Right I’m going to let you in on a secret. One I think you’ll find very interesting.
Nintendo isn’t actually a video game developer.
…Okay it is, but not like the kind you know about. For while nearly every other developer in the world has programmers, writers, artists and designers dreaming and creating new ideas, concepts and characters for their games, Nintendo doesn’t.
What does it have instead I hear you ask? A cupboard.
Yes, a cupboard.
Sealed behind a plain white door in the heart of the Nintendo headquarters in Kyoto is the bustling community of Nintendo characters. Living their lives on simple, clean shelves that stretch on further than the eye can see: heroes, villains and creatures from distant worlds patiently wait for Mr. Miyamoto. Waiting until the day arrives when he will open that door, bathing the cupboard in a dazzling light from the hallway, pick them up off their shelf and choose them to star in a shiny, new game.
Of course if you’re sitting near the front of a shelf then you’re much more likely to catch his eye, and because of this the cupboard reflects Nintendo’s most popular franchises to some degree. For example, Mario and his Mushroom Kingdom pals sit at the front of many of the shelves, near Miyamoto’s gym bag and collection of sporting equipment, while Zelda and Link look down from the rafters from inside sealed glass cases that can only be opened with a key worn around Miyamoto’s neck.
But if you’re not on view in the cupboard then you’re not going to end up starring in a game anytime soon. Don’t believe me? Kirby’s lengthy console absence, the rather notable seven-year gap between Air Ride and Epic Yarn, can be attributed to the fact that Kirby had floated to the top of the cupboard, nesting with all the bats from the Zelda series.
And when Miyamoto went into the cupboard a week and a half before E3 2008 to round up the Animal Crossing cast, a small army of Pikmin made a break for freedom between his legs.
Since then Nintendo’s EAD Group 5 team have been rigorously searching the company’s headquarters with nets in an attempt to gather the stray Pikmin so work can begin on Pikmin 3. Yet another exclusive reveal by Nintendojo there; you are welcome.
But what if you’re not even hiding from the spotlight? While we may try and not think about it too often, it is the sad truth that for every A-list Nintendo character gracing the covers of brand new games there are ten old, unloved creations gathering dust at the back of that cupboard’s shelves. Ignored, isolated and rejected, these are characters and franchises that brought joy to a generation of gamers but have now been relegated to the shadows of Nintendo’s glowing present.
Except when something very special happens. Only on very special occasions, perhaps when the moon is full, Miyamoto goes to the cupboard to collect Mario and his chums for a new game, but something else catches his eye. In the newly emerged gap, twinkling from the darkness, the designer reaches into the bowels of the cupboard and pulls out a forgotten childhood memory. Although the dust has built up over time and the design comes across as dated, Miyamoto can see the potential in giving this hero another shot at the big time. He puts back Mario and his friends and leaves the cupboard with nostalgia in hand, starting the rebirth of a character for a whole new generation.
Over the years, Miyamoto has stepped out of that cupboard with a forgotten piece of the past on several occasions and it’s something still happening to this day. Here’s some of Nintendo’s greatest comebacks and whose revival we think should be on the cards next.
Longest hiatus – 8 years
Nintendo’s original comeback kid and intergalactic hottie, Samus Aran may well be one of the company’s biggest heroes today, but that wasn’t always the case. In 1994, the Metroid series hit a stumbling block despite the fresh success of the critically acclaimed Super Metroid for SNES. Gamers would have to wait another eight years for their favourite female bounty hunter to return to their screens, this time in the isolating, first person adventure, Metroid Prime, developed by Retro Studios, and the far-flung sequel for GBA, Metroid Fusion.
It’s not particularly clear why the Metroid series took such a lengthy break, but suggestions of poor sales of the series in Japan and an alleged title for the ill-fated 64DD add-on suggest that we could have lost Samus to history forever. And while the series may still appear fragile, the evaporated DS title Metroid Dread speaking for itself, I think it’s safe to say that Samus Aran will be kicking Space Pirate backside for years to come.
Longest hiatus – 19 years
I know what you’re going to say, nineteen years isn’t a hiatus… it’s a coma. If Samus was lost at the back of the cupboard, I think it’s fair to say that Pit had fallen off the back of the shelf, got stuck under it and then burrowed into the floor.
Despite allegedly being based on Mario, Zelda and Metroid all at once, the promising (and difficult) Kid Icarus series never progressed after the 1991 Game Boy title, Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters, until it was revealed at this year’s E3 that the peppy angel will be returning in Uprising on 3DS.
However, rumours circulated the net for several years prior to this about the possibility of a Wii game developed by Factor 5 involving Pit in aerial combat. Suggestions that Capcom’s Dead Phoenix had been snuffed out to remove competition and stray pieces of concept art floated around until Factor 5 was forced to close its doors in May of last year, pretty much killing of any chance of the game.
Longest hiatus – 11 years
“What do you mean the Wars series? Advance Wars was the first game in that series!” I hear you chiming in, fanboy engine revving furiously. Well allow me to inform you that while Advance Wars was the first title in the series outside of Japan, a series that would branch from its handheld, turn-based origins into a 3D real time war simulator on GameCube and Wii, the series has had a much longer history in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Starting off with Famicom Wars in 1988, the series emerged with many of the gameplay elements we may recognise today, such as the Orange Star and Blue Moon territories and a wide variety of units. A sequel was released for Game Boy in 1990, imaginatively titled Game Boy Wars, and the series would go on to see numerous sequels for both of these games, released largely by Hudson over the next decade.
It wasn’t until the release of Advance Wars in 2001 that the series saw a truly original title see the light of day. Radically redesigned with an acute eye towards detail and inclusive design, the series successfully rebooted in a candy coloured image of brutal warfare that proved a success around the world. More recently the series developed a bleaker, gritty image with the 2008 title, Days of Ruin for DS.
Longest hiatus – 13 years
Punching people used to be so much popular. Especially for Nintendo. Back in the arcades in the ’80s, Punch-Out!! was all the rage and spawned a successful line of punching-centric games for NES and SNES as well as a spin-off arcade title, dubbed Arm Wrestling. The series had everything going for it, including everything from celebrity endorsements from Mario and Mike Tyson to, y’know… punching.
However, fans of Super Punch-Out!! would have to wait over a decade for a sequel, this time on Wii. The equally imaginatively titled Punch-Out!! gave fans the chance to punch all over again, even giving them the option of trying to do so with the horribly awkward Balance Board control scheme to boot. Players were also given the chance to punch that annoying coach Doc Louis in the limited release WiiWare title, Doc Louis’s Punch-Out!! later that year. A big hit for anyone who likes doctors, exclamation marks and punching, there.
Current Hiatus – 16 years
Whatever happened to Toad? Despite still being present in many major games in the Mario series, he’s never really broke out on his own like Yoshi and Wario have managed to do so. And his role as aid to the Princess and stand-in Mushroom fellow is increasingly being taken over by the likes of Toadsworth and the blue and yellow Toads from New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
Looking back at Toad’s glory days, starring in the likes of Super Mario Bros. 2 and Wario’s Woods, it seems a shame that the fungi (apologies for that pun) has never returned to the spotlight. Bring back Toad!
Current hiatus – 25 years
That’s a quarter of a century since Popo and Nana smashed their way onto the videogame scene with their upward struggle to assail a frosty mountain and reclaim stolen vegetables from a bird. Yes, it even makes Pokémon look like it has a good plot.
Sad as it may seem, it’s likely that even Nintendo would have forgotten about the adorable, seal-clubbing pair if not for their inclusion in the Smash Bros. series. Younger players even got the chance to try out Ice Climber gameplay in Melee thanks to a “Smash the Targets” level based off the original’s style and gameplay.
Unfortunately, the awkwardness of the stage caused this particular gamer to nearly yank his hair out. Maybe we should leave Ice Climber as a memory of what games used to be. And by that I mean frustrating,
Current hiatus – 7 years
Nintendo’s very own bullet racer has always been a bit of an oddball series, mixing up lengthy absences with arcade tie-ins and anime spin offs. Despite this, F-Zero has always been admired and respected for its groundbreaking technology and an influential legacy, spanning from the birth of the Mode 7 scrolling system on the SNES to spiritual sequels such as the Wipeout series on PlayStation.
While F-Zero has been laying low for a fair while now, it could soon be seeing a revival following the comebacks of Star Fox, Donkey Kong and Kirby at this year’s E3. Even though many of Nintendo’s smaller franchises have been on the backburner for a significant break, the future suggests we could be seeing more of our childhood heroes coming back for another crack of the whip.