- Since the debut of the original Famicom in 1983, Nintendo has released over a dozen video game consoles and handhelds.
- Each of Nintendo’s systems has been focused on innovative technology and family fun, though some have been much more successful than others.
- At their best, Nintendo’s consoles have made a cultural impact that has changed the way people around the world view entertainment.
- Naturally, we ranked them all.
Nintendo has been the number-one household name in video games since releasing its first console, the Famicom, in Japan circa 1983. The company helped pioneer the trend towards home video game consoles, pushing back against the arcades that dominated the industry at the time.
Even as other companies worked to match the early success of the Nintendo Entertainment System, the company has shown a dedication to innovation and family fun that has inspired each of their follow-ups. While some of the company’s consoles have certainly been more successful than others, Nintendo’s constant push towards new ways to play games has proven beneficial for companies across the video game industry.
Exploring the legacy of Nintendo’s hardware offers an interesting look at how video games have grown from the earliest days of 8-bit pixels to the high-definition marvel that is the Nintendo Switch. And, naturally, we ranked them all.
These are our favorite Nintendo consoles, ranked from worst to best:
13. Virtual Boy (1995)
- Wikimedia Commons
Few would recognize the Virtual Boy as a Nintendo creation, and even fewer actually owned the odd console. The Virtual Boy was designed to use stereoscopic 3D to create an early form of virtual reality gaming, but failed to create a convincing enough experience for there to be much of an audience.
Nintendo was quick to fold on the console, discontinuing the Virtual Boy within a year of its launch in 1995. With only 22 games ever released for the Virtual Boy, there’s really no arguing that this is the least impressive of Nintendo’s video game consoles – ever.
12. Game Boy Color (1998)
- Wikimedia Commons
As the name might suggest, the Game Boy Color was Nintendo’s first handheld to feature a color screen. The Game Boy Color arrived nearly a decade after the original, providing a hardware upgrade for the more demanding games of the late ’90s. However, the system mostly served as a stopgap until the release of the next-generation Game Boy Advance in 2001.
The Game Boy Color still saw more than 500 releases in that three-year span, though many of those games were still playable on the original Game Boy. The Color could also play classic Game Boy games, and would give them a basic color scheme to highlight their visuals.
11. Nintendo Wii U (2012)
Putting aside the huge flop that was the Virtual Boy, the Wii U is Nintendo’s least popular video game console. Confusing branding, combined with technology that was only a half-step up from the massively popular Wii, hurt the Wii U at release. It was quickly outmatched by the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 when they launched the following year.
The Wii U’s most innovative feature was the introduction of a large tablet that could be used as a secondary screen during gameplay, or mirror the image of the television. With Nintendo’s emphasis on family-focused gaming, the Wii U tablet was designed to allow children to play on the smaller screen while their families were using the living room TV.
However, the tablet essentially turns into a brick when you walk out of range of the console, making it very limited indeed. The added requirement of developing games with the tablet in mind, and Nintendo’s lackluster online gaming infrastructure, led to a lack of games from third party publishers, as well.
10. Nintendo 64 (1996)
- Evan Amos, Wikimedia
The Nintendo 64 helped video games take the leap to 3D with a significant upgrade in power compared to its predecessor, the Super Nintendo. Nintendo titles like “Super Mario 64” and “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” defined a generation of 3D adventure games, while N64-exclusive shooters like “Turok: Dinosaur Hunter,” “Goldeneye 007” and “Perfect Dark” were some of the best games in the genre.
The N64 did have its drawbacks though: The console has a much smaller library of memorable games than Nintendo’s other classic consoles, and sadly, the graphics that once looked so impressive on the N64 haven’t aged particularly well. The N64 controller also helped make analog sticks a standard for future consoles, but the physical design of the controller is awkward by any modern standard.
9. Game Boy Advance (2001)
- Evan Amos, Wikimedia
The Game Boy Advance was a strong follow-up to the Game Boy Color, representing a significant improvement in handheld hardware. The 32-bit Game Boy Advance was strong enough to handle games that were once exclusive to home consoles, letting players take their favorite classics on the road. This also gave game developers a chance to revisit some of the most popular genres of the ’90s for a new audience.
The GBA was fully backwards compatible with prior Game Boy games too, rewarding customers who were loyal to the family of handhelds. There aren’t many negatives to the Game Boy Advance, but when placed beside Nintendo’s other consoles, the handheld didn’t push many boundaries, and some of the best GBA games were ultimately better executed on other platforms.
8. Nintendo GameCube (2001)
- Evan Amos, Wikimedia
The legacy of the GameCube is defined by its greatest games. Some, like “Resident Evil 4” started as exclusives before making their way to future consoles, while others like “Mario Kart: Double Dash” remain cult favorites to this day. The console itself wasn’t particularly remarkable in terms of technology, but it did well in a competitive console generation that included the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox.
The success of “Super Smash Bros. Melee” as a grassroots eSports game lengthened the life of the GameCube, and its controller is still preferred by high-level “Smash Bros.” players to this day. Nintendo released a new line of GameCube controllers in 2014 for the launch of “Super Smash Bros for Wii U” and the same controller can still be used to play the newest game in the series, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” on the Nintendo Switch.
7. Nintendo Wii (2006)
- Wikimedia Commons
The Nintendo Wii had a massive cultural impact that extends beyond video games, inspiring a new level of interactive gameplay with its motion controls. The Wii’s simple pointing and touch controls helped it find a casual audience, and innovative titles like WiiFit showed that the console could be used for fitness and physical therapy.
The Wii remains Nintendo’s best selling home video game console, with more than 100 million units sold worldwide. However, the Wii does not have many memorable games of its own, and tons of lower-quality titles ended up on the Wii in an attempt to capitalize on the casual audience. The console did have the benefit of backwards compatibility though, meaning that some of the better games from the GameCube era still had a home on the Wii.
6. Nintendo 3DS (2011)
The main hardware innovation on the Nintendo 3DS was its 3D screen, which offers stereoscopic 3D images without special glasses or any extra accessories. However, the 3D features ultimately became one of the more forgettable parts of the console, only used by a handful of games to any meaningful effect.
The 3DS has succeeded as an upgraded version of the original DS, complete with backwards compatibility. The system is the first Nintendo handheld to utilize digital content, with a digital shop that proved more worthwhile than the ones on the Wii or Wii U. The console also made notable improvements to the DS’s online functionality and overall data management system.
With the upgraded hardware of the 3DS developers have been able to make games specifically for the portable platform with few compromises. While the technology of the 3DS was not as groundbreaking as the original DS at release, Nintendo’s repeated revisions of the console have made it one of their most impressive hardware offerings.
6. Nintendo DS (2004)
The second screen and touch controls of the original Nintendo DS helped bring about a new era in handheld gaming. Games designed for lower touch screen gave the console a great casual appeal while ambitious developers worked to create more engaging games that made use of both screens.
As a result, the DS enjoyed a library of games that were both unique and impressive, offering experiences that couldn’t be matched on a regular home console, or even on the PlayStation Portable – which, on paper, was a more powerful console.
The DS was the first handheld Nintendo console with the horsepower to play 3D games, allowing for ports from the N64 and some original 3D titles. The original-model DS was also backwards compatible with the Game Boy Advance, giving the console an extended catalogue with a number of classics dating back to the Super Nintendo.
The DS is actually Nintendo’s best-selling console of all time, with more than 150 million units sold worldwide.
4. Nintendo Switch (2017)
While the Switch is still a very young console, it has succeeded in blending the best of Nintendo’s handheld and console offerings into a single package.
In portable mode, the Switch functions like a way-more-powerful Game Boy with a touchscreen, but the controls can also be separated from the screen for a two player experience on the go. When at home, a docked Switch functions as a modern TV console.
With the Switch, Nintendo has also managed to correct some of the online infrastructure issues that plagued prior Nintendo consoles. The eShop feels more functional than ever on Switch, and the wide variety of digital titles addresses the problems the Wii and Wii U faced with third party support.
And even though it’s been less than two years since it launched, the Switch has already had it’s fair share of amazing games, including “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and “Super Mario Odyssey.” If the Switch keeps up a healthy pace of growth and developers continue to support it, it could slowly climb this list and become Nintendo’s best console.
3. Game Boy (1989)
- Evan Amos, Wikimedia
Whereas the NES helped bring video games into homes across the world, the Game Boy made it possible to play games just about anywhere. And like the NES before it, the Game Boy created a baseline for every handheld console that would follow it.
The basic, sturdy design, reliable functionality, and huge library of Game Boy games helped the basic hardware stand on its own for nearly 10 years, despite more technically advanced competition from handhelds like Sega’s Game Gear. For a time Nintendo’s console was literally synonymous with portable gaming, with just about any handheld gaming device being colloquially known as a Game Boy.
And, for a while, it was the best and only way to play “Tetris.”
While the black and white graphics of the Game Boy may not be particularly appealing to the modern gamer, but the console helped establish a market for portable gaming that has benefitted the industry as a whole.
2. Nintendo Entertainment System (first released in Japan as the Famicom in 1983, released in 1985 in North America as the NES)
- Wikimedia Commons
The impact of the original Nintendo Entertainment System cannot be understated. While arcades help popularize video games as a hobby, the NES was the console that convinced the world that it was possible to bring their games home and start building a library.
Furthermore, with developers no longer limited to building games on a pay-to-play arcade model, NES games were built with more depth and replay value in mind. Some of the most popular franchises in video game history got their start on the NES, from Nintendo’s own “Super Mario Bros.” and “Metroid” to third-party series like “Castlevania” and Final Fantasy.”
The Nintendo Entertainment System became the prototype for every gaming console moving forward, and helped make video games as a whole a household commodity.
1. Super Nintendo Entertainment System (1990)
- Wikipedia / Evan Amos
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System is Nintendo’s definitive console and helped solidify the company at the center of the video game industry. In terms of hardware, the Super Nintendo made meaningful improvement on every aspect of the original NES, from a sleeker controller with more buttons, to game carts with many times more storage space for bigger games.
The games improved too, as many of the basic games that found their roots on the NES arrived on the Super Nintendo with fully polished sequels that made full use of the additional processing power. Despite considerable competition from the Sega Genesis, the Super Nintendo delivered dozens of unforgettable titles that still stand the test of time today.