It is because humans love to revisit what they are familiar with that franchises exist. Whether it be with movies, TV, or video games, franchises offer fans opportunities to explore what they know in new and exciting ways.
But with video games especially, as is indicative of the medium, there is more room to experiment with new elements, tell new stories, or introduce entirely different characters and worlds. It’s a testament to the minds behind them that video game franchises are usually able to evolve. And Nintendo has some of the best minds in the industry.
So, naturally, they have crafted some of the most respected gaming franchises of all time. And while some of them have grown and flourished over the years, others sadly haven’t seen a new entry in well over a decade.
As with most definitive rankings, there are some rules for the following. Metacritic only began during the days of the Nintendo 64, so many of Nintendo’s classic games couldn’t be used when compiling the average score of a franchise. Unless it was reissued in some form, which many of them were. Otherwise, only Metacritic scores for original releases were used. Also, no franchises with only one entry on Metacritic were considered (sorry, Punch-Out!!), nor were any spin-offs as they don’t represent the franchise as a whole. Mario simply includes his platformers, none of his various excursions into the world of sports. That being said, here is every Nintendo franchise ranked from worst to best according to Metacritic averages.
26 Yoshi (74)
For players seeking a calmer alternative to Mario’s platformers, the series starring his adorable green dinosaur is the perfect choice. Outside of his first adventure, Yoshi’s Island on the SNES, Yoshi is a fantastic place for younger players to start due to the low difficulty. And it can not be understated just how much cuteness each title is overflowing with.
However, each game doesn’t change too much in terms of gameplay. Fans know what to expect. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a lack of variety has made it one of Nintendo’s lowest scoring franchises.
25 Brain Age (75)
The thought of educational games may make some gamers sick but leave it to Nintendo to actually make them fun. Released for the DS and 3DS, the Brain Age series was designed to designate a player’s brain age, ranging from 20-80 years old, through a few puzzles. Depending on how high you scored, the harder the subsequent puzzles would be.
Though not the deepest of games, they taught players how to think more quickly and tested their abilities through the likes of Sudoku, Triangle Math, or by simply reading an excerpt of a classic story aloud.
24 Pilotwings (75.5)
Pilotwings on the SNES had players controlling planes as they performed various tasks on different courses, all of which varied in difficulty. But the score only represents the other two titles.
Piltowings 64 operated the same way as the original, just in 3D with more aerial vehicles to choose from. Pilotwings Resort for the 3DS, however, offered the more varied experience. With Mii implementation, players could either explore the sandbox that was Wuhu Island or complete certain objectives. It hasn’t seen a release since 2011, but the Wuhu Island stage in Super Smash Bros. means Nintendo hasn’t forgotten about it.
23 Wario (75.8)
First debuting in Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins, Wario naturally began his solo career in another series of platformers. But if you’re familiar with Wario, you probably know he hasn’t starred in a platformer since 2008’s Wario Land: Shake It! for the Wii.
These days, the greedy Wario is best known for his WarioWare games. While it may not seem like it at first glance, WarioWare games can be pretty thrilling. They’re comprised of micro-games, which are essentially mini-games set to an intense time limit. And with each game offering a plethora of micro-games, each one feels fresh.
22 Star Fox (76.4)
Star Fox 64 was a groundbreaking 3D achievement. It’s still fun to fly around different planets and shoot down bad guys to this day. The other Star Fox games, on the other hand, have all failed to measure up to that success.
That’s not to say they’re bad, by any means. Star Fox Adventures for the GameCube, while decidedly not really a Star Fox game, was still a fun quest that tried something different with the franchise. Other titles like Star Fox Zero and Star Fox: Assault brought back the tried-and-true gameplay but struggled thanks to poor controls.
21 Nintendogs (77)
It may seem weird that Nintendogs ranks higher than some of Nintendo’s flagship franchises, but as it’s only received two entries and both gave players exactly what they promised, here we are. Released on the DS in 2005, Nintendogs was a pet simulation game that let players take care of and train a virtual dog. The sequel for the 3DS added cats.
It may not seem like a strong entry in Nintendo’s catalogue to most, but it could make an excellent tool for younger players whose parents wanted to test their responsibility before getting an actual pet.
20 Kirby (78.6)
In the same vain as the Yoshi series, Kirby offers a much easier platforming experience than the likes of Mario or Donkey Kong. But unlike the Yoshi series, Kirby comes with a much cooler gameplay hook.
Being able to eat your enemies and copy their abilities has always offered variety in how you can approach each game. Nintendo has even shown a tendency to explore new options, like adding mech suits in Kirby: Planet Robobot or co-op multiplayer in Kirby: Star Allies. It’s not the most revolutionary, but it’s always reliable.
19 Kid Icarus (80)
Though the score may only be comprised of two titles, they both serve as evidence that Nintendo needs to revisit this action-platformer series soon.
A score doesn’t exist for the original NES game, though it does for the 3DS re-release from 2012. It’s one in a long line of brutally difficult classic platformers, but Kid Icarus: Uprising was something unique. It blended what we knew of the original with a third-person shooter. Pit the angel battled the hordes of Medusa in the air and on ground with a variety of weapons, which was insanely fun.
18 Donkey Kong (80.2)
If Super Mario Bros. seems too easy for you, you might want to give the Donkey Kong games a try. Nintendo have built their kingdom in part on the back of well-made platformers, but the Donkey Kong series is one of their finest.
It's also thanks to third party development teams that the world of Donkey Kong Country exists. Though Metacritic doesn’t have scores for Rare’s original SNES games, the Game Boy Advance remakes are there. But it’s the work put in by Retro Studios for Donkey Kong Country Returns and Tropical Freeze that has scored highest, and deservedly so.
17 1080° (80.5)
Having only a couple entries to a series certainly helps the average score, especially if both of those games are incredibly entertaining. The original 1080° Snowboarding was released for the N64 and was unlike most racing games around at the time. Its release in 1998 is often attributed to the slew of snowboarding games that came after.
While the GameCube sequel didn’t review as well, it was still immensely satisfying to perform tricks while careening down the side of a mountain. Unfortunately, it’s been 16 years since that last release and there has never been any word of a return.
16 Splatoon (82)
Though it’s one of Nintendo’s newer franchises, Splatoon has already been a prime example of the company’s inclination to take what’s popular and put their own spin on it. It may be a team-based shooter, but it’s safe to say it’s unlike any other.
Players control a squad of squid/human hybrids called Inklings that utilize a variety of weapons in order to cover the map with their team’s paint color. But even the single-player campaigns can be a ton of fun. Each level is filled with clever obstacles and a horde of enemies to test your skills.
15 Luigi's Mansion (82)
Fans may have been surprised when the GameCube launched with a Luigi game instead of a Mario one, but it was high time the younger brother got his chance to shine. And no, I’m not counting Mario Is Missing!
Differing from the bright and sunny Mushroom Kingdom, Luigi’s Mansion sees the titular hero take on a mass group of ghosts in a haunted mansion using a special vacuum cleaner to suck them up. Luigi’s fraidy cat persona paired with the silliness of the ghosts gives the series an extra dose of charm, especially in the superior 3DS sequel.
14 Animal Crossing (83.5)
Games can be stressful. So, sometimes, it’s nice to just enter a virtual world and exist. Titles like Harvest Moon may have explored this before, but Nintendo’s Animal Crossing perfected the formula.
Each game focuses on your human character as they move to a new town filled with anthropomorphic animal citizens. You can design a house, fish, collect fossils, run errands to gain new items, and a whole lot more. Animal Crossing wants you to make your town the very best it can be. And with a new entry coming to Switch this year, this score will undoubtedly rise.
13 Pikmin (83.75)
As we’ve seen so far, Nintendo is adept at taking styles of gameplay and giving it a slight twist. Pikmin blends elements of strategy with action platforming, and it does so beautifully.
Each game focuses on a humanoid character landing on a planet the adorable creatures inhabit. It is up to the player to control vast groups of them, completing objectives and surviving the threat of each planet’s wildlife. And as different colored Pikmin are skilled at different tasks, this offers the player a wide variety on how they approach each situation.
12 Pokémon (84)
Nintendo struck gold when they released Pokémon Red/Blue in 1996 and they’ve seemingly been striking gold ever since with each subsequent release. It’s a simple yet addictive RPG formula that lets players build whatever team of monsters they want, focusing on a variety of types.
Each entry has brought something new to the series like breeding, mini-games, and multi-Pokémon battles among others. But the most exciting aspect will always be the new batch of creatures to capture and train. Bring on Sword and Shield.
11 F-Zero (84.25)
It’s sad to say, but just because a game scores well doesn’t mean it sells well. A chief example of this is Nintendo’s F-Zero franchise, a series that makes Mario Kart look like a leisurely stroll in the park.
The racing series that made Captain Falcon famous also has a high difficulty curve. Vehicles move at immense speeds, so your timing has to be perfect if you want to avoid driving head first into a wall. But the gameplay and controls for the series have always been top notch, making the difficulty satisfying but not unfair.
10 Fire Emblem (84.75)
Nintendo’s consoles may not be the best place for certain genres of gaming, but there are others that have always succeeded. Ever since the days of the NES, supreme RPG franchises have been releasing stellar entries on Nintendo’s platforms.
Nintendo’s own Fire Emblem, while it took a while to come stateside, has always been one of the company’s most respected franchises. Most games within the series focus on different protagonists and feature great turn-based, tactical combat. But they also feature unique ways in how your protagonist forms relationships with other characters and how you can build up your army.
9 Golden Sun (85.3)
Though this RPG series may not be as well-known as Fire Emblem due to the fact that it has only seen a couple handheld releases, that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Golden Sun followed several heroes as they tried to stop a villainous group from releasing a dangerous force into the world.
What made the games so much fun was the amount of unique spells you could acquire. There was also variety in how you could use them. Some came in handy during battles while others were used to solve puzzles and reach new areas in the overworld.
8 Wave Race (86)
There were actually a variety of different racing games on the Nintendo 64 and Wave Race 64 was one of the best. Like most racing games, it featured many different modes, courses, and difficulties. But the fun came from getting a group of friends together and racing them through the ocean while performing awesome tricks.
Wave Race: Blue Storm on the GameCube was still praised, although it was criticized for simply being a better looking version of the one on N64. Still, the fun multiplayer and weather effects that made each course different means this series should definitely be revived.
7 Xenoblade Chronicles (86.3)
Together, Nintendo and Monolith Soft have created some of the most distinct RPG worlds with their Xenoblade Chronicles series. Each one is massive and filled with lore, enticing players to explore them to their heart’s content.
What’s more important, however, is the comprehensive real-time combat system. Similar to many MMORPGs, players control one member of a team and take on groups of enemies. Attacks, labeled as “Arts” here, offer a wide range in terms of purpose and how often you can use them, meaning you must think strategically while in battle.
6 Bayonetta (88.5)
While it technically didn’t begin with Nintendo, there’s no doubt where Bayonetta stands now. First launching on the PS3 and the XBOX 360, it was Nintendo that saw the series would receive a future.
And fans are forever grateful they did. The slightly campy story about a witch who battles warrior angels is endlessly entertaining and it’s bolstered by pitch-perfect hack-and-slash gameplay. Bayonetta uses her hair and bodysuit to summon demons to decimate any enemies she hasn’t already shot up or slaughtered with a number of other weapons. It’s gloriously over-the-top and a third entry is rightfully on the way.
5 Metroid (89.1)
To some very passionate fans, Metroid is the best series Nintendo has to offer. Given its heavy focus on exploration and horrific sci-fi enemies infesting every corridor you can explore, it’s understandable.
When the original debuted on the NES, it offered an experience unlike the majority of games. It was so unique that it went on to spawn an entire genre. And while that game couldn’t be included in the average, other games in the series (notably the Metroid Prime trilogy) took what made that original work and improved upon it tenfold.
4 Advance Wars (89.25)
If you’re a hardcore Nintendo supporter and you love real-time strategy games, there’s really no better series you could choose than Advance Wars. And the average score proves it.
The plot of each game is fairly simple. They focus on fictional warring nations and players control their nation’s commanding officer as they lead an army in battle. Where the series shines brightest, obviously, is the gameplay. Outside of your commanding officer’s special abilities, you also have a variety of infantry men to command like bombers and tanks. Unfortunately, the last game was released way back in 2008.
3 The Legend Of Zelda (89.5)
From the crucial Ocarina of Time to the series-refining Breath of the Wild, The Legend of Zelda has one of the most dedicated fanbases of any Nintendo franchise while also being one of its most critically adored.
No matter which world the game is set in, players will always love taking Link on a grand quest, collecting a medieval and mystical arsenal, and smiting monsters that plague citizens. While there have been some mediocre handheld entries like Triforce Heroes, this is a series that usually encapsulates the feeling of embarking on a grand adventure like no other.
2 Super Smash Bros. (89.8)
It should say a lot about a series that its first entry reviewed the worst. But Super Smash Bros. has only gone up. GameCube’s Melee was a truly remarkable multiplayer experience, pinning more of Nintendo’s most beloved characters against one another.
Each one has sought to bring in more fanfare and looked to put giant smiles on the faces of fans everywhere. With the series’ latest, Ultimate on Switch, it has accomplished something that no other fighting game ever has. A giant roster, a multitude of modes, an expansive single-player mode, and so much more truly make it ultimate.
1 Super Mario (90)
In what should come as a shock to no one, Nintendo’s mascot takes the top spot. But when you look at everything Nintendo has accomplished with Mario, it’s apparent why everyone loves him.
Super Mario 64 defined 3D gaming when it debuted. The New Super Mario Bros. series took classic gameplay and let players share that with others. Super Mario Galaxy let the hero fly through space and explore innumerable planets. And Super Mario Odyssey, with brightly colored worlds and Mario’s best power-up yet in the form of Cappy, was pure joy in a cartridge.