The wait is over and the mystery formerly known as “The NX” has been solved: The Nintendo Switch. The ubiquitous Japanese gaming giant’s latest high-concept bid to shake up the video games industry is a modular next-gen console that aims to erase the line between home and handheld/mobile gaming by offering gamers a device that easily transforms from a traditional TV unit to a travel-ready portable; while also making use of powerful internal hardware to put it on par with the Playstation and Xbox brands as a viable competitor.
But what sells a console is its games, and while it’s already been well-established that courting a robust lineup of the current generations most popular games is a must for the Switch to re-establish Nintendo as a console power-player, the company’s secret weapon has long been its deep catalog of classic games, franchises and characters that generations of gamers have grown up with. Each new Nintendo console is another opportunity for retro-gamers and newcomers with an appreciation for history alike to see their favorites make a nostalgic comeback, and he Nintendo Switch isn’t likely to break from that tradition if it wants to succeed.
With that in mind, here are 20 classics that could help make he Switch the classic gaming fan’s console of choice. For purposes of remaining within the realm of the immediately-possible, this list has been compiled of games, series and characters to which Nintendo itself currently owns the development rights.
Are there gamers who don’t love Kirby? Probably, sure – but the unassuming power-absorbing sentient pink spheroid Nintendo once pitched to gamers as “One Tough Cream-Puff!” has been one of the company’s staple figures for two decades across dozens of sequels, spin-offs, team-ups and guest appearances, making him one of gaming’s most versatile properties. The core Kirby games are built around a precise balance of challenge and variety, with the title character able to borrow powers from his enemies and navigate traditional platforming levels… but can also take flight at any time, allowing players to experience most levels with either as much or as little difficulty as suits them. The Switch’s marketing campaign has thus far largely targeted young professional adults, but successful Nintendo consoles always find an audience with each new generation of kids and Kirby is one of all-ages gaming’s must-have participants whether your making your first or latest trip to Dream Land.
19. URBAN CHAMPION
It’s hard to imagine the Nintendo of the 1980s making and releasing an early 2D fighter built around angry men bare-knuckle brawling in the middle of the street, but it happened and Urban Champion is the proof. An ultra-simple arcade-style button-masher (the goal was for Player 1 and Player 2 to punch eachother back away from the center of the screen until the loser falls into a manhole), it’s not thought of as one of the company’s “signature” titles but was a staple for many early-adopters of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s first-wave “black box” collection and is still a go-to background reference in nostalgia-heavy properties like Smash Bros and Tetris DS.
Obviously, a “straight” revival doesn’t have enough meat on it to be worthwhile, but borrowing the grabby title (“Urban Champion” just rolls right off the tongue) and cartoonish vision of hardscrabble Downtown USA fisticuffs would be a fine starting point for Nintendo to develop a hardcore 2D fighter franchise to call its own – something they’ve been lacking since Rare packed up and took Killer Instinct with them.
Few games outside of Metroid (we’ll get to it) have longtime Nintendo fans more aching for a proper revival than F-Zero. The futuristic racer launched as one of the biggest early hits on the Super Nintendo; a showcase for the system’s 3D-scaling “Mode 7” capabilities that used the new technology to deliver a sense of real speed and movement beyond anything the racing genre had ever seen before, with subsequent sequels consistently ranking among the top entries in the genre.
But while Nintendo has been all too happy to continuously update their more popular racing series, Mario Kart (even teasing fans with an F-Zero inspired set of tracks in recent editions), F-Zero has gone quite awhile without a real sequel – to the great frustration of fans worldwide. The Switch’s portable modularity and built-in multiplayer/”party” functionality would seem a welcome fit for the series’ overdue comeback, along with a potential system-seller for fans who just can’t get this fix anywhere else.
Perhaps best described as an (even more) whimsical mash-up of fellow Nintendo mascot Kirby and Spongebob Squarepants, this series of underwater adventure titles following the adventures of a free-spirited Star and his aquatic pals have been mainstays of the Nintendo lineup in Japan but remain curiously underrepresented in the West; with only one recent 3DS sequel seeing an official release for U.S. gamers.
Granted, Starfy may not be as well known as Mario or Kirby, but that could end up working in the franchise’s favor on a new console: Nostalgia certainly sells and the Nintendo “stable” has always managed to reconnect with each new generation of fans, but a Starfy revival would offer newcomers the sense of a property that doesn’t appear to come burdened with the same weight of historic baggage. Plus, the series’ historic focus on handheld gaming would offer an ideal showcase for The Switch’s much-touted portable mode.
16. SUPER MARIO RPG
True, Nintendo has continued to produce role-playing games featuring the extended cast of the Super Mario Bros franchise for years across the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series; but for a certain stripe of diehard Nintendo fan the game they’ve been waiting for since 1996 is a proper sequel to the landmark SNES hit Super Mario RPG. A beloved favorite of the 16-bit era that delivered on the seemingly impossible expectations of a dream-collaboration between Final Fantasy developer Square and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, the game blended sly humor, colorful visuals and subtle tweaks to the turn-based RPG formula that have become genre staples to this day.
Supposedly, the only thing stopping development of subsequent sequels was the dissolution of the relationship between Nintendo and Square (who held the rights to multiple concepts and characters created for the game) – but with that friendship supposedly repaired at least enough for Final Fantasy heroes to turn up in Smash Bros, fans have rightly been clamoring for Super Mario RPG 2 to finally take its bow.
15. DONKEY KONG COUNTRY
At a moment in time when the Super Nintendo was looking to be eclipsed by the powerful new graphics capabilities of 32-bit disc-based consoles being launched by Sony, Panasonic and Sega; Rare showed off an inventive use of SNES graphical tricks to build a 2D platformer out of pre-rendered 3D sprites in Donkey Kong Country. The visual results rocked the gaming world, but what kept fans coming back was the classic hop-and-bop gameplay and memorable cast of gorilla heroes spun-off from Shigeru Miyamoto’s original arcade classic.
The aptly-named Retro Studios have already developed a pair of 2D Donkey Kong Country revival games for the Wii and Wii U consoles, so there’s seemingly little reason not to re-release those, produce a third (or both) for the new console to win over fans of banana-collecting monkey action. Now more than ever, DKC delivers a platform-gaming experience that’s in increasingly sort supply.
14. THE MYSTERIOUS MURASAME CASTLE
Don’t recognize this one? That may be because The Mysterious Murasame Castle never made it to the United States in an official capacity. Released for the Family Computer Disk System in Japan in 1986, the game was effectively a samurai versus ninja-themed variation on The Legend of Zelda but with an emphasis on combat and skill over exploration and puzzle-solving. To date, it’s not precisely known why the game wasn’t among those Nintendo chose to bring stateside – though most suspect that it wasn’t thought of as different enough from the already popular Zelda titles.
Still, a proper samurai-themed action title hasn’t been released for consoles in some time, and Nintendo could certainly do worse than to build a next-generation answer to the genre out of one of its own underserved properties. Supposedly, the franchise’s lead character was at one point pegged as a potential Smash Bros character, but may have been axed in favor of the Duck Hunt Dog.
13. STAR FOX
Yes, Star Fox just had a new game released for the Wii U. But to the dismay of fans who’ve waited far too long for a proper return by Fox McCloud and his team of anthropomorphic outer-space fighter pilots, Star Fox Zero was met with punishing reviews and dismal sales figures.
Still, there’s always life in an old warhorse like this with the right care and attention, and a premise that effectively boils down to “Star Wars as acted out by The Sylvanian Families” probably hasn’t stopped being immediately marketable to sci-fi fans and kids alike – especially since the characters remain as popular as ever thanks to featured appearances in the mega-selling Smash Bros series. Space shooters are an under-produced genre in modern gaming, and bringing back one of the all-time greats of the genre (in a version people actually wanted to play) could give The Nintendo Switch a much-needed market edge.
12. DEVIL WORLD
An early under-seen collaboration between Nintendo development giants Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, Devil World was a Pac-Man-alike that augmented the well-worn maze concept with a moving over boundary that worked to constrict player movement throughout the board. While among the better reviewed of the early arcade-style Famicom releases, Devil World never saw an official release in the U.S. and has thus remained something of a cult-item to Western Nintendo fans. The reason? The games employment of vaguely Christian-esque iconography (crosses, “Holy Books”) and a villain character referred to as “The Devil” violated Nintendo of America’s strict policy against religious references in early NES releases. With that no longer nearly as big a concern, The main appeal of reviving Devil World would likely be the title and the offbeat lineup of characters like baby dragon hero Tamagon, his enemies and The Devil himself; offering the right development team a chance to build a new experience (a platformer? Dungeon-crawler? Open-world adventure?) out of characters whose time has come.
11. ADVANCE WARS
Real-time strategy war gaming is having a major moment of revival thanks to the proliferation of the genre on in the realm of mobile tablet and smartphone gaming. Players worldwide are hooked on the likes of Game of War, Mobile Strike, Clash of Clans and more, and industry analysts have long postulated that a hypothetical game that allowed players to check in on their armies, castles and bases in big-screen HD on returning home would be a huge seller. And not only is The Nintendo Switch mechanically capable of such a feature, there’s a first-party franchise waiting to make it possible.
Famicom Wars was one of the first and most successful attempts to bring strategy war-games to the home console medium, and the handheld revival as Advance Wars became a smash-hit series worldwide. A comeback for this series would given Nintendo the chance to build an addictive mobile strategy time-sink of their very own, boosted by home-unit capabilities that no competitor can yet offer.
What even was the last great motorbike/motorcycle racing game? It certainly feels like forever since the once mega-popular genre had its day on home consoles, and unless the market for the sport has dried up entirely a proper new game could turn into a potential system-seller for underserved fans – and if you can marry that concept to a fondly-remembered brand name? All the better!
Just about everyone who picked up an NES early on in the consoles lifespan either owned, played or recognized Excite-Bike, a groundbreaking 2D motorbike racer that was one of the first titles ever to let players customize tracks for themselves. That feature alone would make for a novel release on a modern console, especially when pared with the potential for sharing and playing custom tracks online with other gamers. The series has been largely untouched since Nintendo released a Mario Bros-themed update of it for the Japan-exclusive Satellaview service in 1997, but it’s easy to see how its time may have now come.
Widely considered an underappreciated gem of the NES library, StarTropics was effectively an island-themed Legend of Zelda sibling in which teenage hero Mike Jones used his wits and skills with a yo-yo to explore a series of tropical islands (and surrounding ocean) for his missing scientist Uncle, battling boss-monsters and ultimately uncovering a sinister alien conspiracy.
Considered a cult-classic of the action-RPG genre, it continues to gain new fans to this day – and said fans have been aching for another sequel ever since the original follow-up, “Zoda’s Revenge: StarTropics II” was released at the tail-end of the NES’s lifespan in 1994. The appeal of a new version is easy to see: A chance for Nintendo to craft a more accessible adventure/exploration title as a potential alternative to the popular Tomb Raider or Uncharted series. It may not have the name-recognition of Super Mario or Zelda, but retro-gaming fans would rejoice and the mystique of the tropical getaway is always a popular theme.
8. THE ADVENTURES OF LOLO
Before they were supporting players in the Kirby games, Lolo and Lala headlined their own series of top-down action/puzzle titles on the NES and Gameboy. The fairly simple gameplay (navigate and escape a series of castle rooms by moving blocks and unlocking doors to evade, trap and defeat enemies) remains challenging and a fan-favorite to this day, but for whatever reason the main series hasn’t seen a full-blown revival in a long time. But while it might not have the established cache of some more consistently-produced Nintendo properties or the “Wow! I remember that!” punch of others, it’s a solid franchise with a winning kid-friendly aesthetic that, while once out of fashion in home gaming, has received a shot in the arm thanks to the popularity of colorful mobile game heroes with the current generation of youngsters. Played right, a Lolo return could be yet another new stream of marketable characters for Nintendo in addition to beefing up the Switch’s early library.
7. KID ICARUS
Speaking of classic franchises who’ve seen better days, Kid Icarus was mainly remembered in the gaming sphere (if at all) for a perhaps overly-ambitious platform-action release in the first wave of NES titles and a solid but under-selling Gameboy sequel released a decade later. The main character (real name: “Pit”) might’ve faded from memory entirely if not for having been a supporting player in Nintendo’s “Captain N” cartoon and comic book series in the 1990s. And while he became a renewed fan favorite thanks to turning up in Super Smash Bros Brawl, his solo-series revival on the 3DS bombed hard thanks to an uncomfortable control scheme.
Still, a license is a license, and Greek mythology-themed action games are susprisingly under-produced of late considering the consistent popularity of such material otherwise. Played right, Kid Icarus could be Nintendo’s answer to God of War – presumably without the quick time event sex mini-games, of course.
Punch-Out!! is the great elephant in the room of classic Nintendo franchises. On paper, there was no reason to ever stop making them: Perhaps the most beloved boxing video game of all time, Punch-Out!! combined larger-than-life characters with simple yet deep gameplay that boiled The Sweet Science down to precision-timed jabs, uppercuts and directional-dodges based on the computer-controlled opponent’s body language and facial expressions – a groundbreaking technique in the early arcade and console days.
But thanks to the most popular version of the game – the original NES version featuring real-life boxer Mike Tyson as the nigh-unbeatable final boss – being forever tied to the deeply-unpleasant details of Tyson’s later life; Nintendo has often been reluctant to revive or spotlight the game outside of Tysonless re-releases and sequels on the SNES and Wii. None the less, Punch-Out!! As one of the biggest NES games ever, and even a direct sequel to the Wii version would be the sort of nostalgia title that could sell now-grown fans without hesitation.
5. BALLOON FIGHT
Early-adopter NES owners likely remember Balloon Fight, a cheeky expansion on Joust in which players controlled arm-flapping heroes aided in flight by giant balloons navigate screens filled with needle-nosed enemy fliers who sought to send them splashing down to the water below to be gobbled up by a giant fish. It may not have had the deepest gameplay, but it was a great two-player experience and as fun a time-killer as the so-called “black box collection” ever yielded.
But it was also the game most associated with the game-development career of Satoru Iwata, a Nintendo loyalist who would ultimately become the first President of the company not promoted from within the founding family’s centuries-old bloodline and a beloved figures to gamers worldwide thanks to his humorous and heartfelt turns as the face of the ubiquitous Nintendo Direct video packages up until his tragic early death last year. Call this one a tribute, but it’s one whose time is surely due – Please understand, we’ll always miss him.
4. DUCK HUNT
If you had an NES, you probably had Duck Hunt – it’s as simple as that. The title that more-or-less justified the existence of the original NES iconic “Zapper” peripheral is easily the most popular light-gun game of all time and a mainstay of gaming culture even in the eyes of folks who perhaps only ever played it once while visiting a friend. Like many early titles, it married simple but finely-tuned gameplay (target shooting, in this case) with memorable visuals of cartoon ducks and a maddeningly-smug laughing dog plus instantly-memorable music and sound-effects cues resulting in an all-time classic.
Would Nintendo produce a new Duck Hunt for The Switch? That’s hard to say. The audience is certainly there – Duck Hunt damn near defines the synergy of “works as a party game” and “Oh my god, I remember that!!!” you’d want in such a title. But gun-shaped peripherals are a lot more controversial in 2016 than they were in 1985, and animal-rights activists would certainly have something unhappy to say on the matter. But if some variation were to release, it’d likely land as a big deal.
Metroid is something akin to a fandom albatross for Nintendo at this point, an iconic series whose devoted fans insist that they want more buy has seldom sold as well as one would expected such a storied franchise to sell for most of its lifespan. Yes, the original three games (spread one apiece across the NES, Gameboy and SNES) were all big sellers and fans rightly talk up a handful of GBA revivals and the first-person Metroid Prime series is just celebrated among GameCube titles, but the franchise has often stopped short of mainstream success in the vein of Mario or Zelda, and remains one of the few Nintendo properties to be more popular in the West than in its native Japan.
Still, the series has a lot of built-up goodwill thanks to how good most of the games are found to be when players eventually get around to discover them, and it still means something that Samus Aran was one of the earliest female main characters. A Metroid revival could give The Switch a shooter franchise to call its own – providing it didn’t repeat the missteps of Metroid: Other M, which failed to navigate the minefield of expectations fans had built up around the main character.
Pull up any list of the best Super Nintendo games worth its salt and you’re likely to find EarthBound on there – not bad for a quirky JRPG sequel whose original title hadn’t come to the U.S. and didn’t sell very well on its initial release despite a big marketing push via Nintendo Power Magazine that went so far as to bundle an official strategy guide with the game itself in stores.
Sadly, the timing just seemed to be “off” for the game known in Japan as Mother 2, a one-of-a-kind series that marries Japanese RPG conventions with cartoonish parodies of American pop-culture in a surprisingly deep storyline of alien invasion, psychic children and New Age conspiracy mythos that in some ways feels like an offbeat predecessor to Stranger Things. Fans have petitioned for years to see everything from a U.S. release for Mother 3 to a next-generation revival, but thus far only a Virtual Console release of the original and its predecessor have emerged. Any newness from Earthbound would be a system-seller to the Nintendo faithful, but the popularity with younger gamers of independent titles inspired by the series like Undertale suggest it could be a mainstream success as well.
So here’s the potential Million Dollar Question of The Nintendo Switch: What’s to become of Pokemon?
Fans of the creature-collecting RPG megafranchise by which all others will forever be judged have begged and pleaded with Nintendo for a robust console version of the series for effectively the entirety of Pikachu and company’s now 20+ year existence, but the company has maintained that the mainline Pokemon titles should remain on Nintendo’s line of handheld consoles where they began the whole time.
But the Nintendo Switch, if successful, has been described as Nintendo’s attempt to eliminate the line dividing handheld and console development teams – essentially meaning that that modular portable form of The Switch is meant to more or less become the eventual replacement for the current 3DS/2DS product line (the console even uses flash cards to store its games like the DS handhelds do.) If so, that could mean that a very near-future Pokemon sequel could be developed for Switch as its native platform… which would mean a Pokemon game optimized not only for an HD portable but an HD home console as well!
What does that even look like? What new features might it demand? That remains to be seen. But fans have been asking for Pokemon on consoles for a long time, and the prospect that they might final get it could be the biggest potential development of the Nintendo Switch rollout so far.