Though 2016 will probably be mostly remembered by Nintendo fans as the Year of Switch Rumors, there were also quite a few great games that made their way onto the Wii U and 3DS. After a lengthy voting process and heated debate, the members of the NXpress Nintendo Podcast, along with Nintendo editor James Baker, have compiled a list of the best of these.
Because only four of us were voting, some games have been left off due to not everyone getting a chance to play them, despite being highly rated by the one or two of us that did. Those Honorable mentions include two that made the site’s Best Wii U Games list, Severed and Tokyo Mirage Session #FE, as well as Bravely Second and Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam for the 3DS. All were worthy, but only only ten could make our Best Nintendo Games of the Year! Take a look and see if there’s anything you missed out on, and let us know your favorites in the comments below!
10) Fire Emblem Fates
The brutality to the battlefield returns, and the side you choose determines your fate. Your soldiers are ready, your swords sharpened, and your arrows are plenty. All that awaits is the decision of defense or conquest. Whatever you decide, the kingdoms of Hoshido and Nohr will change forever.
Fire Emblem: Fates brings some of the most compelling stories to the franchise, boasting three different games with three different scenarios. Birthright is seen as the best of the three for a beginner, with a much easier play through. Conquest is the most challenging, and the DLC Revelations lies somewhere in between.
The complex moralities surrounding the three games leave you with more questions than answers, participant in a tale of clashing bloodlines where the uncomfortable middle is your unfortunate situation. Conquest remains the better of the three games, with its darker shade of gray tone that uncomfortably leads you to follow the bloodthirsty King Garon, whose missions seem to punish rather than test you.
The turn-based style of battle remains its biggest strength. The game of chess absorbs you into a perfectionist’s nightmare, with one wrong move able to cost you the entire battle. This endearing style of strategy game has kept Fire Emblem alive and well for over three decades, and the intricacy of the battle leaves a devastating beauty to each critical moment. There’s no right or wrong adventure; each journey will leave you wanting more. (James Baker)
Sequels are often about character development, with heroes experiencing growth through the many trials and tribulations life has to offer. For Qbby, the four-sided platforming problem-solver who makes boxes to cross bottomless pits, flip switches, and scale walls, Nintendo had to dig deep to find the right angles from which to add more depth to 2015’s two-dimensional origin story. The result is BOXBOXBOY!, another pleasantly entertaining downloadable for the 3DS that delivers more of the same box-based puzzles, but with the added twist that Qbby can now make TWO sets of box chains. How’s that for growth! While some of the 100+ levels do cleverly take advantage of this new ability, most offer scenarios requiring tactics that fans of the first game will be familiar with, but that’s not a bad thing. Nintendo’s puzzle makers have once again crafted a gauntlet of increasingly devilish tests, forcing players to often think outside the box in order to collect all the crowns scattered about, which unlock various costumes, music tracks, and a fun series of comic strips.
Qbby and his quadrilateral friends are as adorable as ever, their blank stares strangely appealing, and the clean, crisp black and white visuals, such a stark contrast to Nintendo’s normal color bombardment, are minimalist eye candy. There is a dreamy atmosphere to the vague “story” that soothes the brain after wracking it, enticing players to continue on, and luckily plenty of content allows for just that. While not the out-of-left-field delightful surprise that was the original, and despite the unfulfilled potential of the new mechanics, BOXBOXBOY! can’t help but elicit smiles, with the unbelievably simple Qbby belonging squarely in Nintendo’s stable of mascots, hopefully with many more boxes to make and plenty of puzzling adventures still to come. It’s still hip to be square. (Patrick Murphy)
8) Axiom Verge
It’s impossible to play Axiom Verge without thinking of Metroid. This is a game that wears its affection for Nintendo’s beloved 8-bit original, as well as the 16-bit follow-up, Super Metroid, on its sleeve. Axiom Verge is the Metroid game we’ve been waiting for, even if it doesn’t include everyone’s favourite bounty hunter, Samus Aran. This 2D side-scroller includes just about everything that makes Metroid so memorable: a great variety of weapons, unique abilities, a minimalist score, and an evocative atmosphere. While it isn’t quite as good as Metroid, Axiom Verge is a remarkable feat given that it was developed by one man over five years. Not only did creator Tom Happ do all the programming himself, but he also created the art, music, and overall design of each character and level. Much like Shovel Knight, Axiom Verge is a game that not only borrows the aesthetic of retro games, but more importantly, it understands what made them work so well. It’s one of the best examples of the Metroidvania genre, and the Wii U version is arguably the best way to play it, thanks to the GamePad, which adds extra features, such as an interactive map and selectable icons for all your guns (not to mention with Off-TV Play). (Ricky D)
7) Pocket Card Jockey
Much like with horse racing, the world of video games is full of surprising winners, little-known long shots whose introductions inspire more snickers than wagers, but then soon prove their mettle coming down the stretch. Developer Game Freak’s Pocket Card Jockey was hardly looked at as an odds-on favorite after its initial reveal, but it turns out that within this dark horse beats the heart of a puzzle game stallion, mature enough to take the Triple Crown, and full of fun while merging the sport of kings with a deck of aces. The concept is a fairly bizarre one, but playing rounds of Solitaire to compete in horse races works surprisingly well, offering an addictive, fast-paced challenge that requires strategy, skill and (like with most card games) sometimes a little luck. There are many facets at play during each event, but the basics involve removing cards between laps to build energy, and drawing paths with the stylus that put your steed in the best position for heading down that home stretch. It’s exciting, rewarding, and some of the most enjoyably replayable mechanics since Tetris.
With a ton of potential trophies to raise, a breeding mini-game that ensure your prize studs superior genetics will live on, and loads of entertainingly silly dialogue to chuckle over, Pocket Card Jockey is hands-down one of the best and weirdest puzzle experiences the 3DS has to offer. For those who enjoy Solitaire and always wanted to suit up in a ridiculous outfit and take the reins at a prestigious derby, your game has finally arrived. Pocket Card Jockey is a stalker in the pack, waiting to Sea Biscuit its way to your heart. (Patrick Murphy)
6) Paper Mario: Color Splash
Though not a return to the more standard RPG gameplay of The Thousand-Year Door that many fans were hoping for, the relentless charm of Paper Mario: Color Splash is more than enough to overcome any flaws, delivering a consistently entertaining adventure set in one of the most aesthetically-pleasing worlds in video games. Yes, the card combat is similar to Sticker Star‘s less-than-satisfying battle system, but Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have improved upon some of the more frustrating aspects, including making the resources necessary far more available. Rarely will players find themselves running out of jump attacks or hammer bashes and the like, and though the lack of experience gained for victory means battles will often be avoided, it’s still fun to watch (and listen to) your paper enemies crinkle under the relentless assault of a timing-based combo.
The real draw of Color Splash is the one-ply universe itself, though, and the goofy characters that reside within it. Eye-popping colors abound, painted onto objects and creatures so tactile that they belong in a pop-up fairy tale book. As players explore the vast land, they’ll run across numerous gray areas that can be filled in by swinging a paint-filled hammer. A simple act that can bring out the obsessive-compulsive in anyone, spreading beautiful goop is both rewarding and a messy good time. As for the story, those with the urge to dive into something deep and emotional will find only a shallow pool (this is Nintendo, after all), but often laugh-out-loud dialogue makes every NPC worth talking to, and fans of nonstop puns will be be in humor heaven. This abundance of personality is what easily carries Paper Mario: Color Splash through to its end, providing the kind of classic Nintendo entertainment that the company’s fans can’t get enough of. (Patrick Murphy)
5) Star Fox Zero
Star Fox Zero is one of the best games released exclusively for the Wii U, and it’s a shame that it has endured such unfair criticism. Fox McCloud’s long-awaited comeback has faced a wall of skepticism ever since it was first unveiled at E3 two years ago, mainly because of the divisive control system. The game certainly isn’t without its faults, but it’s also blessed with a loose, anarchic, B-picture soul that encourages you to enjoy yourself even when you’re not quite sure if you’re in control. It’s exactly the sort of rousing space adventure that McCloud and his band of anthropomorphic allies have become famous for. There are aspects that may be messy, but it’s an extremely good-natured mess, full of humor and warmth.
If we can glean anything from Nintendo’s 126-year history, it’s a willingness to experiment. The original Star Fox took full advantage of the polygon processing prowess of the Super FX chip in an era when three-dimensional polygons in a console game were very unusual. Star Fox 64 was built with the Nintendo 64’s analog control in mind, and it was the first Nintendo 64 game to include support for the Rumble Pak, with which it initially came bundled. Nintendo has always used the Star Fox games to flaunt the unique features of their consoles, and Zero is no different. A sense of familiarity pervades all of Star Fox Zero, and not just because the story is essentially a retread of Star Fox 64 (which in turn was effectively a retelling of Star Fox), but because Zero shares so much DNA with the 64 classics that it might as well be called a remake. Star Fox Zero appears to remember what made its predecessors so much fun, and when the credits are over, all you want to do is get back in line and play it again. (Ricky D)
4) Pokken Tournament
Pokkén Tournament borrows from plenty of old fighting game favorites – most obviously Tekken – but the inspirations reach further than Bandai Namco’s hit series touching on Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, and the Dragonball series, to name a few. This isn’t to say that Pokken Tournament is just a poor man’s Tekken and void of any new ideas; in fact, it introduces its own features and systems that give it plenty of depth and plenty of replayability. The most notable innovation is the shifting field of battle, which transitions back and forth between Field Phase (a three-dimensional range of motion that gives players access to the full scope of the arena, and an over-the-shoulder point of view), and the more traditional fighting game-style Duel Phase (taking place on a 2D plane and putting a focus on things like mid-range strategy or close combat).
Think Tekken meets SoulCalibur, only featuring iconic Pokémon from both early and current generations to choose from. Almost everything about it works so incredibly well that Pokken Tournament is the only game apart from NBA 2K17 that I put more hours into this year – a game that breathes new life into a notoriously stale genre, and more than exceeded my expectations. Like Super Smash Bros., it’s easy to pick up, easy to play, and provides players a chance to battle against their friends, both online and in the same room. What more can you ask for? (Ricky D)
3) Kirby: Planet Robobot
There are not many Nintendo characters that have the same iconic status as Kirby. Mario obviously, Link surely, but not many others reach the same magnitude of expectation. So when Kirby: Planet Robobot was first announced, there was an assertion of hope for a new classic. The disappointment was not to come.
Kirby: Planet Robobot adheres to the same formula that has been successful with almost every Kirby game to date. The ability of Kirby to absorb the traits of his opponents has kept an original, creative idea blossoming for nearly twenty-five years. The addition of giant robots only adds a new ingredient to the mix, although Kirby’s Robobot armor does make the game less difficult.
Actually, most of the challenge come from the puzzle-style level design. The six worlds you traverse through are beautiful and exude both character and charm. If the stereoscopic 3D screen doesn’t give you a headache, it’s definitely worth seeing the parallel side-scrolling levels switch between the foreground and the background as you warp through pipes. After easily overcoming any opponent in your way, the boss battles provide a slightly different challenge, but still a swift defeat nonetheless.
However, Kirby games have never been renowned for their difficulty. They’ve always provided a cute, relaxed style of gameplay that never fails to entertain. Anybody that grew up with Nintendo will be delighted with Kirby: Planet Robobot, and anybody new to Nintendo shouldn’t let appearances deceive them; this pink ball of fun never lets you down. (James Baker)
2) Pokémon Sun and Moon
Every iteration within Pokémon’s twenty-year history has brought small, subtle changes to prevent the franchise from getting stale. No generation of games has done quite so upstanding a job as Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon and, from the outset, they celebrate that twenty-year history while distinguishing themselves as something different. For starters, the experience is far more cinematic, allowing for moments of quality and subtle character building, while frequently raising tension and excitement with brief action sequences. Likewise, the setting of the game, the Alola Region, is far more realized than previous regions. Based on Hawaii, Alola is comprised of four unique islands, each exuding their own atmosphere. Despite taking place on islands, the game is fairly landlocked, so don’t worry about too much water. Alola is described as being a far stretch away from the original Pokémon region of Kanto, and that’s exceptionally demonstrated. Unlike other regions, Alola doesn’t have gyms. Instead, players embark on an Island Challenge in which they forego a series of trials. While similar to gyms in that they culminate in a fierce Pokémon battle, each trial sets the player on a completely different task that teaches and celebrates the history of Alola. Gone also is the linear, X-axis, Y-axis, top down, grid style map. Alola is a free flowing, 3D world where the variety of Pokémon changes for each section of tall grass, even on the same route.
Pokémon Sun and Moon are just as notable for their quality-of-life improvements. Quick access to Poké Balls amidst wild Pokémon encounters, move effectiveness listed for Pokémon previously battled, and fully customizable menus are just a few ways things have been made more user-friendly. That’s not to say the games don’t have outstanding new additions; Poke Pelago and Festival Plaza are welcome distractions from the main game, but represent the typical, expected additions to a new Pokémon generation. Also unprecedented is what fans are calling “SOS battle encounters” where wild Pokémon can call for aid resulting in two on one battles. On top of stacking the odds against the player in exciting ways, these SOS encounters can result in rare Pokémon encounters that include evolutions, Pokémon with hidden abilities, and shiny Pokémon. In fact, some Pokémon can only be encountered this way, resulting in some thrilling, unexpected discoveries. Sun and Moon also include Z-moves, powerful moves that can only be used once per battle between all Pokémon in the party. While often overpowering the player, when battling enemies capable of Z-moves, these powerful moves can actually shift the tides in interesting ways. For all that is new, Pokémon Sun and Moon are also a celebration of twenty years of Pokémon. Some of this takes the obvious shape of Alolan Forms of original Pokémon, some of which are cool as ice, while others are intentionally laughable. At other times it’s as subtle as a Cubone calling on a Kangaskhan for help in battle, a call back to Pokémon lore and legend of the original games. Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon represent the best Pokémon has to offer: some brilliant new Pokémon, celebratory riffs on the originals, countless quality of life improvements, and an abundance of character and charm from the cast within, both villains and heroes alike, and even the region itself. Do yourself a favor and take a vacation to Alola and the wonderful world of Pokemon Sun and Moon. (Tim Maison)
1) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
The best adventures don’t always have to be new ones. Often it’s more enjoyable reliving a journey and rediscovering what made it so diverting in the first place. This is absolutely the case with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, one of the best games to come out so far this year. Building on its predecessors in many ways, Twilight Princess represented the best of the Zelda franchise. With impeccable controls and gameplay, some of the best combat featured in a Zelda game yet, and its signature tone and design, Twilight Princess built on the familiar formula of Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker, then escalated it. This is again the case with the HD version of the game, and Twilight Princess HD is the definitive way to experience the game. Every enhancement is notable, from the improved graphics to the ease and simplicity of aiming as a result of the Wii U’s gyroscope controllers. Twilight Princess HD also validates the Wii U Gamepad, as an easy access inventory and ever-present map couldn’t be more convenient. On top of all of that, the game supports amiibo, utilizing every Zelda–themed figure to either support the player or make the experience more challenging. The Wolf Link amiibo even brings additional content in the way of a small challenge course. Twilight Princess was always a brilliant game, with a gorgeous art style, some of the best dungeons in franchise history, and the well-designed gameplay Nintendo is renowned for. Twilight Princess HD builds on all of that brilliantly and is the single best way to experience one of the best journeys to Hyrule players have been permitted to embark on. (Tim Maison)
That’s our list, hope you enjoyed it, and if you missed any of these great games, now is the perfect time to catch up!