The recent Nintendo Direct was a good one. It gave us a gaggle of Mario titles to look forward to on the Switch. From Super Mario 3D World with additional content, to Augmented Reality Mario Kart with RC cars, (Okay, even I admit that’s pretty cool, although super gimmicky), and even the much-anticipated re-release of the premier Mario 3D titles on one collection in Super Mario 3D All-Stars. But one thing stuck out to me among everything else, and it actually got me thinking about fan-made games and SEGA and got me mildly bothered, and it was Super Mario Bros. 35.
The Original Mario Royale
There was a game that had come out several years prior that looked eerily familiar to Nintendo’s “new idea”, and that game was Mario Royale. A fan project that essentially had the same premise except, instead of 35 people, there was 99 and everyone was simultaneously on the same course. It was like Fall Guys combined with Super Mario, and it was pretty fun while it lasted.
Unfortunately, like with most fan games that become well known, Nintendo lawyered up and Cease and Desisted the game, removing it altogether. Which is why I’m kind of annoyed that they brought out their own version, but one that looks watered down and only is available until March 2021 (Seriously, Nintendo, WTF is up with that?).
This isn’t the root of Nintendo’s issues though, just a singular example of the root of the problem. Nintendo makes it difficult for its fans to express themselves, since they cease and desist any project that gets too big regardless of the creator’s intentions. I understand that Nintendo is trying to protect its brand, but they simply make it very difficult for fans to work with their passion for the source material, shutting down even seemingly harmless projects that make the company seem cold compared to the family-friendly image that they seek to achieve. It seems strange that a company that knows how their products have personally impacted people all over the world is so ruthless at shutting down passion projects from their own fans.
Enter SEGA, the company that once rivaled Nintendo in their own retro console war. SEGA admittedly lost when they had to drop out completely after the Dreamcast, an amazing console that was truly ahead of its time, failed, and they were forced to switch to third party publishing. But where Nintendo’s success hardened their approach, SEGA’s failure ended up softening theirs. SEGA realized their fanbase was the key to their success, and as a result, many of their decisions in the past few years have been entirely fan positive.
The company has embraced its customers, letting fan projects flourish, and using that talent base to recruit young programmers to their ranks. And from that process, the crown jewel was produced in the form of Sonic Mania.
Sonic the Hedgehog, as a franchise, has remained hugely popular despite the games having a middling-to-awful track record, with games like Sonic Generations and Sonic Colors coming out just often enough to remind people that Sonic Team still somewhat understood how to make a good Sonic game. Sonic Mania, however, was a completely different beast altogether.
The game was a swan song composed by countless Sonic community members brought on by SEGA to develop a proper 2D Sonic masterpiece that hit all the sweet spots of what Sonic fans were looking for in a 2D title while also being completely unique and fresh with new ideas. It was the first true 2D Sonic sequel that fans hadn’t gotten in decades, and that was possible because SEGA listened to what the fans wanted.
Nintendo’s Success is Also Its Weakness
Nintendo does what they do very well, admittedly, never really stumbling as hard as SEGA had and always seemingly returning back to the core of what they were, but there always seemed to be an air of arrogance surrounding the company when it comes to fan feedback.
Like the company itself is an elder gentleman that very sternly thinks they know what is best, and that nobody else can know but him. Nintendo has had multiple opportunities to turn at least the shutting down of these big fan projects into fantastic additions to their teams, but decided to go a different direction.
A popular fan remake of Metroid 2, known as A2MR, was shut down by Nintendo once it became popular for how excellent the game was becoming. The game was essentially a perfect remake of Metroid 2 before Nintendo had ever thought of anything, and at this point, Metroid fans were starving for something.
The explosive popularity of the fan remake was what lead it to get a cease and desist letter quickly from Nintendo’s legal offices, and that was the end of that. I still cannot understand why Nintendo didn’t reach out to the team and use them to make something that people were clearly clamoring for.
Now I should probably give another example from SEGA, because one example does not a pattern make. But luckily, I have a really big example, and that example is a game that got translated to English entirely because of fan request… and that game is Phantasy Star Online 2.
Now, admittedly, this game took FOREVER (8 years since the initial release) to be ported over to English speaking countries, but it only ever ended up getting ported at all because Sega fans were so vocal about them wanting it to be available. When it was announced to come over here, it felt like SEGA was really listening to the fans, and the game is even slated with a huge overhauling update for both versions of the game due in 2021. The update of New Genesis is slated to take major fan feedback into account and overhauling the game with huge updates and features fans had been asking for from the game.
The Pokemon in The Room
Now, I’m sure no one needs reminding that fans weren’t and still aren’t too happy about Pokemon Sword and Shield not having full access to all Pokemon throughout the series. I am of the understanding that it’s not Game Freak’s fault because The Pokemon Company is actually the ones that set the due dates for everything, but Game Freak also for some reason was splitting their teams between three different projects including Sword and Shield, so there is definitely more than a fair share of blame going around.
So while this isn’t exclusive to a specific source, all of these parts fall under Nintendo, and therefore are held responsible under them. Letting them do any of the things that will be mentioned was done under the supervision of the main company, and it’s silly to suggest that Nintendo didn’t know about how fans felt or that even before Sword and Shield, Pokemon fans were feeling ignored.
However, all the decisions made for Sword and Shield led to it all boil over, and Pokemon fans just discharged that into what became known as Dexit. Beyond just Pokemon being removed, the game was lacking in what players had been familiar with the series in polish, and while that could be attributed to Game Freak being given less and less time between every modern Pokemon release, the decisions in design are sketchy at best as well.
Why is there no proper friend list in Pokemon Sword and Shield? Why can’t you connect to your friends directly or invite them to raids? Why doesn’t the game use the Nintendo Switch Online friend list at all? Why did Sun and Moon, 3DS titles, have a more competent online system than a fully realized console release? Why did the world feel less rich and emptier than any previous entries? Why can’t you choose your own trainer allies for Raids like how you could in the Battle Tree in Pokemon Sun and Moon?
The list of things such as this goes on and on, and was it not for the fact that Game Freak has been so adamant in that they know the direction for the games and that the fans don’t know what they are talking about, which is the very thing that lead to them being upset anyway, and lead to this whole situation of Dexit in the first place.
Pokemon Uranium was a fan game made entirely from scratch, assets made for an entire region and list of unique Pokemon with new ideas and an entirely new story that was released as a passion project from fans of the series. While Nintendo never officially shut down the project, the waves it generated on release were significant enough that the developers de-listed the game preemptively in fear that they would receive legal action from Nintendo officially before long.
Now although I understand why Nintendo tries to keep its brands protected and strong, I also feel like the developers behind the project shouldn’t have felt the need to pull back their passion project that they had made purely out of their love for series.
Nintendo, in their success, feels like they are almost becoming an arrogant parent of a company, believing they are the only ones that can properly steer their franchises, even if they themselves have no idea what to do with them, and it is concerning. I made this article not out of hatred for Nintendo, but concern for series and characters that are loved by many around the world, and everyone wants to see good games. It’s when the fans of the very product you are trying to sell are asking for features that would further guarantee purchases of said product and you ignore them that makes no sense to me, the complete disregard for community input that they seem to have is what I am worried about.
I don’t want to see Nintendo die. I want to see them succeed, and the company is having a new golden age with the Switch. But there are cracks in the armor that are widening, and I feel all Nintendo has to do is look at what their fans want to get back on the right track.
If Nintendo really wants to do right by the community, however, they should start getting more people in it. I have seen that Miyamoto doesn’t look for just gamers but people with ideas outside of gaming for inspiration for new experiences. And while that innovation has always been the highlight of Nintendo, tweaking and perfecting what is already there is just as important, and I think incorporating those types of game designers would do it even better. Nintendo could make their own Sonic Mania, and all they have to do is listen to their fans… just like SEGA.