Nowadays, the words “Nintendo” and “indie” go together like “peanut butter” and “jelly.” The rise of the Switch has led to a strategic alliance between the Japanese giant and much smaller developers. By focusing on portability and their regular “Nindies” showcases, Nintendo has branded itself as the premier platform for indie gaming nirvana. On the flipside, the increasing popularity of the Switch and enhanced exposure from Nintendo’s presentations have resulted in unprecedented sales for countless indie studios.
Arguably, the most prominent of these studios is Swedish developer Image and Form games. The company has a surprisingly long history with Nintendo, and their SteamWorld games are brimming with as much charm as a Mario game. Both companies would have everything to gain and nothing to lose by taking their relationship to the next level. By merging together, Nintendo and Image and Form could greatly expand their brands and reach a wider audience.
The success of Image and Form’s SteamWorld Tower Defense on the Nintendo DSiWare shop in 2010 directly led to the creation of the SteamWorld franchise. The franchise practically screams Nintendo, and would make for a powerful acquisition by the company. Taking place in a steampunk western setting filled with cowboy robots and mutant humans, the games give off a quirky, humorous vibe that feels right at home with Nintendo’s family friendly approach. With a colorful cast of characters like SteamWorld Dig’s Rusty and Dorothy, Captain Piper from SteamWorld Heist, and Armilly from SteamWorld Quest, Nintendo could very well gain even more mascots who are just as memorable as Mario or Link.
Critics often complain that Nintendo clings a little too close to their established IPs, and they aren’t exactly wrong. Even with unique twists every generation, gamers can typically expect to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser, collect Gym Badges, or save the kingdom of Hyrule. In my opinion, acquiring Image and Form would greatly shatter this negative perception of “sameness.” The SteamWorld series alone consists of at least 4 different types of genres- tower defense (SteamWorld Tower Defense), Metroidvania (SteamWorldDig 1 and 2), turn based strategy shooter (SteamWorld Heist) and even card based, fantasy RPG (SteamWorld Quest). The franchise is constantly shaking things up, and could potentially show Nintendo in a more diverse light.
Image and Form would benefit tremendously from this acquisition as well. The SteamWorld series already sells way more units on Nintendo platforms, with SteamWorld Dig 2 selling anywhere between 5 and 10 times more on Switch than on Steam. With the full might of Nintendo behind them, the SteamWorld series could very well become a house hold name, much like Zelda or Pokemon. With that level of name recognition, the sales possibilities could be practically endless. The reputation of the company could continue to grow, inspiring them to continue making more and more creative gaming experiences.
The outcome I’m most excited about is the possibility of the SteamWorld series crossing over into mainline Nintendo franchises. Honestly, Dorothy’s abilities like her grenade launcher and mining drill would be super fun to experience in a Super Smash Bros game, and Rusty wouldn’t feel out of place at all in Mario Kart. The inclusion of these characters in popular Nintendo franchises would be a fan’s dream come true, while at the same time drawing in new gamers to the wonderful world of steam that Image and Form has created.
Overall this theoretical acquisition would be a win all around. Nintendo could add more great franchises to its already legendary library, while Image and Form would gain even more renown. At a time when Nintendo is seen as being behind with the times, acquiring Image and Form could be just the power move they need to show the naysayers that they can keep up with Sony and Microsoft.