No other company in the gaming industry has as big a catalog of well respected and prestigious IPs as Nintendo. Over the last quarter of a century, they have built a massive stable of well recognized, beloved characters that have starred in high quality games across all genres. Nintendo’s franchises are usually massive system sellers with few exceptions, and over the last decade and a half at least, Nintendo’s consoles have been sustained entirely on the basis of these first party franchises. When Nintendo’s home consoles sell in the tens of millions even in the absolute absence of any third party support, and with an absolutely empty release slate, only because they host Nintendo franchises, you know that those franchises have some serious commercial power.
What’s best is that Nintendo franchises aren’t just money rakers- they are also consistently at the top of the game, constantly pushing the envelope and innovating, blazing the trail for the rest of the industry to follow.
Nintendo has a massive arsenal of franchises. Their Wikipedia page lists at least thirty game series that Nintendo entirely owns, and this isn’t even counting their one off projects like Geist or Eternal Darkness. Choosing just fifteen of those, and ranking them, was probably the toughest thing I’ve done in a very long time. However, it’s been done, and whereas some parts of this list might rub some people off the wrong way, on the whole, I think it came out right. Check out the list, and tell us what you think via your comments below!
15. Golden Sun (GBA, DS)
Arguably one of Nintendo’s most under the radar franchise, the Golden Sun series made a name for itself on the Gameboy Advance for its heavy emphasis on literary storytelling and classical random encounter triggered turn based gameplay. At a time when most JRPGs were swiftly moving away from their roots, the Golden Sun games stuck to their guns, and delivered what was arguably the purest and most refined JRPG experience we’d had this side of Final Fantasy VII.
The first two Golden Sun games were instantly lapped up by critics, because of their high production values, memorable sound track, great sprite based graphics, their cast of well developed characters, and a genuinely engaging story. After The Lost Age released on the Gameboy Advance, the series went missing in action for nearly half a decade. And whereas last year’s revival of the slumbering franchise might not have been the triumphant return that fans had been hoping for, it was still a genuinely compelling RPG that eld its own very well on a system that has arguably the best RPG library this generation.
The Golden Sun games are excellent- here’s hoping that the 3DS gets a Golden Sun game in some form soon. Even if it isn’t a new release, we wouldn’t be opposed to, say, a re-release of the two GBA classics on the Virtual Console. What say, guys?
14. Wii (Wii)
In what will be the most controversial entry on this list, we here feature Nintendo’s newest IP so far. Whereas the term series can only be applied to the Wii line of games very loosely- I rather think it’s a metaseries, consisting of subfranchises like Wii Sports, Wii Fit and Wii Play- there can be no doubt that it is maybe the most influential new IP of last generation. Yeah, it didn’t push the boundaries of storytelling like Uncharted did, or maybe it didn’t give us a new world to run through like Assassin’s Creed. But what it did do was give all of us- gamers who had been playing games for a very long time now, as well as non gamers, who were usually intimidated by game controllers- a new way to play games, and to have fun while doing that.
Yeah, the series has had its share of downs (Wii Music comes to the mind), but on the whole, games like Wii Sports Resort demonstrated that even these ‘casualized’ games were made with the typical Nintendo veneer of quality, and that, most of all, they would be fun to play through- with everybody.
Online gaming may have ultimately been the driving force in the rise of multiplayer gaming, but as far as social multiplayer gaming is concerned, nothing beats a quick session of Wii Sports.
13. Fire Emblem (NES, SNES, GBA, GCN, DS, Wii)
Fire Emblem still remains a bit of an enigma. The SRPG franchise never saw a release outside of Japan for nearly twenty years, with the NES and SNES installments of the series skipping out on western releases entirely. In fact, the first taste that western audiences had of Fire Emblem wasn’t even in a Fire Emblem game- it was in Super Smash Bros. Melee, which featured Roy and Marth, two of the series’ protagonists. The good reception to those characters saw a wide release of the GBA Fire Emblem games, along with one on the Gamecube, Wii, and the DS remake of the original NES game.
And while the future of the series in the west remains in jeopardy- the DS remake and the Wii game did not do good numbers, and the second DS Fire Emblem game is most likely not even coming to the west- the fact remains that Fire Emblem remains a series of what is probably the most well rounded and refined strategy RPG experience across multiple platforms. It may be a niche franchise, but it ranks as one of Nintendo’s best.
12. Pikmin (GCN)
Nintendo’s last new core franchise was Pikmin, a series of quirky games that was introduced on (and to this day, remains limited to) the Gamecube. Featuring the eponymous plant like creatures that must be commanded by stranded space veteran Captain Olimar, the original Gamecube game put a very interesting twist to the traditional RTS formula by introducing features such as a time limit, and a persistent day and night feature, all of which impacted the gameplay in multiple ways.
The fact that both the Pikmin games put a heavy emphasis on story also set them apart from other Nintendo franchises, which typically characterize gameplay over plot development.
Pikmin and Pikmin 2 were wonderful games with the typical Nintendo twist, charm and whimsy, and they kickstarted what it was hoped would become one of Nintendo’s premier franchises. However, with Pikmin 3 languishing in development hell (where it’s been since it was originally announced, then reannounced for the Wii, hinted at for the 3DS, and finally re-reannounced for the Wii U), the franchise’s future remains uncertain. We can only hope Miyamoto sticks to his word this time, and that Pikmin 3 finally sees a long impending and well deserved release on the Wii U.
11. Kirby (GB, NES, SNES, N64, GBA, DS, Wii)
Nintendo’s adorable pink puffball mascot, Kirby remains one of the few influential franchises that originally began on a handheld. The original Kirby was an easy and accessible sidescrolling platformer developed on the Gameboy, and its success saw a sequel being commissioned for the NES. The games were a hit, and Kirby soon grew in popularity, with multiple sequels on most major Nintendo systems, an anime, plush licensed merchandise and more.
Through all of this, the Kirby games have grown and mutated. Over the years, he has been used to experiment with motion and tilt along with rumble in his GBA outing; he has been used to demonstrate proper use of a touch screen in Kirby’s Canvas Curse; he was used in a largely novel yarn based platformer in Kirby’s Epic Yarn; his upcoming adventure promises control over multiple Kirbys. Hell, even his signature ability to copy his enemies’ powers was not intially present in his first adventure, and was only introduced with his NES outing.
Kirby remains one of Nintendo’s most well recognized characters, and one of their most bankable franchises. Thankfully, all the commercial hoopla around the games is backed by a series of titles that is overall well made and consistently delivers.