Five franchises in need of a “Wii-boot”

Infendo

characters.gif It may be doing business in stylish new places and selling consoles to fresh new faces, but Mario, Zelda and Metroid still run the show at Nintendo. Over the last year, fans have been treated to proper new titles from each of Nintendo’s three elite franchises, not to mention an additional handheld Zelda.

The last time this happened? Try 199-never.

But as great as it’s been, it is also representative of a trend that needs to change. Mario, Link and Samus can only carry the company so far, as recent disappointments have proven. So why not look to your bench, Nintendo? You’ve got other great players dying to get time on the field.

From my humble estimation, these are the five franchises most capable of an innovative “revolution” and an immediate contribution on Wii.

Kid Icarus

pit1.jpgThe Kid Icarus series chronicles the adventures of Pit, a brave young angel armed with the sacred Bow of Palutena, the Goddess of Light, and the leader of her army. In addition to his charming character design, Pit is essentially an amalgam of the attributes of Nintendo’s biggest characters. Nintendo Power marveled over Pit in issue 204, raving that he could “jump like Mario, collect items like Link and shoot enemies like Samus.”

Kid Icarus is an extremely interesting concept for a video game series; battle demons and mythological monsters in an ancient Greek setting to save the Goddess of Light. The potential for such a premise to catapult Kid Icarus into the Nintendo elite is obvious, but unfortunately, the series has only had two games to date. The original Kid Icarus debuted on the NES in 1987 and offered a unique hybrid of classic Nintendo gameplay elements. The series continued on the original Game Boy with Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters in 1991. Since then, Pit has been forced to sit the bench.

But if there were ever a time to get him back in the game, it is now. Legions of fans agree; Kid Icarus could be an incredible experience on Wii. Imagine an immense, beautiful world similar to Hyrule in Twilight Princess, only with a fourth dimension, of sorts: unlike Link, Pit is not bound by the constraints of gravity. He could soar through the sky for airborne battle, darting from cloud to cloud and aiming at enemies effortlessly thanks to the Wii remote. Massive ancient Greek landscapes and oceans, enormous enemy combatants, gigantic sea beasts; the series is practically demanding a reinvention on Wii.

F-Zero

f-zero-gx.jpgThere isn’t a racing franchise faster or more stylish than the futuristic F-Zero. Cast centuries into the future, F-Zero features brutally fast racing action complimented by pulse-inducing musical scores and console-pushing technology. The series embraces its unique setting by utilizing a cast of over-the-top characters including anthropomorphic mutants, caped super-heroes, evil villains and even futuristic musicians and fashion models. Chief among them is perhaps Captain Falcon, the mysterious bounty hunter as popular for his appearances in the Smash Bros. series as for his F-Zero racing.

The series began with the original F-Zero, a launch title for the Super NES in 1991, and new entries into the series have appeared on each Nintendo console since. Except, of course, Wii and DS. Combine these recent absences with the implications of recent comments from Nintendo executives, and the future of the series has suddenly been called into question. Shigeru Miyamoto in particular has been quite vocal about his disappointment with the latest game, F-Zero GX, a critically successful commercial failure entrusted to outside development studios by Nintendo.

Nagging problems and poor sales aside, the core of F-Zero GX offered one of the best gameplay experiences on GameCube, and the game’s issues are certainly addressable. A Wii version could add individual difficulty modes to expand the potential audience. This would make the game more enjoyable for the mainstream, but also keep the game’s traditionally maddening difficulty level intact for F-Zero veterans. Implement stat-filled online leaderboards and fast-paced competition modes to extend the replay value. Improve on the offline local multiplayer, and we’re already making serious headway.

We haven’t even gotten into all the possibilities for responsive new controls and enhanced speed and visuals on Wii. Super Mario Galaxy has teased our appetite for pretty Wii games; a new F-Zero would be like a smorgasbord feast.

Star Fox

starfox.jpgLike F-Zero, the Star Fox series began as a technological achievement on the Super NES. When the original game released in 1993, it was a visual wonder. Using the Super FX graphics chip, Star Fox was one of the first games to simulate 3D graphics on a console. But there was more to Star Fox than groundbreaking visuals; the gameplay was smooth, fast, responsive and incredibly addictive. When a Nintendo 64 sequel was released four years later, it improved upon everything the original had introduced, establishing the new franchise as one of Nintendo’s best and brightest for the future.

From there, everything went wrong. The third installment, Rare’s 2002 Star Fox Adventures on GameCube, was considered blasphemy by Star Fox faithful. Gone was the intense on-rails shooting of the first two games, and in its place was an adventure game best described as a second-rate Zelda. And while it was certainly a beautifully done adventure title, it just wasn’t a Star Fox game. The downward spiral continued three years later when Nintendo hired Namco for the next game, Star Fox: Assault. Though it was hyped as a return to form, it also had laborious ground missions which abruptly broke the intensity of the game, and although the recent Star Fox: Command on DS showed signs of improvement, Nintendo still seems to be struggling with the idea of keeping Star Fox on-rails.

But if Nintendo were to finally swallow the “on-rails pill” and bring Star Fox back to what initially made it special, the Wii could provide an astounding new level of interactivity to the Star Fox experience. As with any game in which shooting enemies is an objective, blasting enemy fighters could be a remarkably smooth and precise exercise on Wii, and like F-Zero, Star Fox could push the Wii to achieve a dramatic sense of speed and graphical prowess. Just as Nintendo achieved with Super Mario Galaxy, it would be technically easy to free up lots of processing power in space levels for gorgeous planetoids, meteors and space fighters through gorgeous lighting, particles and textures.

An on-rails, fast-paced, gorgeous looking Star Fox on Wii with online leaderboards? It would be a must-have, period.

Mega Man

megaman.pngSure, he isn’t technically a member of the Nintendo family. But Mega Man is sort of like that drunken uncle who used to come around all the time before he lost control of his life. Now, he stumbles around the house, filled with potential but too lost to actually fulfill it, barely recognizable and an embarrassing shell of what he used to be.

And maybe that was a bit harsh, but in the case of most of the countless spin-offs the franchise has spawned, you would have no idea it was a Mega Man game if not for the title on the box.

Maybe I am simply part of a stubborn minority, but when I buy a Mega Man game, the last thing I want is a contrived Japanese RPG with a grotesquely cliched anime presentation. I want a challenging 2D action-platformer filled to the brim with robotic enemies, weapon upgrades and a cool little guy with a blue suit and a blaster for an arm. And I really don’t think I’m the only one.

Super Paper Mario has proven there is still a market for simple 2D games on a console. They may be basic and they may be archaic, but considering Wii Sports, it seems consumers wouldn’t really mind. And speaking of Super Paper Mario, what if Capcom did a similarly styled Mega Man game? Imagine blasting through traditionally designed Mega Man stages in all their 2D glory until a boss battle, when the game would shift into a first-person perspective similar to that of Metroid Prime.

Capcom could even keep the formula simpler. Maybe a 2D Mega Man with cursor-based aiming as implemented in Geometry Wars? Players could aim wherever they wanted Mega Man to blast while simultaneously doing some deliciously sweet 2D platforming. Or perhaps add points-scoring for online leaderboards? And pretty explosions? How about keeping it pick-up-and-play, too?

Evolution is a great thing for a video game franchise to embrace, but there is a difference between evolution for the sake of improvement and evolution for the sake of complete reinvention. Mega Man, that little blue bomber we fell in love with two decades ago and captivated gamers for years, deserves better.

Donkey Kong

dkc.pngOh, how the mighty have fallen. Once one of the Nintendo elite, Donkey Kong has since been relegated to exist in perpetual mediocrity, appearing exclusively in vaguely interesting spin-offs, disappointing racers and niche rhythm games. But when considering his origins, it is easier to understand how Donkey Kong has lost his way. Despite achieving status as one of the most iconic characters in early gaming history, he didn’t make his playable debut until the Super NES when third-party Rare put him in his now-trademark red tie and let him loose to stomp through the jungle in one of the best platformers ever made.

And since? Well, things haven’t fared as well.

But like Mega Man and Star Fox before, simplicity is all it would take to resurrect Donkey Kong back to his former greatness. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, the oft-overlooked GameCube gem, had the right idea. But it implemented that idea with a bongo-pounding gimmick that, while incredibly fun, practically guaranteed it would become a niche title. A similar platformer could do well on Wii, but this time around, inject a little more Donkey Kong Country into the formula. Mine carts, rideable jungle critters and some sweet barrel blasting is all it would take to get fans back on board. Perhaps even more so than the previous four franchises, it wouldn’t take much to get Donkey Kong back on track. Give him the proper world to work in on Wii, and the lovable, legendary ape would likely take care of the rest.

And maybe add some online leaderboards. I like online leaderboards.