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The 15 Vans Nintendo Shoe Designs, Ranked
written by Sam Greenspan

Vans just released a limited-edition Nintendo-themed sneaker line. It's not the first time Nintendo characters have been on shoes -- Nintendo, especially in its earlier days, licensed their characters with the indiscriminate frequency of Krusty the Clown -- but it's the first time in a while. The first time in the retro nostalgia era, at the very least.

So Vans went a little nuts with it.

They made 15 different Nintendo-themed shoe designs (plus a few flip-flops and another handful of designs for kids and toddlers only). They got the license, and they ran with it. Or, in their parlance, I guess they "shredded" it.

There's a razor-thin line between "ostentatious in a good way" and "ostentatious in a Steve Harvey menswear collection way," and while Vans did a pretty solid job staying in that first zone, they weren't there exclusively.

I ranked all 15 of the Vans Nintendo shoe designs from least to most attractive. Here are the results...
  1. Plain black shoes.

    These shoes aren't ugly, per se, but for a "Nintendo collection," they're offensively bad. In that... um... they're just plain black shoes. The only sign of their Nintendo affiliation are the colors (sort of; black, gray and red aren't exactly a rare combo) and the gray-and-white icons tucked away on the inside. These shoes, apparently, are for the person who really wants to support this Vans/Nintendo joint venture without actually wearing Nintendo-themed Vans. Oh, and by the way, these shoes are $15 more than the same black lace-up Vans that aren't from the NES collection. I can't even promote these to "don't buy."

  2. The Mario/Luigi giant head high tops.

    I kind of like the "back in the pile" Mario characters, but these shoes are ruined for me by the giant Mario and Luigi heads. The look just doesn't work; I'm no expert in composition, but I know this ain't it. The shoes would be much so better off without the giant heads, just letting the sea of characters stand on its own.

  3. Zelda phrases running wild.

    I waffled on these a lot. On one hand, I love the postmodern broken English poetry of Zelda quotes. On the other hand, these are SOOO ugly. Like, I tried picturing myself wearing them and in that vision, I couldn't bring myself to leave the imaginary house.

  4. A tribute to Arkanoid (maybe).

    Much like the plain black shoes earlier on the list, these aren't necessarily ugly -- but they aren't really "Nintendo." The design is either just random pixel art or a tribute to Arkanoid. If the former is true, at least pick Nintendo-ier colors. If the latter is true, Arkanoid isn't a game primarily associated with Nintendo, so it's a bad pick. In both cases, these shoes are just too generic. I do like the controller on the tongue, at least.

  5. Controller pattern high tops.

    I'm really thrown off by all the textures in these -- the lumps at the top of the high tops and the black Vans "Swoosh" bisecting the middle. All of those flourishes make it so I can't focus on the iconic controller imagery, but rather only on the topography.

  6. A white high top tribute to Arkanoid (maybe).

    These shoes use the same maybe-Arkanoid pattern as the pair of shoes earlier on this list, only here the design is all gold and set on white high tops. They get dinged severely because of they just aren't Nintendo enough, but otherwise they're decently slick. Maybe a little too Kanye West, but still slick. I really like the Super Mario Bros. cover art on the tongue.

  7. Duck Hunt camo.

    I love the idea of the Duck Hunt dog chasing ducks around the shoes. I don't love the 8-bit camouflage choice. Duck Hunt is all about bright colors. These shoes seem to be designed more to wear while actually duck hunting than to wear to pay homage to America's favorite throw-in game.

  8. Princess Peach and the star.

    Wow that's a lot of pink. But these ARE the perfect shoes to wear if you've got two older siblings so you never got to be Yoshi or Toad in Mario Kart 64.

  9. Zelda characters visit New Mexico.

    The previous Zelda shoes were too garish. These don't seem garish enough. The colors are all muted into a fixed palette, and the primary element of the design is what I'd call "Southwestern-inspired Triforce art."

  10. The grid of gray icons.

    We're now moving into the best of the collection. These appear to be the best sellers so far; they're totally sold out online, with their page redirecting to the plain black shoes. (I had to use all sorts of source code inspecting tricks to even find the photos.) I certainly like the art and the layout here. They're only ranked here because Nintendo -- and especially Mario -- is fundamentally about vivacious colors, not grayscale. Except World 6-3 where the trees are all ashy and gray. Only then.

  11. Mushrooms on black.

    I really like the two types of mushrooms on these shoes, but, nitpick-wise, something about the shiny black leather on the back isn't quite doing it for me. (There's another mushroom assortment shoe to come where the color scheme works a little better.) Still, these are totally wearable.

  12. Donkey Kong's jungle cruise.

    These shoes are a great tribute to Donkey Kong, with the purple leaves complimenting the design (unlike, say, the camo taking away from the Duck Hunt shoes). The pattern also evokes that signature "Vans" look, more so than any of the other designs -- so they feel like the best combination of Vans style and Nintendo style.

  13. Mario characters everywhere.

    Remember those high tops that were ruined by the giant Mario and Luigi heads? Here's how cool the Mario character orgy can look when it's left alone. (As for an actual Mario character orgy, Toad, we're so sorry, I guess your invitation got lost in the mail?.)

  14. Mushrooms on blue.

    The mushrooms pop a bit better on the blue than on the black, and the white leather works better than the black. These shoes also find the ideal mix of prominently showcasing Nintendo imagery while remaining nicely understated.

  15. Mario tie dye.

    Everything here works perfectly, from the colors to the characters to the layout to the style. I sure don't expect anyone to buy me these in size 11 for my very first Father's Day, that's for sure.

This post was originally published on Friday, June 10, 2016 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Games.

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