When we first heard that the 3DS entry in the venerable series would revisit the world of A Link To The Past, our excitement was tempered with trepidation. The SNES classic is sacred ground and after so many 3D iterations that stuck to its template, perhaps returning to that Hyrule might sully our memories, or worse, reveal that it wasn’t quite as good as we remember. Of course, our concern was unwarranted – A Link Between Worlds proved to be spectacular. Like all the best mechanics in the series, its novel wall-painting transformation puzzles were so ingeniously simple that you wondered why the concept hadn’t been hit upon before. Great use of the system’s 3D feature brought Hyrule to life in a game that rivals the greatest in the series. If – shock! horror! – you’re reading this and you don’t own a 3DS, it’s time to track down a deal and play one of the very best games in a franchise of winners.
With Super Mario Galaxy 2 Nintendo gave us that rarest of treats - a direct sequel to one of its finest games. While anyone who played and fell in love with Super Mario Galaxy would have been overjoyed to hear there was more on the way, the expectations on the sequel couldn't have been higher. Somehow it manages to take the baton from its predecessor and perform even more incredible feats, with the designers revelling at the possibilities of Mario's cosmic playground. It may be missing from Switch's 3D All-Stars collection, but this game is truly worth hunting down a Wii for if you missed it.
To argue over which Galaxy is better is pointless, really — they're both wonderful and utterly essential, so if you never got around to playing the sequel, carve out some time as soon as possible.
Nintendo did a valiant job of breathing new life into what was already an exceptional Legend of Zelda title. It took the game’s timeless art style and gave it a glorious new sheen thanks to HD technology, while also making an extensive amount of worthwhile improvements to previously flawed aspects of the gameplay. Sailing across the Great Sea, discovering new islands and exploring exciting dungeons — the designs of which still shine even today – has simply never been as much fun as it is on Wii U. It’s fair to say that Nintendo could have done more in certain areas (there really isn’t anything substantial in the way of new content), and the updated lighting does give it a different look to the sublime original that's not necessarily 'better'. Still, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was never in need of a drastic overhaul; this is a refinement which made welcome tweaks to the GameCube original that brought it more in line with modern standards. A great game made (for the most part) even greater, if you will.
As if its library wasn't impressive enough, the 3DS got a wonderful remaster of a game which collects ‘Best Game Of All Time’ awards like beer mats. It was always going to be good, but Grezzo managed to strike the perfect balance between evoking nostalgia for the N64 original and carefully updating and polishing the experience to help it shine in the 21st century. It’s just like you remember, but going back and actually comparing the two reveals that it’s vastly improved in many areas, from UI to textures to character models. The modifications this remaster brought to the table make this the best way to play the game in the present day and everybody should play Ocarina of Time.
How does this 'ultimate' version of Nintendo's scrapper stack up? Vocal concerns about past games were actively addressed, every single fighter from the series is present (even Pichu) and joined by an ever-expanding roster of DLC characters form the annals of gaming, the customisability is overwhelmingly vast and it’s all topped off with super-solid single-player modes to boot. We’re not sure how you could make a more robust or pleasing Smash game - Super Smash Bros. Ultimate truly is the ultimate instalment in the series, and it makes you wonder where Masahiro Sakurai can possibly take this franchise next.
Xenoblade Chronicles is epic in scale and setting, and you'll spend many hours examining its incredible complexity, enhancing your abilities and exploring the world's ecosystem. Whether you play it on Wii, on New Nintendo 3DS, or on Switch in the sublime Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, it delivers a huge (and hugely enjoyable) JRPG experience that developer Monolith Soft would build on with its sequel and Xenoblade Chronicles X, although the original game was arguably never bettered.
There's an argument to be made that Mario 64 never got a 'true' sequel until this game: Sunshine's FLUDD muddied the waters with its feature set; the Galaxy games cleverly eschewed large open worlds for impeccably crafted planetoids designed around specific gameplay elements; 3D Land and 3D World were deliberately constrained with linear design to attract players of 2D Mario into the third dimension.
Super Mario Odyssey was a return for the 'sandbox' style of Mario adventure players had been pining for since 1996, and it delivers everything you could want and more. Cappy's capture abilities keep things fresh in an game which blends all sorts of mechanics and art styles into an improbably coherent, compelling whole. It really shouldn't work, but the mastery of its execution makes the realistic human-style inhabitants of New Donk City, the anthropomorphic cutlery of Luncheon Kingdom, and the big-eyed cute characters of Mario and his Mushroom Kingdom clan feel like they belong side-by-side in the same game.
Mario Odyssey is an utterly remarkable entry in this most celebrated of series and should be considered an essential purchase whether you like Mario or not.
The original Pokémon Gold and Silver games are fondly remembered by Pocket Monster fans all over the world, and with good reason: they introduced features that genuinely evolved the original Game Boy games, such as breeding and an in-game clock (not to mention colour!), features that have become series staples. Add in fan-favourite monsters and these remakes were always going to be well received.
Future games would trickle in additional quality of life features and other innovations, but some would argue it never got better than travelling across the land, searching far and wide in these DS remakes. The Game Boy originals may be a little hard to return to these days, but Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver strike the very best balance of nostalgia and that patented catch-'em-all gameplay.
Some will say, not unreasonably, that as the Wii U iteration of Breath of the Wild can't fully match the Switch version in visuals and performance it should be considered inferior. We understand and appreciate that perspective, but this is nevertheless a fully functional and still entrancing iteration of one of Nintendo's greatest ever games. Across dozens of hours it blends innovative ideas with established tropes, and unfolds in a manner different for everyone. The 'best' version of the game is on Nintendo Switch, but the freedom, the spontaneity, and the outstanding charm and craft of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild isn't lost on Wii U.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a landmark release for its franchise and Nintendo. It's the first time that Nintendo truly took on the open-world genre, and by arriving late to the party it embraces the strengths from top-of-the-class games while also forging its own unique identity. This game was a revolution for the series, but the Legend of Zelda essence is still there — its soul remains, and the end result is captivating. After years of following the same old template, Nintendo bravely took the Zelda series in a new direction, and delivered an absolute triumph which still has us regularly revisiting its iteration of Hyrule.
No wonder we're so excited about the prospect of a direct sequel; Breath of the Wild forged a new and exciting path in a franchise that had been treading old ground for a while on home consoles and we cannot wait to see where it goes next.
So there we are. Any surprises for you there? Disagree with this ranking? Time to get rating, then! Remember, this is a fluid, ever-changing selection governed by each game's Nintendo Life User Rating, so it's never too late to exert your influence.