The State of Nintendo’s Development Teams

Hardcore Gamer recently published A Brief History of Nintendo Restructuring Their Development Teams, which ultimately amounts to this in 2018: almost all of Nintendo’s first-party output comes out of a single development banner called Nintendo Entertainment Planning and Development (EPD). Of course, this is comprised of perhaps dozens of discrete development teams, but there’s little way of knowing what those teams are working on specifically, who’s directing these teams or even what each team is referred to internally. So, in a fashion that’s a bit different from our The State of Microsoft’s Development Teams and The State of Sony’s Development Teams articles, we’re going to use more guess work in figuring out what’s going on behind the Big N’s closed doors. We’ll begin with Nintendo’s first-party developers, with a large focus on figuring out EPD’s current workflow and then wrap things up with their many second-party developers that are separate from EPD and Nintendo as a whole. Here’s our look at The State of Nintendo’s Development Teams.

First-Party Studios

1-UP Studio

What They’re (Probably) Working On – Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

What They’re (Maybe) Working On – Super Mario Odyssey Successor

1-UP Studio is a bit of an oddity. Based out of Tokyo, they began their existence under the moniker Brownie Brown and helped HAL laboratory develop the still-not-released-out-of-Japan Mother 3 for the Game Boy Advance. They also helped Square Enix on Sword of Mana and Heroes of Mana and made a few lesser known titles here and there. In 2013 they changed their name to 1-UP Studio and committed to transforming completely into a co-developer. Since then, they haven’t made a single game on their own, instead assisting in development like they had done with other games in the past. These junctures include Super Mario 3D Land, Super Mario 3D World, Super Mario Odyssey and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

Because of their past work, it would make sense that they’re currently helping Nintendo port the announced Switch version of Captain Toad. Beyond this, they could be working on a sequel to Captain Toad, though knowing Nintendo, they’re likely waiting to see how the Switch port sells before committing resources to another title in the burgeoning series. More interestingly, they could be hard at work assisting on the successor to Super Mario Odyssey. While Nintendo typically only releases one major 3D Mario platforming title for each console, they’ve broken this trend in the past with Super Mario Galaxy 2, and they’re once again in a period of financial and critical success like they were back then. The Switch has quite a bit of life left in it and they’d be remiss not to bank off that success with another major Mario game.

Monolith Soft

What They’re (Almost Definitely) Working On – a New Fantasy Themed IP

Monolith Soft began their relationship with Nintendo after making a couple of RPGs for the GameCube and a handful of the same on the DS. Nintendo purchased the majority shares of Monolith Soft in 2007, and after cranking out a few lesser-known games, they released the title they’re now synonymous with: Xenoblade Chronices. A sprawling, unique JRPG, Xenoblade has spawned two successors since its release in 2010 – 2015’s Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Wii U and 2017’s Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for the Switch. Monolith Soft recently released a job advertisement for an upcoming game they’ve described as “an ambitious project different from the brand image of Monolith Soft.” It was accompanied by a couple of pieces of concept art, one showcasing a man in traditional steel armor and the other featuring a woman with a dragon flying in the background. This all suggests that their next project will take the studio in a different direction from their sci-fi infused Xenoblade Chronicles franchise, though it’s likely to retain RPG elements from their past games. Fans were skeptical when Monolith Soft announced that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 would be released on the Switch in 2017, just two years after Xenoblade Chronicles X came out on the Wii U, but they managed the quick turnaround wonderfully. Because this is a new IP, development may take a bit more than that, but since Monolith Soft has quickly become accustomed to development on the Switch, it could come out as soon as late 2019.

Nintendo Entertainment Planning and Development (EPD)

What They’re (Definitely) Working On – The Next Zelda, Yoshi, Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion, Mario Tennis Aces, WarioWare Gold, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Fire Emblem Switch

What They’re (Probably) Working On –The Next 3D Mario, New Super Mario Bros.

What They’re (Maybe) Working On – a 2D Zelda, a 2D Metroid, F-Zero, Star Fox, Super Mario Maker 2

Nintendo Entertainment Planning and Development (EPD) constitutes the entirety of Nintendo’s in-house development teams. Unlike past Nintendo development umbrellas, the teams under EPD are not disclosed and labeled to those outside of the company, meaning we genuinely have no idea which team is doing what or even if they have discrete “teams” anymore; they may instead be constantly shifting talent around to work on any given project. What we do know is that they are working on a plethora of already announced games and are undoubtedly also developing various unannounced games that may come out sooner than we’d expect. After all, Nintendo has gotten into a good habit of announcing and releasing games within the same year.

As of right now, we know the group is working on a handful of announced projects. Zelda series Producer Eiji Aonuma has confirmed that the successor to Breath of the Wild is already in production and it’s more likely than not that the majority of the same team that worked on Breath of the Wild will once again work on this follow up, including Director Hidemaro Fujibayashi. We’ve already dreamed of what the next Zelda could be like, but it’s probably still a few years off, even with an established engine on the Switch. As we’ve previously gone over, Nintendo has gamers covered through this Summer. They have Mario Tennis Aces scheduled to drop on June 22, the Switch port of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker coming on July 13, WarioWare Gold coming to the 3DS on August 3, a Yoshi Switch game that’s scheduled to release this year, Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion should hit this Summer and Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey for the 3DS is set for 2019.

Though Nintendo hasn’t officially announced anything pertaining to upcoming Mario platforming games, it’s quite possible that they’re already developing a follow up to the highly successful Super Mario Odyssey. The only Nintendo console to get two 3D Mario games was the Wii with Mario Galaxy 1 & 2, and both are still considered masterpieces. If Director Kenta Motokura and Producer Yoshiaki Koizumi work together again, a Super Mario Odyssey 2 of sorts isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Likewise, New Super Mario Bros., the 2D line of Mario games that most recently produced New Super Mario Bros. U and the New Super Luigi Bros. DLC for the Wii U, hasn’t been accounted for on the Switch. This subseries sells far too well for Nintendo to abandon it, and though it hit a bout of franchise fatigue on the Wii U, enough time has passed for a new “New” entry to come out and please a whole lot of classic 2D platforming fans.

There are also dozens of unaccounted Nintendo IP that have yet to be announced for the Switch, but not all are as likely to come to the system as others. Don’t hold your breath for a Mother 4 or Ice Climber 2 to show up, but franchises like F-Zero, Star Fox and Super Mario Maker could very well be under development right at this moment. Speculation about EPD can run rampant, but even though franchises like Zelda and Metroid have been spoken for, 2D entries of these series could be in the works. This includes the much rumored 3DS remake of Link’s Awakening or Metroid V (aka, Metroid Dread). It’s impossible to completely pin down anything EPD is working on until they announce it, so stay tuned for a lot more out of this massive development conglomerate during E3.

Nd Cube

What They’re (Almost Definitely) Working On – Mario Party 11

Nd Cube is one of Nintendo’s few wholly-owned subsidiaries and since 2010 they’ve exclusively made party games for the company’s various systems. They’ve most recently assisted with development on the mobile title Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and were the sole makers of Mario Party: The Top 100 on the 3DS. Because they’ve made the last two mainline Mario Party Games following the closure of Hudson Soft in 2012, expect them to be cranking out a Mario Party 11 either this year or next year. Though the series isn’t a critical darling, its entries consistently sell in the millions, so don’t assume Nintendo will stop producing these quick and easy party games any time soon.

Retro Studios

What They’re (Maybe) Working On – A New IP

What They’re (Maybe) Working On – Star Fox: Grand Prix

Star Fox Zero Screenshot 2
Retro Studios is one of the (many) jewels in Nintendo’s unstoppable infinity gauntlet, as their work on the Metroid Prime Trilogy boosted them to legendary status. After finishing said trilogy, they moved on to Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii, which similarly received praise and combined with its 3DS port has sold over an estimated six million copies. Their most recent title, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for the Wii U, was also met with positive reviews, though because it was on the Wii U it didn’t sell particularly well. It was recently ported to the Switch, so it may just experience a strong second life.

Just a few months following the release of Tropical Freeze back in early 2014, Retro was reported to have started work on a new game, which isn’t likely to be Donkey Kong and definitely isn’t Metroid Prime 4. This essentially leaves two possibilities: they’re either working on a different Nintendo IP or they’re making a brand-new IP from the ground up. Since Donkey Kong and Metroid Prime are off the table, that could mean a host of things. Zelda and Mario have been released by other teams, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is out in the wild, Kirby’s been accounted for, Yoshi’s being worked on at the moment, and other Nintendo IP’s have been touched on in the Switch’s current short but oh so sweet lifespan. Our guess? It could be a 2D Metroid game, as they have experience with the series in general and have worked on 2D game design with their last two titles. Recent rumors, however, suggest that Retro are working on a Star Fox racing game called Star Fox: Grand Prix and that it’s modeled after racers with a central hub world like Diddy Kong Racing. It’s also possible that they’re working on a new IP. A job listing at Retro recently cropped up and it suggests their current game is a major project with a “compelling story in a meaningful world.” It’s always nice to see Nintendo generate new IP, and it would be awesome if they let Retro tackle their first entirely original game.

Unnamed “Talented New Development Team”

What They’re (Definitely) Working On – Metroid Prime 4

For all we know, the “Talented New Development Team” that is officially working on Metroid Prime 4 is actually within Nintendo EPD, though there are a few reasons why we don’t think they are. First off, the Metroid Prime subseries has always been handled by a Western studio while Japanese developers have had their hands on the mainline 2D series (though, let it be clear, it still doesn’t make much sense for Nintendo to make something called Metroid Prime 4 in the first place). Second off, Nintendo went out of their way to say it’s a new team instead of just saying that a team within EPD is taking care of it. Lastly, outside studios have been taking care of the Metroid franchise outside of Nintendo’s mainline development studios, like MercurySteam working on Metroid: Samus Returns for the 3DS, Retro Studio making the entire Metroid Prime trilogy or Next Level Games churning out the wildly unpopular Metroid Prime: Federation Force. What we do know is that Metroid Prime 4 is on its way, regardless of if we see it at this year’s E3.

Second-Party Developers

Bandai Namco Entertainment

What They’re (Almost Definitely) Working On – Super Smash Bros Switch

What They’re (Probably) Working On – Metroid Prime 4

While it’s absolutely a massive game developer and publisher in its own right, Bandai Namco famously worked with Nintendo on Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U. They teamed up with Sora Ltd., an independent studio built by Super Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai, and cranked out two high-quality titles for Nintendo’s last generation of consoles and handhelds. Now that the Switch is both of these things, their talents will be put to good use on Nintendo’s new hybrid.

Because of their previously successful relationship with Nintendo, the rumors that suggest Bandai Namco are actually the “Talented New Development Team” that’s working on Metroid Prime 4 hold some weight. No, they aren’t a Western studio, and no, they aren’t a new company, but that doesn’t mean they don’t house that same team. We’ll likely find out soon enough, but if this is the case, Nintendo and Bandai Namco are quickly becoming a dynamic duo.

Game Freak

What They’re (Definitely) Working On – Pokémon Switch

Though many casual fans assume that Nintendo created Pokémon, it was actually the closely associated developer Game Freak who is responsible for this craze that will likely never end. They’ve been hard at work on the next Pokémon game for quite some time, as the team that made Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon was just a small, junior-staffed group. In fact, it’s possible that even the original seventh generation games, Pokémon Sun and Moon, weren’t completely worked on by their biggest talents. Junichi Masuda, the director of every main-line Pokémon title since Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, sat out as the game’s director. It’s possible that Masuda will return to direct Pokémon Switch, the series’ first proper RPG console or high definition game in history. Because it may have been in development since Pokémon X and Y wrapped up in 2013, it could very well hit this Winter or perhaps early 2019.

Grasshopper Manufacture

What They’re (Definitely) Working On – Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

Suda51 is known for his insane, over-the-top stylistic video games and it appears Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes for the Switch pumps through that same vein. It’s hard to pin down exactly what kind of game Travis Strikes again is. It’s an action game, a hack-and-slash, a mini-game compilation and more, as the game sees Travis Touchdown get sucked into the possessed video game console, the Death Drive MK-II. We had a chance to play it at PAX East, and though we’ve become a bit more enlightened on its place in the world, it’s still likely to confuse just as many gamers as it pleases. Travis Strikes Again is set to release exclusively on the Switch at some point in 2018.


What They’re (Definitely) Working On – Luigi’s Mansion 3DS Remake

Although Next Level Games made the critically successful Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon for the 3DS, it’s the Legend of Zelda 3DS remake gurus at Grezzo that are tackling the original game’s remake on the 3DS. The remake is sure to be filled with more content than the original GameCube title, as one of the biggest criticisms aimed at this underrated launch title is its relatively short playtime. If it has even a fraction of Dark Moon’s spirit, however, it will likely charm critics and fans alike.

HAL Laboratory

What They’ve (Just Finished) Working On – Kirby Star Allies

What They’re (Maybe) Working On – Helping with Super Smash Bros. Switch

HAL Laboratory is technically an independent developer, though they’re most famous for working on Nintendo’s Kirby, EarthBound and Super Smash Bros. franchises. Speaking of which, just a couple of months ago they shipped Kirby Star Allies for the Switch. Because of this, don’t expect them to release something else any time soon. They could be assisting in the development of the new Super Smash Bros. game for the Switch, but it’s more likely that Bandai Namco and Sora Ltd. are handling the majority of the development for this much-anticipated title. HAL Laboratory is almost definitely not working on the EarthBound (aka Mother) series, so try not to get your hopes up about that too much.

Intelligent Systems

What They’re (Definitely) Working On – Fire Emblem Switch

What They’re (Definitely) Working On – WarioWare Gold

Intelligent Systems isn’t owned by Nintendo, but essentially all of their games since their inception in 1984 have been for Nintendo systems or were made with Nintendo IP. They’re most famous for creating the tactical role-playing franchise Fire Emblem, which didn’t come over to America until 2003’s Fire Emblem for the Game Boy Advance – its simple eponymous title is a misnomer, considering it’s really the seventh entry in the series. Nintendo only ever decided to bring this tough-as-nails title to the West after the playable Fire Emblem characters Marth and Roy from Super Smash Bros. Melee were well-received outside of Japan. Early last year, Nintendo released a Fire Emblem-centric Nintendo Direct that tentatively announced a Fire Emblem Switch game to release in 2018. Though we’ve heard nothing about the title since, it’s still possible that it’s on track to come out later this year, likely during the holiday season. Don’t be surprised if gameplay of Fire Emblem Switch is shown off during E3.

Oh, and they’re also assisting EPD with WarioWare Gold for the 3DS.

Sora Ltd.

What They’re (Definitely) Working On – Super Smash Bros. Switch

What They’re (Probably Not) Working On – Kid Icarus

As previously mentioned, Sora Ltd. and its director Masahiro Sakurai are now largely responsible for the development of Super Smash Bros. Switch. Though that’s almost definitely their sole focus at the moment, Sora has developed other games in tandem with Super Smash Bros. in the past, notably Kid Icarus Uprising for the 3DS. This underrated gem was passed over by many gamers because of its finicky controls, but it’s a Nintendo IP that has been relatively untapped and it’s possible Sakurai will take another stab at it on the Switch at some point in the future.

Square Enix

What They’re (Definitely) Working On – Octopath Traveler

Square Enix has a complicated history with Nintendo, starting with half of the original company known as Square producing the first six Final Fantasy games exclusively on Nintendo consoles. After they jumped ship to make Final Fantasy VII for the PlayStation, their relationship understandably soured. Over the last few console generations, however, this bond grew once again and the two companies are on great terms. Square Enix has been on a retro kick as of late, making throwback RPGs like Bravely Default and Lost Sphear, and it looks like Octopath Traveler is following this trend with its “HD-2D” aesthetic and turn-based RPG battle system. It features eight playable characters who start their stories separately and come together as the game progresses. As of now, it’s set to release exclusively for the Switch on July 13.