The 30 Best Nintendo Games of All-Time

The best of the best from Nintendo.

mobile hero nintendo 1080x1168
Getty Images

Have you ever stopped to think about what the gaming landscape would look like without Nintendo? Since its 1977 Color-TV Game launch, Nintendo has become one of the most prolific video game companies in history, with its dominance extending forty-plus years. Many of the most iconic video games of all time were developed and released by Nintendo, and those games set a precedent  for the current and future state of gaming. Today we are taking a nostalgic trip down memory lane, revisiting the most influential titles to hit Nintendo consoles. Here are the 30 best Nintendo games of all-time.

1. Donkey Kong Arcade Game

Release Date: July 9th, 1981

Once upon a time, you had to go to the arcade if you wanted to play certain video games. Released in 1981, Donkey Kong was used as one of the games to break Nintendo into the North American market. A platforming game featuring loads of obstacles and roadblocks, Donkey Kong, was an early test of running and jumping maneuverability. Now from a gameplay standpoint, this isn’t the best Donkey Kong ever, but we have to recognize the importance of the 1981 version, as its success was critical to the early development of Nintendo.

2. Vice: Project Doom

Release Date: April 26th, 1991

Released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Project Doom is the story of a secret agent looking to investigate and uncover an alien substance. Drawing comparisons to Ninja Garden, Project Doom consisted of 11 stages complete with movie-style sequences and theatrics. The storyline was ahead of its time, and players were given the options of three different weapons to select from. You could go with a 44 Magnum Revolver, the laser whip, or a supply of M-24 stick grenades. Very ‘James Bond’ like if you ask us. Again, the first-person shooting method was a preview of many of the shooting games that would come out towards the end of the 1990s and early 2000s.

3. Chrono Trigger

Release Date: April 26th, 1991

Chronicling a group of adventurers engaged in time traveling to avoid a global disaster, Chrono Trigger was a major hit and is now recognized as one of the best Nintendo video games of all-time. The characters were interesting, the visuals were pretty decent for the year 1995, and the multiple endings meant that you could play the game a variety of times with a different experience. Chrono Trigger featured the ‘Active Time Battle’ system, an element most notably used in the Final Fantasy series. While, Fantasy Fantasy received more attention, Chrono Trigger did a solid job of holding its own. 

4. Contra

Release Date: February 27th, 1987

An arcade game released in 1987, Contra made its way to the NES in 1988, eventually becoming one of Nintendo’s most recognizable titles. The main characters, Bill and Lance, were very much inspired by the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sylvester Sallone dominance of the late 80s (they look just like them), and the game itself was a ‘run and jump’ shooting game that could be played in either a single or multiplayer mode. Players could choose to play in different formats, and the level of difficulty increased as the game progressed. Contra is one of those classic games that capture he magic of the era it was released, and to that point, we haven’t seen a game quite like it since.

5. Super Metroid

Release Date: March 19th, 1994

Released on the Super Nintendo System (SNES), Super Metroid was an action-adventure game featuring Samus Aran. In our opinion, Samus can sometimes be underappreciated in terms of Nintendo characters. She doesn’t always get credit for her ability to charm while kicking butt, and some have made the argument that she didn’t really fit in with the rest of the Nintendo cast. Nonetheless, the 16-bit exploration game received praise from critics and fans, and was an adventure from start to finish.

6. Banjo-Kazooie

Release Date: June 29th, 1998

Banjo-Kazooie was a less complex game compared to the others on this list so far. It was an explorative N64 game featuring Banjo the bear, and a large red bird known as Kazooie. Together they were given the task of trying to take down the wicked witch Gruntilda. The graphics on Banjo were pretty cool, and at times the game could be a bit challenging. All in all, Banjo was a quality game worthy of being put on this list.

7. Jackal

Release Date: October 1986

Also known as Top Gunner, Jackal was a ‘shoot-em-up bang bang’ game that tested maneuverability and control skills as players had to control a Green Beret attack Jeep in order to rescue trapped prisoners. Along the way, players would also encounter a plethora of hostile targets and situations en route to their destination. A challenging game with a dramatic finish, Jackal, has rightfully earned its place in Nintendo history.

8. Wii Sports

Release Date: November 19th, 2006

You can’t make a list about the greatest Nintendo games of all time without including Wii Sports. Released on the Wii video game console, Wii ports was a collection of mini-games from five different sports (tennis, baseball, golf, bowling, and boxing). Now we can admit that Wii Sports wasn’t the most groundbreaking Nintendo game to ever exist, but its impact can’t be denied. Wii Sports was a great family game, that allowed you to get a slight workout in the process.

9. Secret of Mana

Release Date: August 6th, 1993

A role-playing action game released on the SNES, Secret of Mana was a fantasy RPG complete with an interesting storyline, stunning imagery, and interesting battles as players followed three characters on a conquest to use the power of an ancient flying fortress in an attempt to conquer the world. A compelling combat game, Secret of Mana brought the entertainment.

10. Maniac Mansion

Release Date: 1987

Released in 1987, Maniac Mansion was yet another adventure game that drew inspiration from some of the popular science fiction horror films popular during that time (I.E., Ghostbusters). Following the story of a young man (Dave) who was trying to rescue his girlfriend (Sandy) from an evil scientist, gamers could play as Dave and two of his friends as they tried to put the pieces together to locate Sandy. Maniac Mansion was praised for its humor and animation, and there were different endings depending on which characters survived.

11. Mario Tennis

Release Date: July 21st, 2000

This is an editor’s pick. We know not many people wouldn’t consider putting Mario Tennis on an all-time list, but that is because we feel the game is underrated. Even if you weren’t a tennis fan, Mario Tennis was a highly enjoyable and informative title that helped define the Gameboy era. The game taught you essential tennis skills, and the difficulty increased as you moved through the rankings. 

12. F-Zero X

Release Date: July 14th, 1998

You can never go wrong with a great racing game. F-Zero X brought the ‘need for speed’ with its futuristic graphics and intensity. Featuring a ‘Death Mode’ where the objective was to kill the other races by basically running them off the road, this wasn’t your average racecar game. The electric rock music added to the fun, making F-Zero X the ultimate hype game. 

13. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

Release Date: December 22nd, 1989

There were so many incredible games released in the Castlevania series, and honestly, every single one of them could potentially have a spot on this list. That said, Dracula’s Curse was a must as it expanded upon the previous two releases by taking the storyline and gameplay to the next level. The game follows Trevor, the main character, as he attempts to conquer Dracula. Dracula’s Curse was a decent action game for the year 1989 and helped set the tone for Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge.

14. Ninja Gaiden

Release Date: October 1988

Known for its degree of difficulty, action gameplay, and music, Ninja Gaiden was another legendary Nintendo series. The first installment was challenging from the get-go, with players battling as Ryu Hayabusa, a ninja on a journey to America after receiving a letter from his missing father. The cut-scenes and ninja moves boosted the games’ many battles, as players could use surrounding objects as weapons. The foundation for the sequels was established in this first installment, and Ninja Gaiden was a critical influence in terms of how future ninja games were approached.

15. Donkey Kong Country

Release Date: November 18th, 1994

Highly anticipated and widely acclaimed, Donkey Kong Country is one of the best Nintendo video games to ever exist, winning multiple accolades along the way. An immersive experience that captured 1990s culture so beautifully, Donkey Kong Country has withstood the test of time, with younger generations itching to discover the magic. This game was truly brilliant and wound up spawning two sequels: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest and Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!, both of whom were equally praised.

16. Mario Kart 8

Release Date: May 29th, 2014

It’s pretty safe to say that Mario Kart 8 is considered to be the best game out of the Mario Kart franchise. Highly addictive with amazing graphics, Mario Kart 8 introduced the anti-gravity mode to the series, giving players a real-time racing experience. The battle mode was a hit or miss, but it hasn’t stopped Mario Kart 8 from being a fan favorite. 

17. Mike Tyson Punch-Out!!

Release Date: September 18th, 1987

The survey says that Punch-Out!! also deserves a spot on this list. Released in 1987, Punch-Out!! is considered one of the best boxing games of all time. Featuring a boxer known as ‘Little Mac,’ players had to box their way through multiple rounds and levels in the attempt to reach the final level known as the ‘Dream Fight.’ The game was inspired by a young boxer named Mike Tyson (you may have heard of him), and Tyson received a hefty paycheck for his likeness.

18. Excitebike

Release Date: November 30th, 1984

One of the first motocross racing video games to be developed, Excitebike, was about as good of a bike racing game that you could get for the year 1984. Players were given five different tracks to select from, with the ultimate goal being to qualify for the Excitebike Championship race. Excitebike was a commercial success and is considered yet another classic Nintendo game.

19. Street Fighter II

Release Date: March 1991

Street Fighter II just might be the best arcade game ever and remains one of the most impactful fighting games ever. While the game was eventually released to SNES pulling hefty numbers, the arcade version wound up becoming one of/ if not the most successful arcade game of the 1990s. With an estimated revenue of over $10 billion, Street Fighter II was one of those timeless games that helped usher in a new era of both console and arcade gaming.

20. Pokemon Gold and Silver

Release Date: November 21st, 1999

One of the most dynamic games to ever hit the Game Boy, Pokemon Gold and Silver was a compelling game with heated battles, an engaging storyline, and unparalleled rivalries. Gold and Silver offered probably one of the most diverse worlds in the Pokemon franchise, allowing players the ultimate exploring adventure. When it comes to Pokemon games, Gold and Silver is considered the standard.

21. Tetris

Release Date: June 6th, 1984

Tetris may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but there is no disputing the impact it's had on puzzle games. The game itself required critical thinking skills as players tried to keep the puzzle blocks from overflowing by moving and rotating the tetrads as they fell. It may have sounded easy, but Tetris was definitely a challenge. The game became so popular that it spawned multiple spin offs over the decades, and can now be played on IOS and Android devices.

22. Super Mario Kart (Original)

Release Date: August 27th, 1992

Super Mario Kart walked so that Mario Kart 8 could run. An informative and innovative game, Super Mario Kart featured all of Mario’s most beloved characters as they trudged through different modes and races. Players could choose either a single or multiplayer mode, and were given the option to select from three different battle modes. Super Mario Kart was praised for its originality, making it one of the best selling Nintendo games of all time.

23. Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Release Date: November 21st, 1991

Taking on the role of Link, players were given the challenge of wrestling Princess Zelda from the hands of Agahnim, a wizard seeking to release his dark master. An open world game, players were rewarded with vigorous combat modes, fascinating world maps, and daring puzzles. Gamers literally had the whole world at their fingertips, and animations made Zelda one of the finest games on the SNES console.

24. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Release Date: November 21st, 1998

With 2D still ruling, Ocarina of Time was an extravagant escapade focusing on fantasy time-travel, dungeons, and countless puzzles. Ocarina of Time introduced many of the gaming components that would be prominent in 3D adventure games including: target-lock systems and context-sensitive buttons. When it comes to N64 games, not very many are touching Ocarina of Time.

25. Super Mario World

Release Date: November 21, 1990

While this list may feel Super Mario and Zelda heavy, it is a testament to how dominant these franchises’ were in the 1990s and 2000s. An SNES launch, Super Mario World saw Mario in a mission to save Princess Peach and Dinosaur Land from Bowser and the minion Koopalings. With enhanced technical features, brand new mechanics, and precise attention to detail, Super Mario World didn’t disappoint.

26. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Release Date: March 3rd, 2017

Breath of the Wild has all of the necessary components to be ranked number one on any all-time list with a captivating storyline, stunning visuals, and groundbreaking adventures. Players also have the unlimited freedom to explore and do whatever they want during gameplay. Breath of the Wild remains one of the greatest games ever. Nothing more needs to be said.

27. Donkey Kong ‘94

Release Date: June 14th, 1994

A featured Gameboy release, Donkey Kong ‘94 was based on the original 1981 arcade version. While later games certainly had better graphics, the overall structure of the game was genius. Featuring gameplay elements from previous Donkey Kong and Super Mario games, the ‘94 version required players to complete four stages before switching to an entirely new game mechanic for the following levels. The puzzles were off the wall, making it a Gameboy masterpiece.

28. Pokemon Red and Blue

Pokemon Red and Blue

Now considered a collectors item, Pokemon Red and Blue was an early RPG that where players had to navigate through Kanto in order to master Pokemon Battling. Pokemon Red and Blue helped set the course for future Pokemon games, and with a renewed interest in Pokemon, this is worth getting your hands on whether you have a Gameboy to play the game or not.

29. Metroid

Release Date: August 6th, 1986

A combination of Super Smash Bros and Zelda, Metroid is one of the first games on record to feature a female protagonist. An exploration game with different endings depending on which path you took, Metroid received positive reviews while also selling moderately well. While some prefer the later installments in the Metroid series, this one is still considered one of the top five NES games.

30. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Release Date: December 7th, 2018

This is still a relatively new game, so it can definitely be fairly debated on whether or not it should be included in an all-time list. The main reason we included Ultimate is because of the roster. Ultimate includes every single character from all the Smash games, which is unprecedented. The overall gameplay and storyline is also a huge selling point, and so are the graphics. In our opinion, Ultimate is probably the cohesive Smash game to date.

That’s going to do it! This list was one of the hardest we have ever had to make, simply because of how many legendary titles Nintendo has released over the decades. We hope you enjoyed this article, and got to experience a little nostalgia in the process.

Did you like this article?
Thumbs Up
Thumbs Down