When it comes to discussions about gaming graphics, people tend to celebrate the latest technical advances. This means games like God of War and Battlefield often shine with a realistic style that’s hard not to admire. But the titles that are often overlooked are the games that prioritize style over raw visual sheen. Few publishers put out games that present style as well as Nintendo, as the developer has put out some incredible looking titles that will stand the test of time as of late. While Nintendo doesn’t often win the awards for best visuals, the developers at the house of Mario are creating the best looking games being released currently.
The obvious elephant in the room is that the Nintendo Switch is a much weaker system from a hardware perspective than its console counterparts and most gaming PCs. Many would look at this limitation as a negative, and while it certainly doesn’t help Nintendo’s titles, it does force the developers to go a different route than realism in order to wow players. In a sense, this restriction imposed upon the many teams that work on Nintendo games have forced them to be more creative and focus on unique art styles that look unlike anything else on the market.
Another aspect in Nintendo’s favor is that the games feature a lovely full-color palette. From the bluest skies to the greenest grass, Nintendo titles are rarely lacking vibrant locales. This is in stark contrast to some of the dreary settings we see in first-person shooters set during one of the greatest tragedies in history. This has long been an issue in gaming, as U.K. Resistance famously launched its blue skies in games campaign back in 2005. From its actions, it seems loud and clear that Nintendo got the message and have been working on spreading joy throughout all of its releases. It clearly has been working as the company set themselves apart from the rest of the industry and have created its own positive niche that isn’t in direct competition with the likes of other console manufacturers.
Unique art styles that stand out
While Nintendo has put out gorgeous games ever since the ’80s, we’ve seen an even higher visual quality from their many teams since the start of the Nintendo Switch. Early titles like Arms and Splatoon 2 are both dazzling games that feature a ton of character in both their presentation and visuals. It’s near impossible to play the games without smiling, and their inherent charm is a lot of the reason for their success. From The Legend of Zelda: Breath to the Wild to Super Mario Odyssey, many of the Switch’s best playing titles are simply gorgeous to look at despite the technical inferiority.
Thankfully, Nintendo has shown no signs of stopping with their creative visuals. Coming out later this month, Yoshi’s Crafted World looks to be possibly the best looking game yet for Nintendo’s console and handheld hybrid. By putting a new spin on the yarn-like visuals seen in Yoshi’s Woolly World and Kirby’s Epic Yarn, developer Good-Feel created a title that features plenty of organic materials in a manner reminiscent of a lot of stop-motion animation. What is cool about the look is that any dedicated fan with artistic skills could actually recreate stages of the game in real life due to them being grounded in reality and using real materials.
Meanwhile, the upcoming remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening has a wonderful diorama look to it as if the world was made out of clay and other crafts. It doesn’t directly resemble the original title, which was quite simple due to the confines of the Game Boy’s limited tech. But it does evoke the same sense of wonder that the developers always intended. It’s an incredible way of furthering a game without changing the design and shows how purposeful visuals can be. With so many people looking to get lost in nostalgia, Nintendo is providing ways to remember the wonders that define childhood.
Why these visuals will stand the test of time
Another aspect that is often overlooked when talking about visual design is how they will age well. It’s certainly difficult to imagine something like Battlefield 5 looking poor, but that’s more prone to happen when games aim to create realistic interpretations. Technology is always improving and this means that our best attempts at recreating a location or an object will always pale in comparison to what will be done a decade from now.
Just look at the huge graphical leap we’ve seen over the past 15 years from the games released for PlayStation 2 compared to what is coming out today. While today’s titles won’t be quite as hard to go back to from a visual standpoint, they’ll eventually show their age no matter how much work went into making it as realistic as possible.
This problem doesn’t impact heavily stylized games in the same way. After all, these Nintendo games are already working from a technical disadvantage and managing to impress players around the world. Looking at Game Boy Advance titles like WarioWare Twisted! and its zany sense of humor and hilarious visuals are as impressive today as it was in 2004. This test will wind up being true for games like Super Mario Odyssey and many of Nintendo’s published titles as its games aren’t looking to impress from a technical standpoint but please players from a stylistic one. This different mindset allows them to create titles that stand the test of time.
So, while Nintendo can’t create any games at the moment that run in 4K, it doesn’t have to. Much like it has done for the past decade, the company is over in its own area doing what its pleases. This different approach has worked for them from a design standpoint, and by not following graphical trends it’ll be able to create games that players can appreciate decades from now. The Wii proved that over a decade ago and those same games that proved that point still look fantastic today.