Why Is Nintendo Downplaying the Third-Party Studios that Make Their Games?

Games Features nintendo
Why Is Nintendo Downplaying the Third-Party Studios that Make Their Games?

Princess Peach: Showtime! was published by Nintendo, but none of their studios actually developed the game. Instead, the solo adventure starring the Mushroom Kingdom’s sovereign was created by Good-Feel, the developers of a number of other Nintendo titles over the last couple of decades, like Wario Land: Shake It! and Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Wii, Yoshi’s Woolly World and its sequel Yoshi’s Crafted World for the Wii U and Switch, respectively, as well as enhanced 3DS ports of Epic Yarn and Woolly World for the 3DS. They also assisted on the development of quite a few StreetPass features for the 3DS, the giant battles in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, and a couple of the minigames in Wii Play. They don’t develop exclusively for Nintendo games, but they’ve clearly got the kind of relationship where that is primarily what they bother doing. It’s good work if you can get it.

For some reason, though, in the lead-up to the release of Princess Peach: Showtime!, Good-Feel’s name was nowhere to be found in the marketing or reveals or trailers or Directs. On release day, nine months after the announcement of the title, Nintendo finally admitted that Good-Feel was the developer of Showtime; when asked prior to the launch who was behind it, they actually answered Eurogamer’s Tom Phillips with, “The development team will be credited in the game credits.” Good-Feel was known as the developer on an unofficial level before March 22, the game’s release date, thanks to some data mining performed on the demo. But still, why was official word withheld? Good-Feel’s previous work as the main developer with Nintendo ranged somewhere from “really good!” to “beloved,” and Showtime! comfortably fit in the former group. 

In addition, the game’s director was actually the founder of Good-Feel, Etsunobu Ebisu, who had last directed a title in 1996 with the Nintendo 64’s Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon. This is one of those facts that is just catnip for a particular kind of nerd (me), and the kind of thing that would have a certain kind of person (me) at the least interested in a title. You don’t just direct a fun, off-kilter N64 game, vanish as a director for 27 years, and then reappear without people like me wanting to know what’s up. And yet, this fact couldn’t even be produced until the credits rolled after Showtime’s launch, because Nintendo kept it all under wraps.

This was not a one-off, but more of the most recent example in a growing trend. As Nintendo Life noted in March, the Switch remakes of Another Code: Recollection and Super Mario RPG also both had their developers hidden up until release, even though the former were a couple of cult classics that People Like Me have been waiting to see get a release or re-release or remake for ages now, and the former is literally Super Mario RPG, which was a joint effort by Square and Nintendo, and obviously was deserving of a developer with a hell of a pedigree to get it right a second time decades after its SNES launch. Another Code: Recollection was handled by Arc System Works—known for the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue franchises as a developer—while Super Mario RPG was produced by ArtePiazza, the developer who assisted on a number of Dragon Quest titles decades ago, made killer remakes of even more of them to multiple platforms, and developed some underrated original works like Opoona, as well. You would think, “This beloved property is being handled by people who have been at this so long that they worked on the original version of Dragon Quest games and also their later remakes” would be a priority when remaking your own beloved property, but Nintendo did not feel this way.

This all goes back a little further, too. Did you know that the Switch version of Pikmin 3 was handled by Eighting, including the new original content made to ensure that the Deluxe tag at the end of that release’s name wasn’t merely for show? And that Eighting also co-developed Pikmin 4 alongside Nintendo EPD? Eighting’s role in Pikmin 3 Deluxe wasn’t revealed until the credits rolled there, either. It feels like more attention should have been paid to these developments in the lead-up to their releases, given Eighting’s extensive pedigree that stretches back into the ‘90s—the studio made some killer, all-timer shoot ‘em ups when they were known as Raizing, and have made plenty of high-quality games since working with either Nintendo or Capcom (Kuru Kuru Kururin, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate). Say something about their involvement! 

The reason Nintendo doesn’t say anything is likely that what they want more than anything is for the game in question to be known as A Nintendo Game. Which, to be fair, that’s what it is. Nintendo doesn’t pick its partner studios lightly. ArtePiazza gets work because they’re ArtePiazza, and can be trusted to do a great job with someone else’s property. Good-Feel has done nothing but make quality Nintendo games for existing franchises with existing characters, coming up with the new stuff needed, be they characters or concepts or gameplay twists or just some killer art stylings, so they get to keep doing that. But what matters to Nintendo is that these studios can make Nintendo games, so, they’re not promoting that they weren’t made in-house, as it were. Nintendo deciding to contract with a studio is, to them, likely the same thing as in-house, given that, in the end, it is their name on it, anyway, as well as that of their characters.

It’s an understandable stance in one way, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. It’s much more fascinating, to me, when Nintendo decides to play up their relationships with third-party studios they’re working with, like when they announced in a 2019 direct that a Koei Tecmo studio was co-developing the massive Fire Emblem: Three Houses with the series’ traditional developer and originator, Intelligent Systems. Part of why you could trust that the musou spin-off followup Fire Emblem Heroes: Three Hopes would retain so much of the spirit and personality of Three Houses is because it was also developed by a studio within Koei Tecmo, and was even published by Koei Tecmo in Japan! 

Plus, knowing who is developing these Nintendo properties gives fans a chance to discover other games by them in the interim, which, given the quality of the studios Nintendo contracts with and the games they’re responsible for, is only going to be a positive when it comes to hype for Nintendo’s own games. They work with some excellent companies! The work that comes out of these partnerships has ranged from enjoyable to amazing! Nintendo’s eye for talent is, in and of itself, part of what makes them who they are, and shrouding that talent in mystery until release day, and creating a situation where you have to actually sit through the credits to figure out who worked on a game instead of being able to see that in advance and get hyped about the return of a director, or spend months wondering what a dev known for fighting games is going to do with a real-time strategy game, seems like a missed opportunity.

Granted, not everyone is going to care about this stuff as much as I do. There are far more people who would have responded “Who?” to finding out that ArtePiazza or Eighting are working on something for Nintendo than would perk up with interest. But in this era where it seems developers get shorter and shorter shrift all the time, where even developing an award-winning, successful game isn’t enough to stave off studio closures, taking the time to hype up the partners you’ve entrusted to keep Nintendo games feeling like Nintendo games—which in turn lets the in-house studios focus on their own killer titles for as long as is needed without interruption—should be a no-brainer. It would take absolutely nothing for Nintendo to do this, and their products would still be seen as Nintendo games—Metroid: Samus Returns and Metroid Dread are still Nintendo games, even if we knew MercurySteam was behind them well before release. And yet.

Among the crimes being committed by the console manufacturers and major publishers of late, this rates lower than the waves of layoffs and corporate misdirection about why it’s happening. Still, though, it just doesn’t feel right for credit to be something so passively given, rather than actively celebrated. Nintendo is more than just their own studios: the third-parties they contract with play and have played a massive role in their decades of success, too, and they should be seen as partners throughout the lifecycle of a game, not just revealed as an aside on release day.

Marc Normandin covers retro videogames at Retro XP, which you can read for free but support through his Patreon, and can be found on Twitter at @Marc_Normandin.


Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin