Nintendo, I hate to admit, has made some missteps in the past and it is suffering for them financially. However, many of the things that are hurting the company are also the things that I love about it, creating this weirdly abusive relationship; this is the point where the metaphor kind of breaks down and gets too weird and dark.
These are five things that Nintendo is known for doing, is heavily criticized for, and keep me enamored with the company.
Expanding on Existing IPs
With the announcement of a new Nintendo console comes the usual questions: What’s the new Zelda/Mario/Metroid game going to look like? It’s what we almost always expect and Nintendo usually delivers. The Nintendo E3 show is a much anticipated event in my life. I love Zelda and have bought every game that has come out and am anxiously awaiting new details about the series, however this type of behavior can quickly stagnate a company; it makes the company too dependent on its stable of fan favorites. Splatoon was the first new IP that Nintendo has produced in quite a while and it has proved to be a success, so maybe there will be more coming.
This anticipation hurts the company. Whenever a new game isn’t announced as expected, there’s a massive fan backlash. For example, at the last E3, a new Star Fox game was announced for the Wii U along with a Metroid title for the 3DS. The Star Fox game looked like a full on addition to the Star Fox franchise, while the Metroid game looked like an afterthought. First, it was on the 3DS instead of the Wii U, and second, it didn’t even star Samus Aran. Instead of rejoicing for a new Star Fox game – well, I’m sure some people did – many expressed feelings of anger and betrayal. If Nintendo sets up this format of releasing new additions to a its headliner franchises, the black lash that happens when these expectations are not met can be detrimental. There’s also backlash when the games themselves don’t adhere to their usual formula. Nintendo has trapped itself in a box that will be hard to get out of over the next few years.
As much as I love the core Nintendo franchises and eagerly await new details about my favorite brands, the thought that Nintendo may be digging it’s own grave is always in the back of my mind. With the Wii and Wii U, Nintendo has prided itself on broadening its appeal to a wider, more casual audience, but, at the same time, it’s going to make itself more niche. There’s a chance that someone new to gaming, who never played any of the classics, will simply not care about a new Zelda or Metroid game.
With hardware, Nintendo is usually on the cutting edge. Motion controls, 3D, and a tablet controller are among its most recent innovations. Many times they have set the standard for industry hardware. Whether or not you like motion controls in your video games, you have Nintendo to thank for it. Recently, with an impending Nintendo announcement comes the speculation on what’s going to be done differently than other consoles have done. However, this has a downside.
Sometimes the hardware gimmicks are just that: gimmicks. Not everyone wants to flail their arms around to play a game, when it’s much easier just to press a button; this is where innovation becomes novelty. Third party developers have to create increasingly contrived ways to implement the new gimmick into game play and it doesn’t always feel organic. Also, when the hardware doesn’t work the way it’s intended to, immersion breaks down and fun goes straight out the window like a loosely gripped WiiMote. The tablet seemed like a neat idea, and introduces the potential for unique ways for players to interact with the game, but realistically it was a big, clunky controller with low battery life. In a world where the console wars is a battle of boring black boxes it’s nice to see a company that’s trying to move games forward in new and interesting ways besides being able to talk to your black box. With all that said, it’s a fact that some gambles don’t pay off.
Being For Everyone
This is perhaps one my favorite things about Nintendo. This may seem contradictory to the first point I made, but I want to point out that they’re creating gameplay that can cater to everyone.
For example, most Mario games are straight forward and can be reasonably completed by a gamer of average skill. If you want to reach the ending and stop, you can and do it without straining your muscles too much, however, there are other levels. Mario is infamous for its special worlds. It’s almost like there are two different rooms, one for the average, or causal player, and a special back room – complete with bead door curtains – for players who want to be especially challenged. A player could also go back to all the other levels and try to find every collectible. The Mario games are very diverse and can be played in several different ways and that’s just one game.
Apart from their mainstay titles, there’s all the Wii sport and other like titles that cater to an almost exclusively casual crowd. The Nintendo console has always been advertised as a family friendly machine and it shows in its marketing material; remember the TV family gathering around the Wii to make fools of themselves? I do.
But, in the end if you try to appeal to everyone, you eventually appeal to no one. A strong company is a company that knows its demographic. Nintendo knows it’s fans and what it’s good at, but at the same time they are trying to capture a different audience and bring gaming to the casual masses. The idea is noble and commendable, but it can also bring about a downfall in sales. Either focus on the hardcore fans waiting for the next franchise installment or expand to the causal market; there’s simply not enough time in the day to do both.
Obtuse Social Network
This is probably the most subjective point on my list. I like Nintendo’s use of multiplayer because I’ve never considered multiplayer a huge priority in my gaming experience. With Nintendo’s friend code system, the people on your friends list are people that you’ve communicated with at some length. You can create your own little club house with people that you know relatively well. I mean, if you took the time to write down the code and add it to your device, it’s reasonable to assume that you know the person. I like this experience, because I don’t have a huge list of people I game with. I’m a mostly solitary gamer and that’s just me. However, for someone who wants a more integrated multiplayer experience, the friend code nonsense is a huge hurdle to jump over. You can play games with random people, but it’s harder to add them to your friend’s list on the fly. The entire Nintendo social network is built around the MiiVerse, where we can create funny little avatars, but they give us almost no agency at all. We can see other Miis dancing around and acting silly, but they might as well be a collection of mindless bots for all the interaction we have with them.
The success of other console’s multiplayer is a result of the ease of interacting with other people. When playing Call of Duty, a player can seamlessly send another player an add request without interrupting the game that much. Voice chat is also a plus as you can easily devise strategies with people you don’t even know.
Gaming is becoming more focused on multiplayer, so Nintendo’s archaic system, with its lack of voice chat, is simply detrimental to the company’s future.
Dedicated Gaming Platforms
My PlayStation 4 is also my blu-ray player among other things. When I turn on my Wii U, it’s to play games. It can also play Netflix, but it’s much easier to do that on my PlayStation. Nintendo is a company with it’s central focus on gaming; when you think Nintendo you think Video games. This is a goal that I can admire, because when you buy a console, it’s to play video games and Nintendo has taken that to heart. This isn’t something I think of when I hear about Microsoft and Sony. It seems like Sony and Microsoft are constantly adding more bells and whistles to their systems, instead of focusing just on playing new and better games.
With that said, Wii U is behind Microsoft and Sony in sales and it still struggling to keep up. Recently, Nintendo entered the fray that is the mobile gaming market, and this could be a sign that Nintendo has looked at what the competition is doing and will broaden its hardware’s possibilities beyond gaming. Even though being a dedicated gaming machine appeals to me, something is not working. Nintendo is trying to move forward, but at the same time it’s standing completely still. It still doesn’t completely understand the monster that the gaming industry has evolved into, and it needs to if it wants to stay relevant.