By now most people have experienced the Blue Blur’s return to glory in the magnificent Sonic Mania. In fact, it might just be one of my favorite games this year. However, while playing it the other day, it really got me thinking about Nintendo and some of the missteps they have taken with certain franchises that people care so much about. And while Nintendo does so many things right there is still a lot they can learn from Sonic Mania.
There was a time when hearing about a great Sonic the Hedgehog game was not such an uncommon occurrence. It was a time that many gamers refer to as the console wars. On one side we had Nintendo, who consistently released amazing family friendly games and became known for their goomba stomping plumber, Mario. On the other side, we had Sega who was in direct competition with Nintendo and responded to Mario with Sonic the Hedgehog, a blue, fast-as-light hedgehog with an attitude. The character rose in popularity and ended up becoming Sega’s leading mascot.
As time went on and Sega eventually vanished from the console market, Sonic slowly lost his appeal among gamers. Sonic was still very popular and had a huge following, but many of the newer games being released in the series were shunned by the fan base as being terrible. Games like Sonic ’06 and Sonic Unleashed would pretty much become internet memes and the character became more of a punching bag for gamers rather than the icon he once was. This never stopped the hardcore fan base from reliving the glory days of the Blue Blur, and a rapid fan game community began to rise from the ashes.
Among these fan communities, a man named Christian Whitehead began to make himself known when he was able to port cult classic, Sonic CD, onto an iPhone. While trying to get Sega to recognize his accomplishment, the company chose to ignore his efforts and shut him down. However, later when Sega asked fans what game they should bring to smartphones, Christian Whitehead once again began to spread the word about his Sonic CD port. After getting Sonic fans to rally behind his idea, Sega finally agreed to release his port. The Sonic CD port became so popular among the fan community that many Sonic fans consider it to be the definitive version of the game.
Sega went on to hire Christian Whitehead and assigned him to make ports of other Sonic games to mobile platforms. Later, Sega realized their wrongs in disregarding the fan community and along with Christian Whitehead hired an entire team who had worked on Sonic fan games to make an official Sega Sonic game. And thus we have the amazing Sonic Mania, filled to the brim with references to the series, past games, and easter eggs of Sega’s history.
Nintendo, Take Notes
Nintendo is a studio that has so many beloved franchises and yet many of them have gone neglected over the years. So naturally, fan communities have gone and taken matters into their own hands. We have seen unofficial fan translations of Mother 3 and just last year we saw AM2R, a fan remake of the cult classic Metroid 2, that Nintendo shut down. Now granted we only just this year found out that Nintendo was working on their own port of Metroid 2 for Nintendo 3DS, but shutting down their fans hard work without recognition of just how great it was is a little harsh.
Nintendo could have instead noticed the work of the community and started hiring them to make new games. After all, who better to develop a game for a series than a fan that loved the game so much that they dedicated their free time to make a product that their fellow community could share. In the same way that Sega originally shut down Christian Whitehead, Nintendo is not giving these fan developers a chance. I, for one, think that it’s time that the company had a change of heart.
After seeing the love and care that went into a game like Sonic Mania, I would love to see Nintendo follow suit. One example of the top of my head is F-Zero. It has been far too long since we have seen an installment in the series and who better to develop it than the creators of Fast Racing Neo (or Fast RMX). Fast Racing Neo is an obvious love letter to the F-Zero series and I would love to see Nintendo acknowledge this and give smaller creators a chance to take on their legendary titles.
Could you imagine what a team of Nintendo fan developers could do with a new Star Fox or Advance Wars game? Even an all new series that just pays homage to the legacy that Nintendo has created. Regardless, Nintendo needs to learn that these fan communities are the life blood of their brand and they could only benefit by having them on their side. If we ever get a Nintendo game with the amount of love and care from developers that truly love the series, like Sega managed to pull off with Sonic Mania, then I think both fans and Nintendo would only benefit.