I think my decision to jump back into games like old school Mario and Fire Emblem which I went over in my last update has spurred, or been spurred by, some kind of re-emerged desire to play Nintendo games as a contrast from all that’s going on in the rest of the industry. Perhaps it’s also come from some kind of acceptance of what Nintendo is and what it isn’t.
Firstly, when I say “Nintendo games,” I don’t just mean games that Nintendo made. What I really mean is pretty much any game representative of the era of console gaming when Nintendo’s name was synonymous with that part of the industry. That could be anything from Mario to Contra. Even confining it to games of that era doesn’t really cover it though.
I guess I should just say that through most of Christmas break I only played my Wii and 3DS, because of the kind of experience they provide that you can’t really find anywhere else. One of my favorite digital games — and really one of my favorite handheld games period right now that the media pretty much ignored in awards has been Crashmo. At the same time I decided to take a break from Far Cry 3 for the two games in the first paragraph as well as a bunch of other Virtual Console games.
Maybe it’s because right now I’m a little tired of achievements, updates from my friends list, and DLC. Maybe I’ve gotten a little tired of cover shooters with regenerating health and token RPG elements for now. At the very least you gotta hand it to Nintendo for not following after trends like that. Let me just compare and contrast for a bit:
For over a decade now people have given Nintendo crap for everything Sony and Microsoft do that they don’t. People rarely, and usually only briefly recognize what Nintendo has done in those years and still does today.
I think it all stretches back to when Sony started making game consoles. The original PlayStation was possibly the first console that tried to make the buyer feel like they were getting a sleek new top-of-the-line piece of hardware — a big boy appliance. The emergence of the CD drive as well as the PS1’s overall design drove a stark contrast with the Nintendo 64 which people began to see as a toy. That persisted through the PS2 and its DVD drive compared to the purple Gamecube, all the way to today.
Just look at the PlayStation Vita compared to the 3DS. The Vita is a big, shiny piece of hardware with a beautiful OLED screen. The 3DS on the other hand looks relatively cheap with a single analog slider. People also compare the Wii U’s GamePad to an iPad, noting the former’s inferior screen quality and single-touch controls despite that whole console being far cheaper than the latter.
On the other side you’ve got Microsoft introducing many important new things to console gaming: organized online play, achievements, downloadable content, hard drives, and the like. They turned console gaming into a connected experience, and Nintendo has just about actively refused to follow along, keeping gaming centered on either the completely solitary experience or buddies-on-the-couch multiplayer.
Nintendo has to compete with all these technology and appliance companies, and is doing it with the philosophy of a company that makes nothing but games.
Honestly, I really like the original 3DS’s design and form factor. I like it because to me, it looks like a great new machine on which to play handheld “Nintendo games.” The same goes for the Wii U (when it gets some more software, more on that further down) and even the Wii really. To me they look like devices that are in every way built to handle pure gaming, and I guess I’m starting to hold that in higher importance than just the feeling of owning fine technology.
I’ve started to accept that today’s Nintendo hardware really is just a direct evolution of what we were playing 20 years ago, and what Nintendo’s philosophy was back then. When I look at the Wii, I’ve stopped seeing a console inferior to the PS3 and Xbox 360, and started seeing the latest and best machine on which to play “Nintendo games.” The same goes for the 3DS. Where else are you going to find games like Crashmo, Xenoblade, or Dragon Quest IX? I’m not saying I prefer that stuff to PlayStation and Xbox games, I’m just saying that I still feel the need to play them, whether or not they look “less advanced.” The same may very well apply to the Wii U after games like Rayman Legends, The Wonderful 101, and Pikmin 3 come out by this spring.
You could argue that indie gaming on all the platforms has spurred a rush of nostalgia in game design, producing a ton of games like Fez or Spelunky that call back to the same old school of game design Nintendo still adheres to. That could even be a small part of the reason why I enjoyed those games so much more this year than all the $60 retail games. I still think that, generally, Nintendo’s platforms have been excellent places for that kind of content.
I’ve spent a surprising amount of time on the 3DS’s eShop in the last few weeks and have found that almost all of its best content is exclusive to it. Games like Pushmo, The Denpa Men, or Mighty Switch Force feel like a different world from iOS, PSN, and XBLA. I hope a similar kind of software environment emerges on the Wii U eShop.
I understand though that a lot of peoples’ frustration with Nintendo is with their lack of third party support. I think a lot of people subconsciously want basically an Xbox that plays Nintendo’s games, or a Nintendo console that has all the third party games that PlayStation and Xbox get. They’re tired of having to get a separate console for just Nintendo’s first party games.
Personally I don’t think Nintendo’s products would be as interesting or as necessary if they just did the same thing as everybody else. I’ve decided to see them as a company moving along its own tangent in the evolution of gaming. That tangent of gaming is still very important to me, even if it doesn’t follow the “mainstream” view.
Maybe I’m just circling back around to the argument made for the Wii in 2006 as a good secondary console. Even Sony and Microsoft were championing that view. Maybe it’ll happen again with the Wii U. I hear a lot of people already planning to get through the upcoming console generation with just a Wii U and a gaming PC.
Or rather, let’s just look at it like this: Microsoft is a software company, mostly known for their OS. The main draw of Xbox has been Xbox Live along with the OS features it popularized this generation. That’s their strength and gamers appreciate them for that. Sony is an appliance company and that gave them the advantage on which they built their success during the PS1 and PS2 years, and as an appliance I even appreciate the PS3 for a lot of things that Xbox hasn’t offered. Nintendo is a game company, more specifically a game interface company. I’ve chosen to appreciate them for continuing to create amazing platforms for that pure gaming experience.
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