From the Art of Video Games exhibit.

Lists are hard. You try your damnedest to round out to whatever number sounds good to you but something always seems off. Raise the number to include more then it feels like filler. Rattle off what’s already been established and what’s the point? Sure I could just print a list of the best video games ever. How different would that list really be though? As time goes forward we seem to further homogenize our views of what’s worth playing and what’s not into a cycling list of the same few games, just in a new order. Still I read them all and scrutinize despite knowing the strings involved behind the curtain. I can’t deny that I love making lists though so I decided to give myself a challenge. It started as listing a few scribbles on paper and grew into this semi-complete list of 140 games that sit before you now. Criteria and rules?

  • 5 games per system/designation. IE; Gameboy Color = Gameboy, and PC is broken down by decades starting in the 80’s.
  • Unless there’s a paradigm shift in how the game is played, one entry per series across all platforms
  • The list should compose of games that highlight the variety of the system, not necessarily “the best”.
    • Subnote – if I didn’t create this rule, virtually every choice of mine would have been RPGs
  • The games must be approachable in their current state today in 2017, not as they were at release.
    • Some games don’t age well and because of this will not be included.
    • This also means games that were amazing with a multiplayer focus may have been lobbed off
  • I’m going off of NA releases, and heavily bent towards games I have either first or second hand experience with. Sorry, no “but this limited print of an import JRPGs that influenced everything ever and OMG HOW DID YOU NOT INCLUDE THIS ON YOUR LIST”. Tangible, real, accessible games only.

By all means, feel free to state your arguments as to what should/shouldn’t make the cut. Just remember this isn’t a “best games for the platform” as much as it is a “this is why this platform was great”. The five games are unranked and represent a set to be plopped down in front of a group of players that’ve never experienced it in hopes of highlighting the range offered by that platform. That being said, these lists are meant to compliment one another and if you isolate them it might be confusing to why these games were chosen. For example you won’t find Super Mario 64 (OMG WHY?!) – Because I felt Super Mario Galaxy better represented the Wii yet the two games are similar enough to not need both games muddling up the lists.

Without further ramblings – Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of it all now. The lists of games and a bit about them… For this post I’ll keep it to all things Nintendo.

Nintendo Platforms

  • Nintendo Entertainment System
    • Super Mario Bros 3
      • A large scale yet modular platformer perfecting the SMB formula. The Tanooki and Frog suits remain a vivid memory for years to come. If not those suits something will strike your whimsy from either Giant world, mechanized boots, or evil suns swooping down on you.
    • The Legend of Zelda
      • An epic fantasy filled with adventure, progression, secrets, and the slaying of weird creatures all while maintaining an aura of maturity on a kid’s toy. The expanse of woods, deserts, lakes, mountains, and graveyards offered so much to chew on it’d take players weeks or months to finally complete this. It was always dangerous to go alone though, so consulting with friends is recommended if you wish to survive.
    • Megaman 2
      • The idealized form of what Megaman would be know as for years. Enjoyable action platforming with a light puzzle element as you figure the best ways to tackle the robot masters while jamming out to rad 8-bit metal.
    • Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out
      • The underdog wins the day against a myriad of ridiculously themed stereotypical fighters, but each offering a test of your reflexes or wit. It remains a fun distraction to this day to go back and see that asshole trainer bike ahead of you.
    • Super Dodge Ball
      • An absurdly unrealistic take on dodge ball involving chubby little men hurling energized spheres at each other. I didn’t discover this until late in the 90’s yet it’s charm remained strong as friends and I played match after match together.
  • Super Nintendo Entertainment System
    • Super Metroid
      • An exploration based action platformer that’d later be dubbed Metroidvania, countless classics took design notes from in this horror-inspired game. A rarity from Nintendo to do something so dark, but it holds up incredibly well still.
    • Chrono Trigger
      • Despite seeming unlikely that a time-traveling fantasy based adventure starring a frog, robot, and cave woman would yield such an accessible RPG, yet here we are. You feel the impact your team makes across several ages so the stakes are never far from thought. You know you need to save the world because you’ve seen it end when you didn’t. Plus you totally die, then don’t. It’s great, on several platforms, and compacted well for a quick run when you’re feeling a need to return to it and chase down one of the dozen or so endings available with the first notable New Game+ ever.
    • Zombies Ate My Neighbors
      • Grab a friend and go to town. The premise is a simple one when it comes to zombies, and this keeps throwing them at you. All the stupid suburban stereotypes you can imagine are now fair game to mow down through like fifty levels of giant babies in an overhead twin stick shooter… minus the twin sticks.
    • Super Street Fighter 2
      • One of the ultimate fighting games, definitely one of the most quarter consuming ones of all time. In a fairly perfect port that doesn’t eat all your quarters. Street Fighter 2 offered a eight characters to master originally, now that roster is up to 16 with the addition of playable bosses like Sagat (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger Uppercut!) and newcomers such as Cammy and Dee Jay. Whether honing your skills solo against the computer or late nights with friends, it never gets old to continuously try and beat the yellow out of your opponents health bar until the final slow-mo cries of their defeat.
    • Donkey Kong Country
      • The full package of precision based platforming, collectibles, visual candy, plus some truly memorable music. DKC was one of the final flagships sailed by Nintendo and for good reason. Sure there’d be sequels, but they never quite hit the same sweet spot of fun, challenge, and spectacle of this release.
  • Nintendo 64
    • Banjo & Kazooie
      • Massive 3D worlds to explore with goofy characters and colorful playscapes. Tons to collect while exploring secret nooks and crannies for all the jiggies your heart could desire. So beloved it’s pedigree helped raise like a billion dollars for Yooka Laylee on Kickster to create a spiritual successor to the series.
    • Blast Corps
      • Rare created the perfect game back in the day for any system. Get tons of different characters (albeit vehicles) to run around and blow up structures. They hook you with the fun, then add in time challenges later to get you replaying and ranking up your medals. Eventually you start visiting other planets with new gravity mechanics. Bulldozers on the moon? Sure, why not? It’s the 90’s and totally rad.
    • GoldenEye 007
      • At first I was hesitant to put this on here since it hasn’t aged as well as I remember – but then I remembered how awesome all the extra unlockable modes were in multiplayer. Man with the golden gun? Your asshole friend that always picks Oddjob? Paintball mode while you just tag the walls with phallic imagery before the splatters disappear? While not the best FPS on consoles anymore, still a game that offers a fantastically fun night with friends on a couch.
    • Star Fox 64
      • Then combining the last two entries you have various vehicles with plane, tank, and sub in the campaign of divergent level paths ensuring a new experience of everytime – And a wickedly fun dogfighting multiplayer experience that lets you run around on foot with rocket launchers trolling your friends in the Arwings. Oh yeah, that db that played all the time as Oddjob that I mentioned may have been me…
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
      • So here’s my first repeating series on the list. Zelda always creates a new way to engage players while sticking to it’s themes of adventurous exploration. Ocarina makes the cut for feeling like an entirely new game presenting players with a living 3D world without compromising on the details of prior entries. Truly one of the greats of gaming and well worth revisiting however you can.
  • GameCube
    • Pikmin
      • A new IP from Nintendo unlike anything I really knew at the time or really have seen since. Run around a tiny world plucking up flower people and abusing them anyway you see fit to repair your spaceship and leave that world. Sacrifice them to crabs, carry bottlecaps, whatever floats your skyboat.
    • Star Wars: Rogue Leader
      • Purely a game to provide that rush of dogfighting and tapping into the warm fuzzies you carry for Star Wars. Fly an X-Wing, Y-Wing, Snowspeeder, you name it. Each with it’s own feel and weapons it’s a hoot to give it your all as Not-Luke Skywalker pew-pew’ing to hold off the tyrannical Empire.
    • Tales of Symphonia
      • A proper JRPG complete with Japanese humor, complete voice acting, character building skits, New Game+, and like a 40+ hour campaign among some truly interesting places with some flawed yet endearing characters. There’s plenty of story to chew on here and enough humanity in it to get you wondering on your own life’s meaning.
    • Animal Crossing
      • Ever just want to bum around a space collecting bugs, fish, and fossils while writing letters to humanoid bird creatures or mammals? Well this game has you covered as it runs a persistant world in real time. Villagers come and go, sales exist at certain times in town, and holidays correspond with our Earth equivalents. It takes a literal year to see all this game has to offer as the seasons change but once you start I doubt you’ll have a problem coming back a few hours a week to keep up with the Jones’.
    • Super Monkey Ball
      • A wonderfully unlikely occurence as Sega puts out one of the best launch window games on Nintendo’s new system. In a weird twist of the control scheme, you control the level as you tilt it to move the monkey trapped in a ball towards the goal while collecting bananas. And it is. Bananas that is. Outside of the main labyrinth of levels there’s a slew of minigames to keep you booting up this tiny disc in your tiny console for tiny adventures.
  • Wii
    • Wii Sports
      • If you owned a Wii, you should own this as it comes with it. If for some reason you don’t there’s no reason not to remedy that as this collection of 5 small games demos the promise of what could be for the Wii. Boxing, Bowling, Tennis, Baseball, and Golf have you waggling with relatives despite their approval or experience with video games.
    • Super Smash Bros Brawl
      • Probably from the ease of acceptance to the Wii, but SSBB was the easiest to get others to pick up and play. You get cool new characters like Pit, Ike, or Lucas from deeper more obscure Nintendo games on top of outsiders like Solid Snake and Sonic the Hedgehog. A beat ’em up series for the ages, but now with more SNAAAAAAAAAKKEE.
    • Super Mario Galaxy
      • Possibly the most beloved character in video games is Mario. SMG offers him at his best in a 3D world… well, several 3D worlds actually as physics change letting you bound around space on both planets large or small. It’s hard not to appreciate the joy of Mario, even when the princess is in another castle nowhere near this as you save Rosalina instead.
    • Muaramasa: The Demon Blade
      • Vanillaware is a developer that makes gorgeous hand drawn games. Muramasa sets you back in feudal Japan collecting new swords in a 2D hack ‘n slash platformer starring two different characters. Explore and forge new blades as you power up in one of the best looking games available on the Wii.
    • Okami
      • Which I say one of the best looking games because right beside it is the painting come to life known as Okami. Putting Zelda to shame with open world exploration, combat, puzzling, and dungeon delving – Okami stepped in at the best time when fans of that style of game were pining for a release. There’s something cathertic about drawing with the celestrial brush and restoring life to the world as Amaterasu.
  • Wii U
    • Splatoon
      • Inky good fun in this refreshing shooter’esque game. Instead of splatting enemies as a priority, you’re tasked with painting as much of the level as possible in a turf war against other player squids. There’s a single player campaign that includes a lot more focus on puzzle solving, but no one comes here for that as it’s anemic at best for a campaign and much more a controls tutorial for the real game: Online PVP.
    • Mario Kart 8
      • The best Mario Kart has ever been on a console: I actually purchased my Wii U specifically for this game thanks to Luigi’s death stare meme that filled the internet. An increased player count to 12, online play, massive roster, and tons of customization to your karts made this a no brainer for any Wii U owner. Did I mention how pretty it looks at 60 fps? Because this game oozes purdy.
    • Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
      • A weird spinoff of a mini game found within Super Mario 3D World – You play as Toad in tighly contained levels trying to collect all the treasure. Be it that you’re toad you can’t jump, defend yourself, or do much more than grab things and run away. It’s a quirky game to chill with and isn’t to be missed, as I don’t know any games even remotely in the same wheel house.
    • Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
      • Jump for JRPG joy as Persona 4.5 releases in the US. Small caveat for those looking to pick it up is that none of the dialog is in English as they kept the Japanese voices instead. Understandable considering so much of the game involves the characters singing. Beyond that though you’ll be treated to a very Persona’esque story of helping your party members sort through their emotional strife in order to find their true strength. Filled with JPOP and aligning itself with the Fire Emblem series for story beats and Mirages that pull from characters of the FE series – They act as stand-ins for personas and add a lot of insight to the party you save the world with. Good times in Tokyo to be had!
    • Bayonetta 2
      • An absolutely unexpected release by Platinum on a Nintendo console is the sexually charged action furry goddess cosplaying as Fox McCloud, Bayonetta. With combat skills that sends Kratos cowering behind Zeus, this spectral witch and titular character proceeds to defy all logic in a beatdown bonanza that is a standout on any platform… Especially one lacking a full library like the Wii U.
  • GameBoy
    • Pokemon Red & Blue
      • Where it all started and still remains the perfect balance of content and time for me. Newer entries bloat with excess pokemon, but Red/Blue still lets you get in and out to enjoy what’s to offer without running stale. Catch a bunch of cute critters and face them off against each other. Rock paper scissors meets RPGs, except now it’s Rock, Psychic, Dark, Bug, Fire, Water…
    • Final Fantasy Adventure
      • The first entry of the Mana series disguised as a Final Fantasy in NA. I just played it for the first time in 2016 and it holds up extremely well. Fitting somewhere between Link to the Past and Secret of Mana in terms of gameplay they give you a wide selection of weapons to puzzle through the environments in a massive overworld filled with baddies to bop and dungeons to delve.
    • Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
      • On the other token you have Link’s Awakening which is a portable quest driven experience worth grabbing. Our hero washes up on a strange island to collect instruments in order to wake the sleeping god of the island and throw everything you know into question. To this day it remains one of the only Nintendo games where you’re allowed to steal from a shop, hoist a woman over your head as a literal object, and possess an item that finally let’s Link frickin’ jump. It’s all about that Roc’s Feather.
    • Tetris
      • Do I really need to give you a snub on why this is here? Moving on.
    • Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land
      • On GB getting a sprite this huge was really cool at the time. Seeing the detail work on Wario, including changing his hats for different powers made it a good reason to pick up this rough ‘n tumble platformer.
  • Virtual Boy
    • Vertical Force
      • A pretty solid overhead ‘shmup despite being overlooked in favor of Red Alarm, a 3D space shooter.
    • Bomberman: Panic Bomber
      • A competitive match 3 game themed with Bombermen. There were various enemy AI’s to face off against with unique skills.
    • Teleroboxer
      • Some robot lady punches you with her breasts while boxing… Because that’s what would sell this system to preteen Japanese boys.
    • Wario Land
      • I know I said I wouldn’t double dip on series unless there was massive variation… but c’mon, there were only 14 games released in North America. Essentially expanded gameplay of Super Mario Land 3 with slightly more robust features. A fun game for the little red boy that couldn’t.
    • Red Alarm
      • Star Fox like pew pews that was demoed with nearly every unit.
  • GameBoy Advance
    • Final Fantasy 5 Advance
      • A standout series that deserves recognition somewhere and by golly I’m gonna get us there. Final Fantasy 5 never came to the US on SNES so this was a lot of player’s first exposure to it. Beyond that it’s my favorite of the GBA selections because how expansive the class system is for letting you customize your combat party, while being even better by keeping your party to the same 4 characters throughout the game for some serious relationship building by the end. There’s no part of FF5 that I don’t recommend.
    • WarioWare Inc: Mega Microgame$!
      • Really capitalizing on the notion of portable gaming, WarioWare is jampacked with quick tiny games of 5 seconds or less. There’s a ton of them crammed in here and they let you collect them. Each one scales up in difficulty and range from disturbing creature creations to nostalgic nods back to early Nintendo like 1976’s Wild Gunman toy.
    • Mario vs Donkey Kong
      • Doubling down on the puzzle aspect of Donkey Kong ’94 on GameBoy, MvDK offers hundreds of worlds where an agile Mario jumps around a stage trying to puzzle platform his way to a key in order to drag it back to the door and complete the stage. Great for quick bursts of play to knock out a stage or two when you have a minute.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
      • You won’t explore themes like a corrupt church, demonic texts, or classism in a crusades-era fantasy setting on this outting… Kiddifying the mature tale of Final Fantasy Tactics while maintaining the complex nature of the gameplay makes for the perfect experience to sink 150 hours into though. Various races with exclusive classes, items to unlock new skills, and the introduction of judges to alter your approach there’s never a dull moment in this tile based straty RPG.
    • Megaman Zero
      • Remember how awesome Zero was in Megaman X? Now imagine he gets his own game, complete with bad ass laser sword to tear through enemies while still offering the thrill of action platforming? That’s everything you get here and it works really well. The intimacy of melee combat really switches up the feel of a Megaman proper and is worth your time to try out if you skipped over this entry.
  • Nintendo DS
    • The World Ends with You
      • The best way to utilize a system with two screens? Not having two fights on them at once is what most would say. TWEWY would scoff at that notion as they do exactly that. This JRPG (with shifting combat mechanics) has you fight with button commands for the top screen, and touch inputs on the bottom. Beyond this alternative expectation on the player it challenges you to battle with tops(“pins”), bust out swag to stay trendy in Shibuya, Tokyo, fight demons in a shadow world, all while throwing a timer on you to handle all this before you’re phased out of existance. Oh, yeah, and you start off the game dead with no idea how or why as you unravel the mysteries of what the hell is going on while trying to figure out how to play The Game, within the game. It’s great.
    • Elite Beat Agents
      • If there’s any reason for Avril Lavigne to exist or create Sk8er Boi to exist, it’s to provide a backing to the wonderful Elite Beat Agents rhythm game. Set to pop songs in NA, this localization has FBI dudes running around solving everyone’s problems as you tap in rhythm to the music. I’m a sucker for rhythm games, and it’s hard not to fall for the charm of tapping along to the songs we all know to save the day.
    • Professor Layton & The Curious Village
      • Hmm… I’ve got it! It’s hard to imagine the DS without thinking of this whimsical puzzler. Tapping through the world you wander the Curious Village as everyone seems a bit off… and obsessed with logic puzzles. The game lets you run at your own pace and provides hints when you’re stuck to progress and unravel the mystery behind what exactly is going on in this village.
    • Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates
      • The Crystal Chronicle series is a sidenote in the pantheon of Final Fantasy, but Ring of Fates deserves some recognition for being the only one with a story that matters. And action RPG that sends you into harms way as a young set of siblings you’ll encounter all sorts of danger while powering up your magic and blades. If you can gather some friends it gets even better as you dungeon crawl with up to 3 others. Then hoo boy… Get ready for an ending that will provide some context for the Ring of Fates subtitle and reside with you for quite some time.
    • Mario Kart DS
      • After a serious dearth of releases the DS finally took itself seriously when it released Mario Kart DS. It brought friends together and encouraged new purchases so you could do local play together. It gave the thrill of a console MK experience on the handheld level with no compromises. Races were zippy, blue shells were frustrating, and victories were glorious. While no longer a thing, it did also bring Mario Kart online for the first time in the series. Without though it’s still worth picking up and cruising through some clever track designs or revisiting some of the old haunts they remade for the release.
  • Nintendo 3DS
    • Fire Emblem Awakening
      • Character relationships are a large draw for RPGs, Fire Emblem lets you date-sim your way to new characters as children of your allies hooking up can time travel back to your time period and join you in the fight. A great mechanism that incentivizes having your favorites hook up to create wild new hybrids of clashing personalities alone would be enough to pick this up, but it’s actually a really engrossing strategy RPG on top of that. Playing in the true path of perma-death for fallen party members will have you carefully scrutinizing every action you take to ensure no one you love is lost.
    • Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
      • Yes, Zelda again. Look, I can’t help it. This entry in the series is such a perfect throwback to the original Link to the Past on SNES while restructuring the mechanics for the series to create possibly the perfect delivery of the classic Zelda formula. It’s a zippy adventure that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome yet doesn’t leave you wanting. I’d like to believe it was so perfect that they had to abandon the formula entirely when creating Breath of the Wild because it doesn’t get better than ALBW.
    • Shovel Knight
      • Speaking of throwbacks, this “12-bit” entry is like the Nintendo game you somehow missed in your childhood. Platforming is a fine-tuned balance of challenges one after another. If you’re feeling brave you can bet your riches against your skill as you destroy checkpoints for more gold. Get enough and you can raise up your gear, health, mana, or get new gadgets to alter the way you play. Then once you’re done there’ll be two new campaigns with entirely new characters, level design, and play styles to revisit it with. For Shovel Justice!
    • Pushmo
      • An unsuspecting digital only puzzler that has you playing as a defective Kirby clone in a world of other defects as they get trapped in the levels. Pushing and pulling the level you can build staircases until you find a way to the top to help the latest colored marshmallow to freedom. Seriously though, the levels start off simple but about halfway through have you scratching your noggin’ trying to navigate all the push/pulls you need to do in order to reach the time. Deceptively simple in it’s presentation. You will leave in tears. Good tears though. Honest.
    • Animal Crossing: New Leaf
      • The latest and most complete Animal Crossing experience. I double dipped on this series due to the fact it’s portable and console versions vary in experience enough to have two different audiences. Having a village on the go gives you the ability to street pass with other strangers and swap homes to extend what you can buy to outfit your home with. There are a billion other tweaks and features added since it’s inception on GameCube that it’s a fresh experience if anyone made the jump… The real change comes from having it with you wherever you want to squeeze in a quick 15-20 minute zen session relaxing with your neighbors, running errands, catching a few fish, or perhaps sitting by the town oak tree that grows along with your town.

 

So that’s a lot to chew on. Nintendo is the name of the game this time with their dozens of handhelds and consoles. That puts us at 55 of the promised 140 games to play before you die. Next time we’ll be adventuring into the realms of Sony and Microsoft’s offerings, and finally wrap up part 3 with Sega and Windows PC through the decades. Until next time!

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