I found a bunch of interesting and goofy stuff in all of those NES manuals I looked at, so I wanted to make a separate post about them.

Nintendo Seals

Not only did Nintendo Seals of Quality have an oval and circle variant, but their colors varied quite a bit. While most used the same bronze-ish gold color no matter what colors the rest of the manual had, there were exceptions.

Controller Diagrams

While some controller diagrams looked like the real thing, others looked quite amateur and had odd details added. Also watch for the many names of the D-Pad.

   

 

 

This last one is for Donkey Kong 3. Many early Nintendo games used this “he [verbs]” wording in their manuals.

Notices and Advisories

Game Pak Precautions

I wonder why this wasn’t the same notice in every manual, there was clearly some points that Nintendo wanted to stress, but with everyone writing their own version some are poorly worded or miss some details.

It’s quite a shock to see Game Paks referred to as “cassettes”, and the NES as a “computer” in some of these, Nintendo couldn’t have been happy about that.

It bothers me more than it should how often there are multiple warnings per number/bullet point.

Rear Projection TV Warnings

It’s interesting how often this is phrased as “Nintendo recommends…”

 

Enemies and Items

I found some interesting and amusing descriptions and drawings of in-game things. A heart that doesn’t look like a heart, a lamp character, some bizarre descriptions of Muppet characters, and some awful puns.

Miscellaneous Things

Some of these have interesting takes on game difficulty, quite different from today. Others have some poorly drawn game screens, slang guides, or careful descriptions of what pausing is. Ads for candy, movies, even a chess magazine. There’s even the only “righteous babe” and ESRB rating you’ll see in an NES manual.

Sources

DigitPress was the source of most of the manuals. A few were from ReplacementDocs too.

Wikipedia’s List of Nintendo Entertainment System games.

FLickr user bucky for some higher quality scans, including a color version of Faxanadu.

The NES era was still a wild, experimental time for video games with very little standardization. The medium was still new and there were no internet forums and few magazines so developers often just kind of did whatever came to mind.

Manuals were no exception, with widely varying sizes, formats, and contents. I wanted to examine these early game manuals not just to learn more about the games of the time, but to see how different companies approached how to teach players about their games, what kind of wording they used.

This study includes the manuals of 675 Nintendo Entertainment System games released in North America, just shy of the 677 officially licensed there. Going in to this project I assumed the preservation of these manuals, belonging to one of the most influential and nostalgia-ridden video game systems of all time, would be set at a high standard. Instead, many of the scanned manuals were in poor shape, scanned at low, nearly unreadable resolutions, have missing pages, or were scanned in black and white despite the manual being in color. There are several websites hosting the same set of manuals, and although I did my best to find alternate, superior scans, I found myself having to just put up with a fair amount of incomplete data. Some games had multiple versions of their manuals, I used the last one in this case.

I’m going to be breaking down several metrics by year, so it’s important to know how many games were released each year. Keep in mind that 1985, 1986, and 1994 all had few releases, so averages are less reliable. All games from 1985 and about half of 1986’s were published by Nintendo.

 

Manual Length

To start off, how long were NES manuals? I included the front and back cover as separate pages. Manuals get longer over time, perhaps as games became more complex, but perhaps more importance was also put into making a good manual over time. Virtually all sequels had longer manuals than their predecessors, especially evident in RPG manuals which often had detailed walkthroughs in them.

The shortest manual at just two pages belonged to Rollerball, which was really more of a foldable pamphlet, followed by Predator at 6 pages.

The Miracle Piano Teaching System manual, meanwhile, is bound with those metal rings that I can’t find the name of and clocks in at 198 pages. You may notice in that link that it only shows 197 pages; since an odd number of pages is impossible if we are counting both sides of every page I assumed a page had been omitted.

The next three games in manual length are tied at 84 pages and are all RPGs: Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Warrior III.

Overall, the average was 23.84 pages per manual.

Colors

An example of a single color page

Almost all manuals had full color on the front/back and then a colored Nintendo Seal of Quality on the page opposite the front, but I’m not counting that as color. I’m sure black and white manuals were cheaper to print than full color, but I was surprised at the number of single color manuals. I suppose the cost is somewhere in between, but were some single colors cheaper than others?

There no full color manuals for the first two years of the NES’s life, yet almost all were by the end. I wonder if there was some kind of suggestion/mandate from Nintendo, if color printing became much cheaper in 10 years, or if companies just thought it was more and more worth it to make their manuals look nice.

Nintendo Seal of Quality

The Nintendo Seal of Quality was a way to assure consumers that they were buying a high quality product that wouldn’t damage their console.

Older circle emblem
Newer oval emblem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I assume Nintendo provided the image to be used in manuals, and at some point it changed from a circle to an oval. This probably happened in 1988, which makes the ovals from before that point likely to be reprints, although I’m surprised so many companies seemingly went to the trouble, and that there were enough in circulation for scanners to happen upon them.

Controller Diagrams

Something that I noticed when going through these manuals was how common yet varied controller diagrams were. In more modern game manuals it’s clear that a diagram has been provided, and possibly required, by the hardware manufacturer, but in these days it was seemingly up to each publisher. I’ll be sharing some of the oddest looking ones in my next post.

The real thing

The main difference I noticed was most diagrams had a controller with either 3 rectangles or 5 rectangles in the middle of the controller and pretty much never 4. There is still a lot of variation within the 3 and 5 rectangle labels I created, though publishers tended to stick to one diagram. The 3 rectangle style may have been to make the diagram less busy looking. Nintendo mostly used 3 rectangles with a few later exceptions.

3 Rectangles
5 Rectangles

Jumping and Attacking

Something that can immediately make a game feel bad is if the jump button is “wrong”. People strongly prefer jumping to be mapped to the A button, but perhaps this was less obvious to developers of the time.

Thankfully, A to jump makes up the majority of games and generally gained ground over time. Not all games have a jump or an attack, but attack has a smaller majority as the B button. The despicable Up to jump was recorded for 12 games.

I was surprised that I only recorded 11 games as having a run button set to A (1 game) or B (10 games). It’s something I associate strongly with platformers, but that may be the Mario influence.

Start and Select

It seems so universal that Start should pause and that Select should select something, yet this was not unanimous. Several games had A+B to pause, which I didn’t record, or referred to opening menus with the Start button, which I didn’t count as pausing.

Select is used less overall, which makes sense as it’s the least convenient button to reach.. Many manuals describe using the Select button to move a cursor on the title screen to the mode that the player wants to play. This seems like an overly cumbersome method when the control pad is available and allows for moving a cursor in two directions.

Notices and Advisories

As I was looking through these manuals I noticed a lot of boilerplate warnings or notices and wanted to document them. Some were a lot more common than others, some were pretty much always exactly the same, and some seemed to be written differently almost every time.

FCC Compliance

The FCC compliance notices were almost always in the back, but before the warranty information. Some boring legal boilerplate that you see on lots of electronics manuals. For some reason though they seemed to stop doing these late in the NES’s life. Looking at Super Mario World’s (A SNES game) manual now, and there’s no FCC notice and I can’t find any evidence that there was a separate sheet included with this information.

FCC Notice Example

 

Warranty Notice

The 90 day warranty notice was the last thing in many manuals, though it was right the front of many Konami manuals. Its rate of inclusion stayed steady throughout the NES’s life, and may have just been omitted by some scanners. I wasn’t able to scrounge up any information about this being a requirement for an officially licensed NES game, but I assume it is.

90 Day Warranty Example

Game Pak Precautions

Game Pak (as Nintendo insisted on calling their cartridges) precautions were almost always found near the beginning of manuals. This does not include separate warnings/instructions about inserting and removing game paks, although that is often included.

The wording and exact things being cautioned about varied considerably, more than any of the other notices I recorded. Nintendo must have given some guidelines, but let publishers do their own thing with these. The most common warnings were against opening the game pak, subjecting it to extreme heat or cold, touching the pins, cleaning it with thinners, solvents, benzene, or alcohol, playing for too long, sitting too close to the TV, and inserting or removing the game pak when the NES is on.

For whatever reason these warnings became much less common after 1992.

Game Pak Precautions Example

Epileptic Seizure Advisories

I didn’t realize when recording my data just how specific to a time period these warnings were. The pre-1990 warnings were probably later print runs of the manuals. If it was so important to warn about the risk of epileptic seizures, why did they become so rare later on? Were these perhaps moved to a separate slip of paper in the box? These warnings have been included with video game manuals for decades so it seems strange that they disappeared for a time.

Epileptic Seizure Advisory Example

Rear Projection TV Warning

Screen burn in was something I heard about a lot as a kid in the 90s, both with TVs and computers. I was constantly worried about it even though none of the TVs I used were projection based.

This is another odd case of a warning peaking in 1992 and then suddenly becoming less included, and in fact not a single 1994 manual has such a warning.

Rear Projection TV Warning

Memo Pages

Memo pages used to be fairly common in manuals. Used for recording passwords, high scores, or just notes to yourself.

I did not count blank pages, but any sort of invitation to write something down, even if it wasn’t a full page, counted.

The most memo pages was 9, in Metal Mech: Man & Machine. Over 28% of the manual was memo. The overall average was 0.51 memo pages per manual.

Game Advertisements

Sometimes publishers advertised their other games in a manual. This does not count non-game ads. It does count ads for games on other systems, which in this case only meant Game Boy and Super Nintendo.

The manuals with the most ads are Rampart and Shatterhand with 16. Both Jaleco games, which did a lot of this cross promotion with essentially a list of games on the back of the manual.

The overall average was 0.78 ads per manual.

Next up is a less statistical look at NES manuals.

Sources

DigitPress was the source of most of the manuals. A few were from ReplacementDocs too.

Wikipedia’s List of Nintendo Entertainment System games.

FLickr user bucky for some higher quality scans, including a color version of Faxanadu.

 

This was originally posted on reddit and I was overwhelmed with the response. So overwhelmed that I decided I wanted to do a lot more of this kind of thing. Please keep in mind that this was written in mid 2019. This post has been slightly edited.

One day I found myself wondering just how many Japanese exclusives there are and where games are being made and how it has changed over time. I really wanted to know, but I couldn’t find anything substantial. I started this project in November, 2018 and that is the cutoff, any games released after that date are not included. I made a collection of spreadsheets with every game, system, country(ies) of origin, developer(s), publisher(s), and release status among North America, Europe, and Japan. I used this data to create charts and infographics to answer my questions and look into video game history.

I stuck to Nintendo because they have a long history in games and I know them well. Even if you’re not into Nintendo, I think there is a lot of interesting information about the industry here and how it has changed since the 80s.

I know 15,000 is a suspiciously round number, but I didn’t plan it that way. After I pasted wikipedia’s lists into my spreadsheets, and added some games I found missing, it was about 15,035. I got rid of some stuff that didn’t belong, detailed below, and ended up with exactly 15,000.

What is included:
  • All officially licensed and released games on consoles and handhelds by Nintendo.

  • 64DD

  • Virtual Boy

  • Famicom Disk Drive

  • Digital-only titles, DSiWare, WiiWare

What is not included:
  • Virtual Console titles. These I considered the same thing as the original.

  • Satellaview. Many games have very incomplete information, and it’s not always clear if a game is “different enough” from its original SNES version to be considered a different game.

  • Non-games software. So no Game Boy Advance Video, Hulu app, or system settings. This also includes a few oddities like a sweater design program or 8 keys you can press to make music. I was very broad minded about this one, for example a study guide for taking a learner’s permit test for the DS said it had mini games, so I included it.

  • Games that didn’t release in North America, Europe, or Japan. There were fewer than 10 of these, but I did uncover a Hello Kitty and Bomberman game exclusive to South Korea, and some rugby/soccer and singing games exclusive to Australia. If I were to include them, I’d need release information for South Korea and Australia on every other game, and that information does not seem to exist.

  • Philips CD-i

  • Game & Watch and other miscellaneous electronic Nintendo gadgets.

Some Important Details

There are some important things to note about how I structured this data. I combined development studios and publishing companies that were owned by another company into one. For example, Ubisoft Paris and Ubisoft Barcelona are both Ubisoft studios, so they both just count as “Ubisoft”. Ubisoft bought Red Storm Entertainment in 2000, so it counts as Red Storm Entertainment before they were bought, and as Ubisoft after. Sometimes video game companies are bought by non-video game companies, I ignored these unless that company also owned at least one other video game company. For example, Atlus was bought by Index, which also owned Interchannel, so those companies were counted as Index. I counted a company as owned by another if they owned more than 50% of it, so D3 Publisher counts as Bandai Namco from the date that they acquired most of their stock.

Merged companies I counted as a new company. So Squaresoft and Enix are counted separately from Square Enix.

If a company changed their name, I used the most recent.

When games were ported, I credited the porting studio, whether that was the original creator or not. I found quite a few Switch games were handled by porting companies, but there are probably some that I missed on other systems because wikipedia is inconsistent about who gets credit.

Because of all this, some titles are credited to companies that might seem odd.

I wanted to get some stats about second parties, but that is a bit more complicated than it may seem. If you look for a list of Nintendo second parties, you will see different companies included and the likes of Intelligent Systems, Next Level Games, and HAL Laboratory. Developers that often or exclusively work with Nintendo. But most of these companies are not owned by Nintendo. Only four external studios are owned by Nintendo: Retro, 1-up, Monolith, and NDcube. I did actually make special note of these companies, they released 50 games total, on about half of Nintendo’s systems. This was pretty minor and not very interesting so I didn’t give them special sections in anything.

Sometimes companies were bought and sold and merged and went independent several times. Researching all of this took a lot of time. Have a quick look at the many Atari pages on wikipedia if you’d like to see how fun it was. I have about 10 pages of notes about company name changes and ownership.

There were also many cases of different sites having different information. On one occasion I found 5 unique developer and publisher combinations listed for a game on 5 different sites.

Some games (mainly tie ins and other very cheap stuff) will have a very obvious publisher that you can find anywhere, but the developer is unlisted. I did my best here, researching hundreds of games to try to find the company that made them. When I couldn’t find anything I credited the publisher as being the developer, which will be true in some cases and not in others. Konami and Bandai Namco seem especially likely to not credit development companies. Many of these are probably done by low profile and often anonymous outsourcing companies. You can read more about these companies here and here.

The Charts

First I’ll go through system by system, and then some charts detailing the overall progression of various things over time.

System Charts

This includes the Famicom, Famicom Disk System, and NES. Wikipedia lists them separately so I had to combine games when they were ported overseas. We can see right away that Japan dominates releases here in the 80s. Eight of the nine companies that developers or published the most games are Japanese, and most of them are still around! Most games were released in Japan and a majority were exclusive.

Nintendo’s next piece of hardware was the Game Boy. Not quite as Japan-dominated as their home console. That 7th developer is Graphic Research. Given its long life and how cheap it was to make games for, you might have expected more than 1053 games.

1751 games, a figure that would not be surpassed until digital distribution. If you’re not familiar with TOSE, here’s a quote from their wikipedia page:

“We’re always behind the scenes,” said Masa Agarida, Vice President of Tose’s U.S. division. “Our policy is not to have a vision. Instead, we follow our customers’ visions. Most of the time we refuse to put our name on the games, not even staff names.”

Many of the games they are now credited with weren’t known at release. There’s a whole wiki dedicated to finding the developers of games. That 7th developer is Telenet Japan. This is the system with the highest percentage of games available in Japan, other than the Virtual Boy.

And speaking of the Virtual Boy, here it is, the holder of many distinctions. Two of the developers, Betop and Nacoty were so obscure they have no known logos. Probably the only video game system in the world to boast more than 18% of its library consisting of bowling or Tetris games.

Other than the Virtual Boy, the N64 had a publisher controlling the highest percentage of the catalog. It’s tough when your third party support vanishes so quickly. Also other than the Virtual Boy, the smallest number of games released on a Nintendo system. Few systems are as synonymous with a single developer as the N64 is with Rare, which managed to create the 6th most games for the system, all of them pretty well regarded upon release. We see a big uptick in the percent of games released in North America here, a trend that would continue with consoles. A big drop in the percent of games developed in Japan, too.

Quite a few games were released on the Game Boy Color, even though its successor was not far away. Many of these were ports of Game Boy titles, however. Nintendo made fewer games for the GBC than any other system except the Virtual Boy. The top developers is odd mix with several companies that we won’t see in the top 7 again. Please note that the Atari in the publishers is Atari, SA, which was at the time known as Infogrames. An incredibly even distribution of games available in each region, yet so few available in all.

The Game Boy Advance saw a flood of cheap tie in games. This is also towards the end of the era where even many small budget games would get separate versions released on handhelds, made by different developers. It’s very likely that many of those Konami games were not developed by them, but by third parties who did not want to be credited.

I was pretty shocked by how many Electronic Arts games there were on Gamecube. Several yearly sports titles all hit the Gamecube while Japan largely avoided the console. Over 85% of the library was available in North America, a new high for a region (excluding the Virtual Boy). Despite their last console coming out during the same generation as the Gamecube, Sega managed to make a substantial portion of its library.

Still the Nintendo system with the most titles, the DS was a phenomenon that became the second-best selling video game system. There was a big jump here in the number of countries that developed games. Nintendo developed 65 games for the system, second only to the NES/Famicom’s 72.

Japan’s lowest share of game development yet, with a lot of North American support. Like the DS, there were a lot of new or new-to-Nintendo developers for the Wii, trying to catch the zeitgeist. Unfortunately, a lot of these titles were shovelware. High Voltage Software and Data Design Interactive don’t come close to this level of output again.

The 3DS bucks the trends and has a lot more Japanese support. One of the things I wanted to look into was the Japanese preference for handhelds and here we can see the difference it makes. Despite this, we see a lot more titles released in all regions than ever before. Four companies make their first appearance in a top 7, all Japanese.

The U.S. takes first place in development for the first and only time with the Wii U. That was largely because of RCMADIAX, who was second in development and publishing output. RCMADIAX was a one man operation that flooded the eShop with cheap, barebones games. He submitted a game for approval on the Switch but was denied and left the video game industry shortly afterward. Skunk Software was also a one-man operation. At 8.41% the Wii U had my highest unknown country of origin. There were quite a few tiny indies that never even had a website and only existed for a couple years.

Keep in mind that the Switch has several years left so its library will change, but here is where we stood in November, 2018. At roughly 1000 games every two years, the Switch should eclipse the DS in number of games eventually. You may notice that the top developers and publishers have lower percents than usual. There are tons of new studios that are making Switch games, so it’s very spread out. I had to do the most research for this system because there were so many errors on the wikipedia list. Spain is so high here because there are a lot of Spanish porting studios and lots of those medium to large indie games seem to outsource their Switch ports. We also see an unprecedented surge in all-territory releases, with very few region exclusives. Despite combining their console and handheld teams, Nintendo has thus far developed and published a smaller percent of the Switch library than any of their other systems, largely because of the huge number of titles being released.

Overall Charts

 

We can see that more games have been coming to more regions over time, although a varying number of games have reached Japan.

While Japan had a large chunk of the exclusives in the early days, that number has fallen greatly. Europe has never had many exclusives.

Here’s a chart with all of the available in and exclusive to numbers, but also with combinations of two regions. Japan and Europe exclusives are mostly soccer/football games.

These are the top 8 countries that have developed the most games. Every console has seen Japan’s relative output drop, though they have rallied a bit with every handheld, while it’s mostly the opposite with the United States. Gamecube’s Canada spike was because of EA Vancouver’s sports titles. From the Wii forward Europe and Australia seem to go up and down together.

 

Here’s a chart with every country’s percentage of games and a map of every system put together. As you can see most countries represented only worked on a handful of games, while Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and a few Western European countries made the bulk of games. I’d say the Game Boy Advance was the start of more countries getting involved in development.

I wanted to measure how similar the group of developers/publishers were from system to system. For instance, maybe a lot of developers were only interested in the handhelds, or maybe publishers would only touch systems that were market leaders. This is a difficult thing to measure, but I gave it a try. Please consider the results as experimental and potentially inaccurate as I am not sure my methods were sufficient. The numbers are not percents, but more like “scores” where the maximum (the exact same developers/publishers in the exact same proportions) is 100. Mostly we see that systems are most similar to systems released close in time to them, which makes sense but is not very enlightening.

I listed the top 7 of each system, but here are the top 25 overall, by number instead of percent this time. Konami’s lead will erode over time, but it will take a few generations with how long it takes to make games nowadays. TOSE is not a well-known name, but it probably worked on a fair number of games they weren’t credited for. Bandai Namco could take both second places if you add their pre-merger companies together. Sunsoft largely left video games by 2001, yet still makes both lists.

In case you wanted an even bigger list, here are the top 100. Please remember that because of the way I combined companies that some of these names will be strange. To hammer home how much cheap junk RCMADIAX pumped out, they hit the top 50 despite being active only during the Wii U.

 

Here are the developers that released at least one game for at least 10 systems. This time I did combine companies before they merged with their merged company. Lot of absences for the Virtual Boy, of course. Intelligent Systems will make its Switch debut very soon with Fire Emblem: Three Houses and become the only second/third party to support every Nintendo system. Kemco had a rare Virtual Boy title, but skipped the DS of all things. Konami only released Virtual Console titles for the Wii U, yet had a launch title ready for the Switch. Square had a bit of a falling out with Nintendo over the move of Final Fantasy 7 to the Playstation, which kept them away for a time, but they eventually made up.

And here are the publishers that have supported at least 10 systems. Square Enix let Nintendo publish Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, which keeps them from the “everything but Virtual Boy” club. Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, and Take-Two weren’t always huge publishers, but they have been releasing games on Nintendo systems for a long time.

Have you ever wondered how popular it was to put “64” in the title of N64 games? More than a fifth of them did. Seven is the least common digit in titles. Almost every game title is made up of at least two words (this is a count of titles in which a text string occurs, not a total count).

Here’s the same data grouped into themes and maybe a bit easier to read.

And finally, some miscellaneous data, like how many developers/publishers only released one game on a system, and how many games were developed by more than studio, published by more than one company, and made in more than one country. Here we see that collaborations between studios, including studios in different countries has increased over time.

Other Facts I Came Across

  • From Ubisoft Montreal’s wikipedia page: “The studio as of 2017 employs more than 3,500 staff, making it one of the largest game development studios in the world.”

  • I recorded numbers for Hong Kong separate from China, but didn’t end up using them. There were 33 games developed in Hong Kong, and 50 elsewhere in China.

  • Similarly for the UK: England 1474, Scotland 74, Wales 18, Northern Ireland 1.

  • Just Dance 2014 for the Wii and Yo-kai Watch Dance: Just Dance Special Version for Wii U both had 7 development teams listed, although these vary a bit by source.

  • The shortest game title was X for Game Boy.

  • The longest game title, which I cannot confirm is accurate, is a 3 in 1 game collection: Kunio-kun Nekketsu Collection 3 Downtown Special: Kunio-kun no Jidaigeki da yo – Zenin Shūgō! Ike Ike! Nekketsu Hockey-bu: Subete Koronde Dairantō.

  • The total developer count was 2299 when combining studios owned by companies. However, the way I structured things included these subsidiary studios separately. There were 2547 developers including them (plus a few tiny ones that I lumped together).

  • Atlus was owned by Takara (7 games), Sega Sammy (12 games), Index (17 games), and was independent (46 games) which would have been good enough for 22nd most prolific developer if combined.

  • I have 14 THQ-owned, 15 Take-Two-owned, 23 Electronic Arts-owned, and 24 Ubisoft-owned developers recorded.

  • I noticed some recurring themes in developer names. The following are the number of studios with a given string in their name. 21: 3, Infinite: 5, Planet: 5, Silicon: 6, Ninja: 8, Black: 12, Dream: 14, Pixel: 20, Star: 21.

Sources

  • Wikipedia’s lists of games was my starting point, although I had to make a lot of corrections and additions. I also visited hundreds of developer, publisher, and individual game pages.

  • Moby Games has lots of great information, including port teams, developer histories, and official website links.

  • The Giant Bomb wiki has a lot of more obscure titles and some info I couldn’t find anywhere else.

  • GameFAQs has pages for almost every obscure Japanese game.

  • RF Generation was useful for a list of eShop titles.

  • Nintendo has pages for most games released on their last few platforms.

  • Dolphin wiki for some info about Gamecube and Wii games.

  • Nintendo life for some Wii U eShop game information.

  • Youtube videos showing the splash screens as games start up.

 

This was originally posted on reddit. I probably won’t use data from VGChartz again, but I think it was a fine estimation for this kind of thing. I was surprised it got so little attention, although I’m not very happy with my writing looking back on it now.

A topic that often comes up is how important a series is to Nintendo, which series should get another game, which series are underappreciated, which get the best review scores, and which no one would miss. I wanted to approach this with numbers.

I gathered review score and sales data for 30 Nintendo series, and calculated attach rates. I thought it was important to consider both sales and attach rates because selling 3 million copies on the Wii is different than selling 3 million copies on the Wii U.

This only includes Nintendo published and owned series. Not all of these games are Nintendo developed, however.

I didn’t include some “casual” series, like Nintendogs, Brain Age, or the Wii series. I think Nintendo is done with these, and they targeted a different group than the “core” games we like to discuss.

Series had to have at least 3 games with full data available. Sorry, Kid Icarus, you didn’t quite make it. I wanted this to be more of a historical look at established series, but there’s some Splatoon numbers in the fun stats section.

The Charts

Here is the overview of average scores, sales, and attach rates. The columns on the right are normalized (scaled specifically to that list) numbers so that we can compare things more easily and for the next charts.

The top three in terms of scores don’t feature Mario at all. I knew Advance Wars was liked, but I did not realize they routinely reviewed that well. Donkey Kong Country also surprised me.

Pokemon dominates the sales numbers, although there are some caveats, which you can read about further down. If you consider dual versions as separate games, the average sales are only 9.1, which would still place it at third, and the attach rate would be 8.79, good for 6th place.

Sales and attach rates manage to stay pretty consistent, although some series with most/all of their entries on DS have much worse attach rates.

Post image

Here I add the normalized numbers to give a score based on review scores and sales/attach rate. I think this is an interesting way to look at things, it makes sense to not focus entirely on one or the other. Fire Emblem has seen a big resurgence in recent years and considered one of Nintendo’s big IPs now, yet it is only in the middle of the pack. Mario Party is also surprisingly low, but they really have been churning them out. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon’s large, vocal fanbase online has always mystified me, and here we see it on the bottom, due to its sales not making up for its scores.

Once again, I must mention Pokemon’s unique release structure and how it effects these standings. Scores have a somewhat disproportionate effect on this chart due to Pokemon’s dominance in sales when dual versions are counted as one game (that is how Nintendo does it). If you look at the first chart again you will see that the normalized numbers for sales plummet to .76 for second place, a much bigger drop than scores.

Post image

Here we see which series have a disconnect for sales versus scores, you could say they aren’t selling up to their potential or that they are hidden gems. Advance Wars takes first with its second highest scores and the second lowest sales, none of the four games have sold over a million copies. Mario Golf isn’t a something you hear a lot of demand for, but it’s pretty high up here. Pokemon’s huge sales numbers can’t make up for its merely “great” review scores.

Some fun stats

  • The highest scored game: Super Mario Galaxy with 97.64

  • Lowest scored game: Mario Party: The Top 100 with 53.2

  • Best selling game: Super Mario Bros. with 40,240,000

  • Worst selling game: Maybe Warioware Gold (still pretty new and very speculative number) , maybe Chibi-Robo Park Patrol (Wal-Mart exclusive, not even released in EU)

  • Highest attach rate: Super Mario Bros. with 65%

  • Lowest attach rate: If you don’t want to count Warioware Gold, Advance Wars: Dual Strike with .25%

  • Splatoon sold 4.93 million copies on Wii U (Splatoon 2 is at 6.76 currently). If allowed on the list it would have been 7th on the best selling chart, above The Legend of Zelda’s average. A 36.36% (Splatoon 2 at 34% currently) attach rate would be 1st overall, well above Mario Kart.

  • Average review scores for each system among the games included (this is more for fun, we don’t have a representative sample of games to really consider this a look at which systems had the best games): SNES 87.68, N64 84.02, Gameboy/Color 84.29, Gamecube 83.85, Gameboy Advance 83.5, Wii 81.84, DS 79.18, 3DS 76.73, Wii U 76.66. Interesting that they tend to go down over time.

  • The correlation between review scores and sales was r = 0.3296. Not very strong.

  • 203 games were used for this study

About the score, sales, and attach data

Nintendo almost always releases sales numbers for games that sell over 1 million copies in their financial reports. These are used on Wikipedia to make lists like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_Nintendo_3DS_video_games I used these lists for the bulk of the sales data. Most of these games sold over 1 million copies. Please keep in mind these often-quoted numbers are still not exact. Games can sell more after these reports come out, and Nintendo isn’t going to include a game in their reports forever. For games that sell less than one million, I have to go with the best estimates that exist, which is usually VGChartz. The errors on these numbers are certainly higher than Nintendo’s numbers, but it’s the best we have. None of them seemed particularly unlikely to me, but keep in mind that lower-selling games are more likely to be more wrong. Sometimes I was able to find supposed leaked sales estimates from NPD and I used these when possible.

I used GameRankings instead of Metacritic for average review scores mostly because it goes back farther and they are given to two decimal places. Unfortunately, it does not have NES scores. Attach rate is the percent of copies that exist relative to the hardware. If a game sells 1 million copies on a system that has sold 100 million, it has a 1% attach rate.

About the games I looked at

For each series I only included “mainline” games. When it doubt I referred to wikipedia or series-specific wikis to draw these lines. I’m sure people will disagree with some of the inclusions and exclusions, but in the context of talking about “which series does the best/deserves a new game”, it doesn’t make sense to consider Kirby’s Dream Course to be the same series as Kirby Super Star or Kirby’s Avalance, games which all play very differently. There aren’t always clear lines, and some series like Yoshi platformers are all over the place, so here are some examples: Star Fox Adventures: doesn’t count. Kirby’s Epic Yarn: doesn’t count. Super Mario Maker: doesn’t count. Donkey Kong Land trilogy: doesn’t count. Yoshi Touch and Go: counts. Tri Force Heroes: counts.

No ports or remakes, I wanted this to focus on games that were brand new when they released and free of “oh yeah, I remember liking this game” or “this game feels dated” reviews. I did, however, include pretty-much-identical ports to other systems if they happened within a year, such as Smash 4 and Twilight Princess. This ended up being beneficial to Pokemon since games like Platinum and Omega Ruby get lower scores and have lower sales.

Speaking of Pokemon, it was difficult deciding how to approach it. You have dual releases that are almost identical and have their sales numbers added together. Review sites generally review them as one game, though there are exceptions, every game has slightly different scores. However, a pretty large but unknowable percentage of people buy both versions, essentially two copies of the same game, which means sales data gives a skewed look at how popular Pokemon is. I’m sure there are also people who just wait for the “definitive version(s)” released one or two years later, while others (like me) will buy almost the same game a third time. Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, and Platinum are also much more similar to their base games than Black2/White2 and Ultra Sun/Moon were so you’d have to consider counting the latter if not the former. The remakes are also much bigger deals than other video game remakes usually are. In the end, I decided to count dual versions as one game (so 7 games, one for each generation), and average their scores. No third/fourth versions or remakes included. This gave Pokemon a big boost.

Fire Emblem Birthright and Conquest are reported with their sales numbers combined even though they are definitely more different than Pokemon versions and have more greatly differing review scores. In my spreadsheet I gave them each 50% of the sales.

I did not include download-only games. These games tend to be much lower profile, never seem to have sales data, and have much fewer reviews if any.

No Switch games. Sales and attach rates still have a lot of time to change. There were also no Virtual Boy games included, there’s no sales data or review aggregates.