Say what you will about Nintendo, but for better or worse, they’ve always marched to the beat of their own drum. Their consoles and games may not be up to par with their competitors in terms of graphical fidelity or online play, but they always try to push the envelope and make entirely new gaming experiences. This has led to the creation of dozens of innovative and creative games that either invent or upend established game genres. Where would platforming games be without Mario and its contributions to 2-D and 3-D game design? How many quirky, offbeat RPG’s owe their existence to Earthbound? Not every one of these experiments catches on with the general public, however. If you’re a Nintendo fan who’s looking for some creative new games to play, here are a few that may have slipped under your radar.
5 most underrated Nintendo games
5. F-Zero GX (Gamecube)
For making Mario Kart alone, Nintendo deserves to be considered the master of racing games. Mario Kart is accessible to new players while staying fun and engaging with experienced players. The game strikes the perfect balance between randomness and skill to keep things chaotic while still helping players feel in control. F-Zero can be considered the exact opposite of all this.
Conceived by Mario Kart creator Shigeru Miyamoto, F-Zero abandons the item and luck based gameplay of Mario Kart in favor of blitzing fast speeds and brutally punishing gameplay. The peak of the series came with F-Zero GX on the Gamecube, a game made in collaboration with Sega. An example of a race can be seen below:
The increased technical capabilities of the Gamecube allowed the series to truly shine the way it was always meant to. Over 30 racers fill each track, smashing into each other to claim a hard-fought victory. This is easier said than done, however, as the incredibly high speed of the game gives you only split seconds to react to oncoming obstacles or sharp turns. Racers in GX all have a health bar that is depleted by smashing into racers, walls, or objects, and players will lose the race entirely if their health runs out. The game also features a story mode, a first for the series, which is an emotional rollercoaster not necessarily because of an engaging story but for the extreme, primal catharsis felt after beating an impossible level.
GX was developed by Amusement Visions, the team behind the similarly sadistic Super Monkey Ball games. The game was a modest success, but Nintendo, unfortunately, seems content to let the series lay dormant. While it doesn’t look like a new F-Zero game is coming any time soon, the series lives on through its representation in the Super Smash Bros. games, of which F-Zero mascot Captain Falcon is consistently one of the most popular fighters.
4. Star Fox Assault (Gamecube)
This is probably going to be the most contested entry on this list, as there is a large portion of Star Fox fans who actively dislike this game. The game came out after Star Fox Adventures, a bizarre Zelda clone that had Fox step out of the Arwing in favor of on-foot exploration and puzzle solving. Star Fox Assault returns the series to its high-octane shooting roots while still incorporating enough new additions to the gameplay to remain fresh.
The game is split into traditional on-rails flying segments and more open on-foot/vehicular sections. The flying sections of the game are fantastic and reminiscent of Star Fox 64, where dodging enemy fire, stringing together combos, and rescuing teammates leads to a huge score. The more controversial aspect of the game is its on-foot sections:
While on foot, the game transforms into a 3rd person shooter. Taking control of Fox, the player is free to explore large and varied environments filled with weapons, enemies, and power-ups. Control is simplistic, as most aiming is done horizontally. Fox can utilize a wide variety of weapons including homing launchers, sniper rifles, landmines, and Gatling guns.
In addition to his weapons, most levels have Arwings (planes) or Landmasters (tanks) that the players are able to enter and leave at any time. Landmasters can help clear out large swarms of ground enemies quickly, either by charging up powerful homing shots or by simply running them over. Arwings can help transport Fox quickly around the map, in addition to letting him more easily take down airborne enemies. The balance between on-foot weaponry, air combat, and tank combat help this game feel unique among the Star Fox franchise.
The game also features a story that is darker and more grounded than Star Fox 64 without treading into overly edgy territory. The characters have less cartoony and (dare I say it) more listenable voices than Star Fox 64. It’s a shame the story couldn’t continue properly, as it was promptly driven straight into the ground with the fan-fiction tier writing of the next game, Star Fox Command.
The most underrated part of this underrated game is definitely the split-screen multiplayer. Players can fight it out in nearly any level from the campaign, with plenty of playable characters and custom rulesets to choose from. The selectable maps excellently highlight the game’s rock-paper-scissors dynamic between on-foot weapons, Arwings, and Landmasters. The ability to enter and leave vehicles at any time leads to some crazy scenarios like standing on the wing of an Arwing firing missiles on your poor vehicle-less friend below. While it was no Halo, Star Fox Assault was the premiere Gamecube multiplayer shooting experience.
3. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky (DS)
Given that Pokémon is one of the most popular things in all of existence, I am shocked at how rarely people talk about the excellent Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games. While the mainline Pokémon games are often criticized for not switching up the formula much between entries, the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games combined the traditional Pokémon battle system with roguelike dungeon crawling to create something completely new. Explorers of Sky nailed the formula, creating one of the best Pokémon experiences available. To get a feel for the game, you can watch the video below:
Explorers of Sky takes place in a world that’s very different than the mainline Pokémon games. For starters, every character is a Pokémon, and Pokémon can talk! You play as a human who is mysteriously transformed into a Pokémon, and which Pokémon you end up as is determined by taking a personality test at the beginning of the game (I ended up as a Mudkip). While the game is filled with many charming characters, the story is surprisingly heartwrenching and is filled with loss and betrayal. The ending especially is a notorious tearjerker, comparable to games like Mother 3 or Majora’s Mask.
As for the gameplay, it combines the battle system of Pokémon with a dungeon crawler. Standard Pokémon fare, like type advantages, four slot movepools, and stats are all here. Dungeons are randomly generated and are filled with items, traps, and enemy Pokémon. Your party and your enemies both move on a grid, and spacing is important for combat. You must arrange your party tactically in order to get ahead. For example, if my character Cubone is a strong close range attacker that lacks ranged attacks, I will stand in front of my partner Treecko, whose ranged Razor Leaf attack makes short work of distant enemies.
Though you don’t directly control your party members, their behavior becomes highly customizable as they level up, and certain members can be delegated to certain roles like healer or item user. Speaking of party members, you have a small chance of “catching” enemy Pokémon when you defeat them in combat, allowing you to utilize their unique skills. Managing your tactics and teammates is very important as the game gets fairly difficult as you progress. Dungeons are long affairs that can sometimes take over an hour to complete, so it’s important to stock up on items to monitor your health, hunger, and status conditions before you dive in.
The Mystery Dungeon series, especially Sky, is a treat to Pokémon fans who want a new experience.
2. Chibi Robo (Gamecube)
Probably the most obscure game on this list, Chibi-Robo is a humble and curious game about a small household robot who tries his best to make life easy for his owners. Chibi-Robo is only 10cm tall, so the house surrounding him is a massive environment that requires careful planning to navigate. It can be hard to picture what this game is about without actually seeing it, so here you go:
The game’s world is populated by many strange and charming characters, like Mr. Sanderson, the family dad who loves buying toys despite his unemployment and Jenny Sanderson, his daughter who dresses and speaks like a frog. Chibi-Robo also encounters many toys around the house who come alive at night. These include the superhero Drake Redcrest, a chicken-themed hero with a showboating habit, and Plankbeard, a boisterous but friendly wooden pirate.
The setting is breezy and sunny, but as the plot progresses a sense of anxiety begins creeping underneath. Chibi-Robo was made to help with household tasks, but he struggles to understand the more heavy issues, like divorce and unrequited love happening around him. The game is charming and can get deep, but it never becomes somber, offering a surprisingly deep emotional experience.
The gameplay of Chibi-Robo is that of a puzzle-platformer. The massive scale of the world compared to its protagonist makes navigating everyday locations like the kitchen a grand adventure. Every day Chibi-Robo works to receive Happy Points, which can be obtained by completing tasks like picking up garbage or completing requests for the Sanderson family or other toys. Chibi-Robo has a wide variety of tools at his disposal, including a toothbrush for cleaning stains, a squirter for watering plants, and a propeller for safely gliding. Every action Chibi-Robo takes consumes energy, and players must be careful not to overexert the poor little robot. Energy can be restored by plugging the cord attached to Chibi-Robo into an outlet.
Chibi-Robo oozes with charm and is a true overlooked gem of the Gamecube library. The game’s music and art style are simplistic without being kitschy, and its settings and characters have both humor and plenty of heart.
1. Kid Icarus Uprising (3DS)
I’ve been ranting about how everyone should play this amazing game for years and now I’m being paid to do it, so sit down and buckle up.
Kid Icarus Uprising is the third entry in the Kid Icarus series, releasing 25 years after the last entry, Of Myths and Monsters, way back in 1991. The game was directed by Masahiro Sakurai, famous for creating Kirby and the Super Smash Bros. series. The game stars Pit the angel (sporting his redesign from Super Smash Bros. Brawl), who fights against evil for the goddess Palutena. The trailer below gives you a good feel for the game:
Like Star Fox Assault, levels in Kid Icarus Uprising are divided into on-rails flight segments and on-foot shooting segments. Stages always begin with the flight section, as Pit flies around enemy fire and fights back with a huge variety of weapons. These sections are kinetic and incredibly satisfying to master, taking place in a variety of weird mythological and alien environments.
On-foot sections give you free control of Pit, allowing you to fight both at a distance and up close and personal. Every weapon has a huge moveset, consisting of basic shots, charged shots, dodging shots, and close quarters combos. On-foot sections are a strange mix of 3rd person shooters and character action games like Devil May Cry, mixing close and far-ranged gameplay with tons of different enemy types. Boss fights in both parts of the game are intense and require a solid strategy and quick reflexes. Every boss and enemy type has distinct patterns and weaknesses, giving a sense of accomplishment as each one is mastered.
Pit also has a huge arsenal of weapons available. There are several different weapon types, like staffs (sniper-like weapons that are more effective at long range) claws (vicious close quarters weapons) orbitars (powerful orbs that surround Pit and grant him firepower) and more. Each weapon type has several sub-weapons within it, giving the player a huge amount of freedom in choosing their playstyle. Weapons can also be forged and combined with each other in a surprisingly deep weapon fusion system, giving the game even more replay value. The game even features an online multiplayer battle mode where players can take pit their weapons and skills against each other. Even almost seven years after release, you can still find people playing online!
The amazing gameplay is complimented by one of the funniest and most memorable video game stories I’ve ever played. Pit and Palutena constantly bicker with one another and banter with their enemies in hilarious self-referential dialogue. The lighthearted story and unique fantastical side characters crank up the game’s charm, never crossing the line into annoying overplayed cliches. The story format is similar to that of a Saturday morning cartoon, with plenty of arcs that culminate into a larger story with a grand finale.
This game is the absolute best that the 3DS has to offer, and should be played by anybody who enjoys Nintendo, shooting games, or fun. Hopefully next time we won’t have to wait 25 years for a sequel.
Any underrated gems we missed? Have you played any of these games? Let us know!