Earlier today we reported that another impressive-looking fan-made Metroid game — a 2D reimagining of Metroid Prime this time — has been shut down after the makers received an inevitable cease-and-desist communique. Nintendo wasn't specifically named, but there are no prizes for guessing the "certain games-related company" which has put the brakes on this project.
It's a story we've heard various times over the years, perhaps most memorably with AM2R, a 2016 fan-made remake of the Game Boy's Metroid II: Return of Samus in a 16-bit Super Metroid style. Nintendo's own remake of that game — MercurySteam's Metroid: Samus Returns — was in development at the time and launched the very next year, but even if that hadn't been the case, the lack of a similar project being developed internally wouldn't have altered Nintendo's response to a game that uses the company's characters and intellectual property being made available, regardless of the quality. In fact, the quality and resulting confusion it could create — did Nintendo make this? — could conceivably draw even closer scrutiny from the Shuntaro Furukawa's legal team.
Despite the fact that we've been here many times before, there's inevitably a reaction from a group of fans that Nintendo is being overly litigious, unnecessarily fussy, and even downright spiteful when it comes to closing down fan projects or withdrawing support. The company has an uneasy relationship with the Smash Bros. fanbase, for instance, and pulled its support for a tournament that was using a modified version of Super Smash Bros. Melee.
We'd argue that the reason Nintendo gets so antsy about fan games is quite clear — not only will the company want to 'protect' its IP and reputation by avoiding associations with projects it hasn't personally developed or vetted, but it must also be seen to be discouraging and seeking to prevent copyright infringements in an active manner or risk leaving itself vulnerable in future legal disputes. Turning a blind eye in a single case sets a precedent that opens the door to copyright headaches down the line with other potentially more egregious projects.
Nintendo must also be seen to be discouraging and seeking to prevent copyright infringements in an active manner or risk leaving itself vulnerable in future legal disputes
This doesn't console frustrated fans who view cease-and-desists as unnecessary actions against fan communities who are expressing love for Nintendo's games and characters. The most passionate developers invariably aren't seeking to profit monetarily, so why shut down these projects?
Nintendo's approach stands in stark contrast to Sega's relaxed stance with Sonic fan games, that's for sure. In fact, a Sega rep went as far as saying that when it comes to fan-made Sonic art and games, "so long as no profit is involved, there is usually no issue". Sega and Nintendo are very different companies with very different outlooks and business interests, but it's a one-for-one comparison for many fans. You could argue that the existence of the Mario Maker games tacitly acknowledges and taps into the enthusiasm for fan-made content, but those aren't going to satisfy everyone and there's no sign of a Zelda or Metroid Maker on the horizon.
It's a complicated situation and certainly one that causes friction between Nintendo and a section — a most vocal and enthusiastic section — of its fanbase. There's a compelling argument that Nintendo is , in fact, displaying considerable lenience in allowing projects to come to fruition before releasing the hounds. After all, AM2R might be unavailable on the creator's website, but the internet is the internet; once it's out, that genie ain't going back in the tube of worms. You know this, we know this, and Nintendo knows this.
If you want to play the completed AM2R right now, there are ways and means. There's also wisdom in the idea expressed in the tweet below:
We'd certainly dispute the notion that reporting on fan games is the sign the legal eagles are waiting for to swoop into action (a demo for Prime 2D launched way back in April, remember), but the fact is that once a project is in the public space, it's only a matter of time before it gets large enough to draw attention. The team behind Prime 2D had been working for four years, and the results speak for themselves, but knowing how Nintendo has reacted in the past, posting a demo prior to completion was always going to be risky — the statement released by the team acknowledges this, but says "it was the right choice for our team, and we do not regret it".
The frustration at seeing such a promising-looking project nixed before completion is understandable, but the regularity with which Nintendo's legal department sends out cease-and-desists is the subject of memes now. Regardless of your opinion, is anyone really surprised by this outcome?
Let us know your thoughts on Nintendo's approach to shutting down fan projects like Prime 2D in the poll below.