Even though I don’t really like Nintendo’s overuse of their current and aging IPs in lieu of making new experiences and substantial innovations, I will admit that they have done a great job of branding themselves as a company of pure whimsy. While the other companies present themselves as corporate entities, suits and jackets, Nintendo has always embodied a feeling of silliness that is ingrained in its public persona. And for a game company, that has always been quite interesting to me.
If you haven’t seen it yet… Nintendo’s E3 presentation (from their Digital Direct news delivery platform) had puppets! Below is a video compilation of all the crazy puppet antics. Apparently, Jim Henson Studios made all of it possible. And to be honest, I would absolutely love to see more of the Star Fox team do more things in the puppetverse.
What I think is most interesting about this, isn’t the fact that Nintendo went the puppet route. What I find strange is that nearly all the different companies had some sort of mascot moment. Microsoft had an expensive sports car lowered down from the ceiling, EA had a mascot dance around the stage for their Plants vs Zombies game, Square Enix had one of their studio execs dressed in character to give a short presentation. This year was truly the year of sideshows at E3, and I welcome the more playful atmosphere to a generally over-stuffy business atmosphere, especially when Nintendo has now raised the bar so high for it. Even if it was a series TV show, Star Fox and the Nintendo Executives Puppet Show, I’d be all for it!
Let’s talk Star Fox Zero:
Not only is Star Fox one of those iconic IPs that sits in Nintendo’s back pocket ever since the Super NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), but it is a game that is in great conflict with itself. The first two Star Fox games were fantastic. Star Fox for the Super NES and the one thereafter for the N64 were probably the absolute best in the series. Star Fox: Adventures, developed by Rare, was an interesting take on the series, but it just didn’t feel like it was a full-fledged Star Fox title. It was more of a spinoff than anything else. From there, the title lost its way and meandered a bit with a handful of third-party developer titles for the Game Cube and the DS. The franchise has been sleeping while bigger names like Mario take to the stage over and over again.
Now, now we get a new Star Fox game, and from the E3 trailers, it looks glorious. Almost to the point where it might make me pick up a Wii U. I’m still not sold on the dual screen aspect as I’m wondering how switching a player’s gaze between the two so constantly might be an issue due to the time that gesture would take up… but other than that, the game looks like a return to its pure fighter pilot roots, which is exactly what Star Fox desperately needs. From this stage in development, the game looks great. I just hope that this new iteration does the title justice, especially since they have multiple studios working on the project.
Beyond Star Fox Zero:
There really wasn’t that much in the terms of “games” for Nintendo this round of E3, but really that’s OK for once. This year, for Nintendo, the press conference was more focused on the future “direction” of the company as a whole. Most of what was announced were DLC and updates to existing titles. From the titles that they did talk about, they are going to be focusing more on the multiplayer experience, especially that of local multiplayer (playing with your buddies on a couch, for example) instead of the anonymous online multiplayer that all the other companies have already shifted to. You can really see Nintendo thinking creatively about how to use Multi-player games in very unique ways with Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes.
They are also focusing on “small” titles. Small as in world scale, mostly. From Yoshi’s Woolly World to Metroid Prime: Federation Force, titles are becoming more and more cutesy and child friendly than ever before. In a way, I really don’t like this shift as a hardcore gamer, especially when it comes to what they did to Metroid. Moving the focus away from a lone survivor fighting tooth and arm blaster for life while everything, including the universe itself, roots against your very existence, and instead making the game about a bunch of… I don’t know, police guys? Hooting and hollering around the galaxy as they shoot stuff and do sports (quite literally)… It’s just an odd twist for that property. It’s distinctively not Metroid. But it is distinctively going after the market of short, squat, humanoid heroes that cartoons have started to target. I’m all for them using different characters and refreshing the Metroid series… but I wonder if they could do a better job if they sucked it back to 2D and got back to those old wonderfully made original Metroid titles. The ones that took a great deal of thought and planning to make every little detail…
The game that caught my attention the most, isn’t even a game at all. It’s a level editor. Nintendo is releasing a full-fledged level editor for their original Mario side-scrolling platformer. This is something that I wish more games really did. Intelligent level design is something that is severely lacking in today’s game industry. Mostly because 3D level design is difficult to to plan out exactly how the player is going to approach any one specific object. I loved how the executives of Nintendo talked about the level editor, Super Mario Maker. While they were talking, they pulled out some of their old maps of the original NES Mario title, and started to talk about what makes good level design. You could feel the joy that they expressed while reminiscing about their earlier works, but you could also hear their trials and tribulations, as level design is a difficult art process. I hope that when Super Mario Maker comes out, they also release some of that early design artwork too, as well as explanations of how they came across to different level design decisions. Publishing a book of art that shows the grid layouts of the original Mario levels would be fantastic.
If you would like to see all of what Nintendo covered during the expo: Nintendo made a very handy E3 recap website for all of their E3 2015 information spots. You can visit it here for inside looks into their games and plans for the future.
As a Side Note:
Even as I write this, amidst the news reports of the death of a legend, I find myself reflecting on all the times Nintendo, as a company, has made an impact upon me in my youth up through my current ambition to be a game designer myself. The worlds and stories that I have bared witness to over the years all courtesy of this pretty wonderful company is rather astounding. I may not be a die-hard Nintendo fan, and I have not always agreed with its design decisions (starting from the Game Cube on), many of my favorite games of all time have been because of Nintendo.
The recent passing of Mr. Iwata will surely have a deep impact on the Nintendo company as well as all of us gamers. From all the tubes I have dropped down to every raccoon suit I have worn, from every spin attack I have unleashed to every castle I have stormed, from every enemy I have devoured to every space battle I have flown, from every sword I’ve pulled from a stone to every random roll of the dice, from every village where I have lived among the animals to every blinking glowing star: Thank you Satouru Iwata, for making video gaming a true place of whimsy and wonder. You will be surely missed.