Majora's Mask official art

Image: Majora’s Mask official art. Nintendo.

In an interview during E3, Zelda creator and Nintendo development director Shigeru Miyamoto suggested his company is still undecided when it comes to The Legend of Zelda‘s portable future. The maestro explained to IGN:

We haven’t quite decided yet, whether we’re going to do A Link to the Past, because there’s also the possibility of doing a remake of Majora’s Mask… This is something we’ve certainly been talking about and doing a little bit of experimenting with, to figure out which way we’re going to go.

The dueling possibilities of a Majora’s Mask remake and a Link to the Past remake join two others for the franchise that have been floated: Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma previously claimed that the next Zelda game to appear on 3DS would be an original entry in the series, and Miyamoto himself suggested only a few months ago that he is interested in developing a sequel to Link to the Past.

Altogether, that’s four more Zelda games that could join Ocarina of Time 3D on the 3DS. The problem is that, according to Nintendo’s own Zelda authorities, none are very far along. Indeed, it doesn’t sound like any have moved past the “experimentation” stage.

The inability to choose any direction, even when safe and obvious ones are available, for one of Nintendo’s most beloved game franchises on a system the company has scrambled to support and only just saved from falling into early irrelevancy, further illustrates a point I’ve been pounding on about since Splodinator’s inception. Nintendo needs to pull itself together, fight persistent droughts, and just make, then release, quality games at regular intervals.

Here we are in June of 2012, a full year after Ocarina of Time 3D‘s release, and Nintendo still hasn’t even chosen a direction for its successor. That’s an entire year that OoT 3D studio Grezzo could have spent porting Majora’s Mask. We are more than half a year removed from Skyward Sword‘s release. Plenty of time for Eiji Aonuma to have split his team and gotten its members working on both a Link to the Past remake and direct sequel, probably with a few people to spare for original-game experimentation.

Assigning staff in that fashion would not be a hard decision to make. In fact, it’s all obvious. Grezzo did a great job with Ocarina, the game reviewed well, it sold well, and fans are vocally hungry for its sequel. Meanwhile, Aonuma and his team are also clearly ready to do something for the 3DS.

Not that waiting for any of those signs would have been strategically sensible anyway. Planning out future projects for your biggest franchises, your most successful developers, and for your most important hardware is vital for securing long-term success. Multiple Zelda entries over the course of a system’s life are a given, and being ready to start the next project when the previous one is completed is necessary in an era of ever increasing development time-frames.

We’ve seen what a lack of planning has done to Zelda already: Skyward Sword came out too late to spur sales and interest for the Wii. Twilight Princess suffered similarly on the GameCube, and only did well out of happenstance, taking long enough to wind up as a Wii launch game.

With so much of Nintendo’s collective talent left to ponder and poke at future projects without direction, and with seemingly little concern paid to the release calendar, Nintendo’s systems are left to suffer the whims of its software directors. Nintendo fans run out of excitement, mind share shrinks, interest in future games dwindles, consumers fall out of the habit of buying new games, and sales suffer.

Zelda’s Undecided Portable Future, and its Poor Reflection on Nintendo