Nintendo has some of the most famous and recognizable intellectual properties (IP) in gaming and in general. Super Mario is one of the most recognizable mascots that a company has ever had, so it makes sense that Nintendo does its utmost to protect this legacy. Sometimes that means shutting down fake merchandise, mods for Mario games, or even (unfairly at times) YouTube content creators. Increasingly, however, we have seen moments where Nintendo is willing to let third-party developers get their hands on these sacred IPs, and it has resulted in some great games like Ubisoft’s Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. With Nintendo seemingly more open to lending out its IP than it has been in the past, could we see more unexpected collaborations in the future?
Protecting a legacy
Nintendo has a right to be protective of its IP. Super Mario is the eighth most profitable media franchise in the world as of 2019, and Nintendo cannot afford to let that brand image be tarnished by any Super Mario creations that aren’t official. Most commonly, there are cheap imitations that could potentially hurt Mario’s image, such as a slew of mobile game knock-offs.
Things like this would likely concern Nintendo, but an even bigger footprint is left by fan-made creations, including fan movies, Nintendo creations in other games, mods, or even entire remakes of Nintendo classics. Fan-made remakes such as Super Mario 64 HD and AM2R (a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus) were both taken down by Nintendo to protect the Super Mario and Metroid IPs respectively.
Many people (myself included) thought that these projects looked great and could be fun twists or updates on Nintendo classics. However, as the creators of these projects did not receive permission from Nintendo proper, these projects could not continue to exist. It’s a shame, as examples of officially approved fan remakes exist such as Black Mesa.
However, Nintendo’s strict policies are understandable as any issues these creations have could reflect negatively on the Nintendo franchises in question. Projects could have bugs, out-of-character moments, or poor design decisions that people could incorrectly attribute to Nintendo’s development teams, especially if taken out of context and shared to social media, where it could be more easily mistaken for official Nintendo content.
Aside from how these fan projects could potentially hurt the image of these franchises, Nintendo also publishes its own remakes, like MercurySteam’s Metroid: Samus Returns, which — like AM2R — remakes Metroid II. It does no good for Nintendo to allow fan remakes when it is producing its own remakes, regardless of quality. With the rumored Super Mario remasters potentially coming this year, it makes perfect sense that Nintendo wouldn’t want a fan-made remake taking attention away from the genuine article.
Opening the doors to collaboration
Taking a look at Nintendo’s behavior since the launch of Switch, it’s clear that it has been more open than it was in the past. Nintendo advertised cross-play with Microsoft and has let select third-party developers work on Nintendo franchises. Ubisoft’s Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is the premier example of Nintendo lending out the Mario IP to a third-party studio and achieving fantastic results. The game’s positive reviews cemented it as one of the most unique and fun takes on a Mario game to date.
In part, this could be because the lead developer, Davide Soliani, has been a huge Mario fan himself. Nintendo lent the Mario IP to a developer that had nothing but passion and care for it, and the end result spoke for itself. Nintendo also let Team Star Fox appear in Starlink: Battle for Atlas, and of course Sega (with assistance from other developers) develops the Mario & Sonic at the Olympics games.
Most strikingly, independent developer Brace Yourself Games got to combine Zelda with its Crypt of the NecroDancer property to create Cadence of Hyrule. Much like how Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was a fresh take on what a Mario game could be, Cadence of Hyrule brought some bold ideas to the 2D Zelda formula by combining it with music rhythm elements. In both of these cases, third-party studios put fresh spins on Nintendo’s legacy IPs, and their positive reception boosted the Super Mario and Zelda brands.
Beyond gaming, Nintendo is working with Illumination to adapt Super Mario for a CG movie. Regardless of how this turns out, it’s yet another example of Nintendo willing to be more open with its franchises in the hopes of further success and brand recognition.
Nintendo has traditionally been very guarded with its IP and fan-made content, and perhaps this wasn’t always justified. However, Nintendo is becoming increasingly open to collaborations, and I hope this leads to more high-quality and varied games in the future. Perhaps a racing studio like Codemasters could bring F-Zero back, or a new 2D Metroid could be developed by talented indie developers like Team Cherry or WayForward.
Which third-party studios would you like to see Nintendo lend its IP to?