Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Retrofuturism

Imagine what Nintendo could do. They own two of the most beloved franchises in gaming: Zelda and Metroid. Every few years, they release a new version of these games, and they’re great games – they’re just essentially the same as the previous versions. You know, when you’re playing a Zelda game, that you’re going to get a boomerang, just as you know when you’re playing a Metroid game that there is a morph ball in your future. Yet, still, glimpses of potential can be seen in recent versions of these games.

The reason that Zelda and Metroid have this potential, and a new game doesn’t, is that they are franchises, and franchises have automatic advantages over other games in their presentation. They have instant setting. Much less exposition is required in a Star Wars game than a non-franchise game, because the gamer knows that they’re fighting against an evil empire using lasers. The sounds, music, and graphics are constant reminders of this, while another game would be forced to create that feeling on its own. Zelda and Metroid have this.

Nintendo has dramatically changed other franchises, most notably, its flagship Mario games. The original single-screen games that the famous Italian plumber first appeared in was replaced by fast-paced, scrolling games, which in turn were replaced by slower, secret-hunting adventure-style games. Along the way, Nintendo decided to make other styles of games using the franchise: Dr. Mario, Mario Kart, Mario Party, and most importantly, Mario RPG and its successors, Paper Mario and Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga. These role-playing games which used the trappings of the previous Mario games were tremendous successes, because they added to the franchise without dramatically changing it, and they used the conventions of the Mario games in a different form to achieve different styles of fun.

I’m not suggesting that Metroid Power Tennis appear in your local game shop anytime soon. But I am saying that maybe it’s time for Metroid to be something other than simply exploring a planet with ice and fire caves for power-ups. Maybe it’s time for Metroid to use another form a storytelling, say, one that includes other characters. Imagine Samus exploring a space station that has people in it, offering obstacles and aid. The same exploration style of gameplay which works so successfully could be enhanced with improved storyline. The most recent major Zelda game, The Wind Waker, offers a glimpse of the improvements which could be made. By far, my favorite part of the game takes place early on, when Link arrives on an island looking for a quest, to find the island destroyed, and a curse placed on the entire game world, drenching it in a rainstorm in the middle of the night. The player must return to town and sneak around, attempting to the magical items discovered so far in order to discover what other people are doing. The combination of manipulation of the game world with adventure and character interaction forms a terrific gaming experience, which the rest of the game, while quite good, does not possess. If things like this were done consistently throughout the game, the results could be astonishing.

I should note that I have not played Metroid Prime: Echoes. For all I know, it's a role-playing game set in a metropolis with an innovative conversation system. I doubt it, but who knows? Maybe Nintendo is one step ahead of me.

3 comments:

Jonathan said...

Speaking of Nintendo-retro:

how about this?

Mario would be, like, "Attack of the 50-foot Plumber!" Ugh, what a crack.

Rowan said...

Have you seen the NES controller belt-buckle? That's actually, well, cool. If you're an NES fan and if you wear a belt, that is.

Jonathan said...

Ok, I found the belt. It's neat, but I'm only a belt person when I dress up. Sort of excludes the NES wholesome-y goodness.

What really decides it for me is that they don't work. Do they? I mean, they're just buckles.

They need to combine the controller with those retro joysticks. I mean, how cool would that be? Have one or two classics always at the ready. Of course, you'd have to find another way to keep your pants on while you play (or maybe you wouldn't). I'd go for one of those.

And I saw the user pics, but I'm more entranced with the t-shirts some of them have: "Know Your Roots" is fun, as is "Don't Make Me Go Zelda on You". Hee. What's up with the banana from NJ, though?