It’s only once every so often we get to see a new Nintendo hardware launch. Four and a half years after the quiet launch of the Wii U, we now will have our hands on the Nintendo Switch, long rumored before as the Nintendo NX. Its patents and spec notes were poured over by the industry prior to its announcement this winter, but the gist remained the same. This was to be a portable console and a home console in one. Consumers will no longer be required to spend $200-300 on two separate systems, but instead will receive comparable performance in both modes. Between the build of the Switch tablet piece and gyroscopic, microscopic Joycon controllers, Nintendo made it clear this past January that this device is truly the culmination of every game system they have made before. And save for eventual struggles with porting 3DS and Wii U games to its virtual console in the near future, that sentiment is true. From the NES to the N64 to the Wii, the Switch is full of features to provide backwards compatibility with any Nintendo software of the past.
This list is our reflection on those pieces of hardware, their controllers, the context of their time, and the memories they created for many many years of gameplay. This is the definitive ranking of Nintendo console hardware by The Young Folks staff. Keep in mind, this is combining potable and home console devices (obviously) but we’re organizing this by core iterations of these devices. We won’t be distinguishing the various models of the GameBoy Advance, the Nintendo DS or the Nintendo 3DS here, as they’re ergonomically the same, and all supported the same games.
#13 Virtual Boy
Plagued with a plethora of development problems, like Nintendo deciding to make a system exclusively have red and black graphics for its titles, it’s safe to say that the Virtual Boy was Nintendo’s biggest original console flop. Marketed as being a “portable virtual reality” experience, the Virtual Boy was far from portable, and was even less of a virtual experience. While the 3D games were fun in short bursts, any longer could lead to its users suffering headaches or eye strain. Even with all this in mind, you’d be surprised at the cult following that has slowly developed around the failed console. Still, that doesn’t excuse the misguided ideas that went into making the Virtual Boy a reality, and a completely sub-par virtual reality at that.
- Donald Strohman
#12 Game & Watch
What is there to say about the Game & Watch system? I have no idea, it was long before my time. This system was Nintendo’s first efforts into the digital escapades back when they were exclusively a toy company growing into producers of video games. The Game & Watch system launched Nintendo’s concept of portable video games with a single loaded software game per variation, the first being Ball, a simple juggling game that predated the now traditional D-pad with only a left and right movement button. The Game & Watch portable games series would continue to be made only a couple of year past the GameBoy’s release, the follow up hardware design from the same creator Gunpei Yokoi at Nintendo’s R&D4. The Game & Watch franchise is an interesting device to reflect on that bridged the gap between traditional toys and computer games, but will likely be most remembered for it’s 2D mascot Mr. Game & Watch in the Super Smash Bros. fighter series.
- Evan Griffin
#11 Wii U
The poor Wii U never stood a chance on this list. Nintendo has a history with troublesome third party support, but unlike the days of the NES, the Wii U is a very niche concept. While Nintendo’s first HD console produced some enjoyable visual feats, this home version of the Nintendo DS, and precursor conceptually to the Switch, didn’t have enough architectural fidelity for third party publishers to see the monetary value of porting their games to the hardware, but were additionally frustrated by having to work with an additional touch screen scheme. The Wii U, which was confusingly marketed and announced far too earlier before it’s launch will be remembered as a relic from the beginning of “second screen culture” as smartphones and tablet devices began to overtake our society to its core, but it will always have the flag of its unit sales numbers compared directly next to those of the Wii from 2006, which is unfair to any hardware sales apart from that of the PlayStation 2. In consideration of the GameCube and DS before it, the Wii U is a lovable concept that didn’t have enough software to warrant it’s use on a daily basis apart from Nintendo’s most faithful audience. Another couple years of R&D and a release after the PS4 and the Xbox One, instead of before, and we might have received the Nintendo Switch several years ago. But we can’t change the past, and only look hopefully to the future.
- Evan Griffin
#10 GameBoy (including GameBoy Pocket)
This little bugger revolutionized the concept of portable games forever with its small grayscale (or greenscale) screen and 8-bit processor packed into something that fit into your pocket. 100 million units sold is unsurprising for the power at the right price point for 1989 with a game as iconic as Tetris included in the box. The GameBoy may not have been the machine with content that aged the best, but in its prime was capable of some astounding gameplay experiences. It also began Nintendo’s legacy of practically indestructible hardware, the lead example of which is the irradiated one from the Gulf War still on display at the Nintendo World store in New York.
- Evan Griffin
I have a lot of memories associated with Nintendo, but one stands out in particular: Christmas 2006. My whole family came over the house for the annual family Christmas party and I spent it with the tradition of slyly avoiding older family members patronizing me and trying to get back to playing whatever video game system I had at the time. That year, I was desperate to avoid the usual family chit-chat and get back to my brand new Nintendo Wii after I waited outside of Target in the snow for it on release day November 19th. But when I showed it to my cousins, they all immediately were hooked. Then my aunt saw we were playing it, then my uncle, then my grandma, then my other aunt, then my grandpa, then my cousin’s girlfriend’s little brother. By the end of the night, I witnessed the miracle of my ENTIRE family having fun taking a shot at Wii Sports or awed by the visuals of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
And that’s when it hit me, that was the appeal of the Wii. Unlike the design of the PlayStation 2 or the Xbox, which was bulky and dark that looked more like a computer desktop than a video game console, or the smaller and cuter look of the GameCube, the Wii looked like something for the whole family. The bright white color, the simple design of the Wiimote and its wireless usage all invited looks of interest for all consumers, whether they were gamers or not. And everything else about it invited users of all ages and interests: that peppy music and friendly design of the Wii home screen was easy to navigate and open to multiple uses, something that predated the iPhone in being an all-purpose device. The motion-control games were something as close to future-tech as a game could get at the time, and it was like playing something the people in the Star Wars universe would have.
Despite the open appeal for all families, the Wii was meant for full-on immersion for solo and co-op playing. Nintendo’s secret weapon is inviting players in, not to ostracize them for being unfamiliar with the gaming world. Nintendo is for anyone, and the Wii was the prime example of that in this 21st century.
- Jon Winkler
#8 Nintendo DS (including Nintendo DS Lite, Nintendo DS XL, Nintendo DSi, Nintendo DSi XL)
I remember my first reaction: “So it has two screens, how are you going to properly play a game like that?” Boy, was I given a pretty solid answer to this one over the course of the DS’ lifespan. Of all of Nintendo’s modern console efforts, the DS simply outpaces the rest in every way. With a deep bench of a library rivaling Nintendo’s early years, the DS was uniquely primed to own a market that was all but abandoned. A huge reason the DS fought off the mobile invasion for so long came from that library having a particularly diverse range of games. It’s one thing to take Pokémon and refine it, it’s an entirely different thing to create brain teaser games for the elderly. Games like The World Ends With You and Elite Beat Agents have given established genres new challenges. In between those strange dual screens, Nintendo put forward one of the best cases for “games are for everyone,” a philosophy they hope to continue with the Switch.
- Travis Hymas
#7 Nintendo 3DS (including Nintendo 3DS XL, Nintendo 2DS, New Nintendo 3DS)
Building not only on the foundation of the DS but on Nintendo’s entire legacy of titles, the 3DS is still probably gaming’s greatest value currently available. While being a slow starter, the 3DS is host to a fantastic window of gaming’s past and present. On the 3DS, not only can you play legendary titles Ocarina of Time and Super Metroid but a new celebration of those greats in games like Link Between Worlds. With just a slight bit of effort, all 7 Pokémon generations are available on one machine. Portable versions of iconic multiplayer games like Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart are accessible here. The list goes on, and like the DS before it, this console is a home to truly interesting and unique experiences. Chief among them is Streetpass, a feature I’m sad to see go away with the Switch. Streetpass awarded players who brought their consoles with them and even created local communities. I’ve met all kinds of great people who I now interact with daily thanks to that little feature. With a still great price point, you still can’t go wrong with the 3DS.
- Travis Hymas
#6 GameBoy Advance (including GameBoy Advance SP, GameBoy Micro)
Let’s just get this out of the way: The GameBoy Advance is a rather ugly machine. It’s awkward, jagged, rectangular design looks more like a prototype than something that could sell over 81 million copies worldwide. (Not the SP model, thank you very much! – Evan) However, once you fit it into your hands and later in your pocket to take on the go, you realize that this weird design actually makes sense.
Think of the constant movement you make with your hands and fingers trying to speed through Mario Kart: Super Circuit, hammering the A and B button to blast through Metroid Fusion, or hitting the L and R button to slide through F-Zero: Maximum Velocity. The system’s longer body felt more comfortable in the hands, and the wide screen allowed for more room to games to lay themselves out, not to mention the practically-bulletproof casing surrounding the system. The Advance took the noble concept of the original GameBoy and expanded its potential, plain and simple.
- Jon Winkler
#5 GameBoy Color
I don’t know how this console got voted up so high, but hey, I have early 2000’s nostalgia too. This was my first GameBoy I ever owned, along with my first ever Pokemon game, Pokemon Gold. The Color was absolute dynamite at unit sales, and improved on the original GameBoy in every way, even so far as to be backwards compatible with the original’s library AND add a color palette to their original greyscale images. Sure, there was plenty of shovelware, but the first party titles, like always with Nintendo, were top tier. Plus, it gives every kid some lasting late ‘90’s fun with the squiggly colorful reading lamps that wobble above the 2 inch screen so you can keep playing even in the dark. Because there was no other way. You just had to get that Zelda dungeon finished on a road trip and keep playing Pokemon way past your bedtime.
- Evan Griffin
#4 Nintendo GameCube
Given Nintendo’s apparent obsession with hardware innovation, the Gamecube stands as an interesting aside. Released between the N64, which focused on bringing 3D to the forefront, and the Wii, which focused on its motion controls, the Gamecube was a console devoid of any bells and whistles, and it marked a time when Nintendo instead focused their innovative muscles on the games themselves.
That’s how you wound up with great games like Super Mario Sunshine that added the dimension of the water pump on top of the series’ standard platformer formula. Or how the Metroid series was able to transition into the first person with Metroid Prime. Most notable of all is probably Super Smash Bros Melee, which took the N64’s original polygonal punchfest and refined it with crisp graphics, an exponentially increased roster of fighters and play options, and faster, more complex combat. Melee was such a monumental achievement in the realm of fighting games, that it is still being played on the competitive level to this day, more than 15 years after its initial release.
Which isn’t to say the console had no other appealing factors. On top of its stellar line-up of Nintendo games, the Gamecube had one of the strongest libraries of third-party games of any Nintendo console, containing the likes of Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, Star Wars Rogue Squadron 2, Viewtiful Joe, and the first incarnation of the lauded Resident Evil 4. The console itself was also small and sported a handle on the back, making it easily transportable and perfect to bring to any party or gathering. And then of course there’s the Gamecube’s controller, which was so simple yet satisfying, that Nintendo has to keep on making adapters for its current consoles so that players can still use them.
The Gamecube was arguably the least flashy console Nintendo ever produced. But what it lacked in innovation, it made up for in a focus on good, quality fun. And at the end of the day, isn’t that all we really want out of our video games?
- Alex Suffolk
#3 Nintendo Entertainment System or NES (including the Famicom)
In a time where the video game industry was teetering on an uncertain future, a la thanks to the video game crash of 1983, Nintendo stepped in and somehow magically turned it all around with the Nintendo Entertainment System. The birthplaces of some of gaming’s greatest gems, from The Legend of Zelda to Super Mario Brothers, the NES is perhaps one of the most important video game consoles to ever exist. Without the revolutionary hardware that saved the gaming industry from the brink of collapse, who knows what the field of video games would look like today without it?
- Donald Strohman
#2 Nintendo 64 (N64)
Is there anything more symbolic of gamer culture in the ‘90s than the three-pronged pitchfork controller of the Nintendo 64? To this day, you can ask ‘90s kids what are their most cherished childhood memories with video games, and you’re guaranteed to hear something about playing Mario Kart with all their friends or defeating Skullkid in Majora’s Mask. Because the Nintendo 64 wasn’t just another console, it was a groundbreaking revelation of video gaming’s potential.
When Nintendo’s third home console hit the scene in 1996, it didn’t take long for it to become a beloved addition to many gamers’ living rooms, and eventually almost 33 million units were sold worldwide. The main draw was the N64’s titular 64-bit central processing unit, which allowed for games to be on a larger scale, and of course, in three dimensions. This huge leap in power allowed for the N64 to venture into the a new frontier of gaming, which made gamers’ jaws drop when they saw their beloved Mario and Link walk out into worlds where you could see the sky above and the horizon in the distance. Nintendo’s innovation in 3D design would go on to influence all of modern gaming, and its flagship titles like Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time are still considered some of the greatest games of all time.
More than that, the N64 was the first major console to sport four controller ports as opposed to two, which lent itself amazingly well to multiplayer and party games. Goldeneye 007 was the first first-person shooter to support split-screen combat matches, and was so much fun that it paved the way for the FPS genre to become a popular staple in console gaming. The two popular four-player game series Super Smash Bros and Mario Party would not be around today if it weren’t for their births on the N64 and all the raucous game nights they inspired. Popular games like Super Smash Bros Melee on the Gamecube or Wii Sports on the Wii wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for Nintendo realizing their strength with the N64 in bringing people together to enjoy a game in the same room.
Modern gaming has come a long way from the crude polygons of the N64, and multiplayer has strayed further into online as opposed to split-screen. Still, we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for the pioneering and popularizing abilities of the Nintendo 64.
- Alex Suffolk
#1 Super Nintendo Entertainment System or SNES (including Super Famicom)
The Super Nintendo Entertainment system wasn’t nearly as cool as its rival the Sega Genesis, with its rounded black finish, blast processing and spiky blue hedgehog mascot, but it was clearly the better video games machine. For that matter, it’s probably the greatest dedicated video games console ever made.
Released in 1991, the SNES marked the first time that a company had ever had success with two consecutive video game systems in the United States (the Atari 5200 had flopped for Atari; Sega’s pre-Genesis console, the Master System, wasn’t quite the sales giant it was in Europe). A follow-up system was such a new concept 25 years ago that more than a few parents assumed it was some kind of scam when it launched.
The kids who were able to convince their parents to buy the thing brought home a stellar console which represented a great leap in graphics, sound and processor power over the NES. For instance, the system’s vaunted Mode 7 allowed it to do rudimentary 3D graphics (used on games like F-Zero and Super Mario Kart) and impressive parallax scrolling on 2-D games (like in the pack-in title Super Mario World). The system also had the greatest, deepest catalog in the history of the medium, with all-time classics like Super Mario RPG and Kirby Super Star coming out as late as 1996.
The SNES represents Nintendo’s crowning achievement, representing a narrow, but hard fought victory against Sega. They would release several more technically advanced systems, but they would never capture the hearts of video gamers the same way again.
- Ryan Gibbs
What’s always been your favorite Nintendo console? Do you plan on picking up a Nintendo Switch like the rest of us, or are you holding off until there’s more games than what’s available at launch? Or maybe not at all? Share thoughts in the comments below to talk with the TYF community about your favorite gaming memories.