When was Peak "Weird" Nintendo?
One common sentiment around the internet has always been “weird Nintendo is the best Nintendo” and it’s a hard one to argue with. While your average Nintendo stuff is pretty weird on its own, especially if you really stop to think about the logistics of games like Mario and Kirby, it’s the truly bizarre stuff that has stuck with certain longtime fans the most.
The question is, which generation was peak Weird Nintendo?
Starting at the beginning, there’s certainly an argument to be made for the NES. There are plenty of weird NES games from 3rd parties, but Nintendo themselves did some truly bizarre stuff too. The Famicom only release Devil World comes to mind as a completely insane take on the Pac-Man maze game genre. You play as a little dragon demon thing with a christian cross as a shield, and the Devil himself sits at the top of the screen, wearing nothing but a red speedo, and messes with the camera.
Or how about Clu Clu Land? Another take on a Pac-Man style game, this time you’re a weird red blob thing named Bubbles trying to draw pictures out of hidden gemstones while avoiding sea urchins!
Of course, if you’ve ever played StarTropics, you’re well aware of how wonderfully bizarre that game and its sequel is, but at the top of the list would have to be Mother AKA EarthBound Beginnings. There’s nothing about this lovely little RPG that isn’t intensely bizarre, and it really set the bar for Nintendo coming up with charming weirdness.
So the NES had plenty of weird, but was it peak weird? I don’t think so.
Next, let’s look at the Game Boy, and this one is probably a no go. Sure, Super Mario Land is nuts, as is Link’s Awakening, and this was the birthplace of Kirby whose lore defies description, but at the end of the day Nintendo’s first party output on their first proper handheld was relatively tame in terms of weirdness. Except the Game Boy Camera. Actually, the downright disturbing images hidden in that thing make the Game Boy a strong candidate on their own.
The Super NES, on the other hand, had a decent amount of weird going on. EarthBound was just as weird, if not more so than it’s 8-bit counterpart, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Mario Paint is chock full of incredibly bizarre stuff like a fly swatter mini game and that weird baby head that makes that disturbing sound.
Mario & Wario for Super Famicom is literally about Mario having a bucket stuck on his head. Uniracers was about sentient unicycles racing one another in a world made almost entirely out of checkerboards, TinStar was basically The Tick but a cowboy and a robot, and then there’s touch fuzzy, get dizzy from Yoshi’s Island.
But the real weird came from the BSX Satellaview. This add on used satellite signals to live stream games like a couple of Zelda quests and Mario stages with wacky live narration. Speaking of peripherals, let’s touch on the Super Scope. The NES Zapper made sense. It was relatively small, and looked like a neat little gun. The Super Scope gave kids a gigantic shoulder mounted bazooka, and it came packed in with Mole Patrol, which was basically whack a mole but with weird purple aliens instead.
So yeah, the Super NES was weird, but I think we can find weirder.
Of the remaining platforms, I think we can cross Game Boy Color, Virtual Boy, and Game Boy Advance off the list right away. The VB was insanity on its own, but it didn’t live long enough to have much in the way of truly out there software. Game Boy Color had that sewing machine accessory, but that was a 3rd party thing. And GBA, well GBA did have some weirdness on it, including the delightfully bizarre WarioWare and WarioWare Twisted, as well as the first Rhythm Tengoku game in Japan, and Mother 3, but that’s not quite enough to rank overall.
To get to the proper “Nintendo Weird,” let’s look at the Nintendo 64.
Super Mario 64 is a weird game. Even by Mario standards, this game is completely nuts. Have you ever thought about Peach’s castle? Like, really thought about what’s inside those walls. Where do they sleep? But that’s nothing. Majora’s Mask, Pokemon Snap, Hey You Pikachu, all nuts, and then you add on the Japan only 64DD which itself is just plain bonkers. There you’ll find the charmingly bizarre Doshin the Giant, which puts Nintendo 64 over the top and currently in the lead for “peak weird.”
But GameCube might dethrone it. GameCube had its own Doshin the Giant, and the first international release of Animal Crossing. There was Cubivore, Eternal Darkness, Giftpia, Pokemon Channel, Geist, and the ever-delightful Chibi-Robo. And of course, the weird peripheral games, like Donkey Konga and Jungle Beat using the DK Bongos, Four Swords Adventures and its use of 4 GBA consoles with link cables, DDR Mario Mix where you could have a dance off with Waluigi, Pac-Man Vs which worked as sort of a prototype for the Wii U, and the compete, unbridled insanity that was Odama, the voice controlled military strategy pinball game. Seriously, that lineup is so very creative and bizarre. The GameCube is without a doubt the system to beat.
Beyond that, Nintendo maintained a base sense of weirdness with everything up to the Switch, which while brilliant has been relatively tame on the “weird Nintendo” front.
The DS has some killer stuff, including the first localized Rhythm Heaven, which itself is easily some of the weirdest content Nintendo has ever produced. Unfortunately a lot of the truly bizarre stuff wasn’t Nintendo’s. Trauma Center, Phoenix Wright, Feel the Magic, all 3rd party. On the other hand, Nintendo did have Electroplankton, Daigasso! Band Brothers, WarioWare Touched, Elite Beat Agents, another Chibi Robo game, Kirby Mass Attack, and a legitimate crossover between Pokemon and Koei’s Nobunaga’s Ambition series called Pokemon Conquest, so maybe it’s better off in the weird department than it first appears. DSiWare has to be taken into account too with all the ArtStyle games, Bird & Beans, and Photo Dojo. DS is weird, and for sure gives GameCube a run for its money.
The Wii had the whole motion control thing, and the crown jewel of insanity that is Captain Rainbow. This is a game about a super-hero who visits an island where washed up Nintendo characters go to die basically, including a VERY flamboyant Birdo, fat Little Mac, and more. It’s NUTS. The Wii also had its own Rhythm Heaven game, WarioWare Smooth Moves, and Monolith Soft’s Disaster: Day of Crisis (chock full of fire tornadoes!) but a lot of Nintendo’s content, while very creative, was pretty tame like Wii Sports, Wii Music, and Mario Kart Wii. If they had been the ones to publish Muscle March though, this contest would be over. That’s gotta be the weirdest game I’ve ever seen.
Wii U and 3DS had their own list of crazy stuff, like Face Raiders for 3DS and Game & Wario for Wii U, but at the end of the day the bulk of their libraries were pretty grounded. So while I love those systems to death, they aren’t really relevant here. Okay, Codename STEAM and Tomodachi Life are pretty out there, but it's still not enough.
So, what’s the verdict? To my mind, the GameCube was peak “Weird Nintendo.” Granted, there hasn’t been a single Nintendo platform that didn’t include something at least kind of weird in its library, but the GameCube really fired on all cylinders of insanity. Congrats GameCube, you’re peak Weird Nintendo.
What do you think? Am I overlooking a swath o particularly weird Nintendo published titles that would have turned the tide? Let me know!