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What Are Nintendo's Developers Doing?

SPD Groups, Retro Studios, Intelligent Systems, and the Rest

by Neal Ronaghan - January 25, 2012, 9:59 am EST

Outside of EAD, what is going on with Nintendo's developers?

SPD Group 1

What is it?: Yoshio Sakamoto’s quirky team, which finished up development of Rhythm Heaven Fever last year. They’ve also made the majority of the WarioWare and Metroid games.

What might they be doing?: Kikitrick, a weird, weird, weird game that just came out in Japan. After that? Maybe a WarioWare on 3DS or Wii U? They also very likely made the Shield Pose Wii U demo present at E3 2011, meaning they’re probably making something for Wii U.

SPD Group 2

What is it?: They mainly work with other studios on a variety of puzzle games. They’ve also worked on Xenoblade Chronicles and Endless Ocean with Monolith Soft and Arika, among other games.

What might they be doing?: Working with different companies on eShop downloads. They had a hand in most, if not all, of the 3D Classics.


SPD Group 3

What is it?: Kensuke Tanabe’s team that mainly works with Western developers.

What might they be doing?: Tanabe and company are likely overseeing Next Level Games’ work on Luigi’s Mansion 2 and Retro Studios’ work on whatever the hell their next game is.


SPD Group 4

What is it?: The Japanese version of SPD Group 3, this group works with external Japanese developers.

What might they be doing?: Finishing up Mario Party 9 with Nd Cube.


Nintendo Software Technology (NST)

What is it?: Located in Redmond, Washington on the Nintendo of America campus, NST has made several games, ranging from the Mario vs. Donkey Kong games to Metroid Prime: Hunters. They also have experience making DSiWare titles.

What might they be doing?: Considering they basically made the whole DSi Shop (yes, we can blame them for how terrible it is), they likely play a role in the eShop’s development and upkeep. Game-wise, hopefully they are working on something cool and awesome, like Project H.A.M.M.E.R. More likely, they’re making another Mario vs. Donkey Kong game for 3DS.


Monolith Soft

What is it?: Monolith Soft, formed in 1999 by ex-Square employees, is best known for the Wii game Xenoblade, the Baten Kaitos games, and the Xenosaga series. They also made everyone’s favorite terrible game, Disaster: Day of Crisis, which was the first game they made as a subsidiary of Nintendo.

What might they be doing?: They staffed up back in June for what appeared to be a large consoles RPG. So, most likely, Monolith Soft is working on a Wii U game that is either an original title, or some sort of follow-up to Xenoblade.

Retro Studios

What is it?: Nintendo’s second coming of Rare. Retro Studios was born out of Iguana Entertainment (you probably remember the name from mid-’90s Acclaim games), and immediately started working with Nintendo on games for the GameCube. Miyamoto and company ended up upending the company’s proverbial tea table, cancelling the other projects and assigning them to make a new Metroid title. The result was wonderful, and they followed that up with two sequels, a Wii re-release, and a new Donkey Kong Country game.

What might they be doing?: They just finished working with EAD Group 1 on Mario Kart 7, and as several job postings and LinkedIn profiles have revealed, they are very likely working on a Wii U title. I’ll be that ballsy fellow who says they’re working on a Zelda title for Wii U that will be out by the end of 2013.

Brownie Brown

What is it?: Brownie Brown is, like Monolith Soft, another studio made up of former Square employees. They’ve worked on the Mana series, Mother 3, and more on Nintendo portables. More recently, they made the solid DSiWare title A Kappa’s Trail, and helped out with Super Mario 3D Land is some capacity.

What might they be doing?: We know they’re making Fantasy Life with Level-5. With their past DSiWare experience, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re working on an eShop title while finishing up Fantasy Life.


Intelligent Systems

What is it?: Intelligent Systems has been around for as long as Nintendo has been making home consoles, with a resume that includes Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, Super Metroid, and Paper Mario. They most recently released Pushmo on the eShop.

What might they be doing?: Fire Emblem 3DS is due out in Japan this April, so they’re definitely finishing that up. Additionally, they’re working on Paper Mario 3DS. With two large projects in the works, they might not be doing another eShop title right now, but with the success of Pushmo, I’d assume they’re planning on making another game for Nintendo’s online platform.



What is it?: Masahiro Sakurai’s Nintendo-funded studio that came into being and started working on Kid Icarus: Uprising, which is due out in March.

What might they be doing?: Getting ready to be totally scrutinized for every single thing they do as the company starts working on Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS.

HAL Laboratory

What is it?: Formed in 1980, HAL Laboratory started making for the Commodore 64 and the MSX. They then started making numerous games for NES, forming a good relationship with Nintendo that ended with HAL Labs becoming a Nintendo subsidiary. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata was president of HAL Labs before he succeeded Hiroshi Yamauchi in the early 2000s. Additionally, Kirby creator (and Project Sora founder) Masahiro Sakurai got his start at HAL Labs. The company is best known for creating the Kirby and Super Smash Bros. franchises, and recently made the Kirby’s Return to Dream Land, Kirby Mass Attack, and the built-in 3DS game Face Raiders.

What might they be doing?: HAL Labs might be preparing to work with Sakurai on the next Smash Bros. game. If not, they’re likely working on something for Wii U or 3DS. I personally hope they make Picross 3D 3D. Although, if history is any indication, they’ll have a team working on a Kirby for the next decade.



syrindigoJanuary 25, 2012

I thought there was an article not too long ago in Nintendo Power where Retro themselves hinted on them doing a new Starfox!

As much as Id like a new Zelda. Im confident that the EAD groups can handle that...

Id rather see a Starfox game that reminds us why we fell in love with the franchise in the first place.... Because honestly... Its been far too long.

I'd rather have Q-Games do that since one of the creators of the SNES game runs the show there. And they made Star Fox 64 3D.

If I did this for every Nintendo-affiliated developer, you would have seen that prediction, but that may or may not happen.

TJ SpykeJanuary 25, 2012

Quote from: syrindigo

I thought there was an article not too long ago in Nintendo Power where Retro themselves hinted on them doing a new Starfox!

It was UK magazine Official Nintendo Magazine (published by Future Media, not Nintendo) which hinted at it in their rumor column. Retro themselves did not hint that they were working on a Star Fox game.

the asylumJanuary 25, 2012

As long as one of them is working on new F-Zero I'm happy

Chozo GhostJanuary 25, 2012


what studios have been idle for a while.

I don't think any studio sits idle for any significant length of time. We may not always know what they are up to, but they are always doing something because it would be a waste of money to pay salaries of studios doing nothing. What we see as "idle" is really just the period of time between the completion of their last project, and the revealing of their next. It takes time to get something polished off enough to have impressive screenshots or videos or demos put together for public viewing.

CericJanuary 25, 2012

I always considered Idle being the time when the decisions are made on what to work on next.

alegoicoeJanuary 26, 2012

great article, i found it to be very informative.

Quote from: Ceric

I always considered Idle being the time when the decisions are made on what to work on next.

I'm sure some studios (for example, Sora is going from Kid Icarus to Smash Bros. We know that for certain) have things lined up right away, even if we don't know what it is. For example, whatever Retro's working on was likely shored up before or right after DKCR came out. We know DKCR was set into motion right after Retro worked on Metroid Prime Trilogy.

Also, with Nintendo's way of doing things (with all the experimentation and the prototypes), an idle studio might just be making a bunch of concepts and not following through with them yet. Though that's more likely to be an EAD or SPD studio than a Retro or an Nd Cube.

Chozo GhostJanuary 26, 2012

The decision of what a studio works on might not even be made by the studio at all. Doesn't Nintendo have the authority to tell its studios what they are going to work on? I'm sure they have some varying degrees of autonomy, but as Neal just said their projects are probably lined up for them and decided on even before they finish their current project.

Killer_Man_JaroTom Malina, Associate Editor (Europe)January 26, 2012

How many of the internal teams are involved in hardware development? I feel like this topic comes up a lot (just what are Nintendo's studios doing?), and I know that Nintendo's software and hardware studios are supposed to be synonymous e.g. Hideki Konno, the director of the Mario Kart series, was in charge of the team that designed the 3DS. I figure that must have something to do with it.

I don't think they've outright said what group is working on Wii U.

However, I didn't mention a few of their other in-house branches, such as SRD (Systems Research & Development), IRD (Integrated Research & Development), and more. They likely handle more of the hardware load.

With 3DS and Konno at the helm of it, it was said at the time that Konno's involvement wasn't expected. It was the case of the higher-ups (Iwata? Miyamoto?) wanting to have a software dev's perspective on hardware.

Chozo GhostJanuary 26, 2012

Konno is the one to blame for the oversight of the 3DS not having dual analog built in? If that's the case, then its probably for the best if he wasn't the one in charge of designing the Wii U.

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