Nintendo artist (and Tingle creator) Takaya Imamura retires

a man with glasses standing in front of Nintendo’s blocky shaped headquarters building
Takaya Imamura’s selfie marking his last day with Nintendo. He remarked that the offices are mostly empty because of the pandemic. | Photo: Takaya Imamura via Facebook

Illustrated numerous games in 32 years with Nintendo, including classics Star Fox and F-Zero

Takaya Imamura, an artist who worked with Shigeru Miyamoto in the creation of iconic Nintendo games Star Fox, F-Zero, and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, is retiring today.

Imamura worked 32 years for Nintendo, and is famous also for creating the Zelda franchise’s map merchant, Tingle, who has made numerous appearances in that series and other games over the past two decades.

空っぽの会社と自撮り(T ^ T)

Posted by Takaya Imamura on Tuesday, January 19, 2021

(His message, according to a Kotaku translation, says: “This is my last day going to work. I took a selfie with the empty office. I guess I won’t be coming in here anymore. As you’d expect, I’ll miss it.”)

Imamura joined Nintendo in 1989 as work was already underway on F-Zero, a Super NES racing game that launched in 1990. “After I joined, Miyamoto gathered some of the new employees and said we would be working on the new system,” Imamura recalled in a 2017 interview. “Even now, I clearly remember how happy that made me.”

F-Zero was originally conceived as a wheeled-car racer, but depicting moving tires on the vehicle added significantly more frames to Imamura’s animations. Imamura said the team of nine developers simply decided “to lose the tires and have the racers hover,” completing game’s futuristic appeal.

Imamura was also an artist for the team developing Star Fox, the 1993 Super Nintendo game that was the company’s first to use polygonal graphics. Imamura designed the characters, making them anthropomorphic animals at Miyamoto’s direction. From there, Imamura modeled the characters’ faces on his colleagues, though, with protagonist Fox McCloud taking after Miyamoto and wingman Falco as Tsuyoshi Watanabe. (In a 2017 interview, Imamura revealed that Peppy is director Katsuya Eguchi, and Slippy Toad is longtime Zelda developer Yoichi Yamada.)

freehand sketch of four anthropomorphic cartoon animals (an iguana, wolf, pig and monkey)
Photo: Nintendo
A sketch of the Star Wolf team, nemeses of Star Fox, that Imamura drew in 1994. It was included with the downloadable digital manual for Star Fox 2, which was finally released in 2017 with the SNES Classic.

The most lasting character Imamura designed and rendered, though, is Tingle. First appearing in Majora’s Mask on Nintendo 64 in 2000, Tingle’s outlandish image and behavior made him a comedy-relief favorite with fans. He returned in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Wakerand cameoed in several other games, including four of the five Super Smash Bros. (all but the first) and 2014’s Hyrule Warriors. Tingle also starred in a series of Nintendo DS games: Freshly Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland, Tingle’s Balloon Fight DS, and Ripened Tingle Balloon Trip of Love.