I don’t ask this question lightly. Let me ask it in a different way:
When was the last blockbuster Nintendo game that involved a fictional universe?
Thinking back, you’d have to go all the way back to the N64 with Ocarina of Time. Nintendo has not produced any fictional universe blockbusters. And with the N64, it was just Mario and Zelda for Nintendo (Mario 64 and Ocarina for its fictional universes). You have to go back to the 16-bit generation for something more.
Wii Fit was a blockbuster game. But it had no fictional universe. Neither did Wii Sports. Or Brain Age. Or Nintendogs.
NSMB is just reusing everything. Mario Kart does the same. Mario Galaxy games, not exactly blockbusters, had fictional universes that didn’t even make sense (not even in the wacky Mushroom Kingdom way). The Zelda games aren’t interesting to anyone today.
When people say they want Nintendo to make new IP, they actually mean a new fictional universe. Wii Sports is technically a new IP, but it is not on the same level as Mushroom Kingdom or Hyrule. “What about Wu Hu Island?” Do you see anyone caring about Wu Hu Island? The only inclusion I think would be popular is to include Wu Hu Island in a Starfox game so we can nuke it from orbit. That would be very popular.
What I do not understand is that we hear how Nintendo developers want to be very creative… yet they don’t create anything. The only thing riskier to making a new fictional universe is to not make one. It’s pretty pathetic that after decades, Nintendo still is stuck on Mushroom Kingdom, Hyrule, and Planet Zebes. Is there no imagination inside the company? “But we don’t make fictional universes,” Nintendo might say. “Mario is a character. Zelda is a garden. And Metroid is a strong woman!” Then what is up with this franchise thing anyway?
Why do we buy franchise games like Mario, Zelda, and Metroid? I cannot answer for the reader, but as for myself, I expect each franchise game to share similar gameplay while expanding and exploring that game universe further. Instead, Modern Nintendo does the opposite. The game universe is exactly the same with nothing new introduced but the gameplay is constantly altered.
Look how Nintendo handled their sequels in their Classic Era. Metroid II and Super Metroid introduced major new things to the game universe but the gameplay was largely left alone. All the Super Mario Brothers games introduced major new things to the game universe (from the Mario 3 worlds to Yoshi to Dinosaur Island) and the gameplay was largely left alone. Even Zelda retained its action RPG style despite the sidescrolling Zelda 2 (which was a blockbuster hit). The gameplay was largely left alone and only the game universe changed.
Nintendo has tried some new game universe things like the vacation island in Super Mario Sunshine, another island in the post-flooded Wind Waker, Bowser Jr., Petey the Piranha… and they all flopped. The only interesting new character I can think of would be Midna.
One reason why people so like Retro is because their approach to their games has been to keep the gameplay relatively intact but explore the game universe. While the memorable areas of Metroid Prime could be written off as clones of Super Metroid, but Retro went further. Sanctuary Fortress is really cool.
Nintendo used to generate fictional universes like the Mushroom Kingdom or Hyrule. Today, new fictional universes are coming from companies not named Nintendo. Why is this? Nintendo games today feel like old Nintendo games diced in a blender together. In the past, Nintendo sent their software developers on trips across the world to museums and all to ‘get ideas’. Is this still being done? It certainly doesn’t seem like it.
Or allow me to be more specific: is Sakamoto in touch with the market? It’s a great question. What he has been working on doesn’t appear so from a fictional universe way. What about Aonuma and his toy trains?
“Why are you trolling and turning these poor Nintendo developers into tyrannical dictators?”
All I’m doing is asking questions. I honestly don’t see how someone can look at Metroid and then come up with Other M. I don’t see how someone can look at Classic Zelda and then come up with… Skyward Sword.
“You need to stop thinking of the old when you buy these games.”
Then you need to stop using those franchises. If I buy a Zelda game, I expect a Zelda experience. If I buy a Metroid game, I expect a Metroid experience. Aonuma and Sakamoto don’t get to define the Zelda and Metroid experience. When you use an existing franchise, there are expectations from the consumer.
Every other game company seems to understand this. You don’t see Capcom making Street Fighter 5 where Guile talks about his feelings and Chun-Li wonders if she will ever get married. Characters in video games are just cool avatars for the players, nothing more.
Will we ever see a new fictional universe from Nintendo again? I’m serious with the question.