The current generation of home console hardware has had an interesting challenge in defining itself as 'next gen'. In the era of Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 Nintendo brought motion controls to the mainstream while its contemporaries placed their focus on HD graphics and a drastic progression in online multiplayer gaming. In this current generation it's been tougher to differentiate hardware beyond raw power. In terms of controls Sony and Microsoft have remained rather constant, while Nintendo made some attempts to promote dual screen gaming and usage of the GamePad, but has ultimately only done so to a fairly limited degree.
When it comes to graphical power, the margins have been less obvious than in the last generation for Sony and Microsoft; objectively the latest current-gen games are a notable step up visually, and open world games are increasingly sizeable and dynamic, but the jump is arguably less dramatic. The same issue has perhaps afflicted the Wii U, to an extent - though there have been undoubted highlights with the big N's franchises being in HD for the first time, those with other systems will perhaps gaze upon the Wii U's visuals with less wonder. Naturally there are a number of beautiful and wonderfully realised gaming experiences across all systems, with some examples where gameplay has tested new ground, but it's perhaps been a smaller generational step forward.
What's been interesting to observe is how Sony and Microsoft have utilised the generational leap to fill release windows with remasters designed to entice fans old and new. The typical trend is to take a game that was HD but struggling to hit 30fps in the last gen, and serve it up in full 1080p with 60fps performance. Naturally it varies per release, but in high profile examples such as The Last of Us Remastered or Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, among various others, that has been the goal. Microsoft, Sony and third-parties have released a handful of these titles that have not only filled gaps in the calendar, but even sold systems. This writer bought two Sony systems in a row across generations that came bundled with The Last of Us - a PS3 and then a PS4.
Nintendo has done this too, of course, releasing The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD in 2013; to this day the hardware bundle for that game is the only major variation on the Wii U's external design, with some gold patterns on the edition's GamePad. It wasn't just the absence of GameCube on the Wii U Virtual Console that made it a popular release, but also the fact that it delivered; there was a step up to HD and smoother - albeit not absolutely perfect - performance. When you consider the decent usage of the GamePad touchscreen you arguably have, as we described in our review, "the definitive experience" of the game. Arguments can be made that more could have been done to justify the remaster but, in fairness, it delivered just what is typical of the market.
Nintendo has been particularly happy to remaster the Zelda franchise - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D demonstrate how the 3DS can clean up and enhance N64 experiences. Coming up, too, is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, which will mean it'll have been released in different forms across three consecutive Nintendo home consoles.
And you know what? It works. Wind Waker HD - certainly helped by hardware bundles - is the 9th best-selling Wii U game with 1.62 million sales as of 30th September, while Ocarina of Time 3D is 10th in the 3DS list with 3.82 million sales. At the time of writing Twilight Princess HD is the highest placed game on the Wii U bestsellers list on both Amazon.com and Amazon UK, based on pre-orders alone.
Beyond these Zelda titles, however, we're not seeing many remasters from Nintendo. There's Xenoblade Chronicles 3D - a tentpole release to show what the New Nintendo 3DS can do - and the rather enjoyable Star Fox 64 3D for which Q-Games was brought in to assist. There was also the peculiar Wii Sports Club, though it was part of an experimental phased release on the eShop - with a limited retail version - that also included limited-time passes. As a whole the blend of its staggered release and some elements that weren't quite right, such as the Tennis controls, stunted its impact.
Though much effort is clearly needed to produce these enhanced versions of games, they'll certainly be less effort than full new entries, and as Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have all shown the work can be handed to external partners; not much internal resource has to necessarily be expended.
Such is the transitional nature we find ourselves in, with the NX set to be revealed in 2016 as Nintendo's next gaming system, this could arguably be a consideration for that hardware. Popular fan favourites produced in an enhanced form with a smattering of additional features, even if these are limited to utilising system-based features - rather like Miiverse in Wind Waker HD. As our headline suggests, Nintendo isn't exactly short of options.
The GameCube and Wii eras have plenty of classics ripe for a HD gloss and tweaks to controls and interfaces. In some respects a few Wii downloads on the eShop have been disappointing arrivals simply due to the fact they effectively ruled out remasters in this current generation. Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 were on our minds as a potential HD bundle when the Wii U was announced, combining two glorious experiences together with a few bells and whistles. Both have already arrived in the eShop - the original is out in North America, not yet in Europe - but a retail HD bundle could have been exciting, especially as an extra release to celebrate the 30th Anniversary in 2015.
It wasn't to be, and we also hoped to see Metroid Prime Trilogy enhanced for Wii U. Yes, that would have meant the first two games featuring on three Nintendo home consoles in a row, but that's the case with Twilight Princess HD, albeit allowing for the unique release circumstances of the Wii launch title. Those games in HD, perhaps with some neat HUD features transferred to the GamePad screen, would have been nice placeholders while we fantasize about a fourth entry in the series. The list could go on and on, of course, and the argument could be made that semi-abandoned franchises - such as F-Zero - could have been market tested with a remaster.
As highlighted above, we're not advocating that Nintendo devotes substantial resources to remasters - the focus should always ideally be on new games and experiences for us to enjoy. Fresh ideas can have the greatest impact, as Splatoon has demonstrated, while advances in hardware can give franchises like Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart opportunities to show off new features. The role of remasters, ultimately, is to fill gaps and please fans, with the bonus that they can also introduce new players to classics. Sony argued that a key motivator to releasing The Nathan Drake Collection was to introduce new players to the Uncharted series before number four arrives. We'd happily apply that logic to the Metroid Prime home console games for NX, too.
The key point is that there are plenty of studios out there that can do the work and produce these games, with Nintendo simply needing to supervise. In the examples above the likes of Grezzo, Q-Games, Tantalus Media and Monster Games have done a lot of the work, while Nintendo's own development of Wind Waker HD apparently accounted for around six months of development time. Whatever approach is taken they can be projects with a relatively rapid and economical turnaround.
Nintendo has dipped its toes into remasters and done a good job with key releases - moving forwards, it can potentially do more. Yes, we primarily want new games, but Nintendo can help avoid long gaps in the release schedule with popular choices, all without breaking the bank.
With the success of some Zelda remasters and the sales enjoyed by Sony and Microsoft, we hope it's on the agenda for Nintendo's next generation.