Nintendo has a reputation for producing the same games over and over again, which isn’t completely fair. Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Splatoon, Zombi U – even the Wii console itself – happened because unique ideas were greenlit under the Nintendo brand. But once Nintendo strikes gold with an idea, it will replicate that formula for eternity. That’s why Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Pokemon sequels feel so similar despite any technological advancements.
So what could Nintendo do to branch out and make its franchises feel new? Here are a few possibilities, even though you’ll probably never see a game like:
The Legend of Zelda III: The Fall of Hyrule
The original Legend of Zelda game was your typical hero myth: Link completes various adventures, becomes a powerful warrior, and rescues Princess Zelda from Ganon. Its NES sequel – The Adventure of Link – introduced a new, ancient Princess Zelda trapped under a sleeping spell for generations. Link breaks the spell, awakening Zelda from the long slumber, and seemingly marries her to become King. With Hyrule’s future secured, The Legend of Zelda has only explored prequels and parallel timelines ever since. What other stories of this Link could we tell?
In reality, Link’s claim to Hyrule’s throne would be contested by every surviving noble in the kingdom. Given how royal families historically operated, the modern-era Princess Zelda was probably committed to an arranged marriage with another royal family. By awakening the original, Link has completely disrupted the politics of a region healing from Ganon’s invasion – snatching Hyrule’s crown from a distant prince in the process. Even the modern Zelda may not take kindly to losing a birthright she’s known for her entire lifetime. All this powder keg needs is the slightest nudge, and Link could become embroiled in Hyrule’s civil war.
What if The Legend of Zelda for NES was structured as a trilogy, with a final chapter where Link starts as a prospective Hyrule king? Suddenly we have the potential for a Game of Thrones-styled epic set in Nintendo’s familiar fantasy universe. And unlike previous Zelda tales, your ultimate enemy isn’t clear. Do you side with the ancestral Princess who promises to restore Hyrule to glory, or a childhood friend you rescued from Ganon years ago? Can you save a damaged kingdom threatening to destroy itself, or is your presence only making matters worse?
That’s not to say The Legend of Zelda III couldn’t follow traditional Zelda gameplay. There will still be villages to visit, dungeons to clear, while Ganon’s monstrous followers seek a way to resurrect their fallen master. (In The Adventure of Link, spilling the hero’s blood on Ganon’s ashes was said to work wonders.) Although if Nintendo truly wished to be experimental, it could run Zelda‘s progression in reverse. Link starts the game with all his abilities and equipment, only to slowly lose them as his grip on Hyrule falters.
Before you face the final boss – whether it’s Princess Zelda, a distant King, or the resurrected Ganon himself – Link will have lost every weapon he started the game with. But then he sees a familiar face. “It’s dangerous to go alone,” it says. “Take this.” And Link finds himself once again holding a humble sword. Handled right, that’s a powerful moment which could shatter our nostalgic, Ocarina-addled minds. Risky or not, that certainly would be worth a playthrough.
The Pokemon Wars
In the Pokemon games, Pokemon have integrated themselves into every part of society. Humans raise them as pets, entire businesses have sprouted around their care, and young children pit them against each other in combat. But if humans can train Pokemon to attack each other, what’s stopping them from being used as weapons of war? The psychic Pokemon alone would be devastating on the battlefield, without getting into the rock-paper-scissors chaos of unleashing Pokemon types against each other.
Many Pokemon players have asked this question. In fact, there’s a fan theory suggesting Kanto tried to annex Johto shortly before the original Pokemon game. Now consider that – outside of older figures like Professor Oak – there are remarkably few adult males in the entire Pokemon series. It’s almost like they “fainted” in a conflict nobody really wants to talk or think about anymore. Well, except for Lt. Surge, an actual Pokemon character who rants about how electric Pokemon saved him during the war.
How could a Pokemon war be depicted as a video game? Fairly easily: Just swap traditional RPG gameplay for turn-based strategy mechanics. Players start each mission by assembling six Pokemon, choosing them based on what encounters you expect to meet on the battlefield. Once deployed, players take turns giving orders to Pokemon, telling them to attack other units, capture key objectives, or complete supporting tasks. If you’ve chosen the right Pokemon for the job – like say, electric Pokemon for a water mission – you can tear through most objectives in no time at all. Otherwise, you risk failing the mission and losing ground to the enemy.
Some will argue that Pokemon is a game for children, and shouldn’t be associated with warfare. But who said a Pokemon wargame has to be pro-war? Remind everyone of the horrors of combat is easy when adorable animals are the ones at risk. (Although for everyone’s sake, it’s probably best we stick with fainting Pokemon when they’re defeated.)
Besides, why can’t we depict Pokemon in warfare when we already throw them into animal-fighting rings? We lost that moral high ground when Pokemon literally started dueling in stadiums during the Nintendo 64 era.
Super Mario Origins
Super Mario is among the most epic franchises Nintendo has ever produced. Mario and Luigi have stormed castles, rescued hostages, fought entire war machines single-handedly, and survived the end of the universe. But it’s a little hard to have invested in Mario’s struggles when he casually rescues Princess Peach every year or so. How do you lend some weight to Mario’s story while making things interesting for players again?
One possibility – controversial as it may be – is a reboot or prequel. The game would begin when Mario and Luigi are plumbers, not established heroes of the Mushroom Kingdom. But when they fall into a mysterious pipe network on a job (see the events of the NES Mario Bros) they emerge in a new dimension where laws of physics grant them a John Carter advantage over the Mushroom natives. They quickly become embroiled in a resistance movement seeking to retake the Mushroom Kingdom from Bowser’s Dark World.
Yes, I know, reboots are ridiculously overdone when it comes to video games. But short of retiring Super Mario for an entire console generation, there aren’t many ways to make the series fresh and exciting again. What’s more, Super Mario Origins gives us the opportunity to resurrect ideas from the Super Mario Bros manual that aren’t really in the story anymore. For example, did you know Bowser is actually a sorcerer powering his armies through magic? (Necromancy certainly explains why the Dry Bones keep pulling themselves together.) That’s not something Nintendo would need to make up – it’s right there in the source material.
It’s also a great opportunity to resurrect large-scale overworlds players haven’t seen since Super Mario Galaxy. Princess Peach’s castle in Super Mario 64 felt huge and immersive two decades ago, and somehow we’ve moved backwards to smaller map screens. Why can’t Mario and Luigi explore an entire Mushroom Kingdom, unlocking new courses by repairing pipes along the way. Doing so would make players excited to visit each new environment, and help Super Mario feel like an actual world – not just a repository for Nintendo’s latest courses.
This isn’t something Mario fans can make for themselves with a Super Mario Maker update. Sooner or later, Nintendo’s going to have to take a creative risk if this game – or something like it – will become a reality. We’re going to play new Mario games no matter what happens, so Nintendo has nothing to lose and everything to gain in the attempt. How can we have Super Mario Sunshine instead of a game like this?