Nintendo produces many different kinds of games, but there’s a consistent factor that is present in nearly all of them: a cartoon-like art style. Many gamers belittle the company for constantly using this visual theme, insisting that it makes the games look too ‘kiddy’ (remember the Wind Waker fiasco when it first released?), While this may be true, I see it more as a benefit.
Nintendo has primarily focused on creating fictional adventures, as evidenced by the worlds of Super Mario, Zelda, Pokemon and Donkey Kong. Despite the fact that real-world elements are usually present, the use of a more artistic style gives off a more imaginative vibe. This visual theme brings out a dreamy atmosphere, which I happen to think makes the experience more immersive.
On top of that, the more artistic styles are arguably nicer to look that than those that strive to be realistic. Most of Nintendo’s games are bursting with color and artistic effects, all of which is very pleasing to the eyes. While natural beauty is also attractive, fantasy beauty gives off a whole other vibe. On top of that, it allows Nintendo’s games to stand out from the rest. Compare Zelda: Breath of the Wild to something like Horizon: Zero Dawn; Zelda looks like a painting come to life, while Horizon tries to capture a more cinematic look. Both games are roughly in the same genre, yet they each have a different atmosphere to them due to the difference in graphical styles.
Horizon and Breath of the Wild make for a good comparison. Both games are virtually in the same genre, but give off completely different vibes all because of the difference in art-styles.
Even though Nintendo tends to prefer the more artistic style, it’s not used in all of the games. Titles like Metroid, F-Zero and Xenoblade Chronicles come to mind. Due to the more serious themes that each of those franchises have, it’s easy to see why more realistic art-styles have consistently been used. Those titles arguably wouldn’t look and/or feel right if they had bright colors flashing everywhere. Having said that, I can admit that sometimes it is better for a game to strive for a more realistic look.
Just like how realistic visuals better suit the more serious games, colorful visuals compliment fantasy games. Imagine playing aforementioned series like Super Mario, Pokemon and Donkey Kong in a full-fledged realistic style, similar to that of Metroid, F-Zero and Xenoblade? While the gameplay wouldn’t have to change, it would definitely give off a pretty different feeling. But Nintendo has found an interesting way to strike a balance between the two.
Mario Kart 8 has a very interesting art-style. It’s incredibly colorful and vivid, but boasts a surprising amount of realistic elements and detail.
With the advancement in technology, specifically the HD-capabilities of the Wii U, the fantasy visuals have changed into more of a hybrid form. I already talked about Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but there are even more examples. Take for instance, Mario Kart 8. The game has an incredibly vivid color pallet, however, there are a lot of details that also give off a sense of realism. Pretty much all of the tracks in the game look like realistic representation of real-world locations, despite the fact that they’re shining in vivid colors and particle effects. The same can be said for the vehicles, which have little details like moving axles and transforming parts, and realistic environment & lighting reflections. Even the characters’ hair flutters in the wind, as it would in real life.
With all this having been said, while many gamers would like to see Nintendo produce more realistic-looking games, the regular fantasy art-styles help bring out a sense of imagination and wonder. But with the advancement of technology, Nintendo has been able to create a hybrid style that doesn’t look excessively serious nor cartoony. This style in particular looks rather good, and with the NX around the corner it will be interesting to see how much developers will the style be able to improve it with the added power. Realistic art-styles are great when the theme calls for it, but seeing that most of Nintendo’s games are more focused on imaginative fun, it’s appreciated that they continue to push the use of color and artistic effects.