In early March, the Nintendo Switch turned four years old. In the past we’ve devoted space to writing about some of the features that the system is lacking compared to its counterparts; things like streaming video services, ala Netflix and Disney+ seem like no-brainers, but that still hasn’t happened. Likewise, the UI has yet to receive any kind of a substantial overhaul, and the whole notion of “themes” is hilarious absent, especially considering (A) how prevalent they were on the 3DS, and (B) how the Switch has an entire menu dedicated to “themes,” which only feature the barest of bones “light” and “dark” options.
When it comes to missing games, the thing most point to is the lack of anything beyond the NES and SNES library. N64, Gamecube, and handheld titles from the original Gameboy up to the 3DS are completely missing, despite the system being more than capable of running such games. There’s certainly a market for them, and even if Nintendo decided merely to port some of their biggest titles and release them separate from the Nintendo Online Subscription service, they would still make more than the zero dollars they’re making off of their late-90s and early 00’s back-catalog today.
But looking beyond the features, let’s think about the franchises, of which there are three to consider. These are three tremendously notable absences on the Nintendo Switch thus far and which certainly deserve a revival on the popular system…
Honorable Mention: Metroid
It goes without saying; you can’t have a “where is _____” discussion about Nintendo games without mentioning Metroid. Technically it’s not a neglected franchise; it’s just one that doesn’t get the same level of attention as Mario and Zelda. Still, the fact that the system is set to receive a second Splatoon sequel and we’ve still not gotten a single Metroid game…well, I’m too annoyed to finish that sentence. Metroid Prime 4 is coming, someday, but in the meantime would it kill Nintendo to license the brand out to someone to make a big 2D HD adventure, akin to the Metroid 2 remake for the 3DS?
Last seen on a Nintendo system in the form of F-Zero GX for the Nintendo Gamecube, way back in 2003. Since then, other than the customary Captain Falcon appearance in Smash Bros, and a few cameo winks and nods in other franchises, the racing IP has been completely absent. It missed the Wii, a system that sold so well Nintendo dipped way down into their library to keep finding new content to pitch to buyers: They brought back Punch-Out!! but not F-Zero? Seriously? But okay, maybe Nintendo thought F-Zero was too hardcore for the casual audience they were chasing with the Wii. And yet, the franchise remained absent on the WiiU, a system that sold so poorly it only catered to the most hardcore Nintendo devotees. Why not try to score a million sales with a long-dormant franchise? Now we’re in the Switch age, a system that has all the financial popularity of the Wii, and all the hardcore Nintendo love that the WiiU received…and still, we have no F-Zero.
The closest thing the Switch has to F-Zero is Fast RMX racing, which is fine and all, but plays more like Extreme-G than the franchise in question. I get that F-Zero only began as a way to show off the SNES’ Mode-7 capabilities, and then later on the N64 it was brought back to show how fast the system could look while pushing polygons. Nintendo often builds game mechanics first and then creates a franchise around them second. That’s why they were fine outsourcing F-Zero to SEGA, who turned GX into the best arcade racing game ever made (fight me). Why they won’t hand the title over to someone today is beyond me, but the system is sorely lacking in the twitch-arcade-racing department. Mario Kart can only scratch so many itches.
If you want, you can take a moment to remember the last time Nintendo tried to make a new Star Fox game.
As with F-Zero, the first Star Fox game was released as a glorified tech demo. It was a proof of concept that the SNES could run a polygonal 3D game. Fun and challenging gameplay, good characters, and an excellent soundtrack all added up to a true killer app for the system. When the N64 came out, Nintendo revisited the game, essentially remaking it with the improved power of the N64. Once more, it was more about the idea than the game: The idea being “we need to show how much better 3D can look and run on the N64 vs the SNES and PlayStation). Mission accomplished: Star Fox 64 is easily regarded as the last great entry in the franchise. The Gamecube got a new game produced by Namco, but nothing came out on the Wii, as Nintendo cited a lack of fresh ideas to justify bringing it back. Of course, fresh ideas never stopped them from making New Super Mario Bros’ many derivative sequels. With the WiiU dying on the vine, Nintendo finally brought the franchise back with Star Fox Zero, a game so frustratingly bad, so tedious to play, so entirely unfun, it’s maybe the worst “major title” Nintendo has produced in twenty years, if not ever.
What the game needs is a back-to-basics formula, a return to what works without all the needless gimmicks slapped onto it. Not everything needs a special feature or a new twist, or an attachment, or a peripheral. We don’t need Star Fox as played with the Ring Fit. We don’t need Star Fox where you have to strap a joycon to your forehead with an included “headcon” grip attachment or whatever. That’s not a thing but you know some psychopath at Nintendo has at least a stickypad note of that idea in a drawer somewhere. All we need is arcade on-rails shooting, with lasers, bombs, and barrel rolls. Star Fox needs what the Donkey Kong Country series got on the Wii and WiiU/Switch: A return to form that took what worked and improved upon it, adding onto the formula only what makes sense within the context of the game.
And speaking of…
Donkey Kong (Classic)
This is not me saying Nintendo should ditch the Country series of Donkey Kong games. Far from it, Tropical Freeze is one of the best 2D platformers I’ve ever played. No, I’m thinking of the original arcade experience that Shigeru Miyamoto first developed that launched Nintendo to worldwide video game success. The original game was a simple hop and bop game that focused more on high scores than level progression (there were only four original stages). It was brought back to the Gameboy, featuring additional stages, with keys-and-locks, new enemies, and much more complex platforming challenges. It’s a great game, and kind of a forgotten gem as it was quickly overshadowed by the radically different Donkey Kong Country series on the SNES.
An HD revival of the DK hop and bop arcade game, with fifty stages instead of five, would be right at home in the indie game-heavy Switch library, and the name alone would guarantee big sales. If nothing else, it would give Nintendo a chance to see if an old gameplay style can still work in a modern video game world. I think it can, and if it did, then it might open the door to all kinds of other HD revivals of classic games.
Like F-Zero and Star Fox for crying out loud.