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Best Nintendo Games of the Decade: Did Your Favorite Make the Cut?

The 2010s were a weird decade for Nintendo. They started the decade while still coming off of the monster success of the Wii, then proceeded to drive that goodwill off of a cliff with the Wii U. Then, towards the end, they triumphantly roared back to life with the Switch.

A screenshot from Breath of the Wild showing the rolling green fields of Hyrule
Nintendo

Today, we’re taking a look back at the last ten years of Nintendo games and rattling off some of our favorites. In ascending order of awesome, here are the best Nintendo games of the 2010s.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

2013’s Fire Emblem: Awakening was to be the last gasp for a dwindling niche series. The Fire Emblem series only found a foothold in the West thanks to the inclusion of Marth and Roy in 2001’s Super Smash Bros Melee, and popularity stayed low for the franchise throughout the aughts. Awakening changed all of that, though.

The 3DS exclusive brought the series into the mainstream in a big way, and paved the way for the masterful Fire Emblem: Three Houses six years later. It might sound like hyperbole to credit Awakening with saving the franchise, but it’s no exaggeration: This game pulled Fire Emblem out of the proverbial fire.

Mario Kart 8

One of the few killer apps for the Wii U, Mario Kart 8 had all you could ask for: gorgeous graphics, smooth animations, wacky race tracks and multiplayer fun for everyone. It was a stroke of genius that led Nintendo to rescue the title from the ailing Wii U and port it to the Switch as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, bringing the kart-racing fun to a new generation of fans.

Super Mario Maker

After thirty years of making Mario in-house, Nintendo decided to let fans make the Mario levels themselves. The landmark release of Super Mario Maker on the Wii U showed the world that Nintendo could still make great games, even if the Wii U’s pitiful install base meant almost no one got to try the new stage-building experiment.

Thankfully, a sequel came out in 2019, solidifying the Switch as the home of everything the Wii U did right, and the vision of everything Nintendo learned from its failures.

Splatoon

2015’s Splatoon was the first new IP from Nintendo since Pikmin back on the Gamecube, and it delivered in a big way. Colorful graphics, a fun paint-themed gameplay gimmick, and delightful turn-of-the-millennium J-punk aesthetic made Splatoon into an overnight hit on the Wii U.

In a story that should sound familiar by now, Nintendo released a sequel to the acclaimed multiplayer shooter in 2017 on the Switch, bringing the “paint everything” gameplay to a much wider audience while also letting players take the game with them on the go.

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Nintendo’s first big game of the decade was also one of their finest. Super Mario Galaxy 2, released early in 2010, was the sequel to 2007’s excellent Super Mario Galaxy. Taking everything that worked about its predecessor up to 11, the game showed off some absolutely mind-bending level design and pushed players to the limit with its difficult-but-addictive platforming.

Now, if only the control scheme for the Wii wasn’t so awkward!

Donkey Kong Country Returns

DKC Returns is an aptly-named tour de force from legendary developers Retro Studios. The game is exactly what it says it is: a return to the classic Donkey Kong Country formula of punishingly hard 2D platformer made with a masterful eye for detail and a love for the art of level design. Among the greatest 2D platformers ever made, this game helped Nintendo start off the decade with a bang.

Super Mario Odyssey

After the missteps of Super Mario 3D World, Super Mario Odyssey on the Switch reminded everyone why 3D platformers are such a joy to play. Huge, open world chock-full of Moons and Purple Coins to collect teem with life as Mario runs and jumps to adventure.

In many ways, Odyssey was the first true sequel to Super Mario Sunshine: a platforming game based around exploration, fun platforming challenges and always inviting the player to find inventive new ways to traverse the colorful landscape. The worlds feel internally consistent and grounded, and the game’s cheerful art style is relentlessly fun. Odyssey is the essence of pure Nintendo magic.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It is almost impossible to overstate how good Breath of the Wild is. The lush grass, the meditative music, the gripping combat: It’s all pitch-perfect. It’s also almost impossible to overstate how important the game was for Nintendo as the unproven Switch launched. After all, the Wii U had crashed and burned, and the Switch was a shot at redemption.

Sure, BotW came out for the Wii U alongside its Switch release (which, coincidentally, makes BotW the best game on two distinct Nintendo consoles) but it was the Switch version that was really turning heads. A huge, sprawling open world, a gorgeous soundtrack and a brand-new Zelda experience for the new generation of Nintendo fans?

This game marked the start of the Nintendo Renaissance of the late 2010’s, and will be remembered as a turning point for the company for years to come.

Cameron Norris

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