No matter what fanboy flag you fly, Xbox, Sony, Amiga, only those completely lost to biased dementia would contest that Nintendo is the strongest first party developer in gaming history. Since Donkey Kong in 1982, Nintendo’s homebrewed games have been some of the greatest of all time. It was true on the NES when those game were part of a rich collection of amazing titles as well as during the desperate Gamecube days, when all owners could do was count the months till the next brilliant Nintendo game so they could blow the dust off their unused purple square.
Above: the most recent addition to the Nintendo collaboration quilt
And yet, when it seemingly doesn’t need help making their own great games, Nintendo has a long history of giving out their classic franchises with other developers. Sometimes these gambles resulted in remarkable titles, and in rare cases we ended up with some of the most hilariously terrible games of all time. Now that Nintendo’s collaboration with Team Ninja, Metroid: Other M, has just hit store shelves, come with us on a history lesson in sharing and caring.
When composing any list, you’ll end up with entries that were just shy of being included, but just weren’t “right.” Though many feel Hudson Soft’s Mario Party series got far too repetitive for its own good, it basically invented the Party genre of gaming, and very few game’s have that powerful an influence. Nearly every Kirby was developed by HAL Laboratory, and almost all of those games are worth remembering, but it was too complicated to just focus on a single game for an entry. And almost all the Mario sports games of the last decade-and-a-half, whether made by Camelot (Tennis/Golf), Square-Enix (3-on-3 Hoops), Namco (Baseball), or Next Level (Soccer), were all great entries in the casual sports market. Still, none were quite good enough to get on this list that begins with…
How it came about: Outside of Kid Icarus, no classic Nintendo series was as overlooked by the company than Punch-Out!! Getting its start as an arcade game, Punch-Out!! was an NES classic, and more of an intense puzzle game than the sports title in appeared to be. But outside of cameo appearances here and there, the series hadn’t been seen since Super Punch-Out!! in 1994. 15 years later Nintendo gave the franchise to developer Next Level Games, a group responsible for the pretty good Mario Soccer titles and some other less impressive games, like Spider-Man: Friend or Foe. Were the devs up to the task?
Why it was great: Turns out the Canadian game maker was, as Next Level Games took everything that was great about the original and updated it for the Wii. The quick, split-second timing needed to knock out your opponents was there, and worked best with the control scheme of turning the Wii Remote sideways like an NES controller. Each battle was a new puzzle to solve, though all but one of the guys Little Mac faced were repeats from the previous games, that didn’t mean beating them took the exact same tactics.
Plus it brought back the mostly innocent stereotypes of the original (weak French guy, syrup guzzling Canadians), a quaint, harmless feature that could have been killed by an attempt to be overly sensitive. It emulated the classic through and through, and while it may have been a little too inspired by the past instead of taking enough bold steps forward, it gave a whole new generation a chance to appreciate an almost forgotten classic. Though don’t bet on a sequel any time soon, as it unfortunately didn’t perform too well in sales.
How it came about: In the mid-90s, RPGs in the West were considered niche titles fit for a small but devoted audience, despite being one of the biggest selling genres in Japan. Nintendo had tried several times to change this, publishing Dragon Warrior and Earthbound in the USA to little success. One of their last attempts before Final Fantasty VII changed everything was Super Mario RPG. Developed by RPG powerhouse Square under the watchful eye of Shigeru Miyamoto, this would be the final teaming of Nintendo and Square before the RPG dev decided to go exclusive with Sony’s PlayStation brand for the next six years.
Why it was great: Using the shiny pre-rendered graphics made famous by a later entry on this list, at the time it had some of the best looking graphics the dying SNES had seen. Sure, now almost every character looks akin to a poorly-articulated claymation blob, but back in the day we were astounded. Also, it easily had the deepest story any Mario game had to that point, or has had since. Though beginning with Mario saving the Princess from Bowser, soon a new big bad appears and throws the Kingdom into chaos. Mario’s quest for the seven stars takes him to the farthest reaches of the Mushroom Kingdom, including many areas not seen before or since.
While it failed to make RPGs universally accepted by mainstream gamers, Super Mario RPG was a fine adventure that handily gelled the platforming action of Mario games with the deep story and stats of Square’s RPGs. Plus it started a dynasty of classic Mario RPGs, up to and including 2009's Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story. Not bad for the last dance between Square and Nintendo.