Switch: No Country For Old Men, Old IPs

Nintendo is leaning on its legacies with Switch, but not to the degree you might expect.

Analysis by Jeremy Parish, .

When Nintendo debuted 1-2 Switch during last week's live stream, my very first thought was, "Wow, they're leading with Wild Gunman?"

The live-action gunslinger footage they showed off bore an uncanny resemblance to the video footage Nintendo used in its Wild Gunman arcade cabinet back in the 1970s. That cabinet, in turn, served as the inspiration for the NES game by the same name, which was of course immortalized in Back to the Future Part II as a sort of Chekhov's Gun(man) for the third movie:

In case you'd like to know more about Wild Gunman...

Everything about the shootout mini-game in 1-2 Switch screams "Wild Gunman", from the chiseled gunslingers down to the way the game plays. You look not at the screen, but at the other player's eyes, waiting for an audio cue. This seems like a direct callback to the NES version of Wild Gunman, where you drew based not only on an audio cue — a sampled voice shouting "Draw!" — but also in reaction to the visual cue of your opponent's eyes flashing. And once you pull the trigger, the game determines the winner by breaking down your responses to the millisecond, just like the NES game.

Switch's motion control even allows the game to enforce a play style that was encouraged but couldn't be made mandatory on NES: You have to begin in a neutral position, with your gun at your side, then draw and fire at the prompt. There was nothing preventing you from simply pointing your Zapper at the screen on NES, but the advent of accelerometers allows the game to penalize players for taking that liberty. In short, it's a perfect party game adaptation of Wild Gunman.

Yet curiously, this modern-day Wild Gunman remake for 1-2 Switch isn't being called Wild Gunman. I don't remember what name Nintendo decided to slap on the minigame — Shootout? Showdown? — but I definitely know it wasn't Wild Gunman. This was no accidental oversight; the connection couldn't be clearer, and Nintendo has never been one to shy away from reaching back into the past to dust off names and brands, whether beloved or obscure. In other words, Nintendo made a deliberate decision not to call 1-2 Switch's Wild Gunman adaptation "Wild Gunman." They've revisited the concept and updated the play style, but they've also chosen to distance themselves from a familiar name... even though that would have been the easy path to drumming up some fan interest.

The new definition of "point and shoot".

Likewise, I had a similar thought when Nintendo revealed over-the-top boxing action game ARMS. With its flashy characters and hyperactive boxing, the first impression in gave was of a Punch-Out!! sequel. In practice, ARMS has proven to be something different: A subtle, dynamic one-on-one fighting game featuring rich customization rather than a character-driven memorization exercise. Still, it would have been easy for Nintendo to go the route of presenting ARMS as a legacy name: Hyper Punch-Out!!, or Punch-Out!! Robo Bout, or something equally catchy. As with Wild Arms, Punch-Out!! commands a certain degree of nostalgia without being bogged down by enough material to create a sense of fan dogma about what they can and can't be (the way something like Metroid is).

Nintendo didn't take the easy road, though. Certainly you'll find no shortage of familiar first-party franchises on Switch: A straight conversion of Mario Kart 8, a prettier simultaneous release for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wind, a Super Mario 3D adventure that takes its cues from the series' earliest polygonal outings for the first time in 15 years. And Splatoon gets a direct sequel, with the no-fuss, no-confusion title of "Splatoon 2." Yet what we've seen of the Switch's lineup so far has afforded Nintendo ample opportunity to dig even deeper into its catalog and plaster the system with venerated names. That they haven't — marking a fairly significant change in company M.O. in certain respects — merits attention.

What the Internet is Saying About the Switch After Nintendo's Big Reveal

We take a sampling of some of the commentary around the Internet about the Switch.

It does not, however, engender any real confusion or uncertainty. The answer to the unspoken question of "Why not go all-in on classic brands?" came within that very same global video broadcast. Nintendo very conspicuously avoided trotting out its familiar stage presences for this event. Some by necessity, of course; Tatsumi Kimishima has been long overdue for an appearance since taking up the role of company president in the wake of Satoru Iwata's sudden death a year and a half ago. But people like Yoshiaki Koizumi and Shinya Takahashi have been development superstars for years, even if they're rarely seen as the company's face. They've stepped out here, some for the first time, to take the slots that normally would be taken up by veterans like Shigeru Miyamoto (Mario, Zelda), Takashi Tezuka (Mario), Eiji Aonuma (Zelda), or Yoshi Sakamoto (Metroid, Miitomo).

Yes, a couple of those long-time familiar faces did show up toward the end, but they played cameo parts. Miyamoto and Aonuma weren't the stars of the show this time; more like the elder statesmen, there to introduce the most highly anticipated product for Switch. Aonuma literally stepped out from behind a curtain, a pretty strong visual metaphor for what Nintendo's Switch presentation lineup aspired to do: Let the new blood (such as it is — Koizumi has been with the company for 25 years, after all) have their day in the sun, let the old guard fade back to give them space. This lines up with Nintendo's messaging over the past few years, too. They're quick to highlight the baton-passing that's been going on with their product lines, with games like New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Maker showing off the creative impact of fresh talent on familiar franchises. And the success of Splatoon — a new property by younger staff — has clearly emboldened the company to liberate itself from the safety net of familiar talent and comfortable franchises.

Many people seem to regard Switch as the end of the line for Nintendo, a sure-fire failure that will spell the end of the company's tenure as a hardware maker. There's no way to know how things will fall for Switch, but it's clear that, internally, the company regards this platform not as an end or even a continuation, but rather as the beginning of a new era.

Koizumi: Nintendo's new puppet-master. (Well, maybe.)

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Comments 19

  • Avatar for meta-mark #1 meta-mark A year ago
    Yeah, I thought Wild Gunman as well when I saw the preview. If only..
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  • Avatar for Vanderdulpp #2 Vanderdulpp A year ago
    If this is the case, it'll be interesting to see how they handle the Virtual Console, if they choose to have one at all beyond the monthly free games.
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  • Avatar for kevinbowyer34 #3 kevinbowyer34 A year ago
    "As with Wild Arms, Punch-Out!! commands a certain degree of ..." must have a lot on their plate if they are bring Wild Arms to Switch!
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #4 donkeyintheforest A year ago
    I also think they are intentionally leaving out things like virtual console and a Wii Sports equivalent (I mean a port, not 1-2-switch) to avoid the muddling WiiU confusion about this being a fully new system.

    I can't imagine they will not have those things (online service hints at at least NES + SNES games revamped with online play), but those are not the things to push right now. Push the new stuff, and eventually, when good reviews for those things (hopefully) come out, they will fill in the gaps with ports, sequels, and classics (further strengthening what some [not me] say is a weak launch).

    Fun article!
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  • Avatar for SenzuriChampion #5 SenzuriChampion A year ago
    Isn't ARMS Virtual On For Kiddos though?
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #6 Roto13 A year ago
    I was completely surprised when they lead with Wild Gunman of all things, and then just as surprised when they turned around and didn't call it Wild Gunman even though it obviously is.
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  • Avatar for Thusian #7 Thusian A year ago
    Its funny, and we witnessed this with the original Splatoon there is a very tepid reaction to new Nintendo IP. I say this is funny because for as long as I can remember all everyone has said is Nintendo needs to make new IP.
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  • Avatar for Mr.Spo #8 Mr.Spo A year ago
    @Thusian Splatoon received great reviews, some Game of the Year awards and sold over 4 million copies on a system with barely 13 million users. I wouldn't call that 'tepid'.
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  • Avatar for Barely-Able #9 Barely-Able A year ago
    @Mr.Spo and it is also huge in Japan. Splatoon 2 had far and away the most YouTube views in Japan following the presentation, and the original has close to a 50% attach rate there. Game is a huge success and one that Nintendo needs to keep at the forefront to get sales in its native land.
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  • Avatar for Barely-Able #10 Barely-Able A year ago
    I am glad that there is an obvious baton passing in Nintendo (at least as much as can be done by a company as conservative as they are). I feel like certain modern requirements have been shunned by the older guard and some ideas were stale. I also like that Miyamoto can help shepherd on some of the other ventures Nintendo is exploring and create smaller experiences that might not appeal to the masses. The reliance on old iP is a double edged sword, but it is probably good to be branching out as a means to court new players or not hamstring games by wild expectations.
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  • Avatar for CipherStone #11 CipherStone A year ago
    @Mr.Spo I think they're referring to the initial reaction to Splatoon when it was revealed at E3, which is to say people were pretty sceptical of a Nintendo-made team-based competitive shooter on Wii U for $60. As we know now, it was a big success, of course.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #12 link6616 A year ago
    @SenzuriChampion you are thinking of custom robo my friend.
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  • Avatar for mnicolai #13 mnicolai A year ago
    I had noticed they were giving center stage to the "youngbloods" but hadn't connected it to the distanced IP. Very insightful.
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  • Avatar for Thusian #14 Thusian A year ago
    @Mr.Spo I was talking about pretty release
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  • Avatar for docexe #15 docexe A year ago
    I noticed that proverbial “passing of the baton” as well. The conference was uneven and Koizumi is not quite as charismatic as Iwata was, but I hope they consider putting him in the spotlight more often.
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  • I think the word "gunman" has a different connotation today than it used to, which is one thing.

    I'm glad Nintendo is starting to move into new story concepts, if nothing else. I actually rebelled against the company for some time because my time of birth made me about five years old when Nintendo exploded everywhere with the NES/SNES and NOA's initially poor quality control of licensing (Mario Super Show, Nintendo Cereal, etc) and so the company was, like many, as intrinsically linked to my childhood as something like Disney.

    And even today, when Nintendo does pull out the old black-box names, I sigh and groan a little bit. When they do it, it feels like someone yelling that 80s kids had the best childhood. And Nintendo should stand for more than reassuring me that 1982 was the best year to be born if you liked interactive TV games. There's a whole bunch of people younger than me, people my age have kids of their own, and the our next foreign war will be fought by kids who were raised thinking video games were always in polygons. If you're not supposed to trust anyone over 30, well, that's anyone born before 1987 now.

    The world has shifted a lot, and video games also suffer from that "nothing is truly original" concept that TV writers run into whenever someone tells them that The Simpsons or South Park already had an episode like that, so the best Nintendo can do is if they're going to make a game with people punching each other, they can make it different and make a new title and freshen their identity. I won't begrudge them for forgetting Punch-Out, in fact I'll kind of be glad that the company isn't in such a creative rut as to be pandering nostalgia to a 35 year old me.Edited 3 times. Last edited January 2017 by UnskippableCutscene
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  • Avatar for daverhodus #17 daverhodus A year ago
    Cybernetic Little Mac should make an appearance in ARMS.
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  • Avatar for SenzuriChampion #18 SenzuriChampion A year ago
    @link6616 disagree? obviously we'll have to see more footage but the dash functionality and control scheme is definitely reminiscent of VO's twin sticks. You also have to consider that Kid Icarus Uprising's multiplayer was, in large part, VO grafted onto an arena brawler (with nominal success).
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  • Avatar for Jaygames #19 Jaygames A year ago
    If Teleroboxer didn't get any kind of IP connection to Punch Out!! I think it makes even less sense for ARMS to, though ARMS does have a very Teleroboxer vibe to it too, especially with the very disembodied hands Teleroboxer had
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