Opinion: Five of the greatest exclusives that Nintendo ever lost


Nintendo’s first party exclusives are an unrivalled asset – their relative lack of third party exclusives are often pointed to when hardware sales show signs of struggling. The importance of exclusives, especially third party ones, has diminished through the years, but if Nintendo suddenly regained exclusivity for any of the following franchises it once controlled, perhaps everybody would benefit:

Resident Evil Minecart Screenshot

Resident Evil

Resident Evil’s move from Playstation to Gamecube was surely one of the most significant exclusivity deals ever struck in gaming. It was a significant coup for Nintendo: they’d poached a critically and financially successful mega-exclusive from Sony, and one that instantly challenged the misconception that their colourful new console was toy to keep the kids quiet. A remake and prequel for the original game resulted, along with a fourth title that reinvigorated the series despite a painful development period.

Of course, Resident Evil 4 turned out to be so good that Capcom decided to renege on their promise of exclusivity and announce (technically inferior) Playstation 2 and PC versions before the Gamecube version was even released. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, or perhaps it’s karma, but numbered Resident Evil titles have hardly been setting the world alight on non-Nintendo machines since (coincidence #2: the best game they’ve made since was originally a 3DS exclusive). At any rate, all that work returning to the roots of the franchise for Resident Evil Zero and the Resident Evil remake probably helped to make Resident Evil 4 the thematically strong and mechanically innovative title we know it to be.

Banjo-Kazooie nipper boss screenshot

Banjo-Kazooie

Let’s get Rare out of the way early. The loss of the studio to Microsoft would constitute an entire article of great lost exclusives, and the simple dynamic of having a culturally distant but structurally close developer was an asset in itself (Nintendo ended up with similarly fruitful partnerships with Metroid Prime makers Retro Studios and more recently with Luigi’s Mansion 2 developers, Next Level Games).

Why Banjo-Kazooie over, say, Perfect Dark, Jet Force Gemini or Conker? Well, there’s the boring business fact of Banjo-Kazooie being the only actual series at the time of the split (Conker’s Pocket Tails didn’t really have a lot to do with Bad Fur Day). But more than that, Banjo-Kazooie was simply something fresh among a sea of Nintendo stalwarts – I love Mario, Yoshi, Kirby and Donkey Kong just as much as everyone else does, but I can’t help but feel that the lack of platforming exclusives not using 20-30 year old mascots is a problem for the big N. And it’s not like Rare are putting everyone’s favourite bear and bird duo to great use at the moment.

Gameboy Tetris screenshot

Tetris

Built behind the iron curtain, the early history of the Tetris license is as complex as the falling-block game’s iconic gameplay is simple. The short version is that Nintendo, who dealt directly with the Soviet Government, were actually the first company to put out a legitimately licensed version of the game, despite the fact that everybody else seemed to be making one anyway. Epic lawsuits followed and Nintendo was largely successful at getting other versions of the game removed from sale.

Of course, the Gameboy version ended up making the biggest splash – to the tune of 35 million copies, many of which as pack-in titles for the Gameboy itself. The later history of the game shows Tetris’ enduring popularity as a mobile title, but though you’ll find several versions of Tetris on your 3DS, its success on mobile phones (over 100 million paid downloads) is a painful reminder of how the market has changed.

Promotional screenshot of Rayman Legends 

Rayman Legends

Objecting to the fact that a wider audience got to play Ubisoft’s beautiful and vivacious Rayman Origins sequel seems a little mean-spirited, especially considering that gamepad integration ensured that the Wii U version was still the definitive one. Nonetheless, the delay handed Nintendo a rather unfair vote of no-confidence, and it’s still a complete mystery why the decision to go multiplatform necessitated delaying Rayman Legends’ Wii U release.

Final Fantasy VI Opening sequence screenshot

Final Fantasy

That development of Final Fantasy VII was moved from Nintendo to Sony hardware because of the technical limitations of the cartridge-based N64 is a well-known piece of gaming trivia. The fallout was legendary – between mid-1996 and late 2002, Squaresoft didn’t release a single title on a Nintendo console, with Nintendo allegedly resistant to provide a license to the JRPG giant. Bridges had been burnt, and it took a pledge of new exclusives – including a fantastic new Final Fantasy Tactics and the experimental Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles spin-off series, to mend the relationship.

Fast forward to today and Squaresoft’s successor, Square-Enix, still continues to make significant exclusives available to Nintendo – Dragon Quest IX and X probably being the most significant, alongside the new Bravely Default IP. But Final Fantasy? The truth is that it never really returned to Nintendo. No main series game has appeared on a Nintendo machine since Final Fantasy VI, and ultimately, these numbered games are the ones that really count.

It’s a shame, too, because the alleged need to stick the latest Final Fantasy game on the platform that pushes the most polygons betrays the series’ descent into nonsensical narrative and style over substance. Stick Final Fantasy XVI on Wii U and perhaps Square Enix would go back to focussing on truly innovative stories.


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