is far and away Nintendo’s greatest predominantly single-player franchise, and ultimately one of my absolute favourite gaming franchises of all time. My third favourite, to be precise…

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2. Super Smash Bros

Games: Super Smash Bros (N64), Super Smash Bros Melee (GCN), Super Smash Bros Brawl (Wii), Super Smash Bros for 3DS (3DS)

Oh boy. I am so, so tempted to put this series in my Number 1 spot. This is a Nintendo countdown, after all, and there is no bigger Nintendo celebration than a Super Smash Bros game. They don’t come around very often, but when they do they usually come packed to the brim with pure, unadulterated Nintendo fanservice. Every stage, every trophy, every sticker, every little animation of every famous, not-so-famous and soon-to-be-famous Nintendo character is a lovingly crafted reference to a different franchise, each one adding a deft flourish to the tapestry that is the long and storied history of the Big N. Of course, all of this wouldn’t mean much if Smash Bros wasn’t fun to play, and my goodness, is it fun to play. I couldn’t tell you how many nights I’ve burned over the years taking on friends and family as Sheik, Lucas and more, getting wrecked by Pikachu’s Thunder and Ike’s gigantic blade, racking up piles of KOs in swift poetic movements that turn out to be impossible to replicate on purpose. I’ve had moments of hectic four-player glory at parties and I’ve fluked satisfying victories against tournament-level players, and the smack talk has rained down from the sky like the great thirst-quenching bounty that is Super Smash Bros.

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1. Pokemon Main Series

Games: Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow Version (GB), Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal Version (GBC), Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald Version (GBA), Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum Version (DS), Pokemon Black/White/Black 2 (DS), White 2 Version (DS), Pokemon X/Y (3DS)

The gap between my Number 1 and Number 2 spots here is incredibly small, as Smash Bros and Pokemon are both so dear to me. Yet at the end of the day, I have to give the top nod to the pocket monsters, because while a new Smash Bros game always gets me super-hyped, they only come around once a generation (well, until this year, of course). There is a new main series Pokemon game announced pretty much every single year, on the other hand, and I still lose my mind whenever I see a fresh logo. Pokemon Yellow was my first-ever videogame and since then I’ve played at least two games from every Pokemon generation. I see no reason why that pattern won’t continue into the future. I cannot pinpoint the exact formula that explains why I love this series so much, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try. Though there’s no doubt that nostalgia plays a heavy part, that wouldn’t explain the literally thousands upon thousands of hours I’ve put into the franchise. No, there’s also the vibrant world design, the quirky, ever-changing side activities, the frequently incredible music and the robust mechanical RPG core that powers the battles. Above all, however, I’d say the primary reason Pokemon has endured with me so long is that it has evolved (pardon the pun) to complement my changing tastes as a gamer. It may have started as a simplistic power trip with cute critters, but nowadays it’s an endlessly deep competitive multiplayer experience with hundreds of thousands of good players and a metagame that refuses to stay in one place. I may drift in and out of “Pokemon moods”, but you can guarantee I’m always playing for dozens of hours every year, both against and alongside friends, and that is just one small reason why Game Freak’s charming RPG series is my favourite Nintendo – nay, my favourite VIDEOGAME franchise of all time.

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