Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Top Ten Nintendo Franchises

Last week a Japanese survey's results were posted on a site named My Navi. The survey asked Japanese men and women what their favorite Nintendo franchises were. The results for both men and women can be found here. Nintendo, without question, has the most powerful portfolio of intellectual properties. These ten are the ones that I adore the most. At the end of this list I will show the series that didn't quite crack the top ten, but they're honorable mentions regardless. Will your favorites make the cut?

10) Advance Wars

The Famicom Wars series has been in Japan across various Nintendo platforms since 1988. It is a long-running series, but it did not storm the Western front until 2001 with the moniker of Advance Wars. Players assume the role of a commanding officer (CO) from one of the various armies within the Advance Wars universe as they do battle with the forces of another CO. Both sides take turns in moving troops alongside a grid-based map, building new units through paying for them with credits accumulated through captured properties, and attempting to achieve victory through capturing the enemy's headquarters, defeating all troops, or completing a given condition like destroying a certain unit or capturing a certain objective. The series has evolved throughout the years, introducing new unit types alongside standard infantry, tanks, and aircraft, giving players the ability to craft their own maps, and implementing online play. War may be hell, but the Advance Wars series makes it look seriously fun.

9) Animal Crossing

The original Animal Crossing was released in Japan in 2001 and called Animal Forest. In the following year the game would be ported to the GameCube and released in North America, Europe, and the Land of the Rising Sun. The games have a terrific sense of open-ended gameplay. You don't need to follow a specific set of rules like most games. Don't want to pay off your loan to Tom Nook? Then you don't have to. You can converse with your fellow villagers, participate in holiday events, hop online to play with friends (only in Wild World and City Folk), design patterns, interior decorate your home, catch bugs and fish, donate items to the museum, and play on your own schedule. Animal Crossing relies on the gaming hardware's internal clock quite prominently. Stores open and close at different times, so night owls be warned. The series has seen three main installments in the West: Animal Crossing (GCN), Animal Crossing: Wild World (DS), and Animal Crossing: City Folk (Wii), with a fourth coming to 3DS this year in Japan and in 2013 for everyone else. On the subject of City Folk, while I immensely enjoyed the game, it was quite similar to Wild World. This is a main reason why the series is listed as only number nine, even though I greatly like it and find it charming.

8) F-Zero

It seems to be a popular line of conversation between futuristic racing enthusiasts on which series is superior: Nintendo's F-Zero or Sony's WipEout. I tend to be on the camp of people who enjoy F-Zero more. This is mostly due to the fact that F-Zero GX is my favorite futuristic racer, the one I consider to be the best of its genre, and one of the most challenging, too. The game was a collaboration between Sega and Nintendo, and it expanded on the universe of the series, showcased gorgeous graphics, and tremendously addicting and difficult gameplay. Since its debut on the Super Nintendo in 1990, sporting Mode 7 visuals, there have been several entries in the franchise across various platforms. While WipEout has had more consistently great games, the best of the F-Zero franchise without a doubt (in my opinion, of course) blows out anything in the WipEout series. Regardless, unlike WipEout, F-Zero has slipped into hiatus. The last game in the series as of now was a Japan-exclusive Game Boy Advance title that failed to enthuse critics and gamers alike. The Wii U and/or 3DS seem like the most obvious platforms to revive this lost franchise to.

7) Donkey Kong

The main monkey, Donkey Kong has been a character that has been both a hero and a villain. In the original arcade platforming game, Donkey Kong captured Mario's girlfriend, much to the mustachioed one's chagrin. The basic principles of the original Donkey Kong would be present in future games with the similar style, but they'd implement a more puzzling (literally) approach to things as seen in Donkey Kong (Game Boy), Mario VS. Donkey Kong (Game Boy Advance), and Mario VS. Donkey Kong: March of the Minis (Nintendo DS). When DK became a hero, some of his best games were created such as the Donkey Kong Country/Donkey Kong Land games, Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat, and even off-the-wall spinoff games like DK: King of Swing and DK: Jungle Climber. Whether you prefer Donkey Kong as a protagonist or as a bad guy, this great gorilla's games are absolutely fantastic.

6) Kirby

Celebrating his twentieth anniversary as a creation (his twentieth anniversary game just came out in North America two Sundays ago. Expect a review tomorrow.), Kirby is the can-do pink puffball. How many other pink puffballs do you know that can inhale foes, copy their powers, destroy armies of adorable foes, and still look so darn intimidating doing it? Rhetorical question. Regardless, Kirby is so popular with gamers because of the series' simple and accessible gameplay; charming visuals and music; and lovely everything else. Kirby is certainly Nintendo's most versatile character, appearing in so many spinoffs and original experimental games than you can shake a Waddle Dee at. He's tilted and tumbled, he's been turned into a ball and guided around by a player's drawn lines in Canvas Curse, he's been split up between ten Kirbys in Mass Attack, he's played a cross between golf and billiards in Dream Course, he's been placed inside a pinball board and smacked around, and that's just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg. As stated, it's Kirby's twentieth anniversary this year, and Nintendo celebrated with a game package that puts Mario's 25th to shame. North American and Japanese gamers can nab Kirby's Dream Collection today while PAL gamers will have to cross their fingers for the compendium of Kirby to reach their desperate grasps.

5) Pokemon

Man, talk about a long-running "fad!" Pokemon debuted in 1996 in Japan. I remember reading a special two or four page article on something called Pocket Monsters and how it was storming Japan. Little did I know that the same craze that affected the East would soon infect children and adults in the West. The mainline Pokemon games always release with two versions. The versions have subtle differences, mainly a selection of Pokemon that are only available in a particular version. The aim of each game to participate in turn-based encounters against wild Pokemon as well as other Pokemon trainers as you level up your collection of Pocket Monsters, have them evolve (watch out, Kirk Cameron!) into stronger creatures, and earn badges to become a Pokemon Master. Various spinoff like Pokemon Stadium, Pokemon Snap, Pokemon Pinball, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, Pokemon Ranger, among others expand into other genres outside of the traditional RPG gameplay of the main titles. Pokemon as a brand (including games, toys, school supplies, etc.) is the second best-selling gaming entity, behind Mario himself. That is mind-boggling as the series is not even two decades old. Gotta catch 'em all, and apparently, gotta buy 'em all.

4) Super Smash Bros.

Did you know that the very first Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64 was originally only intended for Japanese release? But when sales within Japan were quite high, Nintendo opted to localize the game for the West. And Nintendo fans and fighting game lovers around the globe can't thank them enough for their decision. And the rest is history, as they say. Super Smash Bros. pits a plethora of game characters from various Nintendo properties into 2D battles for up to four characters to smash, bash, and beat up. As opposed to traditional fighting games where the goal is to whittle an opponent's health bar to zero, the aim of Smash Bros.'s game is to attack a foe enough to smash them out of the arena. The series is more of a party fighter than a serious competitive fighter because of the transforming stages, simple controls, and introduction of items into the fray. While Nintendo fans argue between which Smash Bros. entry is superior: Melee or Brawl, or whether or not the series is a fighter, they can generally agree that the Super Smash Bros. is a love letter to them from Nintendo, and one that even non-Nintendo fans can play, enjoy, and cherish.

3) Metroid

This action-adventure series set in a science-fiction universe was one of the first showings of a female in a lead role in a video game. There are gamers who are 13 that just do not grasp how shocking it was to see this bad ass bounty hunter take off her gear and reveal herself to be a woman. "You mean I was playing as this chick the whole time? My mind is blown," or however people talked back then. Nonetheless, the original Metroid was not your typical action-adventure game. It was incredibly non-linear, offering exploration like never seen before in 2D game. It had tight platforming, fierce shooting, and many opportunities to get lost (and without drawing your own map back in the day, you really would get lost). Future games in the series adopted maps (the Metroid remake, Metroid: Zero Mission would add such a feature), and Metroid Prime ushered the series into three-dimensions, and it's one of the best games of all time. Perhaps a low point for a vocal group of fans is Metroid: Other M. While I wish the story weren't so heavy handed in its badness, I do appreciate the gameplay, even if it is more linear than normal and has some questionable design decisions (such as being allowed to use a weapon by your commanding officer instead of gaining one normally). That said, Metroid remains one of my favorite Nintendo franchises. I just hope the financial failure of Other M won't make Nintendo think no one cares about the series anymore.

2) The Legend of Zelda

For a series that is 25 years old, The Legend of Zelda has somewhat relied on the same design structure. Overworld -> Dungeon -> Overworld -> Dungeon, rinse and repeat. However, this formula has withstood the test of time as the games remain remarkable throughout nearly every entry. Many games in this legendary series have attempted new things, regardless. The original Zelda was very non-linear and open world essentially. How I'd love Nintendo to try something like that once more. Zelda II brought with it 2D action gameplay. A Link to the Past made a more structured approach, introduced two different world maps, and it's one of the best entries of all time. Ocarina of Time showed off time travel, Majora's Mask implemented a three-day system that Link repeated over and over again. The Wind Waker turned the world map into an ocean to explore. Skyward Sword had wonderful near 1:1 swordplay, really forcing the player to think about combat intently for every encounter, rather than just every now and then. The Legend of Zelda is one of the most endearing and well regarded franchises in gaming history, and it deserves all of the accolades and love it receives.

1) Mario

Who else could it be than Mario? Nintendo is known as the house that Mario built, and it's for good reason -- Mario is the best-selling video game franchise of all time, earning Nintendo loads of bank. However, sales don't factor into my adoration with the franchise. No, it's the always enchanting gameplay that I admire most. Mario is constantly in stellar titles that have the most magnificent level design in gaming. Even "rehashed" (a lazy insult used by sore gamers, but that's a subject for another day) Mario games sport thoughtful and clever design, as seen in New Super Mario Bros. 2. When Mario's not playing it safe, he's revolutionizing the industry (Super Mario Bros., Super Mario 64), expanding developers' and gamers' imaginations (Super Mario Galaxy 1/2), entering the RPG realm (Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, Mario & Luigi), participating in sporty endeavors (Mario Kart, Mario Golf, Mario Tennis, Mario & Sonic), partying till the wee hours of the morning (Mario Party series, Fortune Street), and even doing some odd jobs (Punch-Out!). Even including solely Mario's platforming repertoire alone and ignoring his spinoffs, Mario is head and shoulders above most franchises in gaming. He is consistently superb, consistently entertaining, and consistently an endearing mascot with a cast of memorable characters.


How could I possibly be satisfied with leaving out several series like Fire Emblem, Kid Icarus, Pikmin, Wario Land, Star Fox, Golden Sun, Earthbound, among many others? Nintendo has such a powerful supply of intellectual properties that it makes for a difficult decision on what and what not to include. It is my hope that my reasoning for including the ten franchises that I did (order great or not regardless) is articulated well enough for everyone to understand. While Nintendo's newest IPs don't get as much attention as their classic franchises, they, too, are a major part of the company's huge portfolio of intriguing properties.

What Nintendo franchises do you like the most? Any that I listed that you cannot find enjoyment in? Let me know in the comments section.

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