Switch Hype: Ranking Nintendo’s Ten Main Consoles

My my, I do love a countdown opportunity.

And so it is, dear reader, that we find ourselves here. Here at the dawn of what will be – for better or worse – a new cycle of Nintendo being Nintendo. The impending Switch console has the attention of the gaming world for now, and all the bad news has yet to come. It’s not an unfamiliar feeling for yours truly – one of bubbling excitement, of mildly tempered hope – but one in which I will gladly bask for the time being, if only because that feeling seems to be my number one most reliable source of blogging motivation. And would you look at that – the Switch will be Nintendo’s twelfth (let’s scratch the Virtual Boy) eleventh major videogame device! Yes, a nice, round top ten is ripe for the typing. How good.

I will now attempt to rank the ten major home/handheld Nintendo consoles of yore according to my own personal feelings about them. Yes, this will be a different list to your own, dearest reader. That’s OK. It is not an easy thing at all for a Nintendo tragic such as myself to see some of these wonderful machines placed below others – go ahead, try it – but I have struggled through it anyway. It’s probably worth mentioning that I haven’t owned all ten of these pieces of hardware, but I sure have played a significant portion of the game offerings they brought to the table through various re-releases and chance adventures, so I feel comfortable laying it out for your perusal. I’ve taken physical design, hardware refreshes, game library, nostalgia and all the usual good stuff into account. Here we go.


10. Nintendo Entertainment System

Australian Release: 1987
My Favourite Games: Balloon Fight, Kirby’s Adventure, Super Mario Bros 2

Yes, the one that started it all is down here. The main reason is a boring one: The NES’ games don’t tend to hold up as well today as other later Nintendo titles, as by necessity they are visually and conceptually basic. Having said that, the very best of the NES crop represents some of the most satisfying, mechanically tight challenges to be found anywhere in videogames, not to mention some technical wizardry when it comes to working within memory limitations. Of the two-and-a-half consoles on this list that I never owned, this is the one whose game library I have sampled most widely, thanks mostly to things like the wonderful Wii U eShop games NES Remix 1 & 2 and the recently released NES Classic Mini console, and particularly in this bite-sized format there is a great deal of fun to be had with NES gems even for the less skilled gamers among us (e.g. me).


9. Game Boy

Australian Release: 1989
My Favourite Games: Tetris, Pokemon Yellow Version, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

At a glance, the Game Boy lineup appears just as basic nowadays as that of the NES – more so, even – and it is much thinner on the ground in terms of all-time classics, instead flaunting some of the odder, more experimental entries in Nintendo’s main franchises. Yet the chunky handheld achieved so very much, proving to the world that portable games machines could achieve truly mainstream success. In doing so it started a decades-long dynasty of dominant handheld consoles that have saved Nintendo’s blushes multiple times, and well, it gave us Pokemon. What’s more, the Game Boy’s second redesign, the Game Boy Color, was my very first console, and it was no doubt instrumental in my ongoing preference for portable games over ones stuck to a TV or monitor (What’s this about a Switch?). So it gets the nostalgia vote.

8. Wii

Australian Release: 2006
My Favourite Games: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, WarioWare Smooth Moves, Super Smash Bros Brawl

A divisive console to be sure, the tale of the Wii is very much a double-sided one. Arguably just as famous for its flood of awful cash-grab games and relative quality drought as for its deliriously world-igniting innovation, the motion control trendsetter left a sour taste in many a gamer’s mouth once its early popularity peak tapered off. But in hindsight, almost exactly ten years on (!), it’s a tad easier to remember the good times again – the stellar launch line-up, the moment of near-disbelief when your much older relatives got involved in Wii Sports, the first time you booted up Super Mario Galaxy, the multiplayer-heavy parties, the shockingly good return of the DK Country series, the late run of superb JRPGs. Not to mention – for me at least – the amazing half-century of hours spent immersed in Zelda: Skyward Sword. Separated from its scary place in gaming history, it was a pretty good console.

7. Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Australian Release: 1992
My Favourite Games: Chrono Trigger, Super Bomberman, Final Fantasy VI

For a console whose actual controller I hadn’t even held until this year (true story) the Super Nintendo may seem a bit high on this list. But the games that came from this beloved pixel-pushing beast are truly remarkable, and most of them have aged better visually and mechanically than the top output of not only the NES but also arguably the N64. Every time I cave to the pressure of my peers and try another Super Nintendo classic for the first time, I am blown away by the ability of each to live up to the hype. Over the last three years in particular, from Super Metroid to Earthbound to my recent time with Mega Man X, I have grown ever more jealous of those who got to grow up alongside such a magnificent hit-maker.

6. Wii U

Australian Release: 2012
My Favourite Games: Pikmin 3, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Splatoon

At this point the Wii U is pretty much destined to go down in history among fans and lucid commentators as a console that offered some truly wonderful games and even a few clever ideas, but was severely held back by clunky execution, hobbling design flaws and above all a terribly overconfident marketing campaign. The Wii U was hardly the friend of the mainstream that its home console predecessor was, but I will always hold a soft spot in my heart for Nintendo’s final dual-screen machine, mostly because the second half of its short life cycle gave us a good serving of the kind of back-to-the-wall Nintendo that so consistently delivers the goods. The most feature-complete Virtual Console in Nintendo history, some spectacularly fruitful indie partnerships, several major steps forward in the online space and a swathe of excellent first-party games should hopefully (please Nintendo) lay some strong groundwork for the Switch if the right lessons are learned.

5. Nintendo 64

Australian Release: 1997
My Favourite Games: Mario Party 2, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Portable games on Nintendo hardware may offer unmatched flexibility and often long, rewarding adventures, but one thing they can’t match is the thrill of demolishing your friends and family in some good old-fashioned splitscreen multiplayer. Few videogame consoles did this better than the Nintendo 64, true champion of the late night four-player binge, equal parts forger and destroyer of friendships, legend in its own lifetime. The N64 had its fair share of shiny single-player gems that ushered in the three-dimensional era with revered elegance (Ocarina of Time, anyone?), but its rare to hear a N64 owner reminisce about the console without plentiful war stories from the likes of Goldeneye, Mario Kart 64, Super Smash Bros and the Mario Party games. That is forever what the console will mean to me, as it does to so many others. The late ’90s: What a time to be alive.

4. Game Boy Advance

Australian Release: 2001
My Favourite Games: Golden Sun, Pokemon Leaf Green Version, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

If it isn’t already obvious by now, I really like me some portable game time, and while the hours I burned on Pokemon Yellow, Silver and Crystal in the Game Boy Color days were plentiful and wonderful, the much more varied library of the much more capable Game Boy Advance really opened my eyes to what could be achieved on a tiny screen. I’ll never forget the day I unwrapped the dull-screened original model alongside my first ever non-Pokemon RPG – Golden Sun. What a pivotal moment that was for me as a fan of videogames. Along with the ensuing Advance Wars, FF Tactics Advance, the Zelda: Link to the Past/Four Swords combo, and of course Pokemon Ruby/Leaf Green, a whole new world of long hours, deeply rewarding gameplay and unfathomable freedom of when/where I could play was suddenly open to me. Then the Game Boy Advance SP came out. My word, the GBA SP. Suddenly I could play in the dark, without need of plebeian AA batteries, hiding the light from my prying parents with the flip of a hinge. Even the night could not stop me. What a world.

3. 3DS

Australian Release: 2011
My Favourite Games: Bravely Default, Animal Crossing New Leaf, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

I struggled to place the 3DS on this list more than any other Nintendo console, not because it isn’t quite finished yet, but because its perceived value within the Nintendo heirarchy depends on what you compare it against, and what parameters you use. Compare its physical design – particularly in its earliest iteration – against the Playstation Vita or even its own predecessor the DS, and it comes up short as a sharp-edged, confusingly-shaded, slow-loading ugly duckling. At times even the later models couldn’t escape feeling like dated pieces of tech, especially for the vast majority of players who ignored the often eye-straining 3D function. And yet there are few Nintendo consoles that can boast a more impressive line-up of exclusive software. The 3DS has at least one solid-to-great entry in just about every notable Nintendo and pseudo-Nintendo franchise, and in some cases arguably the very best entry in said franchise (Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing, Phoenix Wright and Monster Hunter come to mind). Throw in quality all-new exclusives, from the underappreciated (Code Name S.T.E.A.M) to the encouragingly successful (Bravely Default), toss in a sprinkling of superb download-only highlights (the Pullblox and Boxboy series, HarmoKnight, Pocket Card Jockey), add the greatly improved New 3DS/XL models and top everything off with the sheer genius of StreetPass. You now have yourself a Nintendo device that’s hard to ignore.


2. Gamecube

Australian Release: 2002
My Favourite Games: Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, Star Wars: Rogue Leader, Super Smash Bros Melee

The Gamecube represented the end of an era for Nintendo and its fans. Calling it the last time a piece of their hardware lacked a “gimmick” is a bit short-sighted (that controller is definitely still weird, mini-discs were ultimately a poor choice, and the console had a handle), but it certainly was the last time a Nintendo home console enjoyed the semblance of proper power parity with its competitors, and thus full-blooded third-party support. That gave us the likes of Resident Evil 4, Killer 7, Star Wars: Rogue Leader, Tales of Symphonia, Eternal Darkness and Timesplitters 2. But for many, myself very much included, the Gamecube also marked a golden era of first-party Nintendo development, and quite simply some of the greatest single and multiplayer games in gaming history. Super Smash Bros Melee leads the charge, still going strong today, but the unique experimental flavour and superlative quality of Mario Kart Double Dash!!, Super Mario Sunshine, Pikmin, Metroid Prime and especially The Legend of Zelda; The Wind Waker continue to reverberate through videogame discussions the world over. There are smaller – but still loud – fan bases that swear by the likes of Kirby’s Air Ride, F-Zero GX, Starfox Assault and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness, while my siblings and I will be quick to sing the praises of underappreciated Zelda gem Four Swords Adventures. Above all, I have the Gamecube to thank for my favourite RPG ever, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, but I really could keep going. The story of the Gamecube is – quite fittingly – dominated by games, games, games.

1. DS

Australian Release: 2005
My Favourite Games: Advance Wars Dual Strike, M&L: Bowser’s Inside Story, Mario Kart DS

What an easy number one. The DS isn’t just Nintendo’s highest-selling console of all time, it’s also in my opinion the best. Dominated in the public eye by its first hardware revision the DS Lite – for very good reason – the little handheld that could just kept churning out quality game after quality game for years, even managing to avoid the usual whimper of Nintendo consoles in their twilight moments by welcoming big games well after the 3DS was already out. The introduction of touch screen gaming in a pre-smartphone world combined with cheap production costs to draw out immense creativity in countless developers, resulting in quirky classics like Hotel Dusk: Room 215, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective and the Professor Layton series. These hit alongside a smorgasbord of highly-regarded JRPGs and quality action games, as well as Nintendo’s own self-made successes. But enough about them, because I wrote a very long post dedicated to the DS on its tenth anniversary last year, so you can go read that if you’re feeling nostalgic, like I am right now.

To the future!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: