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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Bankruptcy For Pixel Art Craftsmen AlphaDream

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Hope they find jobs elsewhere in the industry.

You're aware of Japanese game developer AlphaDream, right? They've developed all of the Mario & Luigi games from the Game Boy Advance to the 3DS. Well, Yahoo! Japan is reporting that AlphaDream is bankrupt now, because their debts are too high for their revenues. Game development is expensive, you know. They most recently worked on Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam in 2015, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions in 2017 (which I didn't buy because why would I buy a remake of a game I already have?), and Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey (which I also never bought, but I did tell YOU to buy it) this year in 2019. All of those on the 3DS and published by Nintendo

The problem is that the majority of people out there are questioning why the 3DS still exists. Nintendo has an answer, but it's not satisfactory.

Can't AlphaDream just do something on the Switch? Well, here's the problem. In the past three new Mario & Luigi games that aren't remakes (so Bowser's Inside Story, Dream Team, Paper Jam), they each had a unique 3D-ish mechanic to them, being Giant Battles, Dreamy Luigi fights, and giant Papercraft wars. All of those sections were subcontracted out to different companies (Arzest, Good-Feel, and Will Co., Inc respectively) because AlphaDream doesn't have the resources to handle it themselves. How do I know? They say as much in their Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Iwata Asks interview. Read this quote carefully from their vice president, Yoshihiko Maekawa:

 “To be honest, part of it was that AlphaDream's background is in 2D pixel art and we don't have enough in-house personnel in 3D. This time, Luigi fights as a giant in the Dream World, and when it came to 2D giant battles—and only then—we ran against our limits, so we asked another company to work on them.”

It seems like from 2009 to 2019, they still never got enough in-house personnel in 3D, in an industry that has (unfortunately) prioritised 3D polygon models over 2D sprite art. Now the latter is just the realm of indie games and terrible retro modes.

I'm focusing on the 2D pixel art because that's really what AlphaDream is known for, and what that whole Iwata Asks interview is focused on. What's the cultural impact of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga? I'd argue it's not Fawful's nonsense quotes (which is less a function of AlphaDream and more of Nintendo of America), but the art style. Back after the game released in late 2003 and the sprites got put on The Spriters Resource, it just proliferated dozens and dozens of sprite comics on the Nintendo NSider Forums (and presumably elsewhere). Most weren't good. But they still inspired the minds of many, many people.

Personally, I will always thank AlphaDream for the revival of the Koopalings, and for doing a significantly better job at giving us sprites than Nintendo ever could. If we never got in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, we'd probably never be in New Super Mario Bros. Wii and everything after that. ...Though that does mean I wouldn't have to put up with all of these super-weirdo young neo-Koopaling fans.

Ludwig Von Koopa Koopaling Super Mario Advance 4 Bros. 3 Luigi Superstar Saga Alphadream sprites pixel art
Top: Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3, 2003, on Game Boy Advance.
Bottom: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, 2003, on Game Boy Advance.
Obviously, AlphaDream did a much better job.

AlphaDream has a lot of talent in their studio—it's just much of it is misplaced in this industry's mainstream. I hope they can find jobs elsewhere and keep gifting us their craft. ...Though random sprite-based indie companies might be even more financially unstable than AlphaDream itself was.

I should note that just because the company is bankrupt, doesn't mean it's gone forever. Just ask President Donald John Trump about some of his bankrupt businesses. He's still around, of course.

Ludwig wonders if the bankruptcy is partially his fault for not buying the two Mario & Luigi remakes. ...Though he did write endorsements of them, so surely that's enough to cover his failure? He wants to note to the world that the reason AlphaDream provided in that Iwata Asks interview for why Bowser's Inside Story was so great is because it featured playable Bowser, and the producer from Nintendo (Akira Otani) specifically forbid AlphaDream from doing that again. “For that reason, we asked AlphaDream to think of something only using Mario and Luigi. We placed other characters off limits.” That's unjust, isn't it? If you agree, or have anything else from the article to discuss, please comment!

Maybe if AlphaDream could make high-definition pixel art, they'd still be around.
Ludwig shares the Superstar Saga sprites of all of the Koopalings here, happy about how on-model they are.

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