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Console Elite Four: Your Most Important Nintendo Games

From the GBA to the DS

by the NWR Staff - July 28, 2020, 9:29 am PDT

Our staff's top picks for the most important games for each console continues.

Our second page covers the Game Boy Advance all the way up until the Nintendo DS. It might be a relatively short time frame of system launches, but we weren't previously called Planet GameCube because we hated the GameCube. Once again, let us know your picks in the comments!


Game Boy Advance

Neal Ronaghan Metroid: Zero Mission WarioWare Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga Golden Sun


Metroid: Zero Mission is so far and away the best GBA game to me. It’s really just a perfect distillation of the Metroid style. I’m torn between the original WarioWare and the motion-controlled Twisted. Twisted might be the better game, but the original is still mind-blowing to me. I wanted to shy away from going with two RPGs on this list, but the GBA’s legacy is so oriented on portable RPGs, so I went with Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, which is a really streamlined and fun RPG. Bowser’s Inside Story might be better, but Superstar Saga is much more focused. Golden Sun isn’t great, but it had promise that I want to keep highlighted for historical purposes. It was basically a new SNES RPG on the GBA. And also the fact you could carry over your save from the first game to the sequel ruled.


Adam Abou-Nasr Mega Man Battle Network 3 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Final Fantasy Tactics Advance Pokemon Ruby


The Game Boy Advance had a short lifespan, but each of these games feel like they're from completely different parts of my life. The Mega Man Battle Network series is still my only context for anything Mega Man and my go-to bedtime let's play watch. Battle Network’s internet-utopia-saved-by-a-5th-grader story isn't groundbreaking in any way, but its combat, random encounters with real-time grid battles and trading-card style special attacks, might be the most satisfying I've found in a JRPG. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance literally transported me into a storybook. The original Tactics on PS1 was one of my favorite games as a kid, but Tactics Advance added an addictive level of replayability, a difficulty level that didn't have be reaching for a cheat device, and dialogue kid me could understand.

Pokemon Ruby’s release finally got through my skull that Pokemon was no longer mainstream. My few peers still playing kept the secret between us with knowing glances and whispered discussions. It helped that Hoenn was so filled with secrets and the internet wasn’t. These three are the fantastic games I think of when I picture the GBA, but a fourth haunts me. In the early aughts, capitalism decided all young men should like Lord of the Rings. I read The Hobbit and watched the movies, trying to learn more about the world through friends and attempts at the books. I picked up The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for GBA. This might be the worst game I've ever played, but it taught me that it's okay to both quit things that make you miserable and not like Lord of the Rings.


GameCube

Matt Zawodniak Sonic Adventure 2 Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door Metroid Prime Super Smash Bros. Melee


The GameCube may have burned out quickly with only five years on the market, but it shined brightly with some of my favorite games in Nintendo’s entire catalogue. The generation kicked off with what was at the time a mind-blowing thing: Sonic the Hedgehog on a Nintendo console. While Sonic Adventure 2 has received heavy scrutiny in recent years, it signified the end of a decade-long rivalry, gave rise to a new generation of Sonic fans, and went on to become the best-selling third-party game on the system. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door left an impact that, for better or worse, can still be felt today with its cast of diverse, memorable characters and its uncharacteristic gallows humor (literally in the case of the actual noose hanging in the dead center of the game’s hub world). Metroid Prime redefined its series by making a first-person shooter like nothing before it without sacrificing everything that makes the Metroid franchise what it is. Is there any better way to end a decade-long series hiatus?

And then of course the GameCube’s alpha and omega, one of the first games released for the console that would remain its single-highest selling title: Super Smash Bros. Melee. Is any one console as defined by its greatest success as the GameCube is by Melee? Melee was so beloved and widely-played that the GameCube controller became the de-facto Smash Bros. controller that is still supported to this day. Among the Smash Bros. franchise Melee is a host unto itself, and if any of these Elite Fours were to have a clear Champion that rises above the rest, this is it.


Steven Green Luigi’s Mansion The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Super Mario Sunshine Mario Kart: Double Dash


Let’s start by stating the obvious: The Nintendo GameCube is the greatest gaming console of all time. Great! Now that we’re past that, we can highlight the greatest games on the greatest system ever. This was a tough list to narrow down, simply because there was such an interesting combination of genres to pick through. From NFL Street to Animal Crossing, you could get ahold of just about any experience you wanted on the GameCube. Even better than that? The GameCube had a handle. *drops mic*

Luigi’s Mansion is my personal favorite game of all time. I know that for many it may not top this list, but for me, there is nothing better. Top to bottom, Luigi’s Mansion is a perfect experience allowing for anything from speed runs to casual playthroughs, just enough creepiness to give you some spooks, and the room-clearing gameplay is enjoyable and satisfying. From here, it’s super simple. The Wind Waker was the best Zelda game up until Breath of the Wild. Super Mario Sunshine was the best 3D-platforming Mario title up until Odyssey. And Double Dash was the best Mario Kart up until Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The GameCube stood tall with the best entries in most of Nintendo’s IPs until very recently.


John Rairdin Star Fox Adventures Star Fox Assault Super Mario Sunshine Metroid Prime


As the only system to have multiple Star Fox games released on it (within the system’s official production run ) half of this list was written for me. Star Fox Adventures sold me on the Gamecube. Its graphics were, to my eyes, the best I had ever seen. When Star Fox Assault released, my brother and I worked ahead on school (we were homeschooled) so that we’d have time to binge it on launch day. To this day my best multiplayer memories on Gamecube are of Star Fox Assault. Eat your heart out Super Smash Bros. Melee. Super Mario Sunshine is the most challenging, most inventive, and just overall best 3D Mario game, fight me. Metroid Prime honestly scared the crap out of me as a kid. Scanning all those dead space pirates during the opening of the game left some lasting impressions. When talking to my parents about Metroid Prime I told them it was like playing Myst with a gun. I stand by this assessment


Neal Ronaghan Sega Soccer Slam Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 Super Smash Bros. Melee Viewtiful Joe


First, whenever I think about the launch of the GameCube, it blows my mind that Super Smash Bros. Melee was basically a launch title. That’s nuts. I played that game consistently for like seven years. I also played Sega Soccer Slams pretty regularly from the time I picked it up used in 2003 or something until the end of the Xbox 360 era (Xbox version was playable on 360). Made by a good chunk of the team that would form Next Level Games, Sega Soccer Slam is a better game than their Nintendo sports work in the Mario Strikers series. It sadly also foreshadowed the rampant stereotyping in their Punch-Out!! game, but Soccer Slam is, to date, untouched by any other arcade soccer game. I could be talked into Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 or Underground being on this list, but I always lean towards the simple majesty of the two-minute runs in the Hawk games. Lastly, Viewtiful Joe consumed me from the moment I played a demo of it (remember demo discs?). I devoured that game when it came out, and it’s representative of the kind of games I love. This was a hard list to cut games from because the GameCube has a ton of gems, but these four are the ones that stayed with me, either quite literally in that I replayed them constantly or that I use them as a reference point to when I play any games like them.


Nintendo DS

Willem Hilhorst Pokémon Black & White 2 The World Ends With You Professor Layton and the Lost Future Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective


I’d argue that the DS has such a wide and varied library, that it’s incredibly hard to pick just four all-time greats. These are my personal favourites that made the console what it is. Pokémon Black & White 2 are still, to this day, the greatest Pokémon games ever made. Enhancing the game with a story that is a direct and explicit sequel to the events from the original games was unique to Pokémon. There are so many small additions that have polished these games to a mirror shine and I have extensively replayed them over the years. The DS was home to a lot of incredible RPG’s. Dragon Quest 9, Final Fantasy III and Chrono Trigger just to name a few. But none of these took advantage of the DS hardware like The World Ends With You. The original DS release still stands on its own, compared to newer ports of this game thanks to the unique battle mechanics. During battles you control two characters on separate screens. Making battles take on a chaotic tension where you swap back and forth in order to take down the noise that is plaguing Shibuya.

Making a game full of riddles is quite straightforward, but the Professor Layton games weave the gameplay together with a strong mystery narrative that keeps players engaged. Honestly all of the original three Layton games are great, but none quite hold a candle to my love of the third instalment, Professor Layton and the Lost Future (or Unwound Future for you Americans). The game feels like the epic conclusion to the trilogy but at the same time it is an incredibly personal story for Layton and the other characters about loss and growing up. Finally, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is often seen as one of the hidden gems on the system. You play as Sissel, a man who has died and wants to find out who or what killed him. With charming, unforgettable characters and a plot that slowly unravels while always keeping the player guessing. You can use the touch screen to move around the ghost of Sissel and interact with all sorts of objects to create a path and proceed. I’ve rarely seen a game match its mechanics to its narrative and world quite as well as Ghost Trick has done. There is a sort of ‘Rube Goldberg Machine’ to every puzzle in the game and seeing the solution play out before your eyes is a treat every time.

There is no definitive list of best games for the DS, since the handheld is so closely connected to the personal experiences of the users. I hope that with my Elite Four I’ve shown you some of the wonderful games that only the DS could’ve produced.


Neal Ronaghan Picross 3D Ghost Trick Professor Layton and the Unwound Future Dragon Quest V


Honestly? I could put Picross 3D four times and just call it a day. The game is that damn good. But if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to highlight my favorite narrative-centric video game of all time. I’ve always dug the Ace Attorney games, but Ghost Trick (led by Shu Takumi of Ace Attorney fame) far surpasses my affinity for Phoenix Wright. It has clever and enjoyable time-bending puzzles, a heartfelt story, and gorgeous rotoscope animation. That game astoundingly rules. Also in that same wheelhouse is the third Professor Layton game, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future (or Lost Future for you Europeans). The Layton games incredibly important and special to me on DS, but the third game is by far the best one. I do feel like, by law, I need to call out the cute London Life bonus mode in the unsung fourth Layton game. The fourth game was tough, though. I almost put Dragon Quest IX, but in reality, I have to put Dragon Quest V. Yes - it’s a remake/port of an old game, but this was the first time Dragon Quest V came out in America so dang it, this counts! Before Dragon Quest V, I had some memories of the original game on NES and the excellent Dragon Warrior Monsters on Game Boy, but playing through Dragon Quest V is what got me to finally make an honest effort to learn all I could about this legendary franchise. I don’t know if any other Dragon Quest matched how much DQV blew my hair back, but I’m happy to play them all (even Dragon Quest VII).

Talkback

Cool Uncle VinceJuly 30, 2020

It's crazy how Neal's lists almost perfectly replicate my list (Donkey Kong '94 is the best game on the system, absolutely followed by Link's Awakening, Pokemon Red/Blue, and Tetris).

Even places where I disagree, like Kid Icarus: Uprising, he's like, "I know the controls are hard, especially for lefties" and I think I AGREE MAN.

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