Saturday, May 14, 2011

The truth about modern day Nintendo


A great many articles out there have focused on the innovative and industry-changing mechanics Nintendo has brought to the world. Every new console, from the decisive NES, to the legendary N64, or the mobile workhorse that is the DS, has been a resounding success for the house of Mario. With other companies pining to duplicate the unprecedented victories Nintendo has scored, it's hard to believe that Nintendo has actually become much worse in the eyes of the involved, contemporary gamer. So suit up gentlefolk, as we're about to acknowledge gaming's giant elephant in the room. That's right, this is going to be one of those articles highlighting the recent woes of Nintendo.


We all know what Nintendo has done for gaming, we all know the games they've created, and we all surely know the impact the Nintendo name has on certain households and the world. This is not what we're talking about today. The focal point for this very moment is Nintendo right here, right now, in the present day, and what the hell went wrong for them to get here. How can they be wrong when they've generated billions upon billions, you ask? Put away your spreadsheets and step into the shoes of someone who actually plays their games. All you have to do is look at the library of titles Nintendo has generated for the last fives years and all will be revealed.



Oh man, it's Mario! ...again.
Even before the Wii hit, Nintendo began its decent into madness with the GameCube years. That little purple box surely had some classic titles and sported the very best incarnation of Resident Evil ever found (or replicated), but it was not enough to hide the growing gap between them and their third-party partners. Besides their own primary development squad, Nintendo failed to ignite the industry to develop quality games for their system. What did you look forward to every year? Oh you know, Mario Tennis, Golf, Olympics, Strikers, Sunshine, the usual. Remember Star Fox: Assault? I try not to. What about Mario Kart: Double Dash!!? Like I said, I try not to. We did receive gems like Eternal Darkness and the original Metroid Prime during Gamecube years, but the majority of that console's titles were produced by Nintendo itself - and even then most were of questionable quality and value.

If you want to get picky, multi-platform titles were always better on the PS2 and Xbox. I remember picking up the Mega Man Collection on the GameCube because, hey, that's where the Blue Bomber originated. Once I got back to the house I was dismayed to find that the jump and shoot buttons were reversed and there was no way to change them. How hard is it to give us total control like PC games? That's a discussion for another article, but it was two friggin' buttons and they couldn't even get that right. The GameCube was also the only console which never fully accepted the concept that the future was tied to online capability. You had titles like Phantasy Star Online, but when that's basically your only online title and star player in an industry saturated with multiplayer games, there's a major issue at hand.


Hey, let's play another game. Oh, it's another Mario one? Cool...
So the GameCube came and went, people who never played a PS2 or Xbox loved it, and Nintendo devotees hugged it tightly every night before they slept, and then... the Wii hit.

Yes, yes, the Wii is a phenomenon; an industry innovation that levitated Nintendo to total conquest of the realm. But like I said above, we're talking about the games here, and Nintendo's direction as a game company. I'm not an accountant, business junkie, or monetary guru; I'm here to play great games, to support the creation of great games, and to write about them - the money accrued is completely meaningless when you can't even craft a compelling remake to the Donkey Kong series.

I remember E3 last year and how incredible Nintendo's plans sounded. If you look back, Penny Arcade created a series of E3 comics that depicted Nintendo in the way I believe most people felt at that time. A new Zelda, Goldeneye, Kirby, et cetera, all coming out soon? Finally, the perpetual wait of the hardcore gamer could come to an end. The months that would go by without a single compelling Wii game were a thing of the past! Slowly, however, these games would be rolled out and one by one they'd completely fall off the radar in the most discrete way possible. Is anyone talking about Goldeneye? Cute as Kirby: Epic Yarn was, where is it now? When Metroid: Other M was announced, the hype was unreal; there aren't even whispers about that game anymore.

We could go through the list of all the games and attribute 'this' and 'that' to the complaint board, but our real focus should be on Nintendo's motif of promising great things, but falling short. Nothing is more painful than picking up a game you've so desperately wanted, thought about daily, and thirsted to play only to have it become some sub-par re-imagining of a game you loved in the past. Donkey Kong Country Returns is a great example of this. Granted, I haven't played too much of it, and that in itself should be a crime now that I'm critiquing it, but what I played left me deflated. The Donkey Kong Country series is legendary (especially the second game, which is among my favorite games of all time. Don't you know David Wise?). To have it become something I'm just not interested in playing through is stunning. Why? In a nutshell, it's missing too much of what made Donkey Kong Country... Donkey Kong Country. No Kremlings? King K. Rool is gone? It's like taking Goombas out of Mario. That wouldn't ever happen.


If you'd like to participate in the worst story of the Metroid series, Other M is your ticket.
More importantly, Nintendo has become stagnant with their design philosophies and concepts. New and original titles are extremely hard to come by on the Wii; everything is predictable in every game release, every single time. You can only take so many Mario games before you want to explore other avenues and Nintendo simply does not have that to offer. Right now, their idea of a great game is something you can play for 15 minutes with your family and then be done with it. Forever. Because of this design philosophy, we've been presented with walls upon walls of shovelware. Walk into any retail store and I guarantee you'll find the Wii and DS sections the most flooded with low-quality 'games' like this. I also guarantee it'll be the hardest place to find a solidly good title.

"But the Mario and Zelda games are always lots of fun, and Mario Kart is fun with your family and..."

Just stop. Please.

Nintendo has zero, I mean ZERO growth as far as third party titles go. What further proof do you need than to look at the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3? How many franchises have no been firmly established on Sony and Microsoft's systems? Hundreds! Not to mention there are myriad quality third-party games to be found alongside first party titles. Follow that up with a robust selection in their indie and online stores and you really do have the diversity that can keep every single demographic happy. Nintendo seems to be unable to see the appeal of this, for some undisclosed reason.


Titles like Mad World were quite unique and fun. It's too bad more Wii games like it never surfaced.
The reason Nintendo probably has no ambition to please their hardcore audience is because people actually buy WiiFit, Babysitter Challenge, and the 3DS. It nets them the money on what hardcore gamers would call gimmicks than on 'serious' titles, and that's all they currently care about. So when the E3 rolls on up this year and the gaming world hears about Project Cafe from Miyamoto and friends, expect to see your Zelda and other cliche Nintendo titles on the rampage. They may look great, they may give you a nostalgic trip to the good ole' days of yore, but I guarantee that whatever surfaces in Nintendo's lineup will get the short stick. You'll be there day one, buy it, and then dust will collect on your unused system just like 90% of the people who own both a Wii and a second console. When all is said and done, I'll be right. And I don't want to be.

The best thing I can say about Nintendo is that when it finally ups the ante and increases the graphical processing horsepower of its next 'god-like' machination, it'll create a console that could very well explore the territory this generation is missing. With the way things have been going, I highly, highly doubt that Nintendo will take that route instead of utilising the same game design philosophies that they have for the last decade; the ones that never truly evolve the other consoles have in this modern era. It's sad, but Nintendo would have to make quite a turnaround for me to even remotely be impressed with them again. Maybe once they adapt like the rest of the industry has, we'll get the quality Nintendo titles we deserve.

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