Western Studios and Nintendo: Good Match?

Western Studios and Nintendo: Good Match?

At a recent investors Q&A, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata revealed that the company will be soliciting the aid of western game developers for future installments of some of its core titles, not unlike Retro’s past involvement with Metroid Prime and Donkey Kong Country Returns.

Coming soon: Super Mario FPS. Kidding.

Even so, Iwata believes that a game’s graphical style can project a certain image, and attract or drive away audiences accordingly, which is one of his reasons for wanting to bring a more western touch into Nintendo’s properties.

“[B]ecause the expressions in games are becoming more and more photorealistic, I imagine that the cultural differences in acceptance have started to be reflected more clearly,” Iwata said. “I think this is the reason why western users tend to prefer software created overseas than software from Japanese software developers.”

Nintendo’s resolve to work more closely with western developers is encouraging: After all, game development has touched all four corners of the world. Every country has something to contribute, and nobody is isolated anymore. Video games are no longer about titles that are produced “In America” and “In Japan.”

Unfortunately, Iwata’s statement about what “western users” actually like in their video games reflects that while Nintendo is taking a step forward by increasing its partnership with western studios, it’s seemingly still clinging to the notion that video game development is divided between Japan and the US of A. Video game genres are not easily divided, certainly not as easily as Iwata makes them out to be. We don’t look exclusively to a Japanese developer for a good role-playing game, nor do we turn exclusively to an American studio for a game featuring guns and explosions. Also, the burgeoning smartphone game market should be proof enough for Iwata that we westerners still love our retro platformers and pixel-based art. What game is more comical and cartoonish than the smash hit Angry Birds–a game that comes out of Finland?

Even if Iwata is a bit off on his notion of what western gamers like versus what Japanese gamers like, his willingness to mix up the world’s gaming cultures is heartening. Retro’s work is just a small example of what a western studio can do for Nintendo’s core franchises; we’ll be seeing some interesting mash-ups on the Nintendo 3DS and Project Cafe (aka Wii 2).

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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