Should Nintendo characters find their voices?

Nintendo characters have stayed mostly silent throughout the years. Would breaking with tradition, adding movielike depth and dimension to its games, be a good move?

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

Taking voice acting out of games not only saves on development costs (voice acting can be expensive, after all), but it also saves room on game discs. That's why some developers have left voice acting out of their titles.

Nintendo may be the most interesting case though. It's made a fortune with its first-party titles, however, very few of them have voice acting. But one recently released Nintendo game, Punch-Out, features several voice actors yelling as you fight.

Silent or no? You decide. Nintendo

In an interesting e-mail exchange, video game blog Kotaku wanted to figure out exactly why Nintendo decided to break from its antivoice tradition with the game. Game producer Kensuke Tanabe said Nintendo's model has always centered on keeping the main character silent. Little Mac, Punch-Out's protagonist, is silent throughout the game.

"Nintendo's tradition is that the hero or central character never vocally speaks," Tanabe told Kotaku. "We also followed this tradition for the title...We recorded speech to express each character's origins and characteristics...I believe (that using) fighters' voices during matches is very effective in making the experience more immersive."

Other Nintendo characters have been designed to break their silence during particular moments as well. Link, the protagonist in the Zelda series, often screams out loud when he attacks an enemy with his sword. Even Mario has said a few things. "It'sa me, Mario!" comes to mind.

While those Nintendo characters don't hold conversations, their vocal moments do prove that Nintendo isn't against voices, per se. In addition to saving money and space, it is leaving characters' discussions to the imagination.

Does voice acting add or detract to a game's appeal? Metal Gear Solid is well-known for its voice acting, but it has become overabundant and at times quite annoying. Who can forget Sonic's regrettable voice acting in Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast? And voice acting in the Elder Scrolls series showed that even with great voice actors, not getting enough of them can lead to almost irritating repetition. It hurts the experience.

At the same time, those gamers looking to immerse themselves in a new world might want voice acting. To some, characters speaking their minds help gamers relate with the characters. Voices might even help them enjoy the game more. Gears of War seems proof of that. That title's voice acting was stellar.

Is it time for Nintendo to forgo its tradition of keeping its characters mostly silent, potentially adding movielike depth and dimension to its games?

Nintendo has made it clear with each new release that it has no intention of giving its characters full-blown conversational voices. It wants to produce a mysteriousness about them, apparently, that you won't find in many other games today. Should it maintain that differentiation? Let's discuss in the comments below.

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