September 30, 2022

First of all, overrated does not mean bad, or even games I don’t like necessarily. My favorite criticism generally involves tearing apart, deconstructing and nitpicking the best stuff out there. That’s where I’m coming from here: these are the games I don’t see that happening with enough, considering how popular they are.

Primarily this list was just formed anecdotally, based on conversations on games I’ve happened to encounter or be a part of in my life. Additionally I looked at the sales number I could find and I used them the way everyone does: Just to back up the shit I already believed! The point is that all these games (Except for one on the Honorable mentions list) has sold over seven million copies worldwide. These are massively popular, beloved games, that I don’t think people spend enough time thinking critically about.

It’s not just about popularity though. If I just picked games that sold a ton this list would be full of even more Wii games, because the Wii moved way more units than any other console. Hell, more games were sold for the Wii than the total sales of all three previous Nintendo systems combined. Wii Sports sold over twice as many copies as the original Super Mario Bros.! On the other side of that, there’s only one Gamecube game and no Wii U games in part because those consoles have much lower sales numbers. Yes there’s a swell of people over hyping GameCube games now, but I remember those games getting shit on in their day. These are games that have been rediscovered, and come from a generation of graphical fidelity that still holds up ok. Also there are no dedicated handheld games on this list because honestly, people don’t talk about handhelds that much. For whatever reason they’re just easier to dismiss or not bring up.

This list isn’t just about popularity though. It’s about the conversations we have about games, or at least my own understanding and experience of conversations about games.

With that said, let’s tear apart some games.

 

Honorable Mention: Donkey Kong Country

This was the hardest game to put on the list for me. My nostalgia blinders are on hard with this game, and I fucking love it. Also, it’s one where I don’t really feel like history is necessarily on its side even. There’s a large faction that prefers the sequel. There’s a faction that sides with Yoshi’s Island in some imagined adversarial position to it (Traditional sprites vs 3D rendering). I do feel like I hear a whole spectrum of opinions on this game, from people who just love it unequivocally to people who just think it’s shit; except for a critical breakdown of what does and doesn’t work about it.

It makes the honorable mentions because the conversation about it, all these years later is still based primarily on the hype it originally had. It kind of sits in a space similar to the original Sonic games that way. With the original marketing still directing peoples feelings and the way they talk about it.

 

5. Super Mario Galaxy

The way the Galaxy games get basically universal praise as the best games on the Wii (from people I hear talk about that kind of thing), is one of those things that reminds me that I exist in a bubble. Because while I basically only hear people shit on the New Super Mario Bros. series, its sales numbers blow Galaxy out of the water. NSMB Wii sold about three times as many copies as the first Galaxy game. Three times! It’s the third highest selling Mario game ever, and only slightly behind the second place finisher: The original NSMB on DS.

But again, that’s not what I hear.

Personally, the Galaxy games have never really connected with me. And as someone who grew up loving Mario games, this always kinda bugged me. For a while I just thought I didn’t like 3D Mario games anymore, but Super Mario 3D Land proved to me that wasn’t true. And I still like Super Mario 64, that’s a game I can play for hours. Whereas with Galaxy, I get bored within minutes.

So what are my issues with the game?

Well first of all, the inclusion of waggle controls bothers me in a platformer, and I find it weird that Galaxy seems to be the exception for other people in this issue. I feel like it gets a pass here where others don’t and I’m not sure why.

Honestly it’s hard to put my finger on, particularly because I feel like I’m in such a small minority. But, I think it comes down to speed and tension vs exploration, and the way Galaxy just falls flat on both for me. It doesn’t have the adrenaline petal to the metal feel of the original 2D games or even the latter 3D series, and it also doesn’t have the exploration of 64, with its focused mission structure.

 

Honorable Mention: Super Mario 64

Speak of the Devil and he shall appear…

Look, Mario 64 is a historical marvel. Really. I think it’s way better than any other 3D platformer of its day, for sure. It shouldn’t have been though. It should have been a jumping off point, something other games built on top of and blew past. Instead, the industry (including Nintendo itself) flailed about trying to recreate the magic. But a large part of that magic was that it was first and so different. The game worked as being about exploration, because 3D space in a video game was such a new thing. Just running around was a thrill.

But without that thrill, there’s a lot of tedium to this kind of design, and 64 doesn’t always do a great job on minimizing that tedium or backtracking. A lot of the time though you’re stuck trying to be careful, and fighting the camera, and to me Mario games are at their best when they can be played with reckless abandon. That headlong rush into the unknown ever drawing you forward.

That said, Mario 64 does justice to its idea: there are enough little touches and things to discover throughout the game, and it’s those things that make it special.

 

4. Super Mario Galaxy 2

This one drives me nuts because it’s just Galaxy again, and the stagnation of Mario games frustrates the Hell out of me. (Obviously I have a skewed perspective because the North American SMB 2 was not just the first game again but harder.) But unlike the New series, which people actually voice annoyance over, and at least only put out one full game per console (Although Luigi U is pushing it); I still only hear praise for Galaxy 2.

The addition of Yoshi just feels like a nostalgia pull and I don’t feel like they figured out a good way to integrate him. All the Yoshi content is specific sequences designed around Yoshi, They don’t let you run havoc over the majority of the game with Yoshi the way Super Mario World did.

Galaxy 2 also has the one level of the Galaxy games that just epitomizes the problem with them for me: Throwback Galaxy. “Hey let’s just redo an old level, break the structure and put less stuff in it. Perfect!” It represents everything that I hate about modern game design, while simultaneously being my favorite level in the Galaxy games because I’m not immune to the blatant nostalgia pull.

 

Honorable Mention: Mario Kart 64

Time has not been kind to the N64, or that generation of games in general. But it stands out so strongly with Mario Kart 64 because the series is so iterative. The draw distance is so bad in this game… fuck.

Shell weapons often just end up being duds, crashing into walls. One of those things that you just dealt with as part of the game at the time, but just feels broken once you’ve played latter games.

Mostly though this is here because anyone claiming that this is the best Mario Kart is crazy. It might be your favorite, because nostalgia; that this was was the Mario Kart that happened at the right time for you. I don’t know what to tell you, the newer ones just play better.

This was probably the only time Battle Mode mattered in the entire series, but here’s a secret: Battle Mode still sucked here too. The N64 was a great couch co-op machine, with its built in 4 controller ports, but those multiplayer experiences basically universally do not hold up to modern standards.

 

3. GoldenEye

The myth that GoldenEye still holds up seems to have finally been dispelled. At least a bit. The love GoldenEye gets is pure nostalgia. There is zero possibility of ever recapturing it, because it’s not based in rationality. If it were, Perfect Dark should be the game remembered from that era. And that at least got re-released on modern hardware, but basically no one cared. Goldeneye just hit that right place right time too well. It was tied to a very entertaining, popular movie that resurrected a franchise. It was also the first game to successfully take advantage of the N64 controller’s trigger button that made it feel like you were shooting a gun. I mean it wasn’t the first N64 shooter, it was just the first that every kid wanted to play and connected with.

I don’t know how you go back to it after you’ve spent any time with any later shooter though. PC shooters are just clearly better: Counter Strike with a large group on a LAN connection is in a different league. And as for console shooters, once you’ve gotten used to playing with two sticks it’s over. GoldenEye just does not stand up to the power creep of modern game design. Even considering what was around in its era though the praise and hype around this game has been ridiculous. GoldenEye outsold Ocarina of Time for fucks sake.

And look, I was on that hype train. I was “GoldenEye or bust” with console shooters basically for… forever? I just moved to PC for FPS almost exclusively. It’s just that trying to play it again not that long ago… fuck. Sometimes you can’t go home again.

 

Honorable Mention: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Oddly enough, this is the lowest selling game on the list. By a significant margin. Which helped keep it as only an honorable mention, because I hear A LOT of people say this is their favorite Zelda game (Or even game period) these days. For a long time I basically only heard Ocarina spoken about this way from the Zelda series, but times change I guess. Once the mass fervor over a game expends itself too far, then there’s room for the vocal minority to pipe up and assert themselves.

That’s the deal here mostly, I just think that it’s a vocal minority evangelizing this game compared to the other stuff on this list. I mean, for all the shit Zelda II: The Adventures of Link gets, it sold more copies than A Link to the Past. The hype for this game was never as over the top or in my face as the hype for Ocarina of Time.

 

2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Like Mario 64 this game is of great historical importance. Z-targeting in particular was instrumental in the progress of 3D action games. And again like Mario 64, Ocarina became something the industry couldn’t get past, instead of something it truly built upon, frustrating me to no end.

Ocarina introduces so much to the Zelda formula. Or rather, this is the game that cements the Zelda franchise as formula. I actually think this game follows closely to the footprints of both A Link to the Past and Zelda II. I feel like both those games started the franchise down the path of more linear story driven content. Moving farther and farther away from the more open ended, exploration focus of the original. From here on out Ocarina is the model.

Cutscenes when you walk through doors, pointless dialogue that shoves into your face what to do, and combat that’s more time consuming than it is compelling for the most part. Not having a Pegasus Boots analogue is a real problem for the 3D Zelda games in general for me. The fact that you can move faster by moving backwards doesn’t actually count as a plus for this because it’s just a dumb way the game is broken, and it’s an annoying way to play the game.

With the change to 3D, way more of your time with the game is spent looking around the room just to get your bearings. The player struggles against a lack of information, something that doesn’t really happen in the 2D Zelda games, where everything you have to worry about in the short term is right in front of you. That wouldn’t be a problem for me, if the design were different.

If the game was either more about exploration or action, I think it would be fine; but Ocarina is primarily a puzzle game about manipulating the environment. Not clearly giving the player information is the number one sin of a puzzle game in my book. It makes the game frustrating in a way that makes me want to stop playing.

 

Honorable Mention: Super Smash Bros. Melee

That Melee is still held up as a tournament scene game is ridiculous. Not because it’s bad. It’s a fine game, and it’s the best at delivering what the tournament scene wants from it. But what makes Smash Bros matter is its accessibility to people who don’t play fighting games. That is why the game is as popular as it is.

Or it used to be at least. I’m not sure that the fervent nature of the Melee fan base hasn’t damaged the brand as a whole. I know that for myself taking this game seriously takes all the joy out of it. The chaos of the items is what makes it interesting. It for sure is what makes it fun for friends I have that don’t play other fighting games. And that part of the Smash community that clamors for no item matches always ties back to this game.

And on the other side, how is this the older fighting game that still has a scene? There are so many better fighting games out there that have fallen out of favor simply for being old. That this one sticks around I find kind of infuriating. There are things about this entry that are clearly better than any of the other games in the series. But this is not some fucking holy grail of the fighting game genre.

 

1. Super Mario World

Ok look, I loved this game as a kid. The sharp colors, just the idea of riding a dinosaur; there’s a lot about it that drew me towards it over the other Mario games. When presented with the All-Stars + World cart, all things being equal, I would probably play Super Mario World back then.

And I have a very strong, positive connection to the early levels. Booting that game from a fresh save brings up so many positive nostalgic feelings in me; more than any other console Mario game.

My problem with Super Mario World is mostly its back end. I don’t think the game ever ramps up to where it should have. There’s nothing in the game that sticks in my mind the way world 8 of Super Mario Bros 3 does. What compounds that issue is how Super Mario World increases your tool set, in terms of mechanics. The spin jump is just plain broken, and Yoshi completely alters the entire nature of the game, in a way the level design can never catch up with because he’s still an optional power-up.

I also think Super Mario World overuses its music tracks too much. That becomes more apparent to me in the last world, which never takes on a character of its own, just more of the same.

Super Mario World has so much working in its favor: more mechanics, better sound and graphics. It has a vibrancy that the previous games just don’t match. But that just leaves me more disappointed in the second half when the game never mixes it up, or truly pushes the player. To an extent there’s only so much that could be done because of sprite limitations, but when we’re talking about a game widely considered the best platformer ever, that’s not a place for excuses.

Ultimately I think what damns Super Mario World the most in my eyes is its mod scene. The insane, amazing shit other people have made with these same tools. Because fundamentally I think the pieces for Super Mario World are incredible, but they should have come together into an overall better game.

And it looks like we’re finally getting that game because Super Mario Maker looks poised to be the greatest Mario game ever. Maybe it won’t come together that way, maybe the community won’t be able to make enough levels that are challenging and fun instead of just obnoxious, but I’m optimistic.

Look, I love Nintendo games. I love a lot (not all) of these games. But I also like looking critically at stuff, and especially stuff I like. These are games where I feel like that critical conversation just doesn’t happen to the extent that it should. Even when people turn on them they kinda just resignedly go “it sucks” and just move on. But that cuts out what I care about. I’m generally more interested in the conversation than the conclusion with this stuff, but with Nintendo stuff people have such strong emotional attachments to them, they just don’t want to talk about it this way. But I do, so I wrote this list.