Nintendo has been among the best (if not THE) developers for nearly three decades; a whole generation of gamers has grown up since they invaded living rooms with the game-changing NES in the mid-1980s, and many of their franchises still exist today, while, unfortunately, a few have died or faded into obscurity. Like any great series with an overflow of entries, some of these games don't quite get the love they deserve, or they've been overshadowed by other games in the series.
Having just bought a new Nintendo Switch, I am taking a look at some of the most underrated Nintendo games/series of all time; some of them could possibly see a revival, maybe even on the Nintendo Switch. Here are my top five most underrated franchises or games in Nintendo's catalog.
F-Zero X (N64)
It's pretty fair to say that the entire F-Zero series is underrated, and there hasn't been a new game since F-Zero Climax on the GBA–only released in Japan– in 2004. It was Captain Falcon's appearance in the Super Smash Bros games that popularized the series in the first place. It's sad because every F-Zero game was really fun, and they often pushed Nintendo's hardware to their limits, even on the GBA and SNES– very poor 3D devices.
Many people complain that Nintendo's games are too easy or family oriented, but Fire Emblem and F-Zero are two series that have seen multiple entries by Nintendo and are anything but easy and immediately accessible. F-Zero is fast, hypersonic even, and you have HP, can smash into other vehicles, and there are many points in the levels where you can fall off into an instant death, after which, the whole race must be started over. The same punishing end comes if you take too much damage by bouncing off railings and obstacles and blowing up. In at least some of the games, there were limited continues as well, so there is a good chance you would need to replay the whole circuit again until you improved enough to conquer it.
F-Zero X on the N64 was the most standout F-Zero game in my opinion. It brought in more racers (about 30), and the game really looked beautiful and vibrant on the N64, fully taking advantage of true 3D capabilities. It featured neon colored tracks and galactic backdrops with some really intricate and radical ship design for its time.
The N64 was home to many great racers, but F-Zero X could hold its own and is even better than most of them. The level design and random levels were fantastic, and the controls were tight. It's hard to take your face away from the screen for even a second of the action, and the game was really hard. It took some patience to master, but every race was exciting, and whether one player or multi-player, the elation that comes from winning a race or circuit truly took your breath away–or gave it back to you. There are boosts, jumps, and crazy loops to survive, and F-Zero X still holds up well today. The Nintendo switch would be a beautiful place for a new F-Zero game, maybe even with motion controls?
Golden Sun (GBA)
If this title doesn't ring a bell or feels like some distant land you forgot in the decade-plus of great gaming since it's release, Golden Sun was a game that was developed by Camelot (most famous for the Shining Force games) and Nintendo. I included it because Nintendo still owns full rights to the series.
Around this time, JRPGs were at their peak, and it's very easy to have missed even some of the best games in the genre. Golden Sun for the GBA was just that; it's been called one of the best JRPGs ever made for any platform, and it is absolutely one of the most visually stunning games released on the GBA.
It may seem like a simple RPG at first, but the music is symphonic and epic and each environment is full of bold colors. The animations are second to none on the GBA, and the splashing spells and swift blows to enemies were way ahead of their time. Even the rain and animations in towns were head and shoulders above most other games.
The gameplay is solid too. It had a really neat feature where you could play certain events out of order, and the magic spells could be used outside of battle to solve puzzles such as making bridges in dungeons. The battle system is simple but addicting, and this game's plot–revolving around the sealing of alchemy–was so big that it took two sequels to complete the tale. To be honest, I never played the third game, but Golden Sun the Lost Age takes place directly after the prequel and is equally amazing.
These games don't necessarily need a continuation, but Golden Sun has its own unique universe, and there could be a whole new story created within the lore of the series. Being a handheld series, the Nintendo switch would be an ideal place for a new Golden Sun.
Super Mario 3D Land (Nintendo 3DS)
I almost picked Mario 2 for this list, but that game is already on every similar list, and chances are, you have played it on one of the many re-releases or ports already available. Super Mario 3D Land was very well received, but I feel like it was overshadowed by other modern Mario games, and it's one of my personal favorite entries in the mile-long Mario catalog.
The Nintendo 3DS had a rough start, and in many ways, it seemed like it would suffer the same fate as the Wii U. The Nintendo 3DS had a similar name and appearance to the Nintendo DS, and the 3D fad was already going out of style when the handheld dropped. On top of that, Nintendo offered a gimmicky ambassador program for early adopters who spent $249.99 only to see the 3DS drop to 169.99 less than a year later.
Super Mario 3D Land was one of the few great early titles for the 3D device, and at that time, Nintendo's system was on shaky ground, to say the least. I was an early 3DS adopter, and I adored this game. Of course, the 3DS found success over time, but the shaky launch may forever stunt Mario 3D Land's place in the Mario universe.
The game featured amazing level design that mixed elements from the past and present; levels could be as short as 30 seconds long (a toss-back to Super Mario Bros 3), and there was a wonderful and balanced blend of 2D and 3D gameplay (welcome back Tanooki suit). The music is often taken from previous games, there are secret coins to find alongside all your favorite Mushroom Kingdom characters. This game nailed the perfect amount of Mario nostalgia with a beautiful new adventure that felt fresh. The supreme level design and the return of familiar items and even the Koopa kids all make this one of Mario's finest adventures, also one that is rarely talked about. Definitely go play this if you haven't already.
The Legend of Zelda The Minish Cap (GBA)
With a series like Zelda, opinion definitely differs on the best and worst Zeldas. It's a testament to just how great and consistent the games are. If there is one great Zelda game that almost nobody talks about anymore, it's The Minish Cap. It was originally released on the GBA, and, oddly enough, Capcom assisted Nintendo with the development.
Like usual, The Minish Cap drew excitement and got good reviews upon release. It really did most things right. First off, it has some of the most beautiful graphics seen in the entire series. It felt like a farewell to the 2D era of Zelda, though later, 2D Zelda would return. The soundtrack is utterly gorgeous, and the entire world map was full of secrets to explore and find. Of course, this will be a turn off for some who want a more narrative-driven Zelda game, but it's a huge adventure for such a small screen.
The kinstone fusion, both loved and hated, was a cool ability to fuse magic items in the game to get prizes, and it forced you to talk to many of the games NPCs. Like any great Zelda game, The Minish Cap took some bold chances, that not everybody will love, but that is what makes it near and dear to people who played it and enjoyed it.
The concept of shrinking down was unique, and it worked especially well for a handheld Zelda game. It's been a long time since I have played, and I am thrilled to have bought another copy; this is a Zelda that will continue to age well, and it's very well designed. If you have never played or don't remember it well, give it a go.
Kirby's Dream Land 3 (SNES)
Even above any Mario and Zelda game, Kirby's Dream Land 3 is criminally underrated and forgotten. The game suffered a unique predicament; it was one of the last SNES games ever released. In 1997 the PlayStation and N64 had already been dropping great games for over a year, and Nintendo was still releasing a few last titles for the SNES, THE LAST published by Nintendo being the amazing Kirby's Dream Land 3.
I was a Kirby Superstar kid, but after playing Kirby's Dream Land 3, it's quite possibly my favorite game in the series. It has adorable hand-drawn graphics, and Kirby can ride a host of friends with different abilities–this is on top of his ability to suck in foes and take their powers.
What I love about the game is that is truly is dreamy, in a childlike, relaxing sort of way, and the game seemed to have more depth than past entries. I usually find Kirby games to be too easy, and Kirby's Dream Land 3 is by no means a very challenging game, but I loved the secrets in each level. Every stage has a star to collect, and the methods of obtaining them always varied. For example, in one stage, you mustn't stomp on any single flower to receive the star; this may sound cryptic, but a sound plays if fail to get it, so you can pinpoint the part of the stage where to find it.
The game has six full worlds, and the secret stars allow you to fight the true final boss and see the best ending. Too easy or not, this game was missed by many, and whether or not it's one of your favorite Kirby games, it's an amazing addition to the series with a ton of charm and a really endearing artistic direction.
I didn't realize it so much before, but in compiling a list of games for this article, I found that many of them were handheld. Nintendo's handhelds have always been amazing, sometimes even better than the home consoles, but the games are often placed in a lower tier.
I thought of adding games likes Advance Wars, Yoshi's Island DS, and Metroid Fusion to this list, all amazing handheld games that get less attention than their console counterparts.
I also want to point out that these are by no means my favorite games by Nintendo or favorite games in their respective series, just series and games that deserve more credit and attention than they should have gotten.
Most of the series above are huge, and they will elicit a lot of different opinions. Please let me know, what are your top five most underrated Nintendo games/series in the comments below?