With Nintendo buying the Luigi's Mansion developer, Neal ranks all of their previous releases.
Nintendo is in the process of acquiring Vancouver-based developer Next Level Games, whom they have been working with since the GameCube era. Astute fans will recognize them from their work on Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon and 3. Some others might remember their Punch-Out and Mario Strikers work. The realest will remember how they made a very good game called Metroid Prime: Federation Force that unfortunately was the first new Metroid in almost a decade.
To catch you up on the history of the studio, here’s all of their games, ranked. This is my ranking as someone who *checks list* has played almost all of these games.
But first, a quick note! While not technically a “Next Level Games” game, a lot of the founding members of the studio worked on Sega Soccer Slam, which is one of the greatest games ever made, in my humble opinion. It goes without saying that, were I to make a list of games people at Next Level have been involved with, that would be my number one (even if it’s got a lot more “yikes” in its stereotypes than Wii Punch-Out!!).
14. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon (Wii, 2010)
Looking at some of the deeper cuts, I went to check to see if we had any reviews up of them. We usually had a good track record for keeping up on most weird third-party Wii ports. And well:
Yep, I apparently reviewed this game almost a decade ago to the day. It’s a rail shooter with bad graphics and nothing of note. It has co-op and online leaderboards. Those were my pros.
13. Transformers: Cybertron Adventures (Wii, 2010)
I did not review this game, but my Transformer-enjoying compatriot Zach Miller did and he did not enjoy it. This is another rail shooter (I guess Next Level could make a good budget rail shooter on Wii for hire?) and a highlight was that Peter Cullen voiced Optimus Prime. Aside from that, it’s just a short, crappy game.
12. Doc Louis’s Punch-Out!! (WiiWare Club Nintendo Exclusive, 2009)
Now I don’t think Doc Louis’s Punch-Out!! is bad as a Club Nintendo reward, but it’s a very simple game with only a single match against Little Mac’s trainer Doc Louis that can be played on three difficulty settings. It’s also not available anymore.
11. Jungle Speed (WiiWare, 2009)
I never wound up playing the WiiWare version of Jungle Speed, but I’ve played the card game that inspired it and that’s fun. I recall hearing good things about this. It’s only low on the list because I have no experience with it. This one is also not available anymore.
10. NHL Hitz Pro (GameCube/Xbox/PlayStation 2, 2003)
This was their first game as a studio and honestly, it’s real good. The fact it’s this low is more a testament to the overall quality of all their other games...and also my bias towards their Marvel work.
9. Spider-Man: Friend or Foe (Wii/Xbox 360/PlayStation 2, 2007)
I haven’t played Spider-Man: Friend or Foe since probably 2008 and I never played the Wii version, but I did really enjoy romping through the Xbox 360 release. The cartoony art style looked nice on 360 and the relatively simple 3D beat-’em-up gameplay was fun. I don’t know if I can recommend tracking this game down and it’s certainly not near the top of the Spider-Man games list, but it’s basically a Spidey game in the LEGO game style.
8. Ticket to Ride (Xbox Live Arcade, 2008)
This was how I first played Ticket to Ride and while it has been years since I last played this game, I remember it being an incredible game adaptation of the board game. Especially in this time of COVID, it’d be cool to see this come back. It apparently was re-released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Bring it to Switch, license holders!
7. Mario Strikers Charged (Wii, 2007)
I have to come clean that I played more Mario Strikers Charged than Super Mario Strikers. I recognize that the GameCube original is probably the better, less gimmicky game, but I still really enjoyed the Wii release. The online ran well, though that’s gone and not accessible anymore. The overall gameplay and control feels great (there’s that Sega Soccer Slam origins of Next Level Games coming ‘round), but some of the ways special moves could be abused along with the Wii pointer goalie segments grew weary very quickly. I think I speak for a lot of fans of these games that I’d love to see this series come back in some fashion, Next Level or not.
6. Captain America: Super Soldier (Xbox 360/PlayStation 3, 2011)
Here’s what you need to know: Next Level made Captain America: Arkham Asylum. Is it as good as the original Batman: Arkham Asylum? Not even close, but it’s also surprisingly fun. It didn’t get the best reception back in 2011 when it came out, but my experience with it was very positive. Plus it features the voice of Chris Evans and others from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Technically I think it’s canon? Maybe?
5. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (Nintendo 3DS, 2013)
I loved Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon when it came out and honestly the only reason it’s this low is because Next Level Games makes really good games. The overall level-based structure might not be for everyone, but I really enjoyed it, especially for a portable game. Throw in the very fun online mode that was super fun back when StreetPass gatherings and public events were things and you have yourselves a great sequel to a GameCube classic.
4. Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Switch, 2019)
Full disclosure: I haven’t beaten Luigi’s Mansion 3, which is also why it’s not as high on the list. There is a lot of good in this game, but I think it might go on a little bit too long? Visually, this is Next Level’s masterpiece. The animation is gorgeous and Luigi is incredibly endearing. The differing designs on each floor help keep the overall visual look fresh throughout. The multiplayer, while not as engrossing as I wished it was, is deep with both the co-op Scarescraper challenges and a variety of daffy mini-games. I’m aware this is a slam-dunk number one for a lot of people. I dig this game a lot; it’s just not as dear to me as the games above it.
3. Super Mario Strikers (GameCube, 2005)
This outpaces its sequel because the purity of arcade soccer isn’t as bogged down by the extraneous Mario and motion control touches. This is a dynamite sports game that is a blast to play in single-player and multiplayer. While it’s not on the level of Sega Soccer Slam, this has a lot of the borderline-perfect feel of that stone-cold classic. This might have been the last Mario game on one of Nintendo’s more forgettable consoles, but it is not a game that should be forgotten.
2. Punch-Out!! (Wii, 2009)
Punch-Out!! on Wii clarified two things for me, some of which took me a few years to realize. First off, Punch-Out!! as a series endures as an eclectic sports mixture of rhythm and puzzle ideas. The cartoony visuals and flair amplify the zaniness of the opponents. The second bit of clarity I reached is that maybe Punch-Out!! is offensive? When it was more abstracted in the originals, it was less overt, but some of the stereotypes on display in the Wii game might cross some lines. Either way, the feel of this Wii game from Next Level is fantastic. It’s not stretched out longer than it has to be either, with a straight run through the opponents, then a twist on the fights in Title Defense mode. At this point, I think we can all forget it has Balance Board support.
1. Metroid Prime: Federation Force (Nintendo 3DS, 2016)
Wait wait - don’t go. Hear me out! I can’t think of a Nintendo game that was dealt a worse hand than Metroid Prime: Federation Force. It was first teased as Blast Ball - the not-technically-a-Rocket-League-ripoff-because-they-came-out-around-the-same-time side mode - and then when the full game was revealed as a Metroid Prime game, it had the unfair positioning of being the first Metroid game in five years and the first Prime game in eight. Oh and it was also a spinoff. Then, when it actually came out, it turned out that the optimal way to play it was with three other people online on a system that was more than five years old and on the verge of being deemed outdated and irrelevant. This was a stacked deck against it.
As one of the dozen people who played this in its more optimal multiplayer setting, I loved it. They sort of combined aspects of co-op loot-driven games like Monster Hunter with Metroid and it was incredibly fun. The mission variety combined with the element of customization and randomness with multiplayer made the levels very replayable. And the story, while not some masterpiece, actually did some neat things, some of which I learned recently people actually hated (but I dug). Yes, as a single-player game, it was rougher around the edges, and sure, maybe I’m slightly overrating this game because of the buckets of shit it’s had to endure over the years, but I stand by my affinity for this game and I long for the day when people can play more 2D Metroid and Metroid Prime 4 and look back on this game with less bitterness. It’s well made and fun, like basically every game Next Level Games has worked on with Nintendo. Next Level Games might have made games of inconsistent quality elsewhere, but for 15 years, they’ve just regularly produced great things working with Nintendo. I’m optimistic to see where they go from here as they now operate underneath Nintendo’s corporate umbrella directly.