The 10 best Nintendo games of the decade
The Nintendo Switch is in ascendency right now, but Nintendo’s arsenal of amazing exclusives in the 2010s stretches across platforms. Which have you overlooked?
Nintendo’s had a turbulent ten years or so. The beloved game and console maker never quite converted the monstrous success of its Wii console into its successor, the Wii U and while its 3DS handheld turned out to be a slow-burning hitmaker, it took the release of the hybrid Nintendo Switch in 2017 to restore the company to its rightful place in the cultural landscape.
Its systems have changed since 2010, but what’s remained consistent throughout is the sheer quality of Nintendo’s first-party and exclusive games. And not just Mario and Zelda either: in this time the company has launched brand new IPs and revived long-dormant ones too. Here, in no particular order, are our picks of the very finest of them, the best Nintendo games of the decade. Let’s dive in, shall we?
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
(Nintendo, Wii U, Switch)
Nintendo don’t rush into things, which sometimes earns the company a lot of flak – its stubborn refusal to release Mother 3 in the West, its lackadaisical approach to online multiplayer support, or re-releasing its old classics on Switch in any meaningful number – but Breath of the Wild is proof that its measured approach can pay off. Years in the making, this Zelda game is a fusion of all of the best bits of the conventions of open-world adventure game genre and the results are even greater than the sum of its parts.
What’s most remarkable is how empowering the game is: instead of putting up obstacles to funnel Link along, as was always the way before in the series, Nintendo simply give you the tools to do whatever you want from the beginning – even fight the final boss – and leave you to crack on as you see fit. That mountain looks fun, can I paraglide off it? Sure. If I cook enough mushrooms I reckon I can climb that cliff. Oh hey it worked! And look what’s on top. Even in a game with minimal conventional story, there’s always, always something amazing around the corner or over the horizon of this vast, meticulously designed Hyrule map. Not only is Breath of the Wild one of the best Nintendo games of the decade, it has a very serious claim to the title of greatest game of all time, period. Peerless.
2. Super Mario 3D World
(Nintendo, Wii U)
As much as we love Super Mario Odyssey for Nintendo Switch, we’d be hard pressed to call it our favourite game in the 3D series that began with Super Mario 64. Its internal logic is all over the shop, even for Mario (why are there dinosaurs everywhere? And not even Yoshi-style ones, just full on T-Rexes) and you get Moons for just about everything you do. Super Mario 3D World, on the other hand, is a beautiful mix of the long-running Mario World and Mario Land platforming series, perfectly pitched for the Wii U’s controller and capabilities. Levels are short, punchy obstacle courses that are relentlessly prepared to take an idea, deploy it once, and then throw it away, never to be used again. Later on, it’s also tough as old boots encased in cement and guarded by piranha plants. We’re at a loss as to why Nintendo haven’t ported this one over to Switch yet when they’ve raided the back catalogue for almost everything else. Let’s hope that changes in 2020.
3. Luigi's Mansion 2
Let’s call a spade a spade. The building in the recently released Luigi’s Mansion 3 is quite literally not a mansion. It’s a hotel. There’s even a sign on the front that says so. On that flimsy rationale alone we’re discounting it from our list and opting for Luigi’s Mansion 2 as our pick for best Luigi game of the decade. It’s a tightly designed Nintendo adventure that makes you backtrack across its cleverly designed halls, but never makes it feel like you’re retreading. Armed with little more than a torch, a vacuum cleaner and Charles Martinet’s wonderful voice acting, Luigi’s persona really shines in this ghost-hunting game. We’re fans of alliteration as much as the next person, but in no way would this be half the fun if it was called Mario’s Mansion.
4. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
(Nintendo, 3DS, Wii U, Switch)
Nintendo games have always been known for their charm, but somehow Captain Toad manages to scale yet new heights of adorable quirk – and he can’t even jump. A spin-off from the bonus levels in Super Mario 3D World, each level is a tiny diorama that an intrepid, anthropomorphic mushroom must explore, scale and reach the end of, solving compact puzzles along the way, while avoiding being sauteed by bullet bills, goombas, shy guys et al. It’s a bit like playing a physical Mario level someone built inside a bottle, only with layers of extra icing on top, not to mention a cherry. Absurdly delightful.
5. Fire Emblem: Awakening
Advance Wars is a beloved series of turn-based strategy games for Nintendo’s handhelds and rightly so. Its creators, Intelligent Systems, asked everyone when it came to make a game for the then-new 3DS in 2012: 'wouldn’t this be more fun with people instead of robots?' After all, people can betray each other, they can fall off pegasuses when you shoot them, and best of all, they can hook up. And so the Fire Emblem franchise was revived – and how! Back came the rock-paper-scissors style tactics and the horrible, horrible fear that permadeath induces (only this time you can turn it off if it really is too stressful). Back also came the wonderful, mind-bending intrigue that came with letting your characters chat each other up, get married and have kids that can immediately start fighting under your banner as well. It was a perfect, intoxicating mix of the two and for our money, the best of the recent slate of Fire Emblem games, which have gravitated more and more towards Japanese dating simulators with each passing release.
6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
That rarest of things, an actual Zelda sequel and as the name suggests, it’s a follow-up to one of the best games in the series, the Super Nintendo’s A Link To The Past. Though set in the future, that game’s map is very much still intact, only with new dungeons and an extra layer of gameplay added by your ability to jump into the walls and wander through portals into a different dimension. This gorgeous, petite Zelda adventure makes the perfect follow up for anyone who’s just finished the remake of Link’s Awakening on Switch.
7. Mario Kart 8
(Nintendo, Wii U, Switch)
You know what you’re getting at this point: blue shells, banana skins, lightning bolts, brilliant multi-player action. Nintendo being Nintendo though, the Japanese gaming giants still manage to innovate on top of the established karting formula, mixing in anti-grav segments to tracks, as well as some frankly terrifying facial animations for Luigi. Best played on Switch, as the Deluxe re-release of the game fixes one of its few flaws, the lack of proper battle mode arenas.
8. Box Boy
There’s not really much more to say beyond: watch the trailer. If this doesn’t melt your heart and pique your interest at the same time, you must be actually be a cardboard box yourself. Better yet, once you’re done with this lo-fi puzzle game, two more sequels on 3DS and another on Switch await you.
9. Super Mario Maker
(Nintendo, Wii U, 3DS)
Nintendo’s thorough world-building and meticulous attention to detail has always been one of their strong suits, though it has meant a fairly prescriptive approach to their biggest properties. So it’s fair to say the entire gaming community was a little surprised to be handed the keys to their most famous kingdom when Super Mario Maker arrived in 2015. The game offered two main options, essentially boiling down to: create and play.
The 10 Mario Challenge allowed players to dive into a series of (frequently surprising) levels created by Nintendo developers, but really the joy was in discovering what madness was built by other players – plunging their hands into Nintendo’s toybox and creating things you’d never usually see Mario hop over (including some that tested the boundaries of good taste and others that disregarded said boundaries entirely). The gameplay was great, obviously, but it was the freedom of creation and a new way of experiencing an old classic that made Super Mario Maker so special. Oh, and the sequel is pretty wonderful too.
10. Pokémon Sun/Moon
Come for the collect-em-all critter hunting and turn-based battling we’ve all grown to love over the last 20 years, stay for the new additions to the Pokédex (anyone who doesn’t choose the dog-seal Popplio as their starter Pokémon is doing it wrong), and the bonkers tropical variants of existing favourites (that freakish palm tree-length Exeggutor). Pokémon Sun and Moon, we choose you.