Whenever Nintendo’s biggest first-party Western game developer, Retro Studios, comes up, the prospect of a Legend of Zelda game handled by the studio tends to crop up as well. I know I’m guilty of it. The fact of the matter is that Retro Studios did such a good job handling the Metroid brand, one of the few established single-player Nintendo franchises to actually grow in the past decade or so, that many people place more confidence in them than they do in Nintendo’s EAD.
Their pedigree should speak for itself: Retro Studios is a perfect candidate for the development of a new Zelda game that will energize both the fans and potential newcomers to the series – and I’ve got five reasons why.
#5: They’ve worked on a Zelda game before
Okay, so I’m actually stretching the truth a little bit on this one. Retro Studios has never actually developed a title in The Legend of Zelda series. But they have developed three titles in the Metroid series, bringing the franchise out of its side-scrolling roots and into full 3D, and to great success. Metroid isn’t directly comparable to Zelda, sure, but it bears similar enough qualities that I think the talent at Retro could easily be transferred over.
For one, Metroid is heavily atmosphere and environment-driven, with item-based puzzles, deep lore, and rich worlds to explore. In place of a traditional “field” overworld, Metroid has a series of interconnected stages, but the means of navigating the world remains largely the same. They’re no strangers to the kinds of gameplay and world design Zelda fans expect.
#4: They have a terrific art department
Zelda‘s recent art style choices have been hit-and-miss, but Retro Studios has a completely unblemished track record in the art direction department. Metroid Prime was widely considered one of the best-looking games of its generation, both in terms of its in-game graphics and its conceptual artwork – and it’s largely believed to still hold up pretty well today.
I haven’t personally had any problems with Zelda‘s art direction – I adore The Wind Waker and would love to see Skyward Sword‘s style fully realized in HD. In light of the riskier economy and Nintendo’s current financial situation, however, it’d be better to enlist Retro to ensure a sure-fire hit than rely on EAD to come up with something that will be pleasing to a wide audience when so far they haven’t been able to produce consistent results.
#3: Zelda is struggling to remain relevant within mainstream gaming
It’s a hard truth, but one that I think people need to be more willing to admit: Zelda just isn’t considered the must-have action-adventure on the block anymore. That’s the only real way to explain how the newest Zelda game could be so definitively overshadowed by a game like Skyrim, which has managed to sell over 10 million more copies than Skyward Sword despite being on the market for about the same time.
Games need to be appealing to as many people as possible, and that means living up to expectations. For major franchises like Zelda, ensuring that they remain big sellers will likely be the difference in determining whether they live on to spin more legends in the future. It’s not just about the artistic direction – I’ve already discussed that more specifically in my last point – it’s about the game’s perceived offerings as a whole.
Once upon a time, Zelda‘s world was seen as the biggest and the best… but that’s no longer the case. The graphics were once seen as cutting-edge and the new standard… now the series is behind the times. Ocarina of Time was once elevated to the best game of all time… but the recent installments have struggled to even find a foothold as the best game of the year. This needs to change, and it needs to change now if the series is going to keep on chugging down the line.
Retro revitalized the Metroid brand. I’m sure they can do the same for Zelda.
#2: Retro brings the perfect blend of Western development and Nintendo’s philosophy
A lot of people seem to see Western developers and Japanese ones as somehow eternally at odds. Not the case for Retro Studios. As a first-party Nintendo developer, they’ve actually done a terrific job of bringing the best of both worlds. I talked earlier about their top-notch art direction, but it’s matched by a Nintendo-like level of quality and polish, an excellent user interface, and novel concepts like Metroid Prime‘s Scan Visor that feel like they make sense in the game’s universe instead of like out-of-place gimmickry. They’re not a studio to simply meet the status quo: they’re constantly finding ways to exceed it.
Donkey Kong Country Returns managed to introduce ideas I never would have even imagined, such as a level in which ocean waves from the background constantly buffet the play field, meaning you have to move carefully to avoid being swept away. That’s the kind of creativity that we’d usually ascribe to Nintendo, yet it’s coming from a decidedly Western studio.
It’s such a unique and excellent blend that I know I’m not alone in saying that I’d love to see the Retro touch extend to some of Nintendo’s other franchises – and Zelda is at the top of the list for many.
#1: Fans keep asking for it
This is the most straightforward reason of them all: the idea keeps coming up, so it’s clear that people want a Retro-developed Zelda. Even if it’s just one game, there’s definitely a demand there, and Nintendo would be crazy not to try to meet that demand. They’re a business, after all – it’s their job to deliver products that their customers want.
Holding up some lofty idea that “Zelda must stay in Japan” isn’t going to cut it for these people. They want to see a Zelda that isn’t made in Japan, otherwise they wouldn’t keep asking for it.
In the end, “what people want” is the force that underlies all these other points. People have been begging Nintendo for a game that looks like the Zelda HD Experience, only to be met with comments from Nintendo suggesting that there might be some other art style in the works. They’ve asked for a Zelda game that can stand its own against today’s action-adventure and action RPGs, and Nintendo’s constantly delivered rehashes of old content marked by “new ways to play” instead of simply delivering a game that exceeds fans’ expectations.
A Retro Studios Zelda isn’t just a pipe dream: it’s a representation of everything that those who want more out of Nintendo are looking for in their favorite franchise.