I remember a strange night live blogging the worst Anniversary celebration ever. You know the one, Sonic fans! But it wasn't all bad; we didn't know it at the time, as the widely leaked Switch hadn't even been officially revealed as the NX at that point, but Nintendo fans weren't far away from playing the best Sonic game in decades, Sonic Mania.
As a game it was a commercial success, with initial sales encouraging SEGA to sanction retail editions and Sonic Mania Plus; it's still a go-to game on my Switch. It was also, when you really think about it, a bold thing for SEGA to do. As the IP - in particular its 2D platforming roots - was losing popularity, SEGA effectively admitted it wasn't getting it right and recruited an all-star team of Indie developers that had huge amounts of talent. In their ranks were those who'd produced outstanding mobile ports, fan games and more, and it felt like SEGA said "ok, fine, make the Sonic game everyone wants". And they did.
This is Nintendo Life, you've read the headline, so it's obvious where this is going. Yet it's important, before the pitchforks are sharpened, to acknowledge that Nintendo has had its moments of embracing the talent to be found outside its own studios. The snappily titled Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda was a case where Nintendo saw a top-notch Indie game, agreed it would be fun bringing the concept to the Zelda franchise, and it happened. It was eye opening, simply because Nintendo has often been pretty cautious in terms of letting others play with their toys.
Cadence of Hyrule was eye opening, simply because Nintendo has often been pretty cautious in terms of letting others play with their toys.
We've also seen Nintendo allow sizeable third-party development teams produce fan favourite games. You can go back to titles like Metroid: Samus Returns from MercurySteam, or indeed Metroid Prime Trilogy when Retro Studios first 'joined the family', and studios like Next Level Games before their acquisition. Let's not forget New Pokémon Snap being developed by Bandai Namco, a company that's also been prominent in bringing us Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
That said, with this idea we're referring to smaller teams, the under-resourced but passionate space of super fans that also happen to be talented artists and developers.
Of course, what we often see from these individuals and small groups are fan products, a recent example being the stunning 2D Prime. As is well known, Nintendo is sometimes so diligent in protecting its copyright that projects like this are in a permanent state of danger; so far that one's survived.
Whatever you think of Nintendo's methods enforcing their copyrights, that's not the point here. I just dream of the day when Nintendo embraces some of these talents, gives them the finances and resources they need and works with them to make a truly special game. Oh how I want Nintendo to have its Sonic Mania moment!
Realistically, it'd be surprising if Nintendo did this with something like Mario or The Legend of Zelda. Yes, we have Cadence of Hyrule, but that feels more like Legend of Zelda having a wonderful marriage with the Crypt of the Necrodancer format. Actually allowing an Indie team to make a game that evolves core Nintendo titles, like the many impressive fan efforts that appear every year, is something else entirely.
Yet there are dormant franchises that Nintendo could sanction, pleasing vocal fans while also keeping the scope and budget relatively low. The likes of F-Zero, Kid Icarus, Star Fox and more besides; there are Indie titles that draw inspiration from titles like these and look fantastic; imagine one that has Nintendo's backing. Our chums at Push Square have mused on a similar topic from a Sony perspective, too.
I feel like it's unlikely, but who knows - Nintendo is often full of surprises. The arrival of small scale games in dormant franchises, produced by talented super fans, would definitely get me excited.
Do you like this idea, or do you think it's bonkers? Have your say in the comments.