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.
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 a game which blends all sorts of ideas and art styles into an improbably coherent, compelling whole. It really shouldn't work, but New Donk City's human inhabitants are able to co-exist with the anthropomorphic cutlery of the Luncheon Kingdom and the big-eyed cute characters of the Mushroom Kingdom clan thanks solely to the developers' impeccable execution. The mechanical mastery on display here is breathtaking; there's a joyful abandon to the game which carries through every kingdom you visit, with so many distractions and things to discover. We don't envy the designers who have to come up with Mario's next game, but if Mario Odyssey's anything to go by, absolutely anything is possible.
An utterly remarkable entry in this most celebrated of series, then, and an essential purchase whether you like Mario or not.
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.
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 Smash stack up against the rest? Vocal concerns about past games were actively addressed. Every single fighter from the series is present (even Pichu) and joined by a colossal roster of DLC characters from the annals of gaming (let's not forget that this is the game responsible for bringing Banjo and Kazooie back home to a Nintendo console). 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.
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 couldn't have been higher. Somehow, Galaxy 2 expanded on the inventiveness of the original, turning up the colour dial to eleventy-stupid. This was Nintendo tearing up the rule book and pasting it back together in fascinating, surprising ways, flexing its beefed up and confidently creative muscles after the first game, with a huge variety of environments and obstacles, plus Yoshi and a host of new power-ups. It's an absolutely brilliant time. 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.
In this HD remaster, 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 HD sheen, 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, though lovely in its own right, is not necessarily 'better'; it's heavy on the bloom compared to the sublime original. Still, The Wind Waker was never in need of a drastic overhaul; this refinement made welcome tweaks that brought it more in line with modern standards. A great game made (for the most part) even greater, then.
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, both for its franchise and Nintendo. It was the first time that the company truly took on the open-world genre, and by arriving late to the party it embraced the strengths from top-in-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 Zelda in a new direction, and delivered an absolute triumph which still has us regularly revisiting its iteration of Hyrule. Its sequel expanded on the open world first presented here, but the excitement of exploring this wilderness for the very first is an experience nobody should miss.
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.