10. Virtual Boy
The Virtual Boy was Nintendo’s only foray into the 32-bit console space, but this was no ordinary home console. It was, in fact, the world’s first commercial VR unit. The Virtual Boy projected stereoscopic 3D graphics through a headset with a parallax effect that created a depth of field to its graphics. It was an impressive piece of technology that was perhaps too ahead of its time, because as cutting edge as it was back in 1991, Nintendo was forced to make cost-saving compromises which prevented it from realizing its potential.
Even the appearance of Nintendo’s most iconic characters couldn’t save the Virtual Boy from commercial failure. In combination with its low volume of games, high price point, and failure to deliver on the potential of its design, the Virtual Boy was deemed a flop and was subsequently discontinued less than a year after launch.
Given its infancy, Nintendo’s latest console is difficult to place. So far, it seems that user reception has been mostly positive and that its commercial performance is on pace to outperform the Wii U. Although, that’s hardly enough of an indicator of its long term success, especially given that its predecessor also sold fairly well initially. One thing is for certain, though, the Nintendo Switch certainly delivers on the promise of its hybrid design. There’s a real magic to using the Switch in the comfort of one’s front room and then removing it from the dock for genuine portable play.
One thing is for certain, though, the Nintendo Switch certainly delivers on the promise of its hybrid design. There’s a real magic to using the Switch in the comfort of one’s front room and then removing it from the dock for genuine portable play.
There’s more impressive technology packed into its Joy-Con controllers, too. The lineage of Nintendo consoles such as the N64 and Wii are evident in the HD rumble and motion controls. Whether these will actually prove to be valuable assets to gameplay experiences or just flashy gimmicks remains to be seen.
Ultimately, at this stage, there is a lack of software to really show off what Switch can do. Had Nintendo been ready with a more robust line up of first party games, it might have moved much further up this list. To compliment Zelda, it would have been nice to see big franchises like Mario, Splatoon, and Metroid appear closer to, or at launch to make sure the Switch came out of the gates as smoothly as possible. For now, though, void of content during this “soft launch” phase of its release, it remains below its predecessor.
8. Wii U
In essence, the Wii U was Nintendo’s attempt to double down on the immense popularity of the Wii; continuing with motion controls while innovating another “new way to play” with a tablet controller. Unfortunately though, the promise of that design was never quite realized by a killer app that actually made the tablet feel like it added to gameplay in a meaningful way. More importantly, a lack of quality third party content and a painfully slow trickle of first party games sealed the Wii U’s fate.
Still, the Wii U ended its life cycle with a solid selection of quality first party Nintendo games, including Super Mario Bros. and the gorgeous Super Mario Kart 8. More recently, IPs such as Splatoon, and after a very long wait, Breath of the Wild, were a decent swansong for its loyal fanbase. Ultimately, the Wii U’s reputation for low-quality visuals and lack of third party support tainted its reputation to such an extent that Nintendo was forced to abandon it earlier than it would have probably liked. Yet it is still a console with enough quality games to make it a better overall package than the Switch, so far.
With the Gamecube, Nintendo was looking to stand out among its 6th generation console rivals by touting graphical fidelity and an alternative design. But where the N64 had been successfully gambling on new features such as analog controls and higher fidelity, the Gamecube never quite captured that same magic.
The issue certainly wasn’t with the software, as Nintendo delivered its typically well designed, quality gameplay experiences from all its heaviest hitting franchises. Even solid third party support, thanks to a more developer friendly architecture, wasn’t enough to sway people away from the appeal of Sony’s increasing momentum with its PlayStation brand and Microsoft’s new Xbox console.
Gamecube’s poorer commercial performance simply wasn’t a reflection on the quality of its design or software. A cutting edge GPU and the debut of the comfortable ergonomics of its controller were certainly accomplished features. It was arguably more to do with Nintendo’s ever more niche appeal, which was appealing to an increasingly shrinking target audience. In the face of Sony and Microsoft’s ability to cast a wider net and cater to children, as well as a more mature audience, Nintendo came up short. The Gamecube’s fate and the arrival of Satoru Iwata would see Nintendo move away from directly competing with the overwhelming popularity of Sony and Microsoft’s systems.
6. 3DS / DS
After the success of the Game Boy’s many iterations, it was time for an all new generation of handheld gaming that would set the precedent for Nintendo moving forward. The DS introduced more power, a stylus, and a clamshell design that has since become the norm for Nintendo’s portable machines.
The DS and subsequent 3DS models added power and style to the ruggedness and durability of the Game Boy ethos. Most important, quality portable gaming experiences remained the focus of its design, with exclusive content based on all of Nintendo’s most popular franchise. In fact, the original iteration of the DS benefited from being able to play all Game Boy Advanced titles, as well as ports of NES and SNES games, too.
The 3DS iteration didn’t pack the processing power of Sony’s PS Vita, but its extra performance over its predecessors and a new parallax 3D effect – vaguely similar to what had been seen 10 years prior on Virtual Boy – pushed things on. So much so, that even in the face of the immense popularity of smartphone gaming, the 3DS has remained popular. Recent games Pokemon Sun and Moon have only gone to demonstrate the extent of that dedicated following. Sales for the 3DS were boosted to the extent that they topped the hardware charts in Japan for those months.
After the commercial shortcomings of Gamecube, the company’s new president, Satoru Iwata was intent on driving Nintendo to innovate a design that would put its console on an entirely different level than its competition. The Wii did exactly that, with motion controls that reinvented how players interacted with games and paved the way for Nintendo to breach previously untapped corners of the market.
The Wii was to find unparalleled success with a casual audience of players, finding its way into the homes of both younger and older users alike thanks to the novelty of its design. The Wii went on to sell over 100 million units, making it Nintendo’s best selling console of all time.
Certainly, the motion controls were the Wii’s trump card, but it also boasted an excellent library of conventionally controlled games that received universal critical acclaim, including Super Mario Galaxy, The Legend Of Zelda: Wind Waker, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
Despite the 3DS and DS’s immense popularity, the Wii edges above them because its success shaped the company’s future direction. Indeed, rather than struggling in an arms race with rivals Sony and Microsoft, the Wii convinced Nintendo – for better or for worse – that its future lay with innovate ways to play video games.
That said, what held the Wii back was the amount of “shovelware” that populated the console, especially in its later years. Many major AAA titles skipped the Wii, whether it was because of its lack of power, or inability to effectively fit in motion controls, and in their absence, there were many low-quality games that existed mostly to cash in on the success of the hardware.
4. Game Boy / GBA
Whether it’s the PSP, PSVita, DS, or Nintendo Switch, to older folk or non-gamers, every handheld console is really just a Game Boy. Despite being technically inferior to other portable machines of the era such as the Game Gear, Gameboy became the quintessential handheld device, bolstered by its durability, long battery life and an epic library of superb games.
From Mario to Zelda, all of Nintendo’s iconic characters have appeared in highly successful Game Boy titles. Pokemon Red/Blue would later see the console come back to the forefront of the mainstream, seven years after its release.
The Game Boy went through multiple iterations, as Nintendo designed streamlined and color screen versions. Later, it would significantly upgrade performance with a new line of handheld console, the Game Boy Advanced. Adding a faster processor, higher-resolution screen, and shoulder buttons, the GBA’s hardware specifications were equivalent to a portable SNES. As well as being able to play many SNES ports (some featuring extra content), the GBA was also backwards compatible with Game Boy/Game Boy Color and built a significant library of its own games, too.
Despite the immense success of the Wii, the Game Boy nudges ahead for its impact on the handheld game market. In the end, the handheld market would become a hugely important one for Nintendo, reaching an audience even greater and longer lasting than the Wii’s.
The Nintendo Entertainment System is where is all began. After the home console crash of the late 1980s, many believed Nintendo’s venture with the NES to be a futile one, but it was destined to become the catalyst for some of the most iconic brands in entertainment. With the NES, Nintendo didn’t just make a piece of hardware capable of playing video games, it imagined a fantasy world that was all about bringing joy and happiness to children. But more than just inventing a colorful cast of feel-good characters, Nintendo placed a premium on quality gameplay experiences.
Intent on protecting itself against another market crash, and as the undisputed dominant force in the industry, Nintendo sought to control every process in the video games during the NES era. From license agreements with third parties, cartridge production, and retail contracts; Nintendo’s business policies were often the center of unrest and controversy. While that was somewhat understandable, the upshot for players was Nintendo’s unrelenting standard of quality and commitment to providing the best possible experience to its customers.
Essentially, Nintendo’s monopoly of the video game market ensured that the NES dominated proceedings during the mid to late 1980s. Home consoles would live on and become Nintendo’s most important market.
In 1995, the N64 was born, packing the most powerful GPU ever seen on a home console, sporting a funky analog stick controller and four controller ports.
Indeed, local multiplayer action was at the heart of the N64’s success. The reception to the four controller ports in combination with hugely popular games such as Mario Kart and Golden Eye placed social multiplayer gaming experiences at the forefront of Nintendo’s philosophy moving forward.
The N64 was revolutionary in so many other ways, too. For starters, whereas today, extra graphical performance is about making things prettier, the N64 actually used its grunt to reinvent video game design. Classic games such as Mario 64 completely reinvented platforming and set the standard for all future games of the genre, using 64-bit performance to create level design and scale which was previously unobtainable.
All of Nintendo’s most iconic franchise got the 64-bit, 3D treatment, and all of them were critically acclaimed seminal classics. Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Mario Kart 64, Star Fox 64, the list goes on. While the volume of third party content wasn’t exemplary, what did make it onto the console was superb. The legendary Golden Eye and Turok the Dinosaur Hunter were among the standouts.
On the whole, the N64 paved the way forward for the industry with both hardware and software innovations that would become adopted as the norm.
How do you follow up the console that single-handedly brought the home console market back from the brink of doom and saw the birth of Nintendo’s most iconic characters, while also ensuring the continued dominance of the brand amid a far more competitive market? That was the rather large dilemma that Nintendo faced as the sun began to set on the 8-bit NES console.
Enter the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo’s masterpiece; a console that would push the boundaries of home entertainment and forge a legacy of arguably the best ever library of games.
Just one look at an SNES, primed with a colorful Super Mario World cartridge, is enough to send tingles of nostalgia down the back of the neck. This was the console that would define Nintendo moving forward, innovating new game design, continuing to add to its roster of lovable characters, and always meeting its own high standards of quality. The SNES was a world beater, ultimately proving Nintendo could still rule the roost even under intense competition from its rival, SEGA.
Many of Nintendo’s most iconic franchise have arguably had their apex title appear on the SNES with games that include Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Super Metroid. What’s more, the list of third party games is also extensive, with entries such as Chrono Trigger, numerous Final Fantasy titles, and Street Fighter II.
The SNES is the ultimate expression of everything we love about Nintendo; iconic characters brought to life in some of the best gameplay experiences ever made, spanning sequels and innovative new IPs.