I bring you another column, readers, it is just what you asked for! What? No one asked? Fine, I guess I can just do this one for free if I must. This week I dive back into the Nintendo well to explore their recent usage of their properties in games like Mario Maker and to a lesser extent Nintendo Land. The ideas behind these games are plain enough to see, but games like these as well as Smash Bros. count for something Nintendo was once wary of doing too often.
It arguably began with the original Smash Bros. on the N64, where Nintendo was willing to take various characters from their vast stable of IPs and put them in a single game that did not advance the story or gameplay of any series. Smash, of course, would go on to be its own series, but Nintendo took a very cautious approach with this broad usage of its characters in one game. For the US release, the sound effects were change to odd bowling pin sounds instead of their original, more fitting sound effects that would be present internationally in subsequent games in the series. They also insisted on framing the game as Nintendo character toys being used to fight each other, rather than implying that Mario and Pikachu themselves were slugging it out. It was a sideways approach to constructing a multi-IP brawler, which was not anything new to the wider games industry, but nevertheless presented itself as a challenge for Nintendo.
Since then they had only been content to subject Mario to extraneous cameos or supporting roles outside of his original game series. While his appearance as a referee in Punchout!! was the initiative of a single developer that did not seek approval, Mario and characters from his universe made several planned appearances in all kinds of games throughout the NES and beyond. But it always stuck to those characters, and the games they appeared in were always quite clearly side shows or diversions these characters were in apart from their “jobs” as protagonists. Games like Mario Party or Mario Tennis were depicted as games the characters were playing amongst themselves, and there was an air of make-believe, especially in earlier examples, that indicated these characters were only playing.
Eventually Nintendo dropped these initial pretenses as Mario and friends no longer needed to play dress-up in Mario Party and characters did not need to be presented as toy stand-ins in Smash Bros.. But cross-genre games still only used Mario characters, and I see this as a trend Nintendo may be willing to break as time goes on and they look for ways to refresh their older IPs. As much as I want straight delivery of all of Nintendo’s property, Nintendo has demonstrated less interest in just doing what has been done before. The reasons for this can be debated, but it should be agreed upon that Nintendo has demonstrated little interest in directly producing games like another traditional Metroid or F-Zero title, let alone even dustier IPs.
Lately, Nintendo has been more flexible. The previously mentioned Mario Maker shows a willingness to deliver non-traditional content within the original scope of the characters’ world. Instead of it being another sports games, this is a mash-up of all of the classic 2D Mario titles in a single game centered around user generated levels. With Mario Kart 8 we saw several similarities to F-Zero with the anti-gravity motif, including use of the Blue Falcon racer itself, as well as the Zelda themed track added later. Hyrule Warriors combines Zelda with an entirely foreign franchise by a third party developer, which made for a shocking announcement. And the most telling sign of this new willingness to mix and remix IPs is the idea behind amiibo functionality across Nintendo titles. While amiibo might be suffering from comically mismanaged distribution problems worldwide, their intended use in games is another example of increased cross pollination of Nintendo characters.
As I have said many times before, if Nintendo executes on any idea it is a good bet they had been planning that idea for a very long time and that earlier signs of it can probably be seen or extrapolated. The recent course change that the company is in the middle of likely began several years ago when early indications of the Wii U’s performance became apparent. It is little wonder that we are beginning to see a few new and compelling tricks pulled out of the bag and, for Nintendo, that largely means loosening their vice-grip on many of their unwritten rules for use of their characters. And I am happy to see it, as a great deal can be done with the characters and worlds Nintendo made decades ago.
Any thoughts on the matter, pungent readers? Nintendo still has that magic inside of them, and I am glad that are finding more varied ways to care for more of their IPs. Press 1 if you feel the same. Press 2 if you disagree. Press 3 for more options.