(Nintendo Image)

The Canadian developer behind 2019’s hit Switch game Luigi’s Mansion 3 has been acquired by Nintendo.

Next Level Games, based in Vancouver, B.C., launched in 2002. The company had already announced in 2014 that it planned to work exclusively with Nintendo from that point forward, and had only been working on games featuring Nintendo’s intellectual property, like 2013’s Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, for a couple of years before that point. This made it a rare “second-party” developer in the games industry, where a nominally independent studio makes exclusive games for a platform, until now.

With this acquisition, Next Level Games will become a full-fledged subsidiary of Nintendo. No other terms of the deal, such as a potential renaming of the studio, have been publicly announced. The company is expected to officially change hands on March 1.

This is a rare move for Nintendo, which hasn’t outright acquired a company since it bought the Tokyo-based developer Monolith Soft (Xenoblade Chronicles) from its previous owner Bandai Namco back in 2007. It’s typically more likely to open subsidiaries, i.e. Retro Studios in Austin, or maintain regular partnerships with third parties, such as its long-running agreement with the nominally independent Pokemon developer Game Freak, than buy a studio outright.

While Nintendo has said nothing else about its reasons for its acquisition of Next Level, aside from (paraphrased) “they were selling and we were in the market,” it’s easy to see what might have motivated the pickup.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 is one of the most popular games on the Switch, having shipped 7.83 million units worldwide according to Nintendo’s 2nd quarter results in November 2020. This ranks it at No. 11 on the Switch’s best-seller list. Luigi’s Mansion 3 also picked up several industry accolades in 2019, including a British Academy Award for animation and a Game Award for Best Family Game.

Now would be the right time to secure Next Level as a reliable, exclusive partner for further work on Nintendo’s intellectual property, particularly in an environment where competitors like Microsoft are buying up companies left and right.

Next Level Games’ first release was 2003’s NHL Hitz Pro for the GameCube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2, published via the defunct Chicago-based company Midway Games. Its next release, the hit soccer game Super Mario Strikers for the GameCube, marked the beginning of its long-running, initially irregular partnership with Nintendo, which eventually included the 2009 revival of the long-defunct Punch-Out! franchise on the Wii. Next Level’s last game made for a non-Nintendo system was 2011’s Captain America: Super-Soldier, a tie-in to the 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger. Set during World War II, Super-Soldier is notable for, unlike most film tie-in games, being halfway decent.