Nintendo of Canada recently hosted a media event at the offices of their Toronto PR associates, Cohn and Wolfe. Besides for getting to catch up with many of the friendly faces of the local Toronto gaming press and going hands-on with many of the games we saw at E3, we also got a chance to sit down to an interview with the spokesperson of Nintendo of Canada, Matt Ryan, who is also directly responsible for Communications, Marketing and Partnerships at NoC.
We discussed many of the games shown at the event as well as Nintendo partnerships with third-party developers. Before getting to the full interview, here are a few important quotes that stuck out in our minds. People have been asking Nintendo to be more inclusive when it comes to characters and relationships in their games. In Tomodachi Life- same-sex relationships. In the Mushroom Kingdom- racial diversity. Nintendo is finally taking a big stride forward, beginning with strong female characters. Whereas, Ubisoft recently came under fire for canning female characters due to ‘doubled development efforts‘, Nintendo is providing many opportunities to play a female heroine:
“In case you haven’t noticed, [it] is kind of a theme for us; the more recent prominence of female characters. Having female characters playing a role that we haven’t seen often in the past, outside of Samus. And that leads us right back to Hyrule Warriors, seeing Zelda kick some serious ass is pretty impressive. It’s not something that we’ve necessarily seen before from Nintendo. Female Nintendo protagonists are finally stepping into the forefront in their role in the game. Whether it’s all the female heroes in Hyrule Warriors, Bayonetta, the female characters in Super Smash Bros, or Samus in Metroid. Even Splatoon!”
Did Sakurai intend for Smash Bros to become a fighting game that eventually entered the competitive scene?
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this was his intention for the franchise all along, way back when he began working on Smash Bros 64. For all we know, this was his long-term vision of the franchise.”
Mario vs Captain Toad? Is it a different genre? Is it a smaller game?
“It’s hard to compare it to a Mario Galaxy or 3D World, because the gameplay is very different. This is more of a puzzle-platformer. But in terms of content, this is definitely a fully fleshed out retail game.”
Without any more delay, here is the full version of the interview:
I noticed most of the games shown at E3 are playable here, but Splatoon seems to be missing from the play floor. Is it because Splatoon is going to be released later than the rest of the titles shown here, like in late 2015, for example?
Matt: No, not necessarily. There’s got to be a draw for E3, a reason to come, that’s different than these smaller media events we have afterwards. Splatoon was, of course, a really big showing for us at E3 this year. These events we have after are great, but we can’t show everything. So we’re holding off from showing Splatoon again until 2015.
So, we’ve seen lately a few games that Nintendo has partnered with other developers or publishers in order to bring an exclusive over to the Wii U. Namely, Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta 2. How important are these partnerships to Nintendo and how important would you say these games are to Nintendo when figuring out how the landscape of the Wii U library will look?
Matt: Well, our relationships with other developers – they’re naturally very important to us. We are a very unique business offering in that we make both the hardware and the software. However, when Tecmo Koei, or Platinum Games, or Ubisoft, or any other developer who has a great franchise, is willing to bring over that franchise to our systems– it answers what the core fan is sometimes looking for. Whether that’s something a little more racy or more “zombie” or over-the-top action.
What I really like and what Nintendo is really enthusiastic about is how Hyrule Warriors takes something that has this core fanbase already and it brings into it the Zelda imagery and really the whole essence of Zelda – the whole environment of it. It lets you play that already-popular franchise in a different way and a different form. That’s a type of partnership that we think is really great.
And the game, it plays so remarkably well. The physics of it are really cool. It makes for a really great stress reliever after a hard day.
My wife and I will really appreciate that, then. Fluidly beating up hundreds of enemies sounds like a good way to let out any excess tension accumulated over the day.
Matt: Yeah [laughs]. So, Hyrule Warriors is a great example of not just bringing a game to our systems, but it’s bringing a game and literally immersing yourself into the Nintendo world and fanbase. Fans of the Zelda franchise will really appreciate it.
Yeah, that’s what I would call a really integrated partnership not just from a gameplay perspective but from a business relationship. Both franchises are already popular but now they are each contributing something to the other with its presence. Tecmo Koei brings the gameplay, and Nintendo brings the style and aesthetic environment.
Matt: That is the magic that’s happening there and it’s sort of happening as well with Bayonetta 1, which we’re offering with together with Bayonetta 2 for free, but allowing you to play the game in HD and to ‘cosplay’ as Nintendo characters. And there’s some other surprises in that regard that we still haven’t even announced yet. So expect to hear more about Bayonetta 1.
And, of course, Bayonetta 2 is this visually stimulating, over the top action game, with a really strong female protagonist. Which, in case you haven’t noticed, is kind of a theme for us; the more recent prominence of female characters. Having female characters playing a role that we haven’t seen often in the past, outside of Samus. And that leads us right back to Hyrule Warriors, seeing Zelda kick some serious ass is pretty impressive. It’s not something that we’ve necessarily seen before from Nintendo. Female Nintendo protagonists are finally stepping into the forefront in their role in the game. Whether it’s all the female heroes in Hyrule Warriors, Bayonetta, the female characters in Super Smash Bros, or Samus in Metroid. Even Splatoon!
People have been asking for to see Zelda play a more active role for a while now. We’ve seen such discussion on gaming forums many times. So, it’s nice to see that it’s finally happening.
Matt: Yeah, it’s pretty exciting.
So, back to your original question, those partnership and relationships are very important. Not only are those third-party relationships important for collaborating on games together, it’s also important for us to have certain important games on other systems come to our systems as well. True video game fans that enjoy putting in a ton of hours playing games also want to play these big titles, and they may not have the other systems to provide that for them. Now, while we may not get them all, it’s important that we get some, especially the really big ones. Like Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, and some of the Batman games we’ve seen on Wii U.
These joint partnerships such as Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta, are these ideas initially thought of by Nintendo and then proposed to the developers or vice-versa?
Matt: I can’t elaborate a whole lot on that. There are a lot of behind-closed-doors meetings that happen in Nintendo of Japan, that we’re not privy to. This whole industry is built on various relationships and what comes out of those relationships.
I find it quite fascinating to think about how all these different collaborations came about in their inception and what were the processes that led to their creation.
Matt: This whole company is quite fascinating, from our history as an Hanafuda card manufacturer all the way until our current role in the video game industry. We’ve been around for over 100 years and the relationships we’ve fostered have all been built over long periods of time. Mr. Miyamoto has been around for a very long time in the industry and think of all the business relationships and conversations that have happened in Japan and around the world when these creative geniuses got together. So, I don’t know where these creative ideas came from in their inception but they could have came from anywhere. Whether we approached them or they approached us, it’s really hard to pinpoint where the conversation began and the seed was planted. A lot of these games that we’re just seeing now, like Hyrule Warriors, at least the concept of them has been around for a pretty long time.
Nintendo has at some point in time found a way to collaborate with so many Japanese companies, like: Konami, Capcom, Tecmo Koei, Team Ninja, Namco Bandai, Square Enix, Platinum Games etc. Whereas, Western companies such as Bethesda and Bioware haven’t really seen as much of a relationship developed with Nintendo. Does Nintendo ever look to partner with Western developers and publishers more closely?
Matt: While it’s remarkable what has happened in Japan, let’s not forget about companies in North America like Next Level Games, who have been working directly with Nintendo franchises, despite being a third party company. Games such as Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, Punch-Out on the Wii, and Mario Strikers Charged have all been developed in Canada by Next-Level and have become full-fledged Nintendo games. Retro Studio as well, is a Western Studio that have had the opportunity to work on Metroid and Donkey Kong. We definitely have partnerships with the Western developers that influence Nintendo as a whole. So, despite the remarkable partnerships we’ve created in Japan, partnerships can really come from anywhere in the world.
Turning our focus to Super Smash Bros for Wii U and 3DS, I see how Nintendo has really been recognizing the competitive scene and trying to cater to them. However, when Super Smash Bros 64 originally came out, I’m assuming Nintendo had no intentions of turning it into an eSports…
Matt: I don’t think the term eSport even existed at that point! There wasn’t an “e” anything!
Yes, that’s true. Yet, now, Sakurai looks to be trying to appeal to both casual and competitive, to make it accessible and yet hardcore. At what point did this happen that Sakurai and Nintendo took note of this burgeoning competitive scene and decide to include them in their plans for the development of the upcoming game?
Matt: Hmm, that’s a tough one. Mr. Sakurai is very passionate about his franchise. And he really loves to share it with his fans. The Smash Dojo is just an example of him pumping out excitement to people every single day. And if you saw him at E3, at the roundtable, at the invitational, or just watching people play his game – he really loves it. He takes it all in. Even in the Nintendo Digital Event, you can see the gleam in his eye when he gets to share more about his game. When he announced Pac-Man at the Roundtable, people were just cheering.
That was an awesome moment to be a part of at E3. Both the Smash Bros Invitational and the Sakurai Roundtable were really memorable events.
Matt: They were very cool. So, I can’t tell you what his vision was precisely but I can tell you from a Nintendo perspective, this franchise is very precious to Mr Sakurai and the development team that works on it. And from a marketing perspective, when it comes to exciting the fans, we’ve got a launch coming up that will shake things up. It will be incredible. And there’s still a whole bunch of surprise announcements to come for it. And then there’s the whole Amiibo component of it, which is a whole other discussion.
So, I can’t tell you exactly what Sakurai had in mind, but from the intensity of Sakurai’s passion for this franchise and for his fans, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was his intention for the franchise all along, way back when he began working on Smash Bros 64. For all we know, this was his long-term vision of the franchise. He and the development team both deserve the accolades if everyone is happy with the final result. and so far, the fan response has been very positive from their hands-on experiences.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker – this is a game that was taken from a mini-game within Super Mario 3D World and turned into a spin-off game. Is Nintendo’s intention for it to be a small spin-off that is just a more fleshed out version of the original mini-game, like a fun diversion, or is it meant to be a full-fledged retail game, with as much content as a full-fledged Mario game?
Matt: Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker will be a full standalone retail game. It won’t just be a fleshed out mini-game. We’ve actually only shown a little bit of the game so far. There’s a lot more we haven’t shown yet. The game is very “Nintendo”. It brings Toad into the foreground as the star of his own game, because until now he’s just been given side character roles. And because he’s the focus, the gameplay revolves around his personality and play-style, similarly. You’ve got to deal with the “Toad” physics – he’s slower, he doesn’t jump, he’s weighed down by the backpack, he’s smaller. And because of that, there’s this whole puzzle environment which is different than how Mario would deal with obstacles. You’ll have to solve puzzles and learn to avoid obstacles. It’s a much more evolved version of the mini-game levels you played in the past. So, it’s hard to compare it to a Mario Galaxy or 3D World, because the gameplay is very different. This is more of a puzzle-platformer. But in terms of content, this is definitely a fully fleshed out retail game.
One of the other games you’re showing off at this event is Yoshi’s Woolly World. Nintendo seems to focus on unique art style aesthetics with some of their teams. Just like with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Yoshi’s Island, or the Paper Mario series. What is the approach when coming up with these new art styles? And how did Nintendo decide for unique art style to become a focus of some of their games?
Matt: Kirby’s Epic Yarn really started things off for this team, using the textile physics and art in the environments. The development team went to that yarn shop to take things deeper. The detail that they went into was incredible – for example, seeing how a piece of yarn frays. All this wasn’t possible on the Wii. The idea started there but they wanted to continue it and realize the idea more. The inspiration could have came from anywhere, but they felt that making a game that felt like a textile would be a really unique way to approach making a game. The game plays very softly. When you land, you feel how soft the landing is. It’s a very kinesthetic game in that it’s almost like you can feel everything happening in the game even without a rumble feature. You don’t actually have any physical feedback but you can still feel it.
And it’s a beautiful way to execute a franchise that you’re used to playing in a certain way in a new environment. And you’ve probably never played a game that had this kind of approach to its development. And the gameplay that accompanies it also feels appropriate. It’s very casual play, it doesn’t feel hectic – it’s peaceful and fun, and the thematic feel of the game adds to that relaxing feeling. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is another example of adding this tactile quality. The texture of the art style really enhances the mood of the game.
A big thanks to Matt for giving us the chance to find out more about some of Nintendo’s biggest upcoming games!