Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
For some time now, E3 has been the most exciting time of the year for me, like an adult gamer’s Christmas. It’s when entire online communities band together for an entire week of reveals from the world’s biggest game companies and developers. It’s a three-stage process of emotion, beginning with wonderment over the unknown, excitement over the eventual unveiling of the latest games and tech, and finally with anger with one another over what constitutes the new shit, and what is just plain shit. It’s a grand old time of the year.
And Nintendo has become the proverbial Santa Claus of E3 on more than one occasion, with all eyes focused on them during their exclusive day of conferencing; while the Big N doesn’t always deliver with their expectations (the Vitality Sensor….we try to forget about it, but it still lingers in the shadows), when they do deliver it reverberates like Mario stomping on our craniums.
This year, they have a chance to completely blow us away, yet again. Do you recall the first unveiling of the Nintendo Wii? I certainly still remember my all-caps response in Steam Chat over the confounding pictures of the new controller (“IT’S A REMOTE!!!”); it was new, it was exciting, and it inspired imagination over an industry still cluttered with first-person shooters and racing games.
Arguably, there were some sacrifices to be made with this new tech, namely in the form of mundane family-friendly titles in order to lure in the casual crowd, with a new Mario, Zelda, or Metroid title here and there to appease the “hardcore” audience. The biggest issue, at least in my opinion, was the tech behind the Wii, which quickly showed its obsoleteness in the wake of the PS3 and Xbox 360 advancing further with their high def visuals. At 480p over component cables, even the most aesthetically appealing Wii titles suffered from washed out colors and subpar definitions; one need only look at one of the many YouTube videos showcasing the unofficial PC emulator to realize just how good Wii games can look on 1080p and upscaled.
Sure, you’ll always have people vehemently stating that “graphics don’t matter”, and that is true at times. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have our Peach-baked cake and eat it too. Once upon a time, Nintendo was the leader of console graphics, back during the NES and SNES era. Why is it unfeasible that such a time could occur again?
Which is why I’m taking the time before their next big console unveiling not to talk about their new controller gimmick (which is still rumored to be anything from an iPad-like tablet to the 3DS itself) and instead dream about the graphical prowess of the console currently codenamed “Cafe”, which has been reported to not only support high definition, but also feature visuals on par (or possibly exceed) that of current consoles.
So for this pre-E3 blog post, I’m going to take five of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises, and detail what I would like to see done with them when running on current/near-future technology while using current gen titles and genres for inspiration. This is….
As far as gameplay mechanics go, there isn’t much to discuss regarding Nintendo’s favorite mustached son. The Mario franchise remains one of the few series that has consistently delivered with wonderful gameplay innovations and entertainment, as well as an endearing visual style that has placed the titular character among such legendary creations as Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse.
It Should Take A Cue From: LittleBigPlanet
While Nintendo should have no problem taking Mario’s visauls to new, Pixar-level heights, there is one gameplay mechanic that they have yet to consider at this point: user-created levels.
As the most beloved 2D platformer of all time, Mario’s legacy continues to be lovingly referenced and recreated fans of all ages. This love-letter extends in many areas, from school talent shows…
To sadistic Japanese ROM hacks….
To even a full-on redux of a recent Wii release.
The message is clear: People want to create their own Mario levels. And with user-created content now a reality for modern consoles, there’s nothing stopping Nintendo from giving their fans the tools to create and share their own levels among one another. Like all user-created media, results can vary from brilliant to disastrous, but there’s no doubt whatsoever that nearly every gamer in the planet will want to take on the challenge.
It’s Nintendo’s most profitable series ever, and one that has stubbornly refused to evolve (ha, pun) beyond its portable outing. For all the whining Call of Duty gets for having yearly outings of the “same old shit”, Nintendo has been pulling that trick with Pokemon for over a decade now.
It Should Take A Cue From: MMO’s
I’m not the first one to suggest that Nintendo make Pokemon into an MMO, but I will reiterate the sentiment from other people. While it’s always incredibly risky (not to mention costly) to build an MMO, there are few who doubts that a fully online Pokemon world would be an incredible experience if done properly. Just imagine an open world filled with cities and forests where hundreds of user-created trainers can run around collecting wild Pokemon, then challenging one another on the spot with their newly acquired pets. And why stop at competitive play, when there are plenty of potential co-op elements as well? Groups of people could work together to harvest bigger, more powerful Pokemon, or rescue a town under siege by Team Rocket.
Also, think of the tournaments that could take place, with footage being streamed in real-time across TV screens in other servers. It’s a competitive/cooperative online experience that could take off like Starcraft in Korea, if only Nintendo would stop treating online gaming like some sort of black hole anomaly filled with child predators and scammers.
Lately, StarFox has become a bit of a black sheep for Nintendo (no pun intended this time), as they try to find ways to broaden its appeal beyond hardcore SHMUP fans. A real shame, since there was really no need to mess with a good thing, but I do understand the desire to add more variety beyond an on-rails shooter that could be finished in under three hours.
It Should Take A Cue From: Mass Effect
So how about turning it into one of Nintendo’s first open world games? Imagine a sci-fi setting that allows you to visit multiple planets and space stations, interacting with all sorts of different alien species while also accepting mercenary jobs from them?
You’re probably thinking “wouldn’t that be a better setting for Metroid?”. While that could conceivably work as well, I feel the Metroid series doesn’t have enough variety to pull off a fully-open universe. After all, it’s always been my belief that Metroid’s core theme is isolation, which is why the most fondly remembered games are the ones featuring a single (but multi-layered) location where Samus must fend for herself.
Besides, StarFox has all sorts of different species to interact with, as evidenced by the earlier games. Running and flying around a universe filled with military dogs, psychic monkeys and panther pirates would be just the kind of aesthetic to give the game some diversity over Mass Effect. Of course, this could only work if they stick to the good designs from the series, and not the horrendous departures taken from Dinosaur Planet.
That includes Krystal. I know she has her fans, but that’s the kind of fan base Nintendo doesn’t need.
I already talked about Metroid above, so I’ll get right to the point: I feel the Metroid series works best when there isn’t any dialog, spoken or written.
It Should Take A Cue From: Survival Horror
In my mind, I’ve always considered Metroid to be a Survival Horror game; While never featuring the same kind of gruesome visuals or strict ammo-conserving found in Resident Evil or Dead Space, the original Metroid titles (and in particular, Super Metroid) always did feature a darker and grittier tone at the time, far darker than any of Nintendo’s up-and-coming titles. This was probably done as an homage to the Alien films, which were obviously the source of inspiration for the series, but it delivered a unique, tense-filled experience before Capcom ever patented the genre wholesale.
As I mentioned above, the core experience of the Metroid games, to me, is about isolation. Samus may be a renown bounty hunter in her fictional universe, but she always appeared to work alone, investigating the deep crevices of alien planets and abandoned stations, fending off against unspeakable horrors the further she descended. It’s all about procuring on site, taking the tools available and surviving whatever comes. Granted, said tools happen to be sources of incredible power that can topple even the largest of enemies, but the effect isn’t lost.
This is why I also feel that Metroid is better off being a silent experience. This isn’t just referring to Other M’s infamous script filled with prattling dialog, but also to Retro’s Prime trilogy; I always felt that the data terminals in the first two games were unnecessary distractions, and the third game took things even further with voice-acted NPCs whom Samus obeyed with every beck and call, despite the fiction specifically mentioning that she’s an ex-soldier-turned-bounty hunter.
Think back to Super Metroid, just moments before encountering the Baby Metroid in the final area; had this event been created today, you would likely be given a bunch of expositional dialog bluntly foreshadowing the event, either by terminals or voiced-over narration. In the original game, all you got were subtle clues from the environment, from the shattered canister once housing the Metroid, along with the evaporated corpses of several aliens. When the massive Metroid finally reveals itself, it’s done without any fanfare or warning: it literally pops out of nowhere and attaches itself to Samus, and is honestly one of the most terrifying moments in videogame history.
So for its next-gen outing, I would love to see Metroid feature all the ominous shadowing and lighting effects from Dead Space, but also keep the story elements to an absolute minimum. We’re all grown up gamers, we can handle fumbling in the dark without any narration to break the tension.
I doubt there are few gamers out there who aren’t at least partially curious to see what a current/next-gen Zelda would look like. Years of fan movies, mods, and fan-art certainly seem evidence enough. The notion that such a dream may finally become reality almost feels too good to be true at this point, but if the new console really does match up to the likes of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, then Nintendo had better make damn sure to show off some sort of conceptual video to get our mouths watering.
It Should Take A Cue From: The Elder Scrolls
One of the most common complaints since Zelda took the 3D plunge is that the open worlds….don’t feel very open. Someone once commented that Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time felt no bigger than someone’s back yard, a statement I feel is apt enough.
Of course, just making the terrain bigger doesn’t necessarily make it better. One complaint I’ve had with many of today’s sandbox games is that they tend to get too big, serving as literal roads to keep you from getting from Point A to Point B. You may get the real life experience driving in a populated city, but real life hardly equates to fun in a video game.
But that’s where Nintendo has the advantage: imagine if they went ahead and made a world as huge and expansive as Oblivion (or the upcoming Skyrim), but also took the time to add that same level of Nintendo quality to each and every area. Rarely will you feel like you’re just endlessly trekking about fields and rivers, because there’s almost always something new to discover or someone quirky to interact with.
But more than anything, my desire to see Zelda increase its scope and scale comes from the artwork for the original games. Even before I actually played the original Zelda, I was utterly enthralled by the gorgeous, fantasy-based illustrations found in Nintendo Power and the game’s manual. These illustrations showed a tiny Link facing off against monsters several stories taller than him, and navigating in castles and caverns that made him look like an ant scurrying in the dirt. The idea of a tiny, lone hero overcoming such overwhelming odds sent my young mind whirling with imagination, and as enjoyable as the actual games have been, they never quite matched the sense of wonderment found in those illustrations, or my mind.
For the next entry in the Zelda series (after Skyward Sword, that is), I direct you to a single piece of artwork from The Link to the Past:
This single image represents everything I want in a next-gen Zelda. The feeling of navigating cliffs for what feels like hours, only to catch, in the distance, a massive castle that reveals itself from the parting of clouds. It seems so close, but it’s still so far, and this single journey epitomizes the scope and scale of Link’s adventure.
This is the feeling I want to see with the next Zelda. You can do it, Nintendo. You have the technology.