- Jason R. Clark
I have been playing video games for a long time. There were long nights of Combat and Indy 500 over my friend Eric’s house during sleepovers. The Crazy 8’s arcade was our Saturday destination with a ten dollar roll of quarters. One of the greatest Christmas’ ever was when we got a Colecovision, and I had to hook it up because my dad couldn’t figure it out. Many companies and systems have come and gone but Nintendo remains. It's a company that’s an enigma in business plans, marketing, and development. With the recent unveiling of the Wii U, consumers may have finally caught on to Nintendo’s act of false promises, high expectations, and under delivering. I am not the Nintendo hater I’m accused of being but everyone has to acknowledge when they’ve been misled. I think I’ve pinpointed where things went wrong. Nintendo of America’s Reggie Fils-Amie’s antics were never met with any real fruition, except igniting the energy of the moment and fizzling as forgotten promises....
Nintendo was a company that spearheaded the revival of video games after the crash in the 80’s. Many of the classic games of yesterday were introduced to American audiences on the NES. Game companies including Nintendo themselves introducing new characters and adventures (IP’s). Game mechanics and originality were at an all time high. Who would have thought Duck Tales would be such a good game? With the Sega Master System playing second to the NES, developers would release a myriad of titles during the 8-bit run.
The 16-bit era ushered in a plethora of hit games and was a fight akin to the thrilla’ in manilla’ while Sega and Nintendo duked it out for dominance. Video gaming popularity grew and was no longer considered a children’s past time. Developer’s themes, RPG’s, and fighters matured with the gamers. This is where things start to wobble.
A development dispute led to Sony releasing a CD system that they originally made for Nintendo. The company faced some flack when it announced the N64 would be a cartridge based system instead of the CD format that Sega and other companies were moving onto. Even though the system was 64-bits, the 32-bit Saturn and Playstation seemed more powerful due to the storage, sound, and processing capabilities gained by the CD format. Quality over quantity was one of the quotes made by Nintendo during this period. In the beginning the quality was indeed high. Hits like Super Mario 64, Wave Race with its’ water physics, Pilotwings, and Mario Kart 64. Nintendo as a developer was taking chances making and supporting ground breaking titles and new IP’s. There was Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark, Turock, and even Chameleon Twist on the system but Pokémon quickly worked into place as a major money maker for the company. We saw the releases of Pokémon Snap, Pokémon Stadium, and multiple Game Boy and Game Boy Advance sequels. There was the e-card reader, link cables, and Pokémon themed and shaped systems complete with Pikachu glowing cheeks. Before anyone mentions it, the Donkey Kong systems don’t count. It was just clear colored plastic. The brand started to appeal to a younger demographic and Nintendo steered its focus in that direction. Soon we had many Mario Parties, Mario Golf, Mario Tennis and Nintendo left the busy work to developer RARE. Those of you with a fondness for Pokémon should look past the nostalgia.
I feel that the GameCube is Nintendo’s least successful system. It had the shortest lifespan and didn’t deliver as promised. The proprietary mini disc caused games to be broken onto pieces. A less than stellar Mario title (Sunshine), and countless kid friendly Mario Parties, Mario Baseball, Mario Basketball, I think you get it. Let’s not forget Pokémon Coliseum. For every highlight like Eternal Darkness and Viewtiful Joe you had a bongo and microphone. It was a library of Playstation 2, Xbox, and even Dreamcast ports.
The Wii has been a phenomenal success in sales and saturation. Although attempted in the past, motion control has never been so successfully integrated in the gaming structure. People that had no interest in gaming before were on waiting list to buy a Wii system. I spent a memorable Thanksgiving playing Wii bowling with my father. A man whose video game pedigree is a hand held LCD Wheel of Fortune.
With the run away Wii sales went the quality of the software available for the system as countless companies saw it as their cash cow. They “shoveled” old software onto the system and added motion controls. One company even went so far as to dig up old PC learning software to re-release. Nintendo even re-released some of their own titles with “Play Action” control. The company hardly explored new IP’s although it released some creative sequels and ended not importing their best titles.
Reggie Fils-Aime who was hired previous to the Wii’s release bull dogged his way through press conferences and conventions. He was the new face of Nintendo, who was supposed to show the world that Nintendo gamers were tough/hip guys and girls that demanded to be heard. I always thought Reggie was trying too hard. I remember sitting at a conference listening to Reggie boast about the awesomeness of the new Mario Kart and promised games that to this day haven’t come out. He fueled the fire of Nintendo fans that believed their system could contend with the others. Many Wii early adopters abandoned the system when the deluge of software didn’t meet anyone’s standards and there were better games elsewhere.
We now find ourselves nearing the release of the Wii U. Rumors are running rampant about its technical inferiority to the yet to be released offerings by other companies. This was somewhat excepted with the Wii but it’s a harder pill to swallow the second time around. Companies are supposed to learn from their past, but Nintendo has shrouded their shortcomings in talks of innovation. The touch screen shows a tremendous potential but the alternative Wii remote control option gives the illusion of a HD updated Wii. This sparks visions of a stand alone Sega 32x for those of you that remember. When Nintendo first announced the system at E3 last year our good friend Reggie told us how the Wii U was going to be a gamers’ console. We were led to believe that a high quality library was going to supersede any past gimmicks of the Wii. They showed us Darksiders 2, Mass effect 3, Aliens, and let imaginations run wild that the company may be taking steps forward.
This E3 revealed a Mario title that looked great as usual, a shiny Pikmin sequel, and Nintendoland (a Wii Sports knock off). I’m sure given the touch screen a new Mario Party and Warioware is on the way along with Ubisoft’s Just Dance, Scribblenauts, and Zombie U. Gone is the talk of a gamers’ machine and we are back to highlighting family and social integration. I didn’t forget what you said Reggie and I’m no longer the only one calling your bluff. The company will always produce quality Zelda, Kirby, and Mario Karts. Some will argue that Microsoft has 5 Halo titles, but for every Halo there was a Voodoo Vince, Brute Force, Crimson Skies, and Kameo. If Nintendo doesn’t want to put the time and energy into something new, then acquire a company that will. Even though there is no longer a “video game war” between the companies, there are too many alternatives for a gamer to just accept what a company decides to give them. Hearing the phrase “you all know and love” from a company makes my eyes roll. It’s just another catch phrase for “again”.
A company’s mission should be to please the gamer first and foremost. To please anyone else is beyond the scope of the game and Nintendo’s last chance effort of networking and social integration ring similar to the Wii’s water downed tone. The hardcore gaming contingent won’t be satisfied being offered already released Batman, Mass Effect 3, and Darksiders 2 while Nintendo chooses not to develop something new for their own system.
The smoke is finally clearing and what we see is a company that’s living in a shadow of its past. Hoping to recreate success with known hits but doing little to advance the medium it’s responsible for reviving. On the other hand, its quality titles and touch screen control show glimmers of a company riding the edge of greatness. I can’t figure out the direction or logic in some of their decisions so I have to come to my own conclusions. I will not be buying a Wii U for many reasons and false promises. I guess Reggie forgot about that ground breaking heart monitor. It was truly ground breaking just not ground breaking game playing.