All Nintendo Console Generations In Order Of Release
Nintendo may have got their start as a hanafuda playing card company in 1889, but their claim to fame is in video gaming. It’s because of Nintendo that we have a game industry as it is. Nintendo may have had some missteps here and there but there’s no denying their lasting impact in gaming to this day. This is a list of all Nintendo Console generations in the order of release.
1. Family Computer (Famicom) and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
The Japanese counterpart of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) called the Famicom (short for Family Computer) launched in 1983. The NES would go on to launch in North America in 1985 and in Europe in 1986, respectively. We have this very first Nintendo Console generation to thank for single handedly saving the video game market from collapse in the early 80s. Without the success of the NES, we may not be here today.
Furthermore, many iconic Nintendo franchises got their start on this Nintendo Console. The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and, of course, Super Mario Bros. Another lasting impact that Nintendo made on the video game industry is third-party licensing. Because Nintendo held the monopoly on the industry at the time, they brought on third-party developers to produce content for their system. This is still in practice today among Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. Did you know that the Famicom was not officially discontinued in Japan until 2003? What a lifespan! The NES is the herald of all Nintendo consoles to come after.
2. Super Famicom and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
After the global phenomenon that was the NES release, the next top Nintendo console to release was the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Released in 1990 in Japan, 1991 in North America, and 1992 in Europe, the 16-bit Nintendo console would be the best contender in that generation’s console war. It’s this Nintendo console generation that would spark the bittersweet rivalry between Nintendo and Sega.
New Nintendo franchises would get their start on the SNES, including: F-Zero, Star Fox, and Earthbound (Mother). Moreover, the SNES produced some of the most critically acclaimed games that are still revered to this day: Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past, Super Metroid, Donkey Kong Country, Final Fantasy IV, and Mega Man X.
The SNES is so impactful that the console was pushed to its limits. So much so that the Super FX chip was created and placed into cartridges for extra capabilities. It’s how games like Star Fox, Doom, and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island could run on SNES hardware. Out of all the Nintendo consoles, the SNES is arguably a universal favorite.
3. Nintendo 64
The next Nintendo console would leap in the realm of 3D with the Nintendo 64. The N64 was released in 1996 in Japan and North America and in 1997 in Europe and Australia, respectively. The most jarring feature of this Nintendo console is its oddly shaped controller. In the west, the N64 launched with Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64 in North America. PAL regions would also get Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire at launch.
Some of the most successful games that were also released on this Nintendo console generation were Mario Kart 64, Star Fox 64, Goldeneye 007, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time & Majora’s Mask, Banjo-Kazooie, Pokémon Snap, and Super Smash Bros. The Nintendo 64 may not have had the biggest library of games, but they still hold up to this day. To its credit, this Nintendo console got 3D navigation feeling buttery smooth in comparison with competing consoles. When you put Super Mario 64 alongside the likes of Bubsy 3D, there really is no contest.
The Nintendo GameCube released in 2001 in Japan and North America, and in 2002 in Europe and Australia. This Nintendo console had to go up against Sony’s PlayStation 2. Additionally, Microsoft entered the console gaming landscape with the release of the original Xbox. This Nintendo console came in third place that generation. Still, that doesn’t make the GameCube a bad console by any means. In fact, from a hardware standpoint, the Nintendo GameCube packed a lot of power compared to the PS2. It could output graphics that were more sharp and clearer. The fact that the PS2 and Xbox had built-in DVD players, while the GameCube didn’t, made the competition an obvious household purchase.
The Nintendo GameCube contains a fantastic game library that can’t be missed. It was this generation when Nintendo mainstays, Luigi’s Mansion, Pikmin, and Animal Crossing made their debut. Must play games for this Nintendo console include Super Smash Bros. Melee, Metroid Prime, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Super Mario Sunshine, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, and Mario Kart: Double Dash. The GameCubewould also get some real good third-party contributions to the catalog with Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil (Remake), Soul Calibur II, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, and Super Monkey Ball. The GameCube is easily one of the best Nintendo consoles of all time.
5. Nintendo Wii
Up until February 2022, this Nintendo console generation would have been the most lucrative for the company. To say the Nintendo Wii was a success would be a gross understatement. All Nintendo consoles from before could not capture lightning in a bottle. The Wii became a pop-culture phenomenon when it launched in 2006. Nintendo has always pushed itself to innovate, especially in its peripherals. This philosophy paid off or, rather, 101.6 million units were paid for. Literally everyone and their grandma had a Wii. This Nintendo console excelled in its appeal to the mass market. The Wii’s standout feature is its Wii Remote, a motion-controlled peripheral that detects movement in the third-dimension. Its pack-in title of Wii Sports drove the masses wild.
Nintendo would rake in an absurd amount of revenue for this generation. Everyone wanted to cash-in on the motion-control craze. PlayStation and Xbox tried to get into the motion gaming landscape with its Move controllers, and Kinect, respectively. Both peripherals would slowly die out, however. The Wii was so consumer-friendly that you could go to your nearest retailer and find bargain bins full of shovelware. Yet, when you sift through the swill you’ll come across some fantastic games for this Nintendo console. Super Mario Galaxy, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess & Skyward Sword, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Mario Kart Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
Finally, the Wii also introduced the Virtual Console. Backwards compatibility would not have to be a concern for Nintendo fans. Games originally released for the NES, SNES, and N64 returned in digital format. What’s more is that the Wii went the extra mile and brought back digital titles for the Sega Genesis/MegaDrive, Sega Master System/Mark III, Commodore 64, SNK Neo Geo, and TurboGrafx-16. The Wii holds its place as one of the top Nintendo consoles of all time.
6. Nintendo Wii U
Out of all Nintendo consoles, this one hurts the most. The Nintendo console that would succeed the Wii was the Wii U. Although, the term “succeed” really depends on your personal definition. For us, that means to say the Wii U was next in the line of succession to the Nintendo console pantheon when it launched in 2012. This Nintendo console acted as a wakeup call to the company. Is the Wii U an add-on to the Wii? Is it an HD version of the Wii? Could it be a brand-new console entirely? The casual market didn’t seem to pick up on what the Wii U was all about. This is the first HD Nintendo console, and it was bundled with the Wii U GamePad. This controller had a touchscreen interface and the motion controls of the Wii before it.
The puzzling name of this Nintendo console didn’t help either. Poor marketing on Nintendo’s part could not help the Wii U take off. What’s more is that the console estranged many third-party publishers and bigger AAA games would release elsewhere. The Wii U tanked so hard that the late Satoru Iwata took a pay cut rather than lay off Nintendo employees to ease the loss. This Nintendo console would sell a little more than 13 million units during its lifetime.
The Wii U has a very small physical disc library of just over 200 games. Unfortunately, earlier this year, the Wii U and 3DS eShops met their ends. The Virtual Console that carried over to the Wii U is effectively finished, and an expansive catalog of games is now inaccessible on the platform. However, keep your eyes out for these gems if you’re collecting: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Splatoon, Super Mario Maker, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD & Twilight Princess HD. Several Wii U games, such as Mario Kart 8, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and Super Mario 3D World, are now on the Nintendo Switch and you’re better off playing them there.
The latest and greatest (selling) Nintendo console is the Nintendo Switch, released in 2017. At the time of this writing, the Nintendo Switch has sold a record-breaking 129.5 million units. The Wii U crawled so that the Nintendo Switch could run. This Nintendo console would take the portable aspects of the Wii U GamePad and refine them considerably. Nintendo Switch is the blend of a handheld and traditional gaming experience in one. Its Joy-Con peripherals detach from the console and consumers instantly have a controller ready for Player 1 and Player 2.
Following the disastrous lifespan of the Wii U, it seemed like Nintendo would not capture lightning in a bottle again. This Nintendo console is not the most powerful hardware on the market but its fun factor can’t be understated. Nintendo Switch boasts a library of instant classics such as Super Mario Odyssey, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Metroid Dread, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild & Tears of the Kingdom.
Rumors circulate that Nintendo will announce their next console and successor to the Switch. We remain hopeful that Nintendo continues to find success in their next venture, while still remaining true to the innovators they are. Time will tell. Until then, the Switch holds its place as one of the top Nintendo consoles of all time.