Nintendo: why buy Next Level Games? - The Lakitu Sachet

Nintendo: why buy Next Level Games? - The Lakitu Sachet
A few miles away, and a few days before shaggy thugs invaded the Capitol, in a grotesque and disturbing reification of the first Donkey Kong, Bowser must have gone back and forth several times between Redmond (Washington, United States) and Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada), with the aim of establishing the final details of the acquisition of Next Level Games by Nintendo. We refer of course to Doug Bowser, who has been president of Nintendo of America since 2019, certainly not to the thorny tyrant of the koopas.

If all goes well, and at the moment there is no reason to suspect the contrary, the Japanese company at the beginning of March will become the owner of Next Level Games, precisely Canadian, with which it happily collaborates since from the beginning: the software house was founded in 2002, the following year it publishes the NHL multiplatform Hitz Pro (a hockey game, just to corroborate some territorial stereotypes) and, as a second project, an honor reserved for a few (even more in the West) , immediately puts his hands on the mustachioed, and plump, Nintendo plumber. Thus arrives on GameCube, in 2005, Super Mario Strikers: a very nice and fun soccer game, which sells - in the waning phase of the console - more than 1.5 million copies. Nintendo is pleased with the result, from any point of view, and immediately commissions a follow-up to the Revolution project, which a few months later, in late 2006, would colonize the living rooms of the rich world under the name of Wii.

The game arrives in 2007, it is called (in Europe) Mario Strikers Charged Football and, in spite of the similar Metacritic average, it turns out to be more beautiful and much richer than its predecessor: it is also a moderate commercial success, square one million copies more than the progenitor, and offers a very pleasant online multiplayer mode, even in co-op from the living room. Before devoting himself solely to Wii, and to another historic Nintendo brand like Punch-Out !! , Next Level Games releases a nasty cross-platform Spider-Man tie-in (Spider-Man: Friend of Foe), and a decent Xbox 360 exclusive (Ticket to Ride).

From Wii all 'acquisition

In 2009 and 2010, Next Level Games only creates titles for the Nintendo Wii: as we said before, Punch-Out !! (and its WiiWare spin-off Doc Louis's Punch-Out !!), developed under the supervision of the Japanese company and, in particular, of the exterophile Kensuke Tanabe. The qualitative difference between this project and the contemporary ones is all too evident: some attribute the disparity to the Japanese supervision, but it could also depend on the difference in commitment, the excessive number of titles developed together (from three to five, we do not know the details ) or, more likely, from a synthesis of these three hypotheses. In 2011 comes the last game detached from the Nintendo world, namely Captain America: Super Soldier, published by SEGA for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (and Wii, on which, however, it is adapted by another company).

The difference between the projects of Next Level Games with or without Nintendo is evident, predictably, not only in terms of quality, but also commercial. So the two decide to further tighten their bonds, and to work only together, thinking of taking advantage of each other. The first fruit of this new relationship takes the name of Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, is produced directly by Shigeru Miyamoto (it will be one of the last times, barring unlikely surprises) and arrives in 2013. With more than six million copies placed, it becomes the best-selling game of the series and the company: this milestone wasn't enough to talk about success, Luigi's new ghostly adventure also gets a Metacritic average of 86, the highest ever achieved by Next Level Games (equaling Punch-Out !!) .

The unfortunate life of Wii U also overshadows the Canadian creatives, who do not appear on the Nintendo home console: there are strong rumors of a canceled project, and indeed it would be plausible. In fact, between 2014 and 2018 Next Level Games publishes only one video game, Metroid Prime: Federation Force for Nintendo 3DS, critically sunk and condemned to a nefarious commercial fate. It is still the brother of Mario, glorified here by a saving role, to mark the triumphal return of the software house: Luigi's Mansion 3 comes out in 2019, and embodies the debut of Next Level Games on Switch. Qualitatively it is comparable to its predecessor, but on a visual and technological level it shows the enormous progress made by the software house: it is no coincidence that it obtains a resounding success, reaching eight million copies in a single year.

At this point, some of the founders of Next Level Games decide it is the right time to sell their company shares: Nintendo, before someone else shows up, probably taking advantage of contractual privileges, steps forward and acquires the Canadian company. It might seem like a success story like many others, and from some points of view it is, but it is a decidedly atypical conclusion for the usual Nintendo modus operandi.

A new era?

To understand how anomalous the acquisition of Next Level Games is, just remember that Nintendo had not incorporated any software house since 2007 (in that case, it was Monolith Soft). Before then, to trace similar operations, it is necessary to go back to 2002: a very important date in this sense. It marked the beginning of Iwata's management, the acquisition of Retro Studios (which had just released Metroid Prime), and the divestiture - or rather, non-acquisition - of Rare. Just Satoru Iwata has greatly altered the affiliations between the first three-dimensional Nintendo (1995-2001), and the one that would come soon after (his "his" of him, in essence). This mutation began by abandoning collaboration with many Western studios, such as Factor 5 and Silicon Knights; above all, as we had already written extensively here, deciding not to acquire Rare.

At the same time, he returned to mend relations with many Japanese software houses, such as Namco (later Bandai Namco) and Square-Enix, with whom he negotiated the return of Dragon Quest, exclusively, on Nintendo platforms. The masterpiece of this strategy is represented by Monolith Soft: both for what it gave to Nintendo in terms of original works, and for the technical support provided to the studios in Kyoto and Tokyo. The Iwata management, in this field and beyond, deserves a separate study: today we limit ourselves to remembering that, despite the remarkable results, it has neglected the privileged relationship with Western developers at the very worst possible moment, when it would have given greater advantages. only in the present, but also in the immediate future. Let's remember that, in the late 90's, if you wanted to play the best FPS you had to buy a Nintendo console.

The situation, with Kimishima and Furukawa, has certainly not changed. Indeed, with NST (Nintendo Software Technology, also based in Redmond) increasingly engaged in minor projects or laborers, with Retro Studios increasingly less prolific, it certainly cannot be said that Nintendo has received much from its Western investments. Perhaps there is an idiosyncrasy of identity, so in Kyoto they don't like to work with those who, after having learned a certain way of thinking and creating, can easily go elsewhere. We do not know, but it is not to be excluded: after all, Nintendo focuses a lot on the training and retention of its staff.

There is another reason why Nintendo does not acquire external teams as often Sony and - above all - Microsoft, and is not limited to economic availability: when possible, the top management has always preferred the typically Japanese relationship defined as keiretsu. In short - very short - this strategy identifies companies that collaborate with each other on long-term fiduciary projects, providing for mutually owned company shares. This is the case with affiliations with HAL Laboratories, or Intelligent Systems. Nothing applicable in the West.

This summary has served us to introduce the central point: this acquisition will not necessarily mark a change of course in the Furukawa management. It was some founders of Next Level Games who wanted to sell the company, not Nintendo who came forward: simply, in Kyoto they decided that the games developed together, and therefore the knowledge learned, were important enough to justify such an investment. To prevent this precious knowledge from ending up elsewhere, and to avoid starting the process over with another team. After all, Luigi's Mansion 3 has sold eight million copies, and it will not stop there: we are talking, if it were not obvious, of a great success.

To conclude, we would also like to specify that no one in the world, and if you find someone who supports it, you don't believe them, they can say with certainty that the purchase of Next Level Games is not the beginning of a new era: it is certainly unlikely, and there are many sensible reasons, just outlined, to think that Canadians may be an exception to the rule. However, only time will confirm it: Furukawa was certainly not obliged to buy the team, and the acquisition of him could relate to a larger plan. After all, Nintendo hadn't acquired a Western team for almost twenty years: don't get used to it.

Powered by Blogger.