If there’s one thing the developers at Nintendo have proven they’re good at in the last year, it’s bringing back old-school franchises and brushing them up for the 21st century. We’ve seen a couple new iterations of Super Mario Bros., a long-anticipated Donkey Kong Country sequel, an original side-scrolling Kirby game, all culminating with the re-release of the original Super Mario Bros. collection for Wii. This year’s going to greet at least two more: Pilotwings and Kid Icarus.
In past gaming generations, Nintendo always had a few new tricks up their sleeve, but in the current generation we’ve had a chilling absence of new IPs outside of the popular Wii series. Now, I wouldn’t have the audacity to say that the Wii games have done poorly – on the contrary, most of them have become all-time best-sellers faster than anyone ever expected. But while the Wii series’ games are fun for everybody, I think Nintendo’s hardcore fans crave something new that’s made with them in mind.
During Nintendo’s first strong decade in the home console business, which began with the release of the Famicom in Japan in 1983, we saw the debut of over 15 Nintendo-owned franchises. Most notably, Mario, Donkey Kong, and Kirby basically handed over the platforming market on a silver platter, Zelda and Metroid added strong footing in the action-adventure category, Fire Emblem and Mother (known as Earthbound stateside) in the RPG department, and F-Zero and Mario Kart in the racing division.
These brands all gained immense popularity and many of them have been cited as industry-defining within their respective genres. There’s no question why the NES and SNES were so successful: they had, quite frankly, the best first-party software out there, period. But amidst these epitomes of success there were quite a few that, while still memorable, were not quite so popular: Punch-Out!!, Ice Climbers, Kid Icarus, and Excitebike among them. It’s clear that amidst all the smash hits, there were bound to be some that didn’t come on quite as strongly.
The second decade introduced a good amount of new blood as well, with the appearance of Star Fox, Puzzle League, Pokémon, Smash Bros., Pikmin, Animal Crossing, Golden Sun, and Custom Robo to the Nintendo family. All were well-received by both critics and consumers, but only Pokémon and Smash Bros. would achieve the godlike status of Nintendo’s retro software of yore. The rest have only had scarce releases, with more popular long-standing Nintendo properties like Mario and Zelda generally seizing top priority. It probably didn’t help that Mario continued to shine as it branched into other genres, such as RPGs, sports, and party games, limiting the creation of new IPs to fill the demand in these categories.
We’re now deep into the third decade, and how many new franchises have we seen? A whopping five: Nintendogs, Brain Age, Electroplankton, the Wii series, and Art Style. While Nintendogs and Brain Age certainly made some waves in the handheld market and as we touched on earlier the Wii games have become the fastest-selling series ever, none of these really speaks to the older gamer. Wii still has yet to greet its new classic to the stage.
Thankfully, there’s at least one all-new property scheduled to arrive on Wii: Monado: Beginning of the World (released as Xenoblade in Japan), an RPG by recent Nintendo acquisition Monolith Soft, the creators of the popular Xenogears franchise. Though Nintendo’s official channels have been dark on the game’s localization, the company still maintains that it will come to Western shores sometime in 2011. It’s a step, but JRPGs have never been the most memorable Nintendo classics, and fans like me would still like to see something new come out of Nintendo EAD or Retro Studios sometime soon.
But has the past year shown that retro reboots are the way to go? There’s still plenty of life in the New Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong Country Returns franchises, and I don’t know about you but I’d be interested in seeing a modern take on the cult classic StarTropics, which we haven’t seen since NES, or Aonuma’s Marvelous. However, these seem more like pipe dreams than actual possibilities.
Fortunately, we can safely hedge our bets that Nintendo will have something exciting to show this summer at E3. Whether it’s a new property for Wii or 3DS or a continued dedication to time-honored Nintendo traditions, we’ll be there to see for ourselves.