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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tecmo Koei's History of Nintendo Spin-Offs

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - It's pretty dismal.

Usually my post-Nintendo Direct write-ups avoid talking about the Zelda series (same goes for any KoopaTV article in general) for whatever reason. But there are lessons here that we can apply more generally outside of this series. As over half a million people know by now, Hyrule Warriors is a thing by Tecmo Koei, the same guys behind Metroid: Other M and Pokémon Conquest. However, is that really a good track record, or are we going to call it "Zelda: Other Z" like I suggested in a Miiverse post and in yesterday's log?

KoopaTV has actually spent a paragraph before on Nintendo's history of collaborating with Tecmo Koei. I wrote that what they did with Pokémon Conquest was the ideal way to make a good crossover: Equal parts from both franchises being crossed to make a cohesive game. There was synergy. So far, Hyrule Warriors looks like a Zelda coat of paint on Dynasty Warriors. Apparently it's Dynasty and not Samurai — the only difference to me is that one has all of those awesome and attractive characters that were in Pokémon Conquest (that's Samurai) and the other doesn't (Dynasty).

Is it really fair to base a game off its trailer? Not really, but I'll keep doing that for a little longer. Look around 0:35 in the embedded trailer above. Fire Rod looks pretty cool, right? Look behind Link: A Bokoblin randomly pops up behind Link's ass. Out of thin air. Is that the kind of thing that'll show up in the final game? Apparently, Tecmo Koei isn't known for their polish or innovation in this series. Think about how repetitive and uninspired Mega Man games tend to get as the series goes along, and you get what Dynasty Warriors feels like. Think New Super Mario Bros. to the extreme. Nintendo is known for its polished and high-quality software, and this game won't match.

Let's talk more about Metroid: Other M. Was that synergistic between Metroid and a Ninja Gaiden game? Well, yeah, except the part that Yoshio Sakamoto influenced. Samus moved around all awesome like and the gameplay had clear awesome-looking action scenes. But it wasn't just Samus as a ninja: It was clearly set in the Metroid world with some Metroid game mechanics and a Metroid-ish storyline, with some weird characterization on the side but whatever. Was it polished? Maybe not, there were a lot of complaints about the game's controls and the like.

As I mentioned in the Miiverse post version of this article, what really gives value to a good spin-off is that it adds value to the main franchise. Paper Mario (not Sticker Star, but...) expanded and made Bowser an incredibly likable guy. (...Of course, I've always liked my King Dad!) It also changed the way you think about my world into something closer to how life really is rather than the platformer portrayal of a series of bottomless pits. Meanwhile, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time dramatically changed how we feel about Pokémon like Grovyle, Chatot and Wigglytuff, propelling them to the top of favourites lists and Menorahs. Bad spin-offs, like Mario Pinball Land, make you feel like an idiot for spending money on them, are charmless, add nothing to the world or characters, don't have polish, and don't carry the value proposition of the franchise spinning off into the new genre. That last part is important, so I underlined it. Read it again.

The correlation is obviously that good spin-offs do carry the value proposition of the franchise that is spinning off into the new genre. For Pokémon, it's the characters. For Metroid, it's the isolation feeling and the "Metroidvania" concept of backtracking (which I guess Metroid: Other M went out of its way to mangle, so maybe that wasn't a good spin-off after all). For Mario, it's the pick-up and play spirit and sense of interaction, represented in its RPG games as action commands that go back to pressing the jump button before landing on an enemy to gain extra height. And for Zelda, at its core is using different items both in puzzle and action sequences. If you want Link in a game where you can have action without puzzles, Monster Hunter 4 is for you. That, or Link's Crossbow Training. That latter bit has its environments/situations directly out of Twilight Princess, by the way. I don't consider it a good spin-off, but some might consider it creative.

So what will Hyrule Warriors be like? The logical conclusion is "bad spin-off". A depth-less hack-and-slash with Link in it so Tecmo Koei can get Nintendo fans to try out the Dynasty Warriors franchise that would otherwise stay far away, and a cheap cash-grab on Nintendo's part. Absolutely no benefit to the franchise. And when Zelda U is announced at E3 2014 for a 2015 release date (I'm not apologizing if this is off), Nintendo can point to Hyrule Warriors and say "Hey, we gave you some Zelda action! Plus Wind Waker HD was a thing!"

Perhaps one good thing that CAN come out of this is that we might get some characters to be playable for the first time in their own series, like Sheik and Ganondorf. That could be amusing. For ten minutes. Because that's how repetitive these games get.

Ludwig has never actually played the Dynasty Warriors series, so if you disagree with his characterization of that, Hyrule Warriors, or anything else, feel free to comment here or on Miiverse by searching for his NNID of PrinceOfKoopas.

Ludwig again talks about spin-offs and again uses Paper Mario: Sticker Star as an example of a bad one.

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