It's safe to say that Nintendo's E3 efforts have been received with mixed responses from fans. Especially given that Microsoft and Sony arguably brought the thunder this year, many expected that Nintendo would have some similarly headline grabbing announcements to match. What we received instead was not what most had in mind, but brings a good question: what do Nintendo fans expect and want out of the company's games?
Whatever the answer is to this question, it seems that it's not what we've been given to look forward to over the next year. As mentioned in our talking point during the LA event, we received the franchises that we wanted but not how some would have wanted them. Fans vocally demanded an HD Animal Crossing, and Nintendo gave us an amiibo-focused party game. There was hope for a new Metroid, and Nintendo gave us a divisive 3DS co-op game. Fans expected a new Paper Mario, and Nintendo gave us a crossover with the Mario & Luigi series. The focus of the Digital Event was around the concept of transformation, but it seems that this is where Nintendo's message hit problems. Judging from the backlash and response to the announcements made, it appears that some fans want evolution, not transformation.
The difference between the two is simple, yet major - evolution is the logical next step for the series, while transformation is a logical side step. Both of them mean progression, but evolution means moving forward while transformation means taking things in a different direction, not necessarily forward. A good example of evolution could be found in the original Metroid Prime. It took a 2D metroidvania series and brought it into a 3D first person perspective, while adding in new gameplay elements. An example of a transformation would be something like Kirby Canvas Curse. It took a cutesy platformer series with a modular combat system, and made a touchscreen centric game with a distinct gameplay system that made it unique within its series. Both were fantastic games and both progressed and expanded their respective series, but they achieved different goals and were ultimately headed in different directions.
For some fans this all boils down to the old adage: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. We're not asking Nintendo to reinvent the wheel, the idea goes, but we're asking it to improve upon and refine it. Nintendo has always built its brand on the cornerstone of innovation, of delivering fresh and unique gameplay experiences that simply can't be found anywhere else in quite the same way. But, it seems that a number of us want Nintendo to deliver these brand new gameplay experiences independent of one another, so as to preserve the legacy of each franchise. There's nothing wrong with Nintendo delivering an ambitious new co-op shooter on the 3DS, but when it slaps the Metroid name on the box where the core game seems to be anything but, fans get antsy.
So, how could Nintendo have better pleased the vocal online fan base? Perhaps by striking a better balance between tradition and innovation. Long standing game franchises have been long standing for a reason and it's important that they maintain the core identities that have made them famous, but it's also important that they don't stagnate or get too reliant on past success. Case in point, the New Super Mario Bros. sub-series properly captures the spirit and refined nature of Super Mario platformers, but the later games have arguably failed to contribute or build upon that in any meaningful way - Super Mario Maker is building a lot of buzz, then, as a result of its bold approach to Mario level making. Some of the other games in this past Digital Event, however, seem to go a bit too far in their transformation; by focusing so much on a new approach, they lose sight of what made the franchises they've come from so popular.
Of course, let's not lose our heads and immediately write off the new games Nintendo announced this year. Star Fox Zero certainly seems to show that Nintendo still knows how to evolve its franchises. By opting to "reimagine" aspects of past entries such as Star Fox 64 - for example - we can be assured that a significant amount of the original rail shooter DNA of this series will be present and accounted for. However, adding in features such as the transformable Arwing and dual screen, motion-centric controls and more, show that new ideas and concepts are able to bring a modern touch to this tried and tested gameplay; building it into something that's distinct and possibly improved from the source material it's inspired by. Time will tell, of couse.
And to be entirely fair, transformation doesn't necessarily have to be the enemy of evolution. As Kensuke Tanube stated when interviewed about Metroid Prime: Federation Force, the game was inspired partially by Metroid Prime 2: Echoes' multiplayer mode and partially by the newer hardware of the New 3DS. The title was born both out of desire to create a multiplayer-focused Prime game and to expand the lore and background of the Metroid universe; it's not a game being made for the sake of it, but rather as an experiment born out of passion. Beyond that, it'll certainly mark several series' firsts, as this is the first exclusively multiplayer focused Metroid game and the first to not be starring Samus. These changes may be unwelcome to some, and for valid reasons, but it represents an exciting new chapter for the Metroid series and, for better or worse, will move the series forward.
Perhaps the main point to take away is that experiments such as these in transformation don't necessarily impede the existence or development of more traditional entries down the line, but rather they represent new ideas and concepts that could serve to expand and grow the core series in ways never previously imagined. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a good example of this. Though the initial idea may have been born in Super Mario 3D World, the particular concept of puzzle platforming was expanded in such a way in Captain Toad that it could very well feature again in a future Mario title as an expanded sub quest or level set. Nothing was taken away from the main Mario series, rather something was added.
As always, we'd like to hear what you think. What do you expect out of Nintendo games? What do you think of Nintendo experimenting with some of its franchises in its upcoming line-up?