I can't tell you how many times I've read that Nintendo isn't as creative as it once was. I believe it started as far back as the 90s, after the Super NES was released. As soon as a few sequels (presumably with the word "super" in the title somewhere) popped up for the system, critics started bashing the big N for relying too much on its key properties (usually called "intellectual properties" or IPs) and not on new and original characters and concepts.
Having heard this year in and year out since then, I decided finally to do a bit of research (made a lot easier by the fantastic Nintendo Database) to see if the criticism has any teeth.
The job was a fairly straight-forward one: I simply looked back at the games Nintendo itself produced and published for each of its systems from the NES to the Wii. I only chose games released in the U.S., since I'm guessing if anyone ever reads this blog that's where they'll be coming from.
Anyway, based on that information, it's true that Nintendo released the most "unique" IPs on its first system, though I'm not sure that should be much of a surprise (of course the characters and concepts were original and unique on their first system). Has it released fewer games based on "new" IPs with every system since? Not really.
For comparison's sake, there were many, many original games released by Nintendo for the NES--too many for me to care to count, at least. Rest assured it was more than 13 (I'll list some of the most memorable below). The GameBoy, throughout its life cycle, has produced about nine "new" IPs thus far.
(A note of warning here: I only count original, unique characters and game styles as new IPs. For instance, the games produced around the Wario character (WarioLand and WarioWare) are unique IPs, in my opinion, while Super Mario Land on the GB is not a new IP to the system since it's really just another Mario platformer. None of the platforming Mario games on any other system count as a new IP for that system in my opinion either. Also, I'm only considering the U.S. market here. So, even though Fire Emblem and Earthbound/Mother began its life in Japan on the NES/Famicom, they were first introduced to the U.S. audience on the GameBoy and SNES, respectively.)
During the SNES era, Nintendo released eleven new IPs for the system. Moving on, six new IPs were released for the Nintendo 64 (many more if you consider Rare's contributions, to which Nintendo no longer owns the rights), and eleven were released for the fairly short-lived GameCube. Lest you should still think Ninty has, in fact, been shortchanging fans when it comes to new IPs for its more current systems, the still-young Nintendo DS has already seen the emergence of eight new IPs, and Nintendo has released two new IPs for the months-old Wii.
Although it seems clear Nintendo has released slightly less unique and original concepts/characters with every system released since the NES, I don't think it's as serious as some naysayers claim. The fact is, since so many new IPs are released for each successive Nintendo console, the company has many more games for which fans will be demanding sequels. Considering that fact, Nintendo has done a pretty good job of keeping sequel-happy fanboys in line while also attempting to attract gamers to other IPs.
With that said, what did I base my opinions on? Here are the lists of original IPs released by Nintendo for each of its consoles (the NES list is only representative and is not exhaustive):
NES: Balloon Fight, Dr. Mario, Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Ice Climber, Kid Icarus, Kirby, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Punch Out!!, Rad Racer, Star Tropics and Super Mario Bros.
GameBoy: Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, Golden Sun, Hamtaro, Mario vs. Donkey Kong, Pokemon (includes all later Pokemon titles as well), Tetris, WarioLand and WarioWare.
SNES: Donkey Kong Country, Earthbound, F-Zero, Mario Paint, Pilotwings, StarFox, Stunt Race FX, Super Mario Kart, Super Mario RPG (includes future Paper Mario games), Uniracers and Yoshi’s Island (includes later Yoshi platformers as well).
N64: 1080, Mario Golf, Mario Party, Mario Tennis, Super Smash Bros. and WaveRace.
GC: Animal Crossing, Battalion Wars, Chibi Robo, Custom Robo, Eternal Darkness, Geist, Luigi’s Mansion, Mario Superstar Baseball, Odama, Pikmin and Super Mario Strikers.
DS: Brain Age, Electroplankton, Elite Beat Agents, Hotel Dusk: Room 215, Mario Hoops, Nintendogs, Super Princess Peach and Trace Memory.
Wii: Excite Truck and Wii (fill-in-the-blank) series.
Another (probably) yawn-inducing note: I decided not to consider any of Nintendo's sports games outside of the Mario sports series as "new" IPs for any of the systems. As far as I can tell, few if any of them ever produced sequels or new versions for later, successive systems, so I personally lump them together as updated versions of games originally released on the NES (Tennis, Baseball, Soccer, etc.).
Have I missed any, or do you completely disagree with any of the games I've called new IPs? Let me know!