Friday, June 5, 2009

Why Do I Talk About Nintendo So Much?

It occurred to me that I talk about Nintendo a lot.  I mean, a lot a lot.  One might assume that I was a Nintendo fanboy.  I can see why someone would say that.  I mean, I just spent days in a row defending Nintendo, and I frequently blather about why they do such good work.

It's a shame that this journal wasn't more active during the last generation.  During the last generation, I was in a heated debate over whether Sony or Nintendo had the better system with a very opinionated ex-friend.  He was of the opinion that Nintendo had better everything, but that the gaming public was too dumb to understand it.  I was of the opinion that Sony made the right decisions, and while their hardware wasn't the most reliable, they had the best games and were therefore the best system.

To this day, he still insists that the battle was far closer than the final results show.  To that, I respond that the Gamecube sold only 20 million units to the PS2's 150 million.  To put that into sports terms, if a baseball team lost 15-2, you would say it was a pretty lopsided victory.  You might even use the term "trounced."  If a football team lost 45-6, you would call it a blowout.  It wouldn't even be worth debating.  Sony sold 7.5 times the units that Nintendo did.  It wasn't even close.

I enjoy raking Nintendo over the coals for their past dumb decisions, like sticking with cartridges when the entire console world was moving to discs or stubbornly pushing "connectivity" instead of getting online like the rest of the world.  Nintendo's last generation was layered with bad decisions, starting mostly with the games.

Super Mario Sunshine, as I've said before, is blah.  Mario Kart: Double Dash isn't nearly as interesting as it tries to be.  Eternal Darkness wasn't marketed well and had awful box art to boot.  And Pikmin?  Oh, poor, sweet Pikmin.  I refuse to pick up your misguided game, and do you know why, dear Pikmin?  Because I REFUSE TO PLAY A TIMED GAME.  It doesn't matter how good you are, you're a timed game.  Go home and think about what you've done.  Oh, and please release the Pikmin 2 remake for the Wii.  Thanks.

That's not to say there weren't successes.  Smash Bros. Melee was the highest seller, and the Metroid Prime series did okay too.  Zelda: Wind Waker was good too, and sold a lot of copies.  But when you're trying to push the quality of your games as the reason to purchase your platform and you have nothing to show for it, your argument rings rather hollow.

Now, of course, the same ex-friend who at one time was willing to lay down his life for Nintendo now claims that they've abandoned the hardcore audience and that he hopes that they curl up and die for all the grievous mistakes they've made.  But Nintendo is merely doing the opposite of what led them to failure.

Consider:  The Gamecube made the most overtures to the hardcore audience of any Nintendo system.  They released first-party M-rated games.  The Cube was loaded with shooters.  The N64 saw shooters like Goldeneye, Conker's Bad Fur Day and Perfect Dark.  What did Nintendo get for their trouble?  A big, fat goose egg in the win column.

Meanwhile, the systems that had the biggest casual reach were the most successful, like the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance, and going all the way back to the NES and Super NES.  So, if you were Nintendo, what would you do?  Stick with what's making you fail, or go back to what works?

Even with this supposed casual reach on the Wii, it's amazing what games have come out.  Twilight Princess is as insular and fan-friendly as a Zelda game gets.  Metroid Prime 3 came out, and Smash Bros. Brawl is the very definition of "fan service."  Also, as I've stated before, I'm prepared to call Super Mario Galaxy one of the best games of all time once a little time passes and some historical perspective can be put on it.

In other words, while the second half of last year was deader than the Washington Nationals' playoff hopes or Jay Leno's monologues, there were enough quality games in the time up to that point to make for a quality library.  This year is proving to be excellent as well, with the capable Excitebots and excellent Punchout!!! out, and a pile of second-half releases that all look good, including New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

The next reason I blather about Nintendo is because this generation they found their hook, the reason to buy their system instead of the others.  In the N64 era, that hook was four controllers.  The PS1 had games that could be marked down because of the cheaper cost of disc duplication.  The PS2 had DVD playback built right into the system.  The XBox had online play.  The Gamecube had...what now?  A mildly powerful system that did nothing that the other systems did?  Oh.

In this generation, Nintendo has motion controls.  It was the hook that got them into houses.  Now, just as other systems did in the past, Nintendo must find a way to work past that hook and become more established.  Will they?  Maybe.  The game's they've announced are showing that they're at least trying to accomplish that.

So, in conclusion, I'm now in a unique position.  I'm excoriating the company that I used to stand behind and standing behind the company that I excoriated.  It's not because I'm fickle or a fanboy.  It's because the only way we can learn how to succeed is by learning from successes and not pretending that a failure is a win.

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