Nintendo: All These Sequels Don't Mean We're 'Playing It Safe'

In a season of new Mario Karts and Donkey Kong Country games Nintendo hears the calls from supporters and critics to make something new. The answer: we're already doing it.

I don't believe in writing things I wouldn't say to the faces of the people I'm writing about, so after writing on Kotaku last week that Nintendo's E3 line-up of Wii U games was fun but felt safe, I said as much to Nintendo's chief game designer Shigeru Miyamoto and Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime.

My somewhat snappy judgment came from having played Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3, and Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze at Nintendo's E3 booth at the start of the week for about five minutes each. All looked and felt like their console or portable predecessors. All looked really good and played well. All had new ideas, some (EAD Tokyo's 3D World) more evidently in abundance than others (Retro's Tropical Freeze).

Me and Miyamoto first (his replies were via a translator):

Kotaku: One of my senses is that the games [you have at E3] are fun but they feel safe, like this is not a Nintendo taking risks this year. Is this a safe year for you guys?

Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo: So I don't look at this as us playing it safe, because, whenever we make a game, we're striving to create new experiences for people. Certainly from outside the company and even internally we have a lot of staff members who are talking about, we should create new [intellectual property, as in characters or series]. To me the question really comes down to: What is new IP and, by definition, what is a new game? And I think there's a lack of understanding about the difference between the two.

And so, from my perspective, a lot of people say, 'Oh, you should make new characters and those would be fun games,' but creating a new character doesn't necessarily mean the game is going to be fun. You really need to be focusing on creating a new gameplay experience that's fun and unique.

And so even with a game like Pikmin 3 where our focus is on perfecting the Pikmin game design, we've really finally felt like we've created a new gameplay style even within the Pikmin franchise.

Miyamoto: "To me the question really comes down to: What is new IP and, by definition, what is a new game? And I think there's a lack of understanding about the difference between the two."

Kotaku: Sure. To me, it seems that each of the big franchises that you have is a formula. Super Mario side-scrolling games are a formula. Pikmin is a formula. Luigi's Mansion is a formula. Animal Crossing is a formula. Every time you release a new one, you're perfecting that formula or tweaking that formula. For me, something like Luigi's Mansion or Pikmin feels fresh because I haven't seen it from you — Nintendo — in 10 years, whereas a Mario Kart or a Donkey Kong Country game that Retro is working on, I feel like I just played that formula last year or the year before. And I sense that from our readers as well, that they feel not so much that they're looking for new characters but that some of these formulas...we feel like we're getting them again and again very rapidly. And that's where the sense that maybe you're playing it safe comes from. Do you see that?

Miyamoto: So I guess when you explain it that way I could see how maybe some people might see it as a somewhat conservative approach, but we're always focused on creating those new gameplay elements. When it comes to those new franchises, we can look at something like Nintendogs. And, because in Nintendogs the character was a dog, people didn't really view that as new IP from Nintendo, and it was. And with Wii Fit, the same thing, people didn't really look at that as new IP.

I think, from my perspective, we're always trying to do new things, so even if we're doing it within the same formula it's still a new experience. And, apart from that, I'm also working on a lot of other projects where I'm experimenting with new things. And some of them may be things like the Louvre museum project that I've worked on. I think perhaps there's a misunderstanding about the difference between of new IP and new experiences.

Kotaku: Right. Don't get me wrong. Dillon's Rolling Western was a new character. Pushmo was a new character. I pay attention. I know you guys are actually creating new characters. It's more that — the Donkey Kong game stands out to me — I feel like I just played that. And so, Mario Kart, I feel like I just played that, and I know those series well enough that I can see one difference here and one difference there. I've only played the games for five minutes, so I don't know all the differences, but that's where it feels like to me like, this year, this isn't the Nintendo that was taking huge risks by introducing the Nintendo Wi or the DS or Wii Fit as a piece of software, but instead it feels like, 'Oh, I know all these franchises already, and so I'm seeing small iteration in franchises that I just a year or so ago.'

Miyamoto: Yeah, I guess I understand there are some who wish we brought something new or something different ideas to E3, but at the same time, I also feel that people don't tend to recognise what we have done that is new. Because even something like Nintendo Land that I thought was very fresh and offered unique ways to play games, people don't recognise as being a new IP or taking a risk simply, because we didn't build a new story around it or introduce a new character around it. Whereas if we had taken that gameplay and had done it that way, people would have recognised it as a new IP. So I guess to a certain degree that is a little bit of the frustration.

As I told Miyamoto, the worst they were doing this year was making fun games. Not bad. And I said the same to Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime. Here's our exchange:

Kotaku: My reaction to the games you guys showed is that they were fun but it felt like you guys were playing it safe.

Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of Amerca: I saw that headline.

Kotaku: What do you think? Are you playing it safe?

Fils-Aime: I don't think we're playing it safe. I hate to say it...

Kotaku: [laughing] You don't...you don't hate to say whatever you're about to say...

Fils-Aime: You know that I like you a lot. I think that's actually a superficial analysis. And here's why I say that. When you look at the depth that's in Super Mario 3D World, the use of the different characters, the fact that different characters have different capabilities, the fact that it's a multiplayer game in a 3D space that EAD Tokyo does so well... that experience is a phenomenal experience. Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, I think it's superficial to look at that game and say, well, it's just Donkey Kong Country. No it's not. New levels, new enemies, new ways to player underwater, I mean there's a lot more richness in that game. I could literally go through point by point.

Fils-Aime: "The Wonderful 101, I think, can be magic in a bottle, and we're continuing to work on other new franchises."

Kotaku: You would agree these are existing franchises that, if you know in advance what Mario Kart is like, you sort of know a lot of what Mario Kart 8 will be. It's that plus a new thing or a couple of new things or something like that, as opposed to when a Wii Fit comes out and it feels like it's radically out of left field and it feels like something different. So it's that in aggregation that it felt like familiar, familiar, familiar, familiar...

Fils-Aime: I think then what you're getting at is we are launching games within highly successful franchises. Mario Kart is a highly successful franchise. A franchise that on average I think the number is greater than five million units per SKU [version]. Super Mario does on average something like three million units per SKU. So these are big powerful franchises. And that is true that versus, Wii Sports or Wii Fit that were at the time brand new franchises that have also sold exceptionally well. All I can tell you is that, first, we've got some new franchises that we're about to launch. The Wonderful 101, I think, can be magic in a bottle, and we're continuing to work on other new franchises.

A fair accounting by both men. Nintendo fans, what's your take? Is Nintendo doing enough that feels new? Is innovation within franchises under-recognized and the creation of new characters perhaps, as Miyamoto suggests, overrated?

Coming tomorrow: Miyamoto's damsel in distress.


Comments

    Honestly no nintendo is not doing anything new. This will be exactly like the last two generations. I will own nintendo hardware for maybe 5 games. Its very sad now that i'm an adult who's been a nintendo fan since i was 5 but at least now i have the expendable income to own a Wii U for just a handful of games

    I think you have to produce new games within existing and fresh IP.
    I mean, no one will complain if they keep getting the mario karts, zeldas, etc etc but at the same time you want to be able to boot a new game once in a while where you have no idea what to expect

      I don't disagree with the idea, but I'd go further and say that you need to have at least one new IP for every one or two established franchises. Otherwise it does indeed look stale, whatever the innovations in the franchise iterations. Look at Sony and Microsoft and their new consoles. With Microsoft you got Ryse, Sunset Overdrive, Titanfall along with Forza and Halo. Sony got Knack, Drive Club and The Order 1886 along with inFamous and Killzone. That's how you sell new hardware. Nintendo has not yet put out a compelling new IP on the Wii U. Wonderful 101 might do it, but nothing else seems fresh or intriguing in my opinion.

    It does seem like they're playing it safe financially. Nintendo have re-hashed their titles in the past too, but now it seems as though they want to get at least two or three games out of the same team/engine. It's like their trying to re-coup some of the costs of up-rooting a team and placing them on an entirely new project where they have to spend time learning new systems, building a new game engine, and creating new assets.

    I totally thought Kirby's Epic Yarn would be a one-off game, but now their using the same tech for Yoshi. A Link Between Worlds takes the over-world from ALttP, Yoshis New Island uses levels from Yoshis Island and what sounds like the exact same audio assets from Yoshis Story. Super Mario 3D world will be taking a lot of the lessons learned on Super Mario 3D Land to make development easier, same with Donkey Kong.

    I'm not necessarily saying these are bad things, and Nintendo are obviously doing new things in these games too, but they're either playing it safe or their playing it lazy.

      I guess you could say the same about the annual COD or assassin's creed titles. It's industry trend.

        True enough, but Activision and Ubi aren't trying to lure people onto their new hardware.

        I don't think the story's criticism was for making sequels to established franchises, but rather than Nintendo seemed to only be showing sequels.

        Ubisoft may have shown sequels to Assassin's Creeed, Rayman and others, but there was also entirely new titles on display too (e.g. Watch Dogs).

        At least Nintendo bring innovation to each new game. COD Flops is just a very short shooter. Yes it's the multiplayer bla bla, but like Yahtzee says "A game should stand on its single player mode alone" not some 5-6 hour gameplay game.

    I admit, when I saw Nintendo's lineup, I was ... a strange combination of excited and disappointed. Excited that Retro had something tangible, but that it was a Donkey Kong sequel and not Metroid. That yes, another 3D Mario is coming, but that it's kind of Mario 3D Land Now With More Land, So It's A World, World. The new Mario Kart is Mario Kart, except you can drive on the walls. Smash Bros is what it is, and the new Zelda is an old one.
    Now, the games will be fun. I'll end up with most of them, and I'll enjoy them. I wanted full-blown new entries in these core franchises - but most of all, I wanted them to use the Gamepad.
    Nintendo really need to show they believe in their new controller by making it integral to the experience. All of their announced games could be played on any other console, and what Nintendo needs most of all is to be unique. So, Nintendo, you ARE playing it safe. As long as that second screen is only used for a map, a touch-enabled inventory, or a duplicate of what's on the telly, you're playing it safe.

    Some of the games they showed off at E3 looked great, there's no real denying that. The problem I have though is Nintendo (Mainly Miyamoto) saying how great Pikmin 3 is and that it's an amazing new gameplay experiance that apparently shows they are still taking risks.

    I sure some people will disagree or argue with me but unless I'm forgetting something (excluding mini-games/casual things like Wii-fit) Nintendo have really made a big new IP since Pikmin 1, which was on the Gamecube IIRC. That's not to say they've not made any good games in that time, (they've made heaps) it'd just be nice to see something new from them once in a while.

      What about stuff like Disaster: Day of Crisis, Xenoblade, Pandora's Tower and The Last Story? Weren't those all new IP?

      Edit: Oh and Steel Diver too! And Pullblocks I think? Also Dillon's Rolling Western.

      Last edited 21/06/13 11:01 am

        Third parties, not Nintendo themselves.

          I don't know about all those titles, but I know at least Monolith Soft is Nintendo first-party. And pretty sure Steel Diver and Pullblox are both Nintendo-proper.

            Steel Divers not a new IP, it existed on the 3DS beforehand back in 2011. Pullblox was out in 2011 on the 3DS as well, neither are new IP as per se.

            *Edit* Also Monolith Soft created a series of games for the PS2 as well, they're not first party Nintendo as per se, they just tend to work primarily with Nintendo. They still create games for mobile phones.

            Last edited 21/06/13 3:08 pm

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monolith_Soft#History

              According to this, they're now part of the first party league since Nintendo now own majority share of the company. And I was talking about the original Steel Diver from 2011, the 3DS launch game, not the upcoming FTP one, and it's still relevant because it's a new IP that occurred after Pikmin in 2001 (responding to sabrescene's point). Same goes for Pullblox.

                Just more to the point is theyre outside companies. Pikmin etc was actually done by Nintendo itself. Thats what theyre getting at.

                  EAD and Intelligent Systems are both "Nintendo themselves" though.

                  It's probably just easier to refer to Monolith Soft and the like as second party developers. They are not Nintendo, they exist outside of Nintendo, but they work exclusively for Nintendo. It doesn't change the point, but anyway

    Read the title and thought:
    Random: Nintendo, you used to be cool.
    Nintendo: Nintendo still coo.

    lol btw I didn't read the article

    The best new games often have a sense of exciting mystery as you play them the first time, because you don't know what's possible within the world, or where the story and gameplay will go. The first time playing Ocarina of Time or Mario 64 would give you these feelings. Metroid Prime and Mario Galaxy also reached those heights at times. They are all examples of new gameplay making an IP fresh again, which doesn't feel like it's the case with their upcoming line-up. New Super Mario Bros Wii, and Donkey Kong Country Returns were great because they reminded us of how much fun the originals were, it was gameplay we hadn't seen executed so well for a long time - co-op in NSMB was also amazing. But now we are craving for something new and exciting.

    Miyamoto is very gameplay focused, which is why his games are always so tight and wonderfully designed, but a new IP narrative would do wonders to continue Nintendo's legacy. Even if it was just another platformer or top down adventure game, but with a new character and story, that would be enough to get everybody excited if they polished it to the level that we all expect from Nintendo.

    Hey Listen! Nintendo! You've got the resources, you've got the talent, please focus a bit of that on new worlds and adventures for us to enjoy... ...Or at the very least make a new 3d Metroid with the touch-screen as a scanner to solve puzzles, that's enough to sate me for now.

    Last edited 21/06/13 11:00 am

    They wheel out the same characters game after game but at least they try new things each time. Both (3D) Mario and Zelda have evolved their gameplay over time. Mario Kart hasn't really changed much though.

      It doesn't need to, imo, especially if they dial back the random square ups so prevalent in the Wii version.

    How many MGS, GoW, Halo, Forza, GT etc etc need to be made before we can say the same about Sony and MS?

      When MS is still pushing out the same IP after 25 years as flagship properties, then you can feel free to do so.

        I'm pretty sure the stale argument started long before now.

        The time argument isn't so valid when you consider there have been 8 console Mario Karts, and 7 Halo's...

          7 Halos, but around two billion games starring Mario himself.

          8 Halos ;) you either forgot Wars or the Remake lol

            Oh well, can't win em all! :)

            If you count Mario individually then I hate to think of the number of titles he has appeared in (inc cameos). They do flog the IP to death fer sure, but the trend isn't limited to Nintendo is all i'm getting at.

              Yeah but we do have to give Nintendo their credit, Mario is flogged to death because he's a damn good mascot and he *sells* shit. There's rarely ever been a truly bad Mario game.

    Goddamn it, when are they going to hurry up and do a damn Donkey Kong '94 (GB) reboot on a console system? Wii Z?

    Think New Super Mario Bros style, with Donkey Kong '94 puzzles. The day this happens I'll be first in line.

    So, think what would happen if Nintendo dedicated their efforts and money into creating new IP's. Fans would be like "cool, whatever, but where's my Mario kart?" We /want/ those games and there's a limited amount of person hours and resources that a company can invest in new products... so why risk a new IP, all while making your fans impatient and frustrated? New IPs can come later, but now Nintendo needs to fill its game library with games that the people want and will buy so Nintendo will actually be in the race coming the release of the other 2 consoles. Besides, new IPs always keep coming, you just cannot predict them. Not too long ago Animal Crossing was a new IP and Pikmin, and Mario Strikers and so on.

    Other thing that S. Totilo seemed to miss was that both Miyamoto and Fils-Aime were strongly hinting that Mario 3D World /is/ a new IP, a new kind of game. They simply dressed it in Mario costume and trappings to make it even more palatable and really, I don't blame them for it: If you have an idea for a really fun game and you want it to have a chance of even being noticed among the hundreds of games released at any given time, you might as well tag it with your most popular brand. You do risk a bit of brand saturation, but that's a preferable outcome to your game being largely ignored, if you do care for it.

    Lastly, why would we ever accuse Nintendo of playing it safe? The Wii U is a console that is competing with two monster-corporation-backed consoles, and they are doing it so, bravely with a product that doesn't even attempt to compare to their technical specs. Rather, they created /yet another/ way of interacting with a gaming console, that obviously was copied by their competitors to a point. This is what Nintendo does, a risky approach to the business, and thank God it has worked well for them as many times as it hasn't. I think we can give them a break for giving us another few years of amazing fun in the shape of yet another MK or SSBs, instead something entirely different.

    Last edited 21/06/13 12:38 pm

    Kotaku: "Are you guys playing it safe with your IP?"
    Nintendo: "Noooo. We're totally innovating."
    Kotaku: "I think our defintions of 'innovating' are different."
    Nintendo: "We like our definition better. It's saf-- ahaha, I mean it's, uh... better."

    I am a gamer that goes through a decent amount of games in a year.
    i own all the consoles and i don't play multiplayer games online very often.

    This is because i want to be able to have new gaming experiences and the BEST ones available at the time.
    There was nothing in Nintendo's showing that made me excited.
    there are lots of games that i may play and maybe even enjoy but they wont be ground breaking. they likely wont compel me to finish them.

    i dont mind that they are all sequels but there only appears to be refinement, not innovation.
    im interested in mario 3d world as the 4 player could be fun but im not excited.
    when galaxy came out it was wow, this is mario but its all new and it was fantastic and full of ideas. i remember DK jungle beat, that was batshit crazy it was still a DK platformer but with freaking bongo drums as a controller and it was brilliant.

    nintendos formula is great but for someone that has been playing effectivley every major game they have ever made they are getting boring

      nintendos formula is great but for someone that has been playing effectivley every major game they have ever made they are getting boring

      yeah I think that is kinda the crux of the issue, at this point I don't think anyone who had a N64 or earlier is in Nintendo's target demographic. I mean sure Nintendo will take your money, and they'll do interviews with gaming press who also cover 'hardcore' games but they are about making games for kids. Listen to Miyamoto, he doesn't talk about narrative driven storylines or realistic deep characters he talks about gameplay and fun. Remember for every mario or zelda game that comes out there will be literally hundreds of thousands of children who have never played a mario or zelda game before and get to experience it for the first time. Nintendo doesn't have to grow up because there will always be more children.

    Yeah, as much as I respect Miyamoto, it seems he's arguing semantics and missing the point.

    Nintendo used to innovate on a large scale, Mario 64 being the prime example. What people are looking for is not new IPs or characters, but new gameplay experiences. Adding a few features to a side scrolling game is not a new gameplay experience in the truest sense. Likewise adding more characters to a 3d platforming game is not truly innovative. The core of the gameplay has not changed since 1996. Arguably even Galaxy wasn't terribly original, with small planets and gravity being about the only major difference from Mario 64.

    Thats why its strange that for someone who champions gameplay above all else, Miyamoto seems totally unaware of this core gameplay innovation that Nintendo is lacking currently.

    It feels like they haven't dug deep into their creativity for years. That's what I wanna see.

    Go deep Nintendo, deeeep!

    "Nintendo are playing it safe, just a bunch of Zelda and Mario games..."

    "What's all this new crap? Where are the new Zelda or Mario games?!"

    Last edited 21/06/13 3:55 pm

    guys, we are totally not playing it safe, the carts go upside down this time. that's totally unsafe, and therefore radical.

    *miyamoto then puts on a pair of sunglasses, grabs a skateboard and kickflips out of the interview room.*

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