When you think of the games that most represent Nintendo, there are a few classics that come to mind, namely, the Marios, Zeldas, Pokemon, and other classics that have withstood countless years and iterations. But there is the other Nintendo, the "weird Nintendo," a company that loves to innovate and experiment with franchises in ways you don't expect. Since we're in the second year of the Nintendo Switch, headed into the third, now is prime time for some Weird Nintendo.
The first few years of a Nintendo console are when the marquee games land. From Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey down to Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64, Nintendo consoles frequently launch with a stable of recognizable names. While every now and then a GoldenEye 007 or Pikmin slips in, the start of a Nintendo console is where things are mostly standard.
But moving into the three or even four year out marker, where we're fast approaching with the Nintendo Switch, you start to see the risk-takers. Kirby Air Ride and Donkey Konga both hit the GameCube in 2003, a few years after launch, and took big risks with unconventional takes on classic characters.
Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance marked the tactics series' resurrection in the West, and the first console Fire Emblem to come stateside in the West; it later became one of Nintendo's most successful games in 2005. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask was a creepy, strange evolution of the framework of Ocarina of Time, twisted into a Groundhog Day loop, but it's a franchise high point.
Modifying the status quo isn't just what Weird Nintendo is, to me at least. It's the complete left-fielders, the new IP or clever reinvention you never see coming. It's Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, a crossover developed by an outside studio mixing the devil summoning of Shin Megami Tensei with the heroes of Fire Emblem and throwing them into a world of idols and entertainment. It is Pokemon Snap coming out three years into the Nintendo 64's life cycle to turn the worldwide phenomenon of Pokemon into an on-rails camera-shooter, like Time Crisis: National Geography edition.
Super Mario Maker, which came late in the Wii U's life cycle, was custom-made for the blend of Nintendo nostalgia and the novelty of an otherwise strange controller. Splatoon is the poster child of weird for Nintendo, allowing developers to run wild with gameplay ideas to create something that feels like it reinvents a genre.
In the Nintendo Switch's current lineup, there is a lot to get excited about. I'm elated to play another Fire Emblem on a console, and to build more impossible Mario levels. I've loved my time with Breath of the Wild, and now my favorite Zelda is getting remade for the Switch as well. What we've seen so far is Nintendo's greatest hits, either new takes on classic series or incredibly solid iterations on established ground. My wish is in no way a reflection of the quality of Nintendo's catalog.
The time seems ripe for Nintendo to swing for the fences; to come out of E3 with a left-field game, either a reimagining of a classic or something bizarre and new. My favorite Nintendo announcements leave me bewildered, because I have no framework to put them in. When a new Mario is announced, I can run through the standards of what I know and understand Mario to be, and marvel at the ways in which they've disrupted or changed that. But with a game like Splatoon, I feel utterly lost. I have no preconceived expectations for something like that, just guesses at what Nintendo could do with what I'm seeing.
This E3 feels like the right time to pull out some surprises, to introduce something new and elevate it alongside its pantheon of classics. My expectations are that we'll see a lot of games we can expect, most of them sequels or remakes. But my sincere hope is that Nintendo takes this opportunity, in a Sony-less E3, at the height of Switch fervor, to get weird.