Opinion: Time to retire Nintendo's 'no new IP' critique

"Where's the new IP, Nintendo?"

It's a retort that executives at the storied Japanese company must be sick of hearing by now. Dubbed the Disney of video games, Nintendo has become known for refitting its most popular characters in new genres, but rarely stepping outside of its comfort zone. Even when it does plumb the depths of a new genre, it does it with its own trademark plumber firmly in tow to make the venture safe. We know Nintendo is great at making iconic characters, so where are they?

Given this year's E3, and considering its output over the last few years, I think we can safely retire that critique.

After all, this is the E3 where Nintendo introduced not one but two entirely new properties, with nary a Mario or Zelda character in sight. Splatoon promises to be its own family-friendly take on the multiplayer shooter, and Code Name: STEAM is trying out some new strategy RPG ideas without leaning on the Advance Wars name. Even before E3, we had the surprise announcement and sudden release of Rusty's Real Deal Baseball, the company's first attempt at a free-to-play game. Tomodachi Life also hit only a few weeks back, after debuting in Japan last year.

You want new intellectual properties? Nintendo just gave you four and we're only halfway through the year.

It's not as if Nintendo platforms have been a barren wasteland over the last few years either. Last year Nintendo published The Wonderful 101 and Level-5's Inazuma Eleven 3 games. The year prior, it responded very directly to fan wishes by picking up Xenoblade Chronicles and came out with HarmoKnight. 2011 brought Steel Diver and Pushmo.

In fact, a close examination of Nintendo's release history shows that aside from gaps here and there, it has consistently been putting out attempts at new franchises almost every year. The one time it produced barely anything new was during the late days of the Super Nintendo and the N64 era. You might also recognize this as the golden era of Nintendo that most gamers remember fondly.

No wonder the company is baffled by our outcry for new franchises. We all remember most fondly an era when it was iterating and producing sequels rapid-fire. The times in which it has produced new franchises, they've generally received a lukewarm reception. Sometimes that's Nintendo's fault for making a dud like Steel Diver, but we're just as often at fault for failing to support the franchises that show promise like Elite Beat Agents.

Not everything can be an instant classic. Chances are the squid-kids from Splatoon or the down-on-his-luck shop owner Rusty aren't going to be the kind of endearing classic characters that remain popular picks in the Smash Bros of 2025. Through this lens, the question more accurately becomes, "Why aren't all of your characters immediately as classic and recognizable as Mario?" The unfairness of the question is obvious. If Nintendo is indeed the Disney of video games, we don't pester the house that Walt built to give us a new Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck every year. The demand would be rightly shrugged off as absurd. So why do we constantly make the same demand of Nintendo?

I would posit that it's because Nintendo's own reputation precedes it. When the company hits gold, which has happened dozens of times over its long history, the games go down as among the best of their generation. Sometimes we remember them as genre-defining experiences, or shining examples of the best games of all time. We all know the kind of transcendent game experiences Nintendo is capable of, so it's easy to fall into the trap of expecting them to produce at that level of quality every time.

That's a tough legacy to live up to, and we absolutely should press for experiences that make good on the reputation Nintendo has earned. But expecting a classic to hit every single year? That's not fair to the developers, or to ourselves. Nintendo is producing new franchises. Some will hit, and some won't. When they do strike the mark, though, the onus is on us to pay attention.