Since the mid-80s, Nintendo has been a staple of home console games. With properties like the original Super Mario and Legend of Zelda, the NES cemented itself as a building block of the games industry. This success didn’t take long to translate into the handheld market either, with the original Gameboy releasing near the end of the decade. With such huge success early in the lifespan of the industry, it’s no surprise that Nintendo has given us some of gaming’s most beloved franchises. Many of Nintendo’s intellectual properties have seen massive commercial success in the company’s nearly 40-year history. But unfortunately, other franchises have fallen off the radar over time. I’d like to present a list of the top 5 Nintendo franchises that deserve new titles.
For the sake of this list, I’ll only be looking at underrated series with two or more games. There may be worthy standalone titles that deserve sequels, but that’s a list for another day.
The Punch-Out!! series first arrived in the form of arcade cabinets in 1983 in Japan, and 1984 in Europe and North America. The game consists of several boxing rounds, each progressively harder as the player rises through the ranks. 1987 would see a version of the game released for the NES. This title introduced the series main fighter, Little Mac, who, despite his size, takes on large opponents. The idea of Little Mac fighting outsized rivals became a staple of the series. The game was such a success that acclaimed boxer, Mike Tyson, lent his name to some versions of the game and even appeared as a final boss.
The most recent release of a new Punch-Out!! game was in 2009 for the Wii. This same version would appear on the Wii U virtual console later on. The franchise clearly still holds the attention of both developers and fans, as Little Mac appears as a playable fighter in the Super Smash Bros. series. A Punch-Out!! title on the switch may stand a better chance because of accessibility. The Wii version, like many Wii games, relied on motion controls. Motion controls in a boxing game are easy to learn and pretty intuitive, but many fans didn’t care for the new control system. On the switch, the motion control option could be kept intact while also providing a gamepad or controller option for those who prefer the classic feel. Despite this, it doesn’t seem like any new Punch-Out!! titles are on the horizon. The Wii version of the game didn’t sell as many copies as Nintendo had hoped, which may have sealed the series fate.
2. Wave Race
This is a racing game of a different color. The 1992 release of the original Wave Race on the Gameboy is an early title in the niche genre of jet ski racing games. Critics praised the game for accurately capturing the feel of watersport racing. There were two different game modes in the Gameboy entry. In slalom mode, players had to weave between markers to earn points. While the race mode was a more typical race. This first entry in the series was only released in North America and Europe, but its success led to its sequels also releasing in Japan. The game would end up receiving two sequels, Wave Race 64 for the N64 released in 1996, and Wave Race: Blue Storm released on the GameCube in 2001. There was also some work done on a version for the Wii, but during its development, Nintendo decided to go in a different direction.
With each iteration, the games would continue to be praised for capturing the feeling of the sport, as well as for the realistic water graphics at the time. Each game added more elements into the series as well. Wave Race, 64 expanded game mode options with time trials and stunt modes and Blue Storm, added more interesting characters with different stats.
The series has remained silent since 2001, but some believe there may be a new title in the works. In 2018, Shinya Takahashi, director of the N64 and GameCube Wave Race games, made an appearance at the BAFTAs. At the event, the press asked him about the possibility of another game in the franchise. His Response?
“You may see that game again. We have been trying to make many games, and that may be one of them…” – Shinya Takahashi
Two years later, in February of 2020, Nintendo filed to renew its trademark on the series. So, while there isn’t any concrete evidence that the franchise is due for a revival, it seems to be seeing renewed attention. Takahashi’s statement is all we’ve heard on the possible title since 2018, but the recent trademark activity suggests that Wave Race might get more love in the near future.
3. Kid Icarus
In 1985, Nintendo was riding high on their success but wanted to try something new. They began development on a more action-oriented game. That game became Metroid. After Metroid’s success, many of the same programmers were tasked with making another game to bring some action to Nintendo’s catalogue. This new game, sometimes called Metroid’s sister game, is Kid Icarus, which was released in 1986 to mild success. Based heavily on Greek mythology, the game stars an angel named Pit, who was born without the ability to fly. Despite this, the Goddess Palutena tasked him with defeating Medusa. Even though sales numbers were somewhat low, a sequel would come to the Gameboy in 1991. Although it seems the fan base wasn’t eager enough to support it, as, after this game, the series silently came to an end.
That was the last we’d see of Pit until 2008. The team developing Super Smash Bros. Brawl decided to add him onto the roster to honor one of Nintendo’s older series. This led to speculation that there might be a new Kid Icarus game in development for the Wii. There was not. But the fan outcry over the potential next game didn’t go unnoticed. Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo at the time, agreed with fans that a new game should be made. He wanted it to be a launch title for the 3DS, tasked Masahiro Sakurai with the game’s development. If that name sounds familiar, you may know Sakurai as the man behind the Super Smash Bros. series, so this new title was in good hands.
The game didn’t hit its target release window as a launch title but did hit store shelves in 2012, officially resurrecting the series after 20 years. Fans praised the game for its stellar gameplay and writing, leading to great success. So, if the game performed well, why haven’t we heard any mention of a follow up yet? Well, shortly after release, Masahiro Saukrai would begin work on Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U, which quickly transitioned into the development of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. With the success of Smash Ultimate, the development team is still working on DLC years later. So, in short, Sakurai is busy. But hope still remains that one day, he’ll lend his talents to another Kid Icarus revival.
First introduced as a launch title for the SNES in 1990, F-Zero remains a favorite among fans of fast-paced racing games. Often credited as one of the fastest and most difficult racing games on the market, the franchise sped straight to a spot near the top of the SNES’ catalogue. 8 years later, the game would take the leap into the third dimension with F-Zero X on the N64. The franchise was doing so well that Captain Falcon, one of the game’s playable racers, would be chosen for inclusion in the first Super Smash Bros. along with Nintendo’s top mascots. The series then saw success on the GameCube and in arcades. It also received a 51 episode anime adaptation, which has thankfully been archived by fans. But when the game returned to 2D titles on the Gameboy Advance, it seems some fans weren’t ready to follow it, as the slight decline in sales became much larger.
It wasn’t long before new Nintendo fans came to know Captain Falcon as a fighter first and a racer second. But, his presence in Nintendo’s flagship fighter ensured that the series wasn’t forgotten. Fans are still eager for more high octane racing in the F-Zero style, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Nintendo released some F-Zero themed DLC for Mario Kars 8 in 2015. While it was a joy to race on tracks and in karts inspired by the series, this only satiated the masses for a short time. In the same year, Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of the F-Zero franchise and a notable Nintendo designer, appeared in an interview on Smosh. When asked about the future of the series, he responded:
“Maybe if we created a new type of controller interface that’s particularly suited for F-Zero, then maybe we’ll do something with it again in the future.” – Shigeru Miyamoto
A noncommittal answer, sure, but it shows that he’s open to the idea. In an industry so saturated with media, it’s important to make sure your game is made in the best way possible. It seems Miyamoto didn’t believe the hardware at the time was the right fit. One thing to note is that this interview took place before the release of the Switch. Could the Joy-Con controller system meet Miyamoto’s requirements? There’s been no word on the series lately, so it’s hard to say. Regardless, it seems that Miyamoto is trying to make sure that if the game does see release, it will be up to fans’ standards. That’s the price we pay for truly great games: A long development cycle.
Chibi-Robo! is a GameCube title that first saw release in Japan in 2005 and Europe and North America in 2006. In the original game, you play as a four-inch-tall robot who must clean the house of his family and help them solve various problems. The game mixed exploration, platforming, and light puzzle elements to create something that hadn’t been seen on the console before. Fittingly for a game with such a small protagonist, it flew under the radar for most people, who likely passed it over for something more recognizable. Despite that, it’s critical success did get it enough attention to produce a few sequel games for the DS. Park Patrol! was released in 2007, followed by the Japan-exclusive Okaeri! Chibi-Robo! Happy Richie Ōsōji!
The games were standard follow-ups, taking the original concept and evolving it to new heights. Park Patrol brought the robot outside to help in the garden, while Happy Richie Ōsōji added certain cleaning tools to his arsenal. but the 2007 title also didn’t perform well in the west, which explains why they never saw Happy Richie Ōsōji.
The franchise sat dormant for five years as developers tried to decide if they should keep working on the series, and if so, how. 2014 gave us the answer, but not in the way you might expect. Chibi-Robo! Photo Finder! kept parts of the previous games, like the emphasis on exploration, but dialed them back, adding the main focus of taking pictures with the 3DS camera feature. This game was released exclusively on the 3DS eShop, which partially contributed to the game’s poor reception. But evidently, it showed that the series still had some fans holding on. A year later, the release of Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash! took the series in an entirely new direction. This time, the game took the form of a 2.5D platformer. This game stripped away most of the exploration elements in favor of new platforming mechanics. Our little robot friend could now use his cord as a whip to attack or a rope to swing across ledges.
Zip Lash was the worst game yet in a series already dangling by a thread. The developers removed what gave the series its charm in favor of something safer but less interesting. The game’s miserable reception was the final nail in the tiny coffin of our four-inch hero, and potentially the company who created him. The original games offered something new. Even though many overlooked it, there were plenty of people still waiting for more. But an attempt to fix something that wasn’t broken cost the franchise its charm. It’s very unlikely we’ll ever see a new Chibi-Robo! Game. With the direction the series was taking, that might be a good thing. But the original game will always serve as a reminder of what could have been.