Keys to the Kingdom: Handing Nintendo Properties to Other Developers

This is a collaborative post with Jett from In Third Person, who provided both text and images for this article. Be sure to check out his blog after you read our post!

Jett: Nintendo has been curiously generous of late when it comes to providing third party developers with access to its franchises. Giving Ubisoft the keys to the Mushroom Kingdom gave birth to the stellar Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. They may have fallen a bit short on critical and commercial success with Starlink: Battle for Atlas, but it did give us a glimpse at how great a reimagined Star Fox game could be with more fresh ideas behind it. Coming soon, a landmark collaboration between Nintendo and the indie developer behind Crypt of the Necrodancer will showcase Link, Zelda, and the world of Hyrule in Cadence of Hyrule.

The Big N makes incredible games on their own, but bringing in outside talent has proven to be a winning formula for reimagining legendary franchises. With Nintendo seemingly open to collaborate with just about anyone, we’re taking a stab at playing matchmaker. Which third party developers should get a shot with Nintendo’s legendary franchises? And how would we want to see these projects come to life? Join us as we pitch a few of our dream pairings!

Splatoon Pearl and Marina

SPLATOON, BY CAPCOM

Ian: I have never played Splatoon. As someone who performs poorly at shooters of any type and who has little desire to engage in online multiplayer, there’s nothing about Splatoon that jumps out to me at first blush. However, over the years of seeing this game discussed in Nintendo Directs and E3 presentations, I’ve learned that there’s more to Splatoon than competitive ink shooting matches. The creators of this world have put a lot of thought into it: from the city of Inkopolis to the story behind the Salmon Run mode to the compelling designs of the various side characters, the world of Splatoon is rich in lore and unique flair that makes it fascinating to observe. I am intrigued by the idea of exploring Splatoon’s world, but would prefer to do so on my own in a game where the style of play is better suited to my preferences.

Enter Capcom, the creators of a little series known as Mega Man. I’ve been playing Mega Man games all my life, and the blend of tricky platforming and varied weapons makes them a pleasure to play. Where classic Mega Man is weakest, in my view, is in its worlds and characters. Each game features eight robot masters and it doesn’t take long for a different riff on the concept of “flame robot” to get boring and old. You can only platform through a construction site so many times before they all start to look the same. The games are worth playing for the gameplay alone, but pushing their setting to the next level would really help them shine.

In this way, the Mega Man style of game and the world of Splatoon could help each other. Capcom could create a Splatoon experience where you play an Inkling traveling to various locations throughout the Splatoon universe doing one of the world’s thankless dirty jobs in hopes of striking it rich – similar to the “gold rush” mentality that drives Inklings to participate in Salmon Run. Each location you go to is tricky to navigate, full of weird creatures based on the beautiful and horrifying world of ocean life. Bosses could be other individuals who are hunting whatever it is you are, perhaps encountered throughout the level so you learn more about them rather than just beating them up at the end and calling it a day.

Mega Man 11 Yellow Devil

Splatoon has lots of features built in already that could enhance the Mega Man experience. Your pellets could leave spots of ink on the ground that allow you to pull off moves like ducking under enemy attacks or launching yourself to distant platforms. Each boss could specialize in one of the unique weapons from the game, and once you defeat them you take their cool weapon and can use it yourself throughout the levels. This is an opportunity to incorporate the various types of guns and painting tools from the core Splatoon games and find exciting new ways to use them.

Capcom’s Mega Man is an excellent series, but with the world of Splatoon to work with they could add in some compelling pieces to breathe life into the game. The setting and characters of Splatoon cover Mega Man’s weak points, and the weapons and mechanisms of the game offer new opportunities for Capcom to experiment with gameplay elements.

Jett: That’s neat! A lot of the conversation around Splatoon is focused on the game’s multiplayer component, but both Splatoon games have solid single-player campaigns that are often overlooked. I like how your pitch uses the Salmon Run as the foundational story block, as you could tell a different (and maybe edgier?) type of story from what’s been told so far in that universe. The Mega Man angle could give make combat even more creative than it already is.

One big question remains. Is Capcom’s Splatoon a 2D game like Mega Man? Or a 3D game like Splatoon? Or I guess, a 3D game like Mega Man Legends?

Ian: Does Capcom even remember Mega Man Legends? I’ve been envisioning a 2D platformer as I think those are Capcom’s strongest entries. I appreciate that you can contribute some perspective on Splatoon’s existing campaign, as I honestly don’t know much about it having not played before – do you think that campaign stands on its own well enough for Splatoon to draw in players like myself who don’t enjoy multiplayer? Or would a stand-alone single player experience be more likely to impress?

Jett: Ooh 2D! That would be a big shake-up! I’m all for seeing the Splatoon universe from that perspective. Would even be okay with Capcom going full 8-bit if they wanted to, though Mega Man 11 looked great with 3D visuals on a 2D plane. Splatoon would translate well either way.

As it currently exists, think of Splatoon’s single-player campaigns as playing like Mario Galaxy. There is some combat and a few large-scale boss fights, but the primary thrust comes from using your ink to move around the environment in clever ways. Both campaigns are great, but they are a bit short. If memory serves me well, they’re about five hours long apiece, if not shorter. It’s hard to recommend buying either Splatoon game at “Nintendo” prices just for the single-player campaigns, but those solo campaigns are a treat and the multiplayer is one of the best online multiplayer shooter games out there for players who don’t like online multiplayer shooters. That’s a conversation for another day though.

Ian: Yeah, that’s not a lot of hours for full game price! The great thing about Splatoon is that the world is so clearly crafted with love and excitement that it can catch your attention even as an outsider like me. I think perhaps that’s the aspect of the game that inspired both of us to want to include this on our lists!

Jett: Speaking of which…

Splatoon Inklings

SPLATOON, BY BLIZZARD

Jett: When Splatoon first launched on the Wii U, it took a Call of Duty style approach to character design in a shooter. Starting with a generic avatar, players were free to dress and arm them with a host of different weapons, clothes, and abilities. Players love the Inklings and the ability to put their own imprint on the characters.

Ever since then, hero shooters in the style of Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch have stepped to the forefront. Even Apex Legends, the battle royale du jour, heavily cribs from the hero shooter formula. What you lose in customization is returned with sharply-defined characters who have distinct looks, personalities, backstories, and combat abilities that players can really latch onto. Blizzard took the formula mainstream, as Overwatch has sold tens of millions of units while many of the game’s characters have grown to become gaming icons.

I would love to see Blizzard take a dive into Nintendo’s shooter with an eye on implementing hero elements into the proceedings. Though Splatoon is best known for its blank-slate Inklings, the franchise also has amazing predefined characters like Callie, Mari, Pearl and Marina. I strongly believe that predefined playable characters would work in this universe as an alternative to what Nintendo has already established.

Overwatch Baptiste
Ian here, and I just really want to express how much I smiled when I saw Jett take this opportunity to flex a bit.

Whether it’s new Inklings, Octolings, or new species created just for this spin-off, the possibilities for cool new designs are endless. Going the hero route also opens the door for even wackier weapons, abilities, and hopefully fewer matches where your entire team are equipped with rollers. It’s not too far off from what Splatoon already is, but I think it would make for a new twist to the formula that adds more recognizable faces to the canon while further emphasizing the concept of teamwork.

Ian: Can I take my idea back now? I just want them to do yours! I love this concept because it picks up on the part of both Splatoon and Overwatch I’m most interested in. I don’t play Overwatch but am married to an avid fan, and the parts of the game that I find most interesting are the unique, established characters and their stories, not to mention that each one handles in a mechanically distinct way. I think that creates an amazing opportunity to riff off of the complex world of Splatoon. One hero could be a grizzled Salmon Run veteran, another an upcoming pop star in the shadows of Pearl and Marina, and still another an Octoling agent like the one we see in Octo Expansion. The Splatoon world has tons of potential for compelling characters and your choice of blending that with a hero shooter feels perfect.

Jett: I still want your idea! And who says only one can exist? In a world where Super Mario RPG spun off into Paper Mario, Super Paper Mario, and Mario & Luigi, I think there’s more than enough room for at least two more takes on Splatoon. Is it too late for me to pitch EA’s Splatoon where players can get a chance at obtaining extra ink through paid lootboxes?

Ian: Hey, if it means I can buy a Mega Inkling with unlimited ammo on all my weapons I’m down for it. Speaking of EA, they happen to have authority over the next developer I wanted to hand a Nintendo IP: BioWare!

Breath of the Wild Graphics

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA, BY BIOWARE

Ian: Now given the middling critical reception of Anthem and the recent press coverage on their questionable “Bioware Magic” philosophy, it might be tempting to immediately dismiss the idea of them ever getting their hands on an IP as valuable as The Legend of Zelda. However, I urge you to remember the golden years of Bioware, when their RPGs were the stuff of legend. Games like Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, and the original Mass Effect and Dragon Age titles delivered on a deeply satisfying single player experience full of meaningful characters to interact with and compelling stories to uncover. That style of western RPG epic is something I have long wanted for the Zelda series.

Hyrule is one of the most beloved game worlds in the industry. We know its legendary locations by heart: Lake Hylia, Kakariko Village, the Gerudo Desert, Death Mountain, Faron Woods – we have visited these places in a number of different ways over the course of many games. Yet although they have appeared so many times throughout the years, we rarely get more than a glance at the lives people lead there. We don’t see the daily stories that play out in each community, or the way that separate communities interact with one another. Zelda is all about its dungeons – or in the case of the original Zelda and Breath of the Wild, about surviving the expansive overworld. An RPG could dig into the stories of civilization in a way that classic Zelda does not.

Every time you pick up a Zelda game, you play as the hero Link as he sets off on a quest to save Hyrule (or occasionally another kingdom) from Ganondorf (or occasionally another villain). Link is a Hylian, the most human of the many interesting species that live in Hyrule. Can you imagine an RPG where you have the opportunity to play as as a Zora spearwoman or a Rito archer? A game where you start on Death Mountain as a fledgling Goron hero, making his way to Hyrule proper in order to make a name for himself as a slayer of beasts? The kingdom of Hyrule has so many opportunities for exciting stories, more than just those focused on Link – a Bioware RPG would be the perfect way to explore those many stories with a character of your own design.

Breath of the Wild Bard

 

Link’s journey is a lonely one, with the relationships he forms often remaining long distance as he quickly travels far away from the people he calls friends. This leaves little room for character development or for learning much about the stories of the characters in the world. Think of how little we really know about each of the Champions in Breath of the Wild. Who the heck are those Hyrule protectors in Twilight Princess? A full-length RPG with a party mechanic would give us an opportunity to explore Zelda characters with greater depth, forming relationships of all sorts with them. A huge selling point of games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect is the meaningful cast of supporting characters – I’d love to see a Zelda game dig into a cast in that same way.

Breath of the Wild pushed Zelda in a fascinating new direction that just managed to brush alongside some of these ideas. But having a Zelda game developed by classic Bioware would push these concepts to the next level, allowing us to experience the world of Hyrule with greater depth than we ever have before. Now I just have to decide whether I’m playing as a Zora or a Rito first…

Jett: If you buy Skyrim on the Switch, and you play with the Link costume, and you squint really hard, you can almost scratch the surface of what your pitch offers. What you have is that Skyrim tease blown out to the max and it’s glorious!

As much as I love what Nintendo has done with the Legend of Zelda universe thus far, it always feels like there’s so much unexplored territory when it comes to the world around Link. Being able to experience the land of Hyrule in the shoes/paws/wings/gills of other heroes would add a level of depth and personality that our silent protagonist has missed.

In your vision for this Bioware-made Zelda RPG, how far removed would it be from the key players and their battle over the Triforce?

Ian: I personally like the idea of none of that coming into play at all. I enjoy when games tell smaller scale stories – I prefer Majora’s Mask to Ocarina of Time, for example. That tighter focus allows us to form stronger connections with the characters and get more meaningful glimpses into their lives. We get the story of the Triforce in every Zelda game, basically – this is an opportunity to show us the parts of the world that the typical game in the series doesn’t dive into as deeply.

Jett: Sounds like the perfect excuse for Link, Zelda, and Ganon to take a much-needed break in the world of Super Smash Bros.! While they’re on Final Destination facing off against Master Hand, they might want to pass this pitch along to Samus.

Metroid Prime Ridley

METROID, BY TEAM CHERRY

Jett: Confession: Despite having played most of the games in the Metroid franchise, I have never finished a game in the series. Whether I get stuck in the first 15 minutes or fall short just before the final boss, I inevitably get lost and give up.

Hollow Knight is one of the most complex and punishing takes on the Metroid formula and…I loved it. Adored its beautiful hand-drawn art and the fluidity that everything moves at. Appreciated its involved combat that was akin to something like Dark Souls. And despite the entire game being played on a complex labyrinth that doesn’t even give you a map or a compass at the start, I breezed through it with minimal time spent scratching my head as to where to go next.

Would love to see Team Cherry get a shot at the Metroid franchise that inspired Hollow Knight. Seeing the decrepit worlds in the Metroid universe drawn out would be a treat. Metroid: Samus Returns scratched the more involved combat itch a bit with its parry mechanic, but would love to see even more depth to its combat. Most importantly, I want whatever voodoo magic Team Cherry incorporated into its game to make it more sensical to navigate through while still giving players that sense of adventure.

Hollow Knight

Ian: Hey, no shame, the only Metroid I have finished is the first Prime. The maps in those games truly are extensive and they are peppered with secrets that are frustrating to hunt. A big part of why Prime is the only one I have beaten is that the map tool in that game holds your hand a bit more than the others in the series (at least the ones I have played). So it certainly sounds like they could benefit from Hollow Knight’s intuitive map design. I also think the art style would definitely be an upgrade compared to, say, Samus Returns. I haven’t played Hollow Knight but every screenshot I’ve seen looks gorgeous.

Jett: “Intuitive” is the key word that slipped my mind as I wrote my pitch. Glad you nailed it though! Totally agree with you that Metroid Prime does handle the map a bit better than the others, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the inevitable for me. Having streamed the original Metroid Prime a few months ago, I still found the mapping system to be a bit unwieldy, especially by today’s standards. One can hope that this rumored Metroid Prime Trilogy that’s supposedly coming to the Switch also includes a few modern tweaks to the franchise’s mapping system, but that’s a dream within a dream at this point.

Team Cherry is busy putting the finishing touches to Hollow Knight: Silksong, which I’m incredibly excited for. Maybe after development is complete and I’ve had the opportunity to delve deep into the world of Silksong, they can give me a call and we can hash out this Metroid idea.

Ian: I’m sure all of these developers would be very excited to hear our suggestions! You mentioned that you’ve streamed Metroid Prime in the past, yeah? That’s pretty serendipitous as the final game I wanted to talk about falls into a series that you happen to be streaming right now!

Paper Mario Goomba King

PAPER MARIO, BY TOBY FOX

Ian: Is this really an Adventure Rules collaboration if I don’t mention Paper Mario at least once? This series has fallen far from the glory days of the Nintendo 64 and the Gamecube, and a lot of that has to do with the many ways in which Nintendo has experimented with the franchise. First they yanked out all of the RPG elements, then they gutted the story and characters. While Color Splash attempted to bring back some of the magic, many fans of the series are still waiting for a proper game in the spirit of the original two. In my view, there’s another developer whose games bring that spirit that might be able to do the job better than Nintendo themselves: Toby Fox.

Toby Fox may primarily reference Earthbound as his game design inspiration, but there are plenty of similarities between his style and the early Paper Mario games. You can play Undertale in layers – if you want to you are welcome to hang out on the lighthearted, funny layer where you go on dates with skeletons and have flexing competitions with seahorses. But there’s more to the game. Digging into the backstory of characters like Alphys and Flowey, playing through the violent run of the game and seeing the dark side of the game world, and all of the theories surrounding characters who are barely mentioned and never seen – Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door offered similar layers, as did Super Paper Mario on the Wii. You don’t have to dig into the history of the Crystal Stars or learn about the backstories of Count Bleck’s minions, but those layers add a lot of complexity to the story that makes it more compelling if that’s what you want from the game.

Undertale and Deltarune both take classic RPG conventions and turn them on their head, not only to make fun of the genre but also to make the gameplay more compelling. The bullet hell -style dodging of enemy attacks makes your participation in the game more active, and Paper Mario has been doing this for ages with the action commands. Toby has already proven his ability to make fun minigames out of the attack and defense phases of a battle, and he could introduce some fresh button combinations and techniques to the separate attack types and to the various partners that join Mario on his journey. From a dialogue perspective, we know Toby would continue Paper Mario traditions like making fun of gatekeeper characters at the edge of towns or acknowledging that villain disguises aren’t actually complex enough to fool the player. The similarities in humor and in mechanical choices demonstrate that Toby could quite effectively capture the spirit of Paper Mario.

Deltarune Hardboiled Egg

Of course, I haven’t just chosen Toby Fox because of what he brings to the table that Paper Mario already has. As much as I love The Thousand Year Door, making what is essentially that game again would be pretty rough in 2019. The Thousand Year Door was a bit too iterative of the original Paper Mario, with a number of the partners essentially serving the same functions as the ones in the first game. TTYD also had a serious backtracking problem, with most worlds consisting of only a few screens that you repeatedly visited before finally entering a dungeon. Toby brings to the series fresh ideas about puzzle design that would open new opportunities for partner abilities. Neither Undertale nor Deltarune has much repetition in the individual areas within them, and Deltarune demonstrates that Toby can take the same basic concept that exists in one game and twist it around enough to make it feel fresh and different. And although I have been referring to Toby Fox as an individual person, he still did have some help in working on his games, and Temmie in particular brings a much-needed skillset to Paper Mario: fresh character designs. Slapping an accessory like a scarf or a hat onto an otherwise normal character model for a generic species in the game gets old pretty fast, but Temmie has shown a gift for creature designs that would revitalize the quirky creatures of the Mario universe.

Paper Mario is an IP that’s important to me as it was such a key part of my adolescence. Unfortunately, Nintendo hasn’t made the best decisions with the recent games in the series. But they’ve shown a willingness to share their IP with developers who have fresh takes on franchises, and I think Toby Fox and his crew could do excellent work with the world of Paper Mario. They’d maintain the humor, the complexity, the mechanical spirit of the game, all while improving upon the parts of the formula that were starting to show signs of weakness even as early as the second game. Of the three concepts I have pitched today, this is the one I would be the most excited to see become a reality!

Jett: Unfortunately (fortunately?) for me, I’m very late to the Paper Mario party. I’m still a ways off from experiencing this franchise’s supposed decline. For now, I will continue to bask in the glow that Paper Mario shines on me every time I stream that game.

While I have not played a Toby Fox game before, I have watched a mutual friend of ours stream most of Deltarune and can see why you’d connect him with Paper Mario. They both share a quirky charm, layers of story that can be uncovered if your inquisitive enough, and combat mechanics that are more involved than just selecting moves from a menu. Maybe in modern times where we now know that Nintendo’s experiments with the franchise may not have panned out in the way we have hoped, Toby could be the one who infuses modern ideas with the framework that Nintendo created years ago.

That said, I really hope a Toby Fox Paper Mario game has Nintendo’s art direction. I know that it’s sort of pivotal to Paper Mario as it currently exists, and there are those who like the visuals of Toby Fox’s games, but I can’t connect with them at all. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I find the graphics in Undertale and Deltarune to be crudely drawn and not the right fit for this.

Ian: A fair concern! I would think that some of the graphical decisions in Undertale/Deltarune are due to budget concerns and manpower, but I’d definitely be okay with Toby and Co. heading the story and gameplay while Intelligent Systems still handled the look of the game. As far as who gets the music…that’s a tough call. Paper Mario has some excellent music throughout the series but I’ve basically been listening to Deltarune’s battle theme on repeat since the game came out. Speaking of music, I think your final pitch has quite a lot to do with the music of Nintendo, eh?

Harmonix

NINTENDO MUSIC, BY HARMONIX

Jett: Nintendo has the most iconic catalog of music in all of gaming. Harmonix is world-renown for their music/rhythm games. Would love to see Harmonix get a hold of Nintendo’s music, but not in a way that most would expect.

Of late, I have become obsessed with Harmonix’s physical/digital hybrid tabletop game Dropmix. How it works is that there’s a board with placements for cards, and you play cards on the board. Each card plays an element of a song, such as the guitar from “Sing” by Ed Sheeran, drums “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons, and so on. As you play each card, the game dynamically adjusts the pitch and the tempo so that every track is mashed perfectly together.

Here’s an example: https://t.co/24vVVJvpoa  

Imagine being able to take elements from Nintendo songs and mash them with other Nintendo songs to make your own Nintendo mix. Along the way, weave in music spanning different genres and eras, from the modern day rap of Kendrick Lamar, to the iconic bassline that carries Rick James’ “Super Freak”, all the way to the orchestral strings of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5 in C Minor”. With the Dropmix library already having hundreds of cards, there are so many ways to creatively remix Nintendo tunes.

Right now, Dropmix is played with cards that contain NFC/RFID chips to trigger the music from the app. Would be more than happy to buy Nintendo-themed cards. But taking things a step further…what if we could use our Amiibo figures to trigger music that corresponds to each figure? Though I am not a software engineer, and this may not be possible at all, but could Harmonix make a change to the app itself so that it could read Amiibo figures and play the corresponding tracks? It would be an easier way to get people into the ecosystem, especially since many of us already have a bunch of Amiibo figures that just collect dust on the shelf anyways.

Dropmix Amiibo

Ian: So I of course had read a description from you already about this concept, but watching the video and seeing how it works, then imagining it with Amiibo instead – it just seems so right. So many of my favorite songs from gaming history are from Nintendo, and having that library at my fingertips while also being able to mix and match the pieces of the songs would be such a fun time. You’re essentially creating your own medleys.

Jett: Exactly! It would be almost be like Mario Paint on steroids. Instead of meticulously placing notes on a scale and needing a base knowledge in music theory in order to make anything that didn’t sound terrible, simply place the Amiibo figures on the board and let the magic happen. With the Dropmix system and a few Amiibo figures, you can make the next Nintendo-inspired bop! Due to their massive sive, I’m not sure how well the Mega Yarn Yoshi or the Super Mario Cereal boxes will work with Dropmix, but I’d certainly love to try!

Ian: I think this final idea really captures the magic of Nintendo sharing their IP. These characters and worlds mean so much to a huge number of gamers and developers. The opportunity to work with them, to mix and match the pieces that make them magical, unlocks a world of potential that’s not possible for one developer to achieve on their own. Nintendo has created many masterpieces, but recent games have shown that sharing their beloved characters opens the way for even more exciting games to play.

Jett and I have shared our ideas for which developers we want to have an opportunity to explore a Nintendo IP – now it’s your turn. What Nintendo world do you want to see in a different style of game? What developer do you think could unlock the latent potential in an existing Nintendo franchise? Let us know your ideas in the comments; perhaps your pitch will be the one that Nintendo pursues next. If you enjoyed today’s article and you aren’t already following Jett on Twitter, Twitch, or on his blog In Third Person, you’ll want to quickly rectify that and check out his other content. I’m quite happy to have had him here at Adventure Rules to create a Nintendo mashup of our very own!

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