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September 19, 2016

Should Nintendo Keep Reviving its IPs?

I’ve mentioned this in passing, but I’ve got a buddy who asks me about the Nintendo NX pretty much every time we cross paths.  He’s not wrong for it; the house of Mario has been horrifically mum on the subject, and I’m at a point where I just want them to show it off.  There’s playing the cards close to the chest, and then there’s shoving them directly into your lungs -- at some point you’re just going to end up hurting yourself.  If Nintendo’s big reveal doesn’t sync up with the anticipation and speculation it’s been mongering for well over a year, then it might start the NX off on the wrong foot immediately -- which to be fair is something that Nintendo’s already learned in the past few years.

Still, I wish the Big N nothing but the best.  Even if the Wii U isn’t the most popular console, I’m extremely grateful for its existence.  In a world where the PS4 spent 2013 through the first quarter of 2015 floundering its way to millions of sold consoles, the Wii U won the moral victory with gusto.  It didn’t rely on unkept promises from marketing campaigns, and it didn’t coast on goodwill earned from the Xbone’s onstage seppuku.  It did the very best it could -- and still does today -- with what really matters: the games.

But now Nintendo’s opting for a do-over -- and I’m wary of what that means for the future.

It’s a given that we’re going to see more Mario games.  We’ll probably see them soon, if Nintendo has anything to say about it; likewise, they’re double-dipping with Zelda by releasing Breath of the Wild on both the Wii U and the NX.  If I had to guess?  Based on the overwhelming sales thus far, we’ll likely get new installments of Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. somewhere down the line -- maybe soon, maybe later, but they’re no doubt coming.  Fair enough, I suppose.  And even if the mainline games are confined to the handheld space, I’d wager that we’ll be getting Pokémon in some capacity.  Thanks to Pokémon GO, the iron’s not just hot; it’s on fire and nestled deep inside a volcano.

Like I said, Nintendo prioritizes the games more than anything else.  Even if the hardware has some flourishes to it -- dual screens, motion controls, etc. -- those are in place to try and provide new ways to play.  Did they succeed?  That’s debatable thanks to that wretched thing we call “different opinions”. But the Big N has done its very best with what it’s got on tap -- which happens to be enough to stuff its latest fighting game installment with  about 50 characters.  It’s about the games, and it’s about what’s in those games: the characters, worlds, mechanics, and more we’ve come to love over the course of decades.

Even if the Wii U’s been in dire straits for years, it’s been holding it down with some strong showings.  New Mario game!  New Donkey Kong game!  Two Zelda HD remakes!  A Pokémon fighting game (albeit in conjunction with Bandai Namco)!  Fans all over the world have been sated…is what I would like to say, but I know better.  To quote Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation fame: “fans are clingy, complaining dipshits who will never, ever be grateful for any concession you make.”  So even if we’ve gotten a new, stellar Donkey Kong game, it’s not enough.

“Make a new F-Zero!” they cry.  “Make a new Earthbound!” they wail.  “Make a new Metroid!  No, not that one!  Make it the way I want it to be!”  And so on, and so forth.  Nintendo’s taken a lot of heat for rehashing its most reliable (and profitable) franchises for ages, but can you blame them?  When people constantly line up for more -- and when they beg the Big N to mine the past for their future satisfaction -- then it’s hard to fault the company for the moves it makes.

Well, it’s hard.  But it’s not impossible.

At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, I’ll admit I’ve played both sides of the debate.  I’ve said before that even if each successive Link adventure follows a template or overarching design philosophy, the final result is always different -- something that makes a game unto itself.  Wind Waker is not Majora’s Mask, which is not Skyward Sword, which is not Ocarina of Time, which is most certainly not Breath of the Wild.  The same goes for the Mario games (with the exception of the New SMB series); just try and compare Sunshine to its direct successor, Galaxy.  Go on.  I double dog dare you.

But I understand where people are coming from.  A new Mario game might be different, but it’s still a Mario game.  Same goes for Zelda.  Same goes for Pokémon.  Can we really give Nintendo a pass when we’ll put guys like Ubisoft and Activision on blast for milking their franchises?  Sure, Nintendo isn’t quite so committed to annual releases, but still.  They’re more than capable of stagnating.  They’re coasting.  I get the feeling that it’s going to take more than just a plumber in red to help the NX get going, and offer the company a chance for a comeback.

So is the answer really just to revive their old IPs like Metroid, or F-Zero, or Punch-Out?  Could be.  As cringe-inducing as it is to admit, you can’t divorce Nintendo from nostalgia like you would split a Twix bar.  They’ve got so many recognizable names, characters, and worlds, so tossing them out is risky business.  The divine fury over Metroid Prime: Federation Force and the fervor behind various fan remakes means that there’s still an audience for certain, mostly-dormant (or mistreated) IPs.  People want more Samus, so why deny potential customers?

It’s certainly a way to take a big chunk of the mindshare.  Bring back Punch-Out, and there’ll be a surge of interest at the very least(and a smattering of clicks for gaming websites).  Put a new Kid Icarus or Fire Emblem on the NX -- in glorious HD -- and it’ll breathe new life into IPs that have already risen from the ashes.  Or, hell, go buck wild and make a new Duck Hunt.  The dog showed up in Smash Bros., so why not give him some time in the limelight?  Why not show off what you can do with top-of-the-line technology and an additional 30 years of experience?

Well, I can think of one reason.

What’s going to be the legacy of Star Fox Zero years down the line?  I don’t know.  The Metacritic score isn’t exactly the highest, and opinions vary pretty wildly.  With that said, opinions wouldn’t have to vary wildly if not for some of the choices made behind the scenes.  It should’ve been an instant win as soon as Platinum Games got involved; instead, there have been regular complaints about the short length, the visuals, and the controls -- just to name a few.  I’d imagine it’s nowhere near a train wreck, but the thought of a Nintendo game not getting top honors is enough to shake anyone’s confidence, I bet.  It could serve as a dark reminder of the obvious: just because you can revive an old franchise doesn’t mean that you should.  If you screw up, then you’re going to make a lot of die-hards question their faith -- in the franchise, in the company, and in the whole mindset behind decades-later revivals.

I guess there’s a simple question behind whether or not you should opt for a revival: can you do the original justice?  If equaling or surpassing the original is well within reach, then it’s arguably worth a shot (even if you’re cribbing off past successes, but work with me for a bit).  Given that Punch-Out had basically been frozen in a glacier for years, there was no reason for the Wii installment to be as good as it was -- yet here we are with the legacy honored, and its version of Little Mac immortalized in Smash 4.  Alternatively, you can take an old franchise and put a spin on it so bold that it becomes something new; there’s been no shortage of Kirby games over the years, and a fair number of them have opted to be as original as possible.

But I can only speak for myself here, and I have to be honest.  I’m not 100% opposed to revived Nintendo IPs, because the inherent potential of each -- combined with that Big N polish -- means that outside of one or two flubs, I’m in for a hell of a time.  Even if work gets passed off to partners like Intelligent Systems, I’m absolutely down for a new Advance Wars, especially if it shows up on consoles again.  What’s old can be made new again.  What’s old can be made better than it ever was.  Is the potential there for a massive disaster?  Of course.  IS anyone forcing Nintendo to mine the past?  Outside of legions of screeching fans, no.

And that’s why I think that the optimal state is for the Big N to put a larger focus on new IPs.  I’m not saying that they’re BANNED from revivals, because the games industry is getting more cutthroat by the year.  But the success of a game like Splatoon -- the company’s very first online multiplayer, which absolutely killed it -- has to stand for something.  It means that you don’t always have to stroke gamers under their chins to earn their love, respect, or money.  Make a good game, and you’ll at least make their ears perk up.  Otherwise…

So yeah, I don’t think there’s a clear-cut answer here.  I hate to opt for the middle ground, but last I checked, I wasn’t the president of a major gaming corporation.  Nintendo’s going to do what it thinks is best, which can go incredibly right or horribly wrong.  Considering how many pegs they got knocked down -- having spent years riding high on the vanilla Wii’s success -- I’m guessing that they’re ready to reform.  They want to do what’s best for the gamers -- not just for profit, but for fun.  And here’s hoping they succeed with the NX.

And that’s about all I’ve got.  What about you?  Should Nintendo keep reviving its IPs?  Should it bring back dormant favorites and update them for generations old and new?  Should it go full tilt with fresh creations?  Should it strike a middle ground?  What do you want them to do?  Feel free to weigh in at your leisure.  It’ll be a welcome respite from NX speculation.

Or you could do the smart thing and listen to some Advance Wars tracks.


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