For nearly 30 years, gamers have enjoyed a Nintendo console in their living room. From the original Nintendo Entertainment System all the way to the Switch, fans have been playing Mario for decades. It’s not all about the home console either; the Game Boy and DS systems have dominated the handheld market. Whether it’s Mario, Zelda, Metroid, or Kirby, these consoles have been here for you.
Yet not every Nintendo system has been a winner. Some have even been total flops, either failing upon arrival or left in the dust by their competitors.
Today, we’re ranking every Nintendo console from worst to best. For brevity, we’re only discussing the mainline system release; Game Boy Pocket, Advance SP, 3DS Lite, and others won’t be on the list, for example. They’ll still be discussed when appropriate.
As always, these rankings are of the opinion of the author. You may agree, you’ll probably disagree, just be sure to sound off in the comments below.
Released in 1996, the Virtual Boy was supposed to be a Nintendo console from the future. The gimmick was technology that created a quasi-virtual reality experience. The game played out directly in the face of the user. Commercials and advertisements hammered this point home; the action took place directly in front of you!
Unfortunately, sometimes futuristic technology is better left to the future.
The Virtual Boy was a complete failure on every level. It only saw a disappointing 22 games across its single year of existence. It is often regarded not just as the worst Nintendo console, but one of the worst systems of all time. The novelty was both neat and on-brand for the 90s, but the practicality wasn’t there.
Nintendo would later succeed in creating a good 3D experience with one of its systems. Ironically, most people opted to turn that 3D experience off.
The Wii U was arguably ahead of its time. The first HD Nintendo Console offered a different and unique experience compared to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The Wii U GamePad allowed for asymmetrical gaming, creating different experiences for players.
Following the runaway success of the Nintendo Wii, there were already impossible standards and expectations in place for the Wii’s successor. Even still, the Wii U was a complete failure for several reasons.
First is the hardware. I argue that the Wii U is ahead of its time because its influence can be seen with the Switch hardware. Being able to have your console double as a handheld is great. The Wii U’s GamePad was not able to do that; you were tied to being close to your system.
The GamePad itself also felt cheaply made compared to something like an iPad or other similar hardware on the market. It was also incredibly awkward and uncomfortable to hold and use as a controller. It was better to purchase the pro controller, which was more money out of pocket.
The biggest death knell for the Wii U as a Nintendo console is the lack of games. Third-party support withered to nothing. Even the first party support was lacking due to prolonged development time. For a system that was lacking in terms of horsepower, the poor library of games was bad news.
While the Game Boy is a fantastic Nintendo console, or technically handheld, it still has its flaws.
Is it revolutionary hardware that helped shaped Nintendo’s domination of the handheld market? Absolutely. Did it deliver solid gaming experiences? You bet. Were the games for the handheld enjoyable? 100%. So why is the Game Boy so low on this list?
First, it’s a testament to how strong other Nintendo consoles truly are. Second, are you going to look me straight in the eye and tell me you were able to see the screen in dark places? The lack of a backlight on a Game Boy led to far longer battery life than, say, the Game Gear, but it made for some difficult times playing games in poor lighting.
There’s no denying how influential the Game Boy is, but its imperfect hardware that doesn’t always stand the test of time. The Game Boy may look iconic, but it’s definitely clunky, especially compared to the sleeker Game Boy Pocket.
Game Boy Color
The Game Boy Color is a much more comfortable and compact Nintendo console. The colors pop on the screen, bringing life to your handheld games.
As great as the Game Boy was, it became dated relatively quickly. Even though the Game Boy Color was still somewhat limited in processing power, it was a clear step above its predecessor. You can even tell when playing older Game Boy games. They may not be in full color, but the visuals look and feel cleaner.
It also helps that the Game Boy Color has one of the best Pokemon games of all time.
If we’re talking about mainstream success, the list ends here. The Wii was not only the Nintendo console that sold seemingly infinite copies, it also revolutionized the gaming industry.
From day one, Wii Sports was found being played on almost every living room TV. Sony and Microsoft would work on their own motion control games and accessories. I actually bought and owned a copy of Red Steel. It was a crazy and wonderful time.
All kidding aside, the Wii’s motion controls were a great gimmick without lasting staying power. As great as it was to play Metroid Prime and Twilight Princess with “precise” controls, the standout titles for the system are the Mario Galaxy games (Check it out on our list of every Super Mario Game Ranked from worst to best). While motion controls were present, the Galaxy games are more about right and enjoyable platforming.
The Nintendo Wii might not be the best Nintendo console, but the video game industry is better for its existence.
Originally, the Nintendo DS was supposed to be the “third pillar” of the Nintendo console family. As history tells us, it completely took over the handheld role of the Game Boy.
The DS was a smash hit despite its original design; the handheld was jokingly called a tank. Eventually, with the DS Lite, Nintendo released an attractive and modern version of the DS.
The big innovation here was the dual screens. The bottom of which was a touchscreen, allowing for player input. The value of the touchscreen was dependent on the game. Some titles made full use of the touch capabilities. Others just used it as an informational screen or a heads-up display.
The one thing that holds the DS back is the game lineup. After an impressive debut, things stalled off a bit. The handheld enjoyed plenty of quality titles, but it lacked the magic of the Game Boy Advance library.
Game Boy Advance
The Game Boy Advance is where Nintendo handhelds became on par with Nintendo consoles in terms of the gaming experience.
The 32-bit processor delivered experiences on par with the Super Nintendo. Games like Metroid Fusion, Golden Sun, Minish Cap, and Fire Emblem were all released to critical acclaim. It felt like everyone in high school has their faces glued to their GBAs, especially when the SP model came out.
Not only did the Game Boy Advance deliver a compact and beautiful look, but it also finally introduced a backlit screen. The days of worm lights were finally over.
As much as I love the Nintendo 64, it’s easily the one Nintendo console that has aged the worst. The outdated cartridge system and awkward controller aren’t exactly welcoming in 2022.
So then why is the Nintendo 64 rated so highly on the list? The games. Oh man, the Nintendo 64 games. They were very, very, very good.
Nintendo didn’t just break open the door into 3D gaming; it smashed it down and burst through the windows. Releasing Super Mario 64 at a launch table is like winning the Super Bowl on the first play of the season. That would only be a taste of what was to come. Both Nintendo and their partners (Rare for example) delivered all-time classic titles.
While age has definitely caught up with the hardware of the Nintendo 64, the games still hold up today.
The original Nintendo DS was strong enough to replace the Game Boy from the Nintendo console family. The 3DS took things to a whole new level.
First and foremost, many years after the failure of the Virtual Boy, Nintendo delivered a true 3D in-your-face gaming experience. Doubly impressive was the fact that the 3D gaming could be done without needing any 3D glasses.
As time went on, the 3D feature of the 3DS became more of an afterthought. That’s not to say the handheld is a failure; the opposite is true here, thanks to impressive power under the hood and an incredible lineup of games.
The return of Kid Icarus, 3D Mario platforming, Donkey Kong Country, and Metroid are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Nintendo 3DS software. The handheld has one of the best game catalogs of any Nintendo console. It even saw the handheld debut of the Super Smash Bros. franchise.
The Nintendo GameCube may be the most slept on Nintendo console. It didn’t have the greatest of launches; Luigi’s Mansion didn’t move the needle as Super Mario 64 did. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron and Super Smash Bros. Melee would prove to be stellar launch window releases.
The biggest issue with the GameCube is the image problem it suffered at launch. Its compact purple design, complete with a handle, led it to be labeled as a cute little kiddie system. As the PlayStation 2 and Xbox started to take control of the market share, people wondered if Nintendo was being passed by.
As time would tell us, there was a lot of underestimating with the GameCube. In terms of raw power, it’s capable of boasting incredible visuals. Whether we’re talking Metroid Prime, Resident Evil 4, or F-Zero GX, the GameCube visuals go toe-to-toe at a minimum with the Xbox.
Speaking of games, its catalog was the definition of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” First impressions for titles like Super Mario Sunshine and The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker weren’t all that positive. Once people got their hands on the games, however, everything changed.
The Nintendo GameCube has aged like a fine bottle of wine. Perhaps one day we’ll be able to re-play its beloved games on newer Nintendo hardware. For more, many people are perfectly happy dusting off their old GameCubes and booting them back up.
Speaking of newer hardware, we’ve reached the current Nintendo console on the market. After the massive misstep that was the Wii U, Nintendo roared back with a vengeance. The Switch makes the Wii U look like a prototype, delivering an authentic “play anywhere you’d like” experience. Whether in docked mode on the TV or in handheld on the go, the Switch delivers a satisfying gaming experience.
While third-party support continues to be an issue for Nintendo, the first-party lineup remains stellar. Launching the system alongside Breath of the Wild, one of the best Zelda games ever, was a taste of things to come. Super Mario Odyssey is one of the best Super Mario games ever released. The indie support is second to none. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is one of the best-selling games ever and is getting DLC support.
If you own a Nintendo Switch, you own a piece of a Nintendo renaissance. If you want to improve your experience, we wrote about some of the best Nintendo Switch accessories that can enhance your gameplay.
The company hasn’t been this successful since it released the next two consoles.
Nintendo Entertainment System
The one that started it all. The original Nintendo console is so influential and important to gaming that your grandparents most likely call your PlayStation or Xbox a “Nintendo.”
There’s not much to say about the impact the NES had that hasn’t already been said. Instead, I want to tell you a story about how great and impactful this system was.
Growing up as a kid, when I got interested in video games, my parents dug out the Atari 5200 from the attic. Maybe this was a way to keep me quiet and busy during the day. Perhaps it was a way for me to not play DOOM on the computer at six years old.
Either way, I was hooked. Playing games like Asteroids, Missile Command, Centipede, Pitfall, and Miner Miner 49er is how I would spend my day. I didn’t think anything better existed. Until I discovered Super Mario Bros.
I’ve only known about the NES for a day and a half, but if anything happened to him I would kill everyone in this room and then myself. I would start spending more time with my friends who owned an NES, playing the system, and familiarizing myself with the games available. Super Mario, Metroid, Zelda, Kirby, Duck Hunt, Megaman – the sky was the limit. Our Atari was collecting dust. There was no turning back.
How do you improve on perfection? You make it super.
The Nintendo Entertainment System showed the world what was possible from a video game. Its controller and visuals delivered an experience that we only thought was possible in our dreams. The Super Nintendo was the Nintendo console that proved even our wildest dreams could become a reality. Everything was different now and there was no going back.
The leap in technology opened up a world of new possibilities, just like it did with the Game Boy to Game Boy Advance. The Super Nintendo ushered in new ideas, new worlds, and new experiences. Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Link to the Past, and others perfected what was already a perfect experience. Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario Kart, and F-Zero proved what was now possible.
Then of course there’s the controller. Why reinvent the wheel when you can perfect what was already working so well? The Super Nintendo’s controller kept the simplicity of its predecessor while updating it for more advanced gaming. It’s far more comfortable, compact, and sleeker. It’s also designed with Street Fighter II in mind, continuing the theme from the original NES: bringing the arcade home.
That’s how I rank every Nintendo Console from worst to best. Where did I get it right and wrong? Let me know in the comments below.