The 10 most gameplay enabling Nintendo systems

Nintendo has a rich history of innovative and gameplay contributing hardware. You know: new hardware twists that improve the way we interactive with games. Having played all of the company’s systems since 1986, here’s how I’d rank ’em in terms of most gameplay enabling to least gameplay enabling:

  1. Nintendo DS. Whose to blame for the ongoing touch gaming revolution? This little guy. Not only that, the DS lends itself better to virtually every genre ever created. Talk about adaptive hardware. Consequently, it’s the best-selling video game system ever (console or handheld, whether made by Nintendo or not). Talk about well received.
  2. Nintendo Entertainment System. Directional pads and face buttons might not have existed if it weren’t for this gray box. Joysticks are retro-chic and all, but they’re horribly imprecise when compared to gamepads that the NES pioneered. In fact, some of the best Wii and iOS games mimic the NES joypad (Wiimote turned sideways or on screen d-pad and two face buttons).
  3. Wii. The only thing that keeps this from being higher on my list is the limited number of genres that benefit from motion control. Obviously, Wii works great for a lot of games, including apparatus sports (tennis, golf, bowling, etc), arcade shooters, and puzzlers, but other popular genres like platformers, first and third-person games, and others are better served overall with a gamepad. The current gaming landscape is a testament to that. 
  4. Game Boy. Whose to blame for the mobile gaming revolution still taking the world by storm? This little guy. Admittedly, a lot of early Game Boy games haven’t aged well. But at the time it was certainly a revelation to game on the go.
  5. N64. 3D worlds are kind of a big deal. And if it weren’t for the N64, we might have never experienced them with smooth, analog controls. For every Goldeneye, Mario 64, and Ocarina, however, there were a lot of forgettable N64 games that didn’t benefit much from camera control buttons and the analog stick.
  6. Game Boy Advance. The best traditional handheld ever made hands down. It’s perfect. One d-pad. Two primary face buttons. Two secondary shoulder (or bumper) buttons. In fact, the limited controls forced developers to come up with even smarter ways to control games.
  7. Super Nintendo. You want to know what made the SNES such a great system? Greatly improved developer talent in making software. It had nothing to do with six excessive action buttons, which does little to nothing for games not named Street Fighter II (and you’re kidding yourself if you think that game would have been worse with only 3-4 punch/kick buttons instead of six). Demakes of NES games prove in hindsight that with the right know-how, 8-bit games could have been just as deep as 16-bit ones. But it had everything to do with software innovations and little to do with hardware innovations.
  8. GameCube. If I were listing my favorite Nintendo systems, this would be top 5. Since I’m not, it’s obvious the GameCube was little more than an N64 with better graphics — although dual analogs and pressure sensitive shoulder buttons offered minor improvements. Resident Evil 4 was a gaming revolution, and the father of all modern third-person action games since. But again, it had nothing to do with hardware. It was purely a software innovation.
  9. Nintendo 3DS. It’s still early, but it ain’t looking good long-term. So far, the 15 or so 3DS games I played don’t benefit at all by 3D. Yes, the graphics pop a little more. But the thing offers zero gameplay gains. You’re better off sticking to DS games until Nintendo finally releases that one game that is “only playable and improved by 3D” — if such a game exists.
  10. Virtual Boy. If headaches enabled great gameplay, this would be a winner. Since they don’t, it’s obvious this is the most rushed, pointless, and failed Nintendo system ever.

How would you rank ’em?


  1. The thing about 3DS is that it’s not using its most revolutionary feature–the ability to use the 3D camera to turn the screen into a window into an alternate version of your surroundings–on anything beyond the built-ins. Face Raiders and Archery 2 are two of the most amazing games I’ve ever experienced, but they’re just teasers. Where are the full games that make use of this concept?

  2. I agree fully with your list.

    But for the record, I think the DSi and 3DS need to be noted more for their (terrible quality) cameras. Face Raiders and Photo Dojo are an incredible amount of fun, not really because of their gameplay, but because of the customizable setting and idea.

  3. I would’ve put Game Boy on top. Think about it. There would be no GBA, no DS’s. Look at how portable gaming has grown this industry and guided the entire field of portable computing. NES (for saving this industry) and SNES (because games like Star Fox gave us an uncanny glimpse into an unbelievable future for video games) would be #2 and #3, respectively.

  4. I agree with 1-4. While I think you may not have given all the due credits to those systems, I at least agree with their rankings. Where I start to agree is numbers 5 & 6. The GBA did no more for the portable market than the SNES did for home consoles. Your controls bias is really showing on this one guys. The analog stick was SIGNIFICANTLY more revolutionary for gameplay than anything the GBA offered: it’s not just the improvement offered by analog inputs over digital inputs but the smooth use and motion offered by it. Especially when I was younger I found fighting games orders of magnitude easier with an analog stick versus 95% of directional pads. Analog inputs have been so important and are so revolutionary no home console has gone without them since Nintendo introduced them.

  5. @RisnDevil. Admittedly I’m biased towards GBA. But many consider the GBA as the pinnacle machine for 2D gaming, made possible by its hardware and thought-provoking number of action buttons. That said, I could see it slipping to no. 6 behind N64. If that’s your argument, I think you’re correct. FIXED.

  6. N64 should be higher on the list, and the GBA much lower. The GBA was basically a Gameboy Color with a faster processor. The GBA and Gamecube are actually very similar in those regards. Great games, but not a huge amount of gameplay innovation.

  7. I agree with the whole list, although I feel that it is too soon to rank the 3DS properly… Let’s give it a full year and see what it grows up to be!

  8. I would say the virtual boy is higher up than the GBA. The GBA was just a portable SNES. The Virtual Boy actually tried to innovate. It didn’t do a great job, but it tried!

  9. good article (edited for brevity)

  10. @Josh – Have to say I disagree with you. The Gameboy Advance was significantly more than a faster processor. You went from an 8-bit to 32-bit processor: this isn’t just about speed but complexity of technology. This level of capability and complexity in the portable market was heretofore unheard of at its time. More than just a speed bump, friend (can’t argue the Gamecube though, sorry).

    @Stan – Similar to what I said to Josh. While the Virtual Boy was a good IDEA that COULD have innovated, it was such a horrible execution that it ultimately innovated nothing, earning last on the lift.

    @Blake – I am beyond surprised that you actually edited your original list off my argument. You just became my hero of the day! I also didn’t mean to take anything from the GBA, just talking about its innovation (as per the article). Keep it real!

  11. I agree with most everything! ..cept the 3ds mini-bash at the end. lol Blake, I know you’ve played Pilot Wings 3ds… Honestly, that 3d didn’t add anything for you? >.> I thought it made an OK game many times better.

  12. I think the DS is probably the best game system of all time. I almost wish there was no successor, I’d prefer new DS games from now till forever. I guess that wouldn’t be much of a business plan for them, though.

    What I think they should do is release a little keychain version of the original gameboy for like $10 – $20, with tiny $5 game cartridges. I think kids would go nuts for it.

  13. “Gameplay enabling” is a pretty subjective measuring stick, especially the way it’s used in this list.

    Did the GBA really add anything significant in the world of gameplay? Seems like it was a natural progression from what had come before, combining aspects of the Game Boy and the SNES, while not adding, gameplay-wise, anything terribly groundbreaking.

    Meanwhile, the 3DS is penalized for its 3D screen not doing enough, while other innovative features like AR capabilities, SpotPass and the Circle Pad (which have more to do with actual interaction/gameplay than the display) are ignored.

    Certainly, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Compared to other articles/lists on this site, though, this one seems extra subjective and riddled with murky reasoning. AND continues to reenforce the growing perception of Infendo as the anti-3DS blog.

  14. Needs a better title, it implies you’ve listed ten of the best systems for gameplay contributing hardware out of a greater number, yet Nintendo doesn’t really have more than ten systems total.

    But back on topic a bit more…

    I’d possibly disagree on the Wii being third, simply because first person shooters and action adventure games like Zelda could easily work with motion controls if they were done well. It’s not limited to only sports, arcade and puzzle games.

    But the DS did enable a lot of new gameplay ideas, I’ll give you that, and we can’t even really discount the NES or Game Boy either.

    I would say that the Gamecube could feasibly be higher on the list, it did have a lot of ‘gimmicks’ like connectivity, possible LAN functionality for multiplayer, those various add ons, etc. It’s just they never really used those features well and hence they never caught on.

    And the 3DS does have one neat trick you missed out on, Augumented Reality. That could lend itself to a lot of neat new game genres and ideas and as a matter of fact, it kind of has. It also has the gyroscope, which could make the WarioWare Twisted style tilt controls mainstream if perfected, that could also lead to a lot of interesting game ideas.

    But the general order seems decent.

  15. @RisnDevil. So you honestly believe that gameplay evolved further from Gameboy Color to Gameboy Advance as opposed to Super NES to N64!? Super Mario World to Mario 64 is a much larger jump than Wario Land 3 to Wario Land 4. The number of bits of the processor makes little difference in gameplay mechanics.

  16. @Josh – I see where the misunderstanding is: I posted my first comment before the GBA and N64 were reversed, saw that the numbers were changed, read your comment, then posted. I TOTALLY agree that the N64 did more for innovation than the GBA which was why I originally recommended reversing the order. That having been said, the “number of bit of the processor” makes a HUGE difference to everything as it allows significantly more complex instructions to be introduced allowing for deeper, more robust, mor varied gameplay. Just saying.

  17. Waaaait. The Wii controls not being good enough for 1st or 3rd person games? In WHAT universe? RE 4 Wii Edition got it right and Metroid Prime (FPA) and all the FPS games available on Wii (Red Steel and the sequel, the CoD ones) are waaaaaaaaaay beetter with the Wiimote+Nunchuck combo!

  18. DS is definitely king. SNES should be number 3, and Wii should be number 8.

  19. There was a time, during its first year, that the DS would have also taken the #9 slot in this list, with the main complaint being that the second screen was just a gimmick…

    Just sayin’… If you give it more time, you will probably see the 3DS place climb up on this list…

  20. Wii should be on top.


    It has the MOST control options of any game console ever created. IR pointer control? Check. Motion control? check. Tilt? Check. Balance control? check. Classic control? check. Dual analog? check. d-pad? check. Gun? check. Motion Plus? Check. Gamecube control? check. wheel? check. Arcade stick? check. Virtual Console? Check. Gamecube backwards compatability? check and 100% to boot.

    Add on top a good dose of power (when its used properly) and a great interface and there you go.

    Problem with DS was A)shoddy d-pad B) no analog stick means 3D games play somewhat sloppily C) graphics blew, limiting some games D) d-pad had trouble with diagonals E) NO fighters and hardly suited to play them. E) not so great online.

    So yeah. the Wii simply has ALL of your bases covered.