Nintendo has come a long way since Fusajiro Yamauchi founded the company in 1889 to produce hanafuda (“flower cards”). Now, both gamers and general audiences know the name for their video game empire. For some time, Nintendo became the ubiquitous word to describe all video games amongst the general public, like parents in the 1980s. Their transformation to a household name is a testament to the strength of their systems. However, none of their systems would gain traction without the dedicated support of fun and exciting Nintendo games.
As Nintendo cemented its hold on the console market, it introduced a slew of unique characters that fans fondly remember today. Games, such as Super Mario and Duck Hunt, came packaged along with new Nintendo Entertainment Systems. So, many gamers became as soon as they popped Super Mario Bros. in and heard the first few meters that indicated when they should jump. They would then venture down the depths of Zebes to help Samus Aran take on the Metroid threat. Otherwise, they may have explored Hyrule to save Princess Zelda.
As Nintendo moved into new generations, their games and characters also expanded to include new characters or give old characters new meaning. For instance, Game Freak broke new ground when they launched the gaming phenomenon, Pokémon, on Gameboy. Then, few imagined a game that would star Luigi before the GameCube era. However, Luigi’s Mansion proved that Luigi could carry a series of games. Likewise, the Mario cast learned how to drive go-carts to launch the Mario Kart series. Even better, all of Nintendo’s games met in an epic clash in Super Smash Bros.
With the popularity of Nintendo’s cast, action figures and other toys hit store shelves.
Presenting the top ten toys that brought our favorite Nintendo characters to life
10. Joyride Studio’s Luigi’s Mansion Luigi (2002)
Luigi stood in Mario’s shadow since he first appeared in 1983’s Game & Watch Mario Bros., where the second player controlled him. For this game and several to follow, he was a simple palette swap for Mario, using green to distinguish him. The first time that he gained a unique trait that separated him from his brother was in Super Mario Bros. 2, where he could jump higher than Mario. Finally, with the improvement of graphics for both the consoles and handhelds, Luigi fully gained a unique appearance, standing taller than his older, more well-known brother.
Luigi finally became the star of his own game in 2001’s Luigi’s Mansion for the GameCube. During this game, he fully displayed his new look, no longer a simple clone of Mario. Luigi proved to be both taller and slimmer than his brother. However, unlike Mario, Luigi became scared easily, especially when ghosts were around.
So, it is a delight that Joyride Studios created a figure specifically for Luigi’s debut game in 2001. This figure is prepared to face off against ghosts with the Poltergust 3000 in hand. Luigi could even wear a helmet with a light so that he could see in the dark, haunted mansion. Finally, a transparent ghost and stand came with this figure, thus owners could display Luigi in ghost-catching action.
9. Nintendo’s Samus Aran and Metroid 2-Pack Amiibos (2017)
For the remake of Samus’ second adventure, Metroid: Samus Returns, Nintendo released a special 2-pack of their extraordinarily successful amiibos. While Samus Aran had previously appeared in amiibo form, both in her power and zero suits, this set introduced the metroid to the amiibo lineup.
To distinguish Samus from her original amiibo, this one squatted in a reference to the original artwork from Metroid II: Return of Samus. Thus, this version of Samus was prepared to tackle the metroid threat. When this amiibo interacted with Samus Returns, it accessed an Aeion Energy Reserve Tank with 500 units of energy. Furthermore, players that beat the game could once again use this amiibo to gain access to a gallery of art from the original Gameboy game, Metroid II.
Meanwhile, the metroid amiibo had recently broken out of a containment unit. Unlike most amiibos, this figure featured a soft transparent latex layering that simulated the metroid’s soft membrane. When this amiibo interacted with the 3DS game, it marked the location of the nearest metroid on the map. After completing the game, players may once again use this amiibo to access the fusion mode, which is the game’s hardest difficulty.
8. Hasbro’s #6 Charizard and #9 Blastoise (1999)
After the successful launch of both the Pokémon game and anime series, Hasbro gained the license to produce the toys. Children across the world were wild for the bright and colorful pokémon, so they wanted to catch them all in every format possible. The most popular creatures in this series were the evolved forms of the starters, Charizard, Blastoise, and Venusaur, along with the mascot for the anime, Pikachu.
Thus, Hasbro’s set that featured two of the most popular creatures, Charizard and Blastoise, became a great hit. Each of these figures also featured limited articulation, though they cleanly resembled the two pocket monsters. Joints like Charizard’s arms and Blastoise’s cannons featured articulation in this set.
Charizard was the sixth monster on the pokédex, though he originated from one of the three starter pokémon for the first generation. Upon talking to Professor Oak, players could choose to pick up the fire starter, Charmander. Later, this creature evolved into Charmeleon before finally becoming gaining his flying, fire evolution, Charizard.
Meanwhile, Blastoise was the ninth pokémon listed in the pokédex. He also stemmed from one of Professor Oak’s starter choices. The water starter, Squirtle, would later evolve into Warturtle. As trainers continued to train up their Warturtle, he would finally evolve into the powerful Blastoise.
7. Jakks Pacific’s World of Nintendo – Metroid (6 Inch Deluxe Figure) (2015)
Metroids are ferocious parasites that drained the energy of their prey, making them the perfect candidates for bioweapon research. Forces such as the Space Pirates and Federation both saw the potential in weaponizing metroids. Thus, both groups created breeding programs in various points of the metroid franchise. Fortunately, the galaxy could always turn to Samus Aran to handle threats like metroids.
In 2015, Jakks Pacific created the six-inch deluxe Metroid figure for their World of Nintendo toy line. This was the first time that the iconic creatures appeared in toy form. Previously, toy companies only created Samus Aran action figures, usually only in her power suit. However, this enormous figure permitted players to enjoy the might of the metroid species.
Later, in 2016, Jakks Pacific also released a scaled-down 2 and a half inch Metroid action figure. Even though this action figure was smaller than its predecessor, it kept most of the detail. It could also pose a great threat to any of Jakks Pacific’s Samus Aran figures, for it was around half of her size.
6. Epoch Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask – Link and Epona (2001)
The Legend of Zelda became a staple Nintendo franchise since its first game on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1986. Players loved the green-clad boy, Link, who would venture off on an epic adventure to save Hyrule and Princess Zelda from the clutches of evil. Link’s adventures evolved even more as he moved onto systems like the Super Nintendo. In a Link to the Past, the Zelda games gained their most defining trait, duality, where the game split its gameplay between two worlds. Multiple times, Link’s adventures would see him moving between time periods or light and dark worlds.
For Majora’s Mask, the Legend of Zelda took a different approach. Rather than splitting the world between different forms, Link’s adventures occurred in a three-day span, which would repeat. Link had to solve all issues and unlock the secrets of this world during these three days. Luckily, his ocarina could reset the clock, allowing him to try again.
This game began with Link riding on top of Epona, his steed from the prior game, Ocarina of Time. Later, Link reunited with Epona at the Romani Ranch. She helps him access the Great Bay and Ikana Canyon with her leaping abilities. Finally, once he saves the world, he mounts Epona once more to ride away from Termina.
Epoch sculpted a great recreation of Link riding on top of Epona with their 2001 figure. Link even has his Hyrule shield and Master Sword. His sword could either sit sheathed on his back, or Link could hold it in his right hand. Both Epona and Link have minimal articulation on their limbs.
5. Figma’s #349 Samus Aran (2017)
Retro Studios brought Samus Aran to the 3D realm when they released Metroid Prime to the GameCube in 2002. This game led to a trilogy that expanded her adventures away from Zebes and the Space Pirates. By the time the third game came out, Samus’s journey took her to multiple planets with brand new threats, especially Dark Samus.
Figma celebrated one of the most beloved versions of the varia suit when they created their 349th figma figure, Samus Aran Prime 3 version. The large spherical shoulders on this suit made it stand out as Samus’ most famous suit. Thus, most fans picture Samus in the varia suit when they think about her.
Figma’s figure featured a large variety of joints that offered smooth yet stable movement. Some parts of the action figure even featured flexible plastic so that the toy would keep its integrity in a variety of poses. Moreover, the toy included several points of translucent parts that improved her appearance. While it is infeasible for any toy to realistically transform Samus into her morph ball form, the toy included a separate piece for her iconic move. Finally, Figma included a variety of different hands as well as a stand.
The Prime 3 version was not the first Metroid figure that figma created. Figma also created an Other M version, number 133, in 2012. They also created a Zero Suit version of Samus Aran, number 306, in 2016.
4. Jakks’ Super Mario – Mario and Luigi Figures with Interactive Background Summer Convention 2020
San Diego Comic-Con and other convention exclusives have been a mainstay of the toy company for over a decade. Even though recent shutdowns prevented conventions from being held, toy companies continued to release their timed exclusives. Thus, newer terms like “summer convention” overtook the classic SDCC exclusive category. While SDCC toys often made their way to partnered retailers, like GameStop, Hot Topic, and FYE, these retailers took center stage during the pandemic.
For 2020, Jakks Pacific decided to feature their Super Mario line of toys with a special diorama that featured Mario and Luigi. Each of these figures was two and a half inches tall. With the press of a button, the set played the Acorn Plains theme song from the New Super Mario Bros. game. Moreover, the background would begin to scroll, making it feel as if the duo were running through the level. This set sold exclusively at GameStop.
3. Bandai’s SH Figuarts – Mewtwo – Arts Remix (2019)
In 2007, Bandai established a brand that focused on creating masterworks of toy craftsmanship to the forefront. Each of these toys would aim at the adult collector, who desired both extreme detail and posability in their figures. Thus, the Tamashii Nations brand formed and began producing lines like the Figuarts and Monsterarts. Collectors love this brand for the attention to detail that each figure reflected.
In 2019, one of the most powerful legendary pokémon joined the SH Figuarts line. Notably, Bandai originally released it under the D-Arts line around 2013. In the games, Mewtwo was the 150th pokémon and the last catchable legendary from the first-generation games. This genetically created legendary possessed the most powerful psychic abilities in that era. He was so powerful because he was a clone of one of the first pokémon in existence, Mew. After his creation, he escaped Team Rocket’s laboratories and later resided in a tunnel around Cerulean City.
Packaged along with this figure, MewTwo had one alternative hand and head. As for the head, the difference appeared in the eyes, where one looked straight ahead while the other looked to the side. Meanwhile, the single alternative hand had a peg in the center that effect pieces attached to. Speaking of effect pieces, this figure came with a single blast effect accessory. Otherwise, this figure sported a wide range of articulation, especially in the tail.
2. Jakks’ Super Mario – Deluxe Bowser’s Castle Playset (2019)
One of the most iconic sections of any Mario game is Bowser’s Castle. Usually occurring as the final level of the games, Bowser stood as the final obstacle between Mario and saving the Mushroom Kingdom. Thus, his castle came equipped with every fireball, lava pit, and spiked ball to stop Mario in his tracks. Over the years, Bowser’s castle has taken multiple forms, including an entire world in Super Mario Odyssey. However, one mainstay would be the emblem of Bowser’s face over the castle gates.
Jakks Pacific created one of the greatest playsets for their Super Mario toy line when they introduced Bowser’s Castle to their toy line. This deluxe playset is one of the largest sets that they have created. The castle itself had two interior levels, with the bottom level featuring a lava-colored floor. Sadly, actual lava is not safe for children or adults to play with.
One of the castle spires hides a button that activates sounds, like Bowser’s bellowing laugh. Meanwhile, multiple obstacles like a spinning fire tower and a lift filled the castle interior. Finally, there was an exclamation switch that activated a trap door. Thus, players could send Bowser to his doom. Finally, the castle featured a cage where Bowser could hold captive Peach, or any other action figure.
This set even included a single action figure, a posable Bowser. This Bowser had some articulation in his arms, legs, and head. He also stood taller than Mario and the gang.
Noteworthy addition: Tomy’s Kirby Egg Catcher Game (1993)
This oddity came to our attention as we were researching this article. Tomy created a board game, たまごきゃっちゃゲーム (which roughly means “egg catcher”), that featured Nintendo’s Kirby. This game was a reskin of a Pac-Man game that came out in 1980. To play this game, players launched colored projectiles, eggs, at Kirby’s mouth. The game included batteries so that Kirby’s mouth would open and close as it rotated.
Kirby first appeared in 1992’s Kirby’s Dream Land and has since led his franchise of games. Notably, this character gained his name because an American lawyer, John Kirby, famously defended Nintendo when Universal sued them over Donkey Kong. As this lawyer helped Nintendo prove they had the right to create a Kong-esque character, they honored him by naming their newest hero after him.
Kirby stood out amongst Nintendo’s characters for his ability to swallow up enemies. This ability also allowed him to take on the abilities of those he swallowed.
1. Lego’s Nintendo Entertainment System (2020)
The imaginative combination of Lego bricks is without limits, especially as the company produces new advances to give their builds movement and interactivity. When the Lego Group began producing their interlocking construction bricks, in 1949, none imagined the empire that they would build up. The unique design of these bricks provided options and stability not seen previously. As Lego continued producing new bricks, the options for new builds exponentially expanded.
While dedicated fans have created larger and more impressive builds, such as full-sized sports cars, Lego has moved to create more realistic, collector-oriented sets. Realism, as well as creativity, began to take the forefront of their high-end designs. Thus, fans could build impressive Nasa space shuttles and Roman colosseums straight out of the box.
In 2020, Lego once again awed the world by introducing the Nintendo Entertainment System building set. This set included pieces that realistically simulated the look and feel of Nintendo’s original gaming console. It even created a Super Mario Bros. cartridge.
However, the most impressive element of this build appeared once the television set took form. This build features an impressive amount of engineering. By turning the crank on the side, the background moves from right to left. Meanwhile, Mario, who hovers over the screen on a plastic spacer, jumps when the spacer moves across the textured background. Thus, the television gives the illusion that Mario is moving from left to right across the game.
What were your favorite Nintendo-centric toys?
Today, we have shared our picks for the top ten toys that have featured Nintendo’s famous roster of characters. However, there are still many more great Nintendo franchises and toys that did not appear here today.
Did your favorite toys appear on our list? Do you agree with our top picks? Let us know in the comments below.
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Bio: I am the founder and owner of Wheeljack’s Lab pop Culture and Toy Shop. My vision has always been to reunite customers with their favorite childhood toys and pop culture, triggering fond memories, and reigniting their imaginations. Every day, I work in the “lab” where it’s Christmas 365 days a year. I scour the internet, like when we had the Sears Catalog of yesteryear, for the next great treasure. Then, I await the arrival of the postman as if he were Santa Claus himself and helping collectors worldwide with their own versions of Christmas. Every day as a vintage toy buyer is an absolute joy!