Ever since the 1980s, Nintendo has been transforming and reinventing the home video game industry with their innovative interfaces and imaginative characters. Whether they’re creating wacky controllers, debuting cross-franchise titles, or bringing classic games to modern consoles, Nintendo is the biggest name in family gaming.
We’re here to help you make your decision a little easier. We don’t play favorites and we don’t have a preference for one company over another. We’re just here to play by the numbers and give you all of the things you need to know on the best and brightest new hardware so you can make the best-informed decision for yourself.
To help make things a little easier, we’ve compiled this guide to the best gaming consoles on the market and weighed up their most notable pros and cons – with links to other dedicated pages and reviews if you want to dive even deeper.
SOMETIMES IT’S OK TO BE A CONTROL FREAK
Nintendo’s consoles and devices have all had one thing in common since the 1980s — they each featured innovative controls that forced gamers to interact with games in new and exciting ways. As you consider how you want to play your Nintendo games, think about the unique controllers for each. Choose wisely, because your controller will be a part of every game you play!
- The Nintendo Switch comes with “Joy-Cons,” a unique set of nunchuck-like pieces that connect together, or to the Switch console directly, when it’s being used as a mobile gaming device.
- Traditional, d-pad-and-buttons gaming controllers are available for the Nintendo Switch, but must be purchased separately (and they’re typically expensive).
- Nintendo’s DS line of gaming devices place one of their screens between the left-side and right-side controls. Some games require interaction with a provided stylus.
5 Best Nintendo Consoles in 2021:
1. Wii U
There’s no escaping it: the Nintendo Wii U is a failure as a commercial enterprise. By the time Nintendo stopped production, it had sold just about 13.5 million Wii Us – just about one tenth the number of Wiis it sold – placing it just over the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast in terms of reach into the audience.
It also wasn’t necessarily a creative success as a piece of hardware. The two-screen setup that proved so elegant with Nintendo DS turns awkward and cumbersome when translated to televisions. The GamePad is good for playing console games on a tinier screen, not so much for new innovations in play. The less said about Wii U’s operating system, user interface, digital storefront, and storage, the better.
For all of its many missteps, though, there’s no denying that the Wii U gives life to some of Nintendo’s very best games. The velvety and playful Super Mario 3D World, the smooth and vibrant racing of Mario Kart 8, and the boundless generosity of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U are a grand realization of why people wanted Nintendo working in HD for years.
- 4K/120 gameplay, 8K/60 support
- Revolutionary controller haptics
- Beautiful, fast new UI
- Significantly faster load times
- Size makes finding a home tricky
- No Dolby Vision or Atmos
For many gamers in my generation, the first console that they learned to love was the NES. Not so for myself. Though I did enjoy that ugly flip-lidded machine for a year or so from kindergarten onward, it was the SNES that gave me my first real taste of what would become a life-long hobby.
When my brother and I opened the SNES on Christmas morning all those years ago, it was pretty much an instant addiction. We started with Super Mario World and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, but it wasn’t long before we were moving on to the bevy of exciting titles that were constantly being released on the 16-bit juggernaut.
While my brother started to drift away from video games, preferring more casual fare as the years went on, I only sunk deeper. Titles like Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy VI only further cemented my hardcore devotion to gaming in each of its facets and iterations.
- Portable and home console
- Great first-party exclusives
- Not as powerful as other home consoles
- Less extensive third-party game selection
Next up is the Nintendo Entertainment System, or Famicom to the Japanese, which is truly a victim of its age. This was Nintendo’s first foray into the home console market and it was an unmitigated success, ending the generation as the best-selling games console.
While we’re all probably a bit sick of the games by now, the list of exclusives is nothing short of remarkable. We got a whopping four Mario games, the first entries in the Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, Kid Icarus, Final Fantasy, Castlevania, and Punch-Out!! franchises, and the likes of Duck Hunt, Ducktales, Contra, Kirby’s Adventure, Blaster Master, and Ninja Gaiden.
Sure, there are Nintendo consoles with far better libraries, but it’s clear as day that Nintendo entered the console market with an absolute bang. In fact, the success of the mighty NES Mini this decade demonstrates the sheer love gamers still have for this system.
- More portable than Switch
- Nice selection of colors
- Comfortable design
- Limited to handheld games
- Still not as comfortable as 3DS
4. Nintendo 64
For many of us, when you say the word “Nintendo”, our minds can’t help but automatically dart back to the days of GoldenEye, Mario Party, and the first Super Smash Bros.
It is the quintessential Nintendo nostalgia machine, forever embedded in our memories thanks to its trident-like controllers and focus on multiplayer fun. It was the system that transported Nintendo staples like Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and StarFox to the world of 3D graphics, giving us worlds to explore in a fresh new way. While some of the N64’s games have aged better than others, it’s remarkable how well some hold up even today.
Super Mario 64 shall forever be one of the absolute best platformers of all time thanks to its fabulous level design, tight controls, and clever workarounds of the system’s limitations. Nintendo and its franchises have evolved far beyond what the N64 is capable of, but so many of the experiences we know and love today trace their roots back to this machine.
- Very affordable console
- 4K Blu-ray player
- Upscaled 4K gaming
- Not many great first-party exclusives
- Upscaling isn’t very refined
Charm can go a long way. Just ask the average-looking person dating someone out of their league, or the not-so-smart guy at work who somehow got the promotion you know you’d be more qualified for.
Nintendo’s GameCube may have lacked some of the more obvious desirable video game console traits, but it more than made up for it with quirky appeal and some of the most offbeat and memorable risks of Nintendo’s long history. Right off the bat, you couldn’t help notice that this adorable little box was purple, with a handle on the end that made it seem more like a portable toy than a high-powered gaming machine. There was a choice immediately to be made, and you either walked away, or (like myself), not only rolled with it but cracked a big smile.
The GameCube may be the most “Nintendo” console the company has ever made, and those who stuck around were treated to the kind of fun magic not to be found anywhere else. Experimentation like a cel-shaded Zelda, Marios’s FLUDD, and the very idea of a 3D Metroid game not only working but blowing people away, cemented Nintendo’s desire to innovate.
- The smallest Xbox ever made
- Compact design, powerful specs
- Completely silent in operation
- Faster load times
- Targets 1440p resolution when gaming
- No disc drive
NINTENDO Consoles VS. THE OTHER GUYS
It’s also important to understand the market for which Nintendo is building games and gaming devices: kids, families, and retro gamers. Nintendo targets all of their products at these audiences, carving a niche out for themselves in the gaming world, and also foregoing features and apps that many consider standard on non-Nintendo consoles.
If you’re thinking about buying a Nintendo console, consider the things you’ll find on other consoles that you won’t find on a Nintendo:
- Streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Video rarely appear on Nintendo consoles or devices. In contrast, both the Xbox and PlayStation product families support every major TV, movie, and music streaming service.
- TV, movie, and music rental/purchasing services are also notably absent from Nintendo’s product line. Similarly, Nintendo’s products no longer have disc players, and therefore can’t play CDs, DVDs, or Blu-rays.
- While Nintendo occasionally features violence-heavy gaming franchises like Resident Evil, for the most part, first-person shooter games such as the Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto franchises are not available for Nintendo devices.