Nintendo’s recent announcement that they’ve decided to upgrade their multiplayer servers after about 10 years of relying on the “NEX” system isn’t just a cause of celebration over the hopes of better days to come. It’s a chance to look back on the great Nintendo multiplayer games of years gone by.
It’s understandable if you don’t immediately associate Nintendo with multiplayer games, but a deeper look at the company’s history reveals a collection of classics that have led to as many memorable multiplayer matches as the genre’s heaviest hitters.
So what’s the best Nintendo multiplayer game of all-time? That’s a question we’ll try to answer as we look back at the best multiplayer games Nintendo has ever developed and published.
15. Pokemon Stadium
Granted, many fans argued that the Pokemon Stadium series never really lived up to its full potential, but for a generation of fans, this was the best way for friends to watch their Pokemon rosters fight it out.
The power of the N64 couldn’t quite match the visual elegance of the Pokemon anime, but its enhanced processing power added cinematic weight to multiplayer Pokemon battles that the GameBoy could just never replicate.
Even if the joy of Pokemon Stadium was short-lived, it’s hard to deny that it captured a unique time in Pokemon history and offered and remains strangely enjoyable in its own right.
14. Super Mario Strikers
While the Mario Golf and Mario Tennis franchises are better overall, Super Mario Strikers is arguably the most enjoyable Mario sports multiplayer experience Nintendo has ever crafted.
Clearly inspired by arcade sports games such as NFL Blitz, Super Mario Strikers’ lightning-fast gameplay still manages to stand out for both its mechanical excellence and the fact that there have been so few arcade-like soccer/football titles since that replicate this style.
It’s a shame that Strikers lacked the depth and variety of Tennis and Golf, as this early example of the concept clearly showcased its potential for multiplayer entertainment.
13. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure
While Four Swords Adventure’s hardware requirements ensured many fans never got to play it as it was meant to be played, this clever GameCube game proved that a multiplayer Zelda title could work.
Four Swords’ excellent puzzles and unique formation mechanics made the most of the additional players by using them as a way to expand the things that Zelda games traditionally do so well. The result is a game that feels more like a Zelda game only made possible through the participation of other players rather than a Zelda game you’re simply sharing with others.
Again, Four Swords could have benefited from slightly better minigames, but the core experience is substantial enough to make this experiment memorable all these years later.
12. Splatoon 2
Look, nobody considers Nintendo to be one of the best competitive multiplayer developers in gaming, but as Splatoon 2 shows, there is a kind of multiplayer game that only Nintendo could make.
If many multiplayer games are ultimately defined by how memorable the average match is, then Splatoon 2 has to be considered one of the most notable competitive experiences on the market. It’s not perfectly balanced by any means, but Splatoon’s core multiplayer mode offers enough variety and options to typically ensure few matches play out exactly alike.
Even if Splatoon 2’s quality of life issues hold it back, the heart of this experience beats hard enough to elevate it over even considerable competition.
11. Super Mario 3D World
There’s always been something enjoyable about sharing a Super Mario platformer with a friend, but it was Super Mario 3D World that properly capitalized on the true potential of that simple joy.
Through some nearly flawless level design, Super Mario 3D World makes sharing a Super Mario game nearly as enjoyable as it’s ever been. There are moments when the game specifically utilizes the extra players for unique experiences, but the joy of this game really does come down to how it allows you to share a truly classic Super Mario game with friends in a way that rarely makes you feel like they’re hindering you.
If you missed out on this game when it debuted on Wii U (which is certainly understandable), be sure to check out its upcoming Switch re-release.
10. F-Zero GX
Even if the absence of the F-Zero series has made the heart grow fonder towards it, there is truly something special about this franchise that you just don’t find in many other racing games.
Nearly everything that makes F-Zero special can be found in the GameCube classic, F-Zero GX. Yes, this game is rightfully remembered for its blazing speed and how it leads to intense multiplayer matches, but it’s really the course design, soundtrack, and variety of vehicles that make F-Zero GX one of the most purely enjoyable competitive multiplayer games ever.
It’s been argued that it would be tough to make a modern F-Zero game considering that this title realized the concept so well, which is actually a reasonable position that does little to curb our interest in a new F-Zero.
9. Tetris 99
For many, the idea that Nintendo was making what essentially amounted to a Tetris battle royale felt like a gimmick. The popular theory was that Tetris 99 would offer a brief amusement that would gradually fade away as more Switch games became available.
Two years later, though, Tetris 99 remains one of the Switch’s best online multiplayer titles. The ability to so easily access online multiplayer Tetris is welcome enough, but Tetris 99’s unique battle royale mechanics actually add a layer of strategy that you start to miss when you play any other version of this classic.
Tetris 99 is quite simply one of the best free (minus the cost of Nintendo’s online service, of course) multiplayer games out there today.
8. Advance Wars Dual Strike
Despite the love it gets from its most adamant fans, there’s an argument to be made that this series is still deprived of the love it deserves as a genuinely great strategy series.
Much like how Dual Strike perfected many of the things that make Advance Wars great, this DS title features the best version of the series’ Battleship-like multiplayer mode that we’ve seen yet. Granted, it’s a trimmed-down version of a more robust strategy game, but the final product offers a purely enjoyable experience you can’t replicate anywhere else.
Worthwhile spiritual successors aside, this series needs to make a proper return.
7. WarioWare: Smooth Moves
The excellent WarioWare franchise and its collection of addictive minigames took a slight detour with this Nintendo Wii entry that emphasized the multiplayer mode.
The result is a truly brilliant party game the likes of which you won’t really find anywhere else. Up to 12 people can enjoy this chaotic party title even if you only have one Wii controller in the room. Actually, part of the fun of this fast-paced collection of five-second games is the frantic joy of passing the controller around in an attempt to get into position before the next game starts.
It’s absolutely time for a Nintendo Switch WarioWare game, and we hope that title features some of this gem’s best ideas.
6. Mario Party 4
The debate over the best Mario Party game will live on, but in lieu of a consensus, many fans will tell you that Mario Party 4 is among the best games in franchise history.
That also means it’s one of the most entertaining party games ever. Mario Party’s sometimes cruel randomness has always been the secret sauce that makes the whole thing work, but that madness is tempered in this entry by some genuinely great minigames and excellent board design.
At the very least, Mario Party 4 features all the things that make Mario Party the best digital board game series in the business.
5. New Super Mario Bros. U + New Super Luigi U
I had to stop myself earlier from referring to Super Mario 3D World as the best multiplayer Super Mario platformer once I remembered that honor truly belongs to New Super Mario Bros. U.
Arguments about 2D Super Mario vs. 3D Super Mario aside, the defining element of this game that separates it from the back is the ability for one player to manually manipulate its levels. Not only does that mechanic result in instantly memorable experiences, but it opens the door for trolls everywhere to turn this into one of the most effective friendship destroyers ever conceived.
New Super Mario Bros. U is arguably the best multiplayer platformer ever made and a testament to the versatility of one of gaming’s greatest franchises.
4. GoldenEye 007
Yes, Perfect Dark maybe a mechanically better game, but who can deny GoldenEye its rightful place in the memories of fans everywhere?
It somehow feels vane to suggest we have anything new to say about this legendary title at this point, but one of the things you have to remember is the way that GoldenEye raised the bar for both console FPS games and local multiplayer titles.
Yes, there were bigger FPS multiplayer games on PC, but few of them replicated the feeling of playing this game with three close friends in the same room.
3. Wii Sports
There was a time when Wii Sports was mocked for its casual gameplay and motion controls in such a way that led people to question whether this was truly a great game or if we were all caught up in a moment.
The answer is a mix of both. Even if Wii Sports was a moment in time, it’s a moment many of us would gladly go back to just for the chance to play a purely enjoyable multiplayer game that appeals to nearly every demographic regardless of their skill level, experience, and perceived interest.
Few other games capture the pure pleasure of the local multiplayer experience quite like Wii Sports.
2. Super Smash Bros. Melee
Even though Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is clearly brilliant, Melee rightfully remains the definitive Smash Bros. game in the minds of many.
For many, Melee was the game that made them realize that this series was going to be so much more than a novelty sold on the basis of its basic concept. Melee instead featured a truly brilliant fighting game with surprisingly deep mechanics that shined in a multiplayer mode that offered various amusements based on the skill levels and expectations of the participants.
If Melee shipped with online multiplayer, there’s no telling how many more hours would have been lost to this all-time classic.
1. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
The best-selling Nintendo Switch game to-date is worthy of that honor for a variety of reasons, but there’s little doubt that Mario Kart 8’s multiplayer mode is the driving force behind its otherwise unbelievable success.
The brilliance of Mario Kart’s multiplayer has always been based on its accessibility and how the game’s craziest moments oddly balance the title. Mario Kart 8 retains that quality and elevates it through the absolute finest collection of courses in franchise history as well as the most accessible online multiplayer mode in any Mario Kart game.
There’s a strong argument to be made that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a fundamentally perfect game in terms of what it’s trying to achieve. That perfection is never more evident than after a truly great multiplayer race.