Painting In The Blanks

nintendoOut of all companies that have ever set foot in the gaming market, not a single one has been able to build a portfolio of franchises that could match Nintendo’s. The first reason behind that fact is relatively obvious: longevity. Being around since the dawn of gaming, and holding a big part of the credit for its popularization, has given the Big N numerous opportunities to craft characters, worlds, and gameplay styles with a great deal of appeal.

However, perhaps the biggest culprit behind that assortment of signature assets is the harsh reality that, since the Nintendo 64 days, the company has had to support its systems basically by itself. A tough outlook tends to bring out the best of human creativity, and Nintendo’s case is a perfect example of that correlation.

The decision to stick with cartridges during that generation drove third-parties away, a scenario that has not changed in over two decades, and that getaway put pressure on the shoulders of their internal developers to guarantee that users of its consoles would have their basic gaming needs covered. Consequently, both first and second-party studios started to branch out into new territories seeking to address most of the industry’s mainstream genres.

yoshi_islandTherefore, a set of franchises that on the NES and SNES days seemed to heavily focus on platformers – a natural tendency once one considers that such breed of games utterly dominated the 2-D days – began to expand rapidly. Fast-forward through many years, and we arrive at the current landscape of abundant quality properties.

Nintendo’s home consoles deservingly get a lot of flak for failing to allure multiplatform third-party releases that, if mixed with the unmatched quality of the company’s first and second-party efforts, would give its systems – generation after generation – the overall best library of titles with ease. Yet, on account of the flooring variety found within its collection IPs, those machines remain as the market’s safest option to anyone looking to get games that are among the best of almost every conceivable genre.

It is a statement that might sound absurd on these days of endless Nintendo-bashing. Still, once we choose to focus on the metric of quality while throwing quantity out the window, it is reasonable.

tropical_freezeFor starters, nobody does platforming better than Mario, and lately he has been stellar both on the 3-D front (Super Mario 3D World) and on the sidescrolling realm (the sadly overlooked masterpiece that is New Super Mario Bros. U). As a nice addition, Donkey Kong has gone through a stellar rebirth in recent years with two Retro Studios efforts that leave nothing to be desired in relation to the Super Nintendo works of art that built a name for the character.

Looking for some racing action? It is hard to find something as wild and insanely fun as Mario Kart, not to mention the futuristic beauty of F-Zero that has been sadly absent as of late. Want to punch enemies to oblivion? Super Smash Bros is the most amusing fighting game there is. What about taking a break and relaxing on a virtual life without specific goals? Animal Crossing’s charm is pretty hard to resist and its time-consuming nature is uncanny.

advance_warsZelda and Metroid are nearly unreachable staples of gaming adventures, the former centered around puzzles and the latter sprinkling immersive exploration with shooting. Meanwhile, strategic undertakings can be enjoyed in Pikmin, with its real-time demands, and both Fire Emblem and Advance Wars, touching upon medieval and modern war respectively. The latter, however, has yet to see a home-console release.

If all of that is not enough, Star Fox delivers some fast-paced shoot’em up madness either in space or on amazing alien worlds. Paper Mario tackles the RPG world with accessible, yet deep, mechanics and lighthearted scripts, whereas Xenoblade – or whatever Monolith Soft decides to spin next – deals with more traditional grounds. Punch-Out has an unthinkable brand that mixes fighting and puzzle-solving. Kirby and Yoshi provide even more platforming goodness. Finally, WarioWare and Mario Party – each in their own unique way – tend to be great mini-game collections.

Even when it comes to sports titles, which to other hardwares usually come in the shape of yearly EA releases, Nintendo is able to do quite well through the Mario sports games and the Wii Sports fever. Though they are far from being technically perfect, any multiplayer session with titles belonging to those two lines is undeniably fun.

splatoonIt is a group of works that, aside from being genre-spanning, tends to have its members sitting either on the throne of a niche or working as pleasant counterparts to what is generally offered by the industry.

Although Nintendo’s throughput of new franchises has diminished, they are not exactly just sitting on their laurels, and they are still trying to expand their hold towards other genres. In fact, one of the reasons the company has failed to deliver a constant stream of new IPs is that its fresh properties tend to try to explore different grounds instead of simply mining terrain that has already been handled.

The latest example of such lack of complacency came in the shape of Splatoon, one of the highlights of Nintendo’s E3 presentation in June. Shooters with a multiplayer focus and goofy visuals are nothing incredibly new, the Team Fortress games have gone down that alley with excellence, but Splatoon – as a title that will carry the Nintendo brand – is naturally expected to have its own kind of charm, unique gameplay elements that set it apart from its peers, and a boatload of creativity.

splatoon_2The fact it is being handled by a team of younger developers than those usually allotted to other major Nintendo studios gives this new franchise a hint of intrigue. After all, it will be the result of the work of a crowd that, reportedly, plays Call of Duty and Battlefield for love and inspiration, and that has to fuse those influences with the Big N’s traditional sugarcoating.

More than that, if it is successful, Splatoon might be added to the hall of IPs that are continually updated with the release of every new hardware, and – consequently – Nintendo will infiltrate one of its creatures in yet another genre.

Splatoon might end up shinning brighter than its light-hearted shooting brothers and become a trailblazer that sets up new tendencies that go on to become the genre’s standards; or it might just turn into a pleasant deviation from the norm – a break from the usual action. Nevertheless, regardless of the result, Nintendo will have filled another niche with some of its attractive signature paint.

12 thoughts on “Painting In The Blanks

  1. Brand naming feels like one of the common reasons they stick to a franchise and open out to new genres. The main audience the Big N have are kids, and kids will follow their favourite characters anywhere. The older gamers might try out this new golf game from the minds of their favourite franchises, but the plethora of kids will just stick to what they know, and that is a-me, Mario! Hopefully Splatoon will shake up what I have seen as a bit of a rut in terms of fresh new worlds to play in from Nintendo and have some fun in doing so.

    1. I think the reason for that is most kids get the games their parents give to them, and parents tend to go with the safe choices they know their children will enjoy.

      But I think it is a tendency that is also present in adults. Otherwise, franchises like God of War, Gears of War, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, among others, would not have so many installments released over such a short period of time.

      1. Easy money is a very tempting path to take when you have a name people will follow if only because there is too much risk and effort to scour the internet for a large enough pool of opinions on whether a product is good or not. You come to always expect a certain level from a name you know.

        1. Exactly.

          There is a safety for both costumers and producers when it comes to investing in known franchises.

          Costumers know what they will get, and producers know it will sell.

          1. In that regard I sort of enjoy how Nintendo expanded Mario into so many other genres, to get consumers attention and shout “hey! we can do sports games too!”. Showcase your design skills to a plethora of people, if they released it as a brand new IP the efforts would go to waste and that has gotta sting for developers.

            1. Yep. In a way it is good, for their efforts do not go to waste.

              However, the fact they have the Mario safety net to rely on means it reduces the number of new franchises they create.

              Look at the Paper Mario games, for example. I love the way they bring a “backstage” view of the Mushroom Kingdom, and Paper Mario 2 is among my favorite games ever.

              However, from a critical standpoint, it would have worked almost as wonderfully had it been a different and new franchise.

              From a commercial point of view, though, its fate would probably be to sell a not-so-impressive amount of copies.

              1. Brand new IPs are risks as always, and in the state the industry is now not making a decent profit is disastrous. I, like you, also enjoy that games like paper mario prove that a truly magnificent RPG can come from Nintendo, with only basic Mario theming. I suppose the writers do get a kick out of being so aware of the tropes of the mario games and the translated conventions that work in both a RPG and platformer. Not many other RPGS initiate battle by jumping on opponents.

    1. If most companies did the “same” over and over again with the same inspiration Nintendo possesses, the gaming industry would be a much better place.

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