28 June 2014

My Love-Hate Relationship with Nintendo

The internet was full of talks about E3... three weeks ago. Rather than add to it, I'd rather talk about something that has bothered me for the past year or so. Or perhaps it's always bugged me and I had no idea how to articulate my thoughts on the topic. I try not to piss people off, but often I fail miserably. Thus, I will apologize if I hurt anyone's feelings, but I am not sorry for yelling at the company that made the first gaming console I ever owned.

As a gamer I am well aware of the mere existence and acknowledgement of Mario. He saved us all from the gaming crash of the 1980's. He's one of the most iconic figures in Western (and Japanese) fiction and media. He has traveled through various mediums of media - TV, movies, toys, etc. He crossed many genre barriers: party games, RPGs, 2D platformers, 3D platformers, action-adventure, fighting games, etc. He's Nintendo's mascot, their hero, a legendary marvel. As all of this I respect Mario and his creators for simply existing.

Playing his games is another story.

Between the two, if I really have to sink to this level of fanboy warfare, I always preferred Sonic over Mario. When I wanted a Gamecube back when I was ten or eleven, I asked for Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, not Super Mario Sunshine. I did enjoy Super Smash Bros. Melee, but I found myself using any character besides those from the Mario-universe, like Link or Zelda, and thus I found myself more interested in the series they originate. I have problems with that series as well, but I still enjoy The Legend of Zelda more than anything else Nintendo has made. Or it may be the only thing about them I like.

The same can be said for the rest of Nintendo's first party titles. I always associated Yoshi and Toad with Mario, hence I avoided their games, regardless of their quality. Kirby was fun to play in SSBM, but not to the extent of me wanted to go beyond. Samus was a pain to play as, and my interest in Metroid is still minimal. I think more highly of it than most Nintendo series, but not by much. I guess part of the issue is that their premises were not enough to entice me to try something new.

It's sad when I only care about a green bishonen swordsman in tights out of everyone else.
Then we get to the bottom of the barrel in my eyes. I never and still do not understand the appeal of Pokemon at all. Everyone my age watched the anime like crazy; I watched one or two episodes and permanently deleted them from my memory. I borrowed and played Pokemon Blue from one of my former friends, thought it was okay, and didn't find any motivation to pick up and play Silver. I watched SomecallmeJohnny's marathon of Pokemon and still found no spark to make me care about the series. People ask me all the time if I'm playing Pokemon whenever I have my 3DS out. Sometimes I wanted to troll them and say, "I'm playing the fourth game. I'm at the point Yamato Takeru cross-dresses."

Other series are so old or so rare, even if I wanted to try them out, Nintendo does it's damnedest to never let anyone know they exist. Star Fox seems to finally have more attention and consideration for future software... let's see how long that lasts. F-Zero has had nothing in at least two gaming generations; the Ice Climbers appeared in one game in the 80's. And the company denies, despite fans sending lots and lots of fan mail and petitions, having anyone outside of Japan to legally play the whole entire Mother/Earthbound trilogy. The company actively forces us to only recognize anything that sells well by rehashing the same shit over and over again. Ironic, considering Sony and Microsoft are doing the exact same thing with the genre of brown-haired, caucasian, gun-toting asshole in a desolate, hyper-realistic world of guns, glitches, and penises.

#NintendoWon? In showing gameplay, yes.
In presenting variety, no.
Someone on Skype told me that if I don't like first-party Nintendo games, you won't like what Nintendo presents at E3 or any conference. I wish I realized that sooner, because that statement encapsulates a majority of my problems with Nintendo. They are too conservative in how they play the game of chance. I'm no business or economics expert, those classes murdered me in college. But I always came to the conclusion that a good business should find balance in how they make a profit. Rather than bank in billions all at once only to lose trillions the next year, thus enabling most employers to lose their jobs or commit suicide for their stupidity, a company must find a way to invest safely in times of trouble and take risks when you have the room to possibly fail. Basically, if you have room to innovate, do so. If you don't, find the formula that worked before and try to remaster it until you have some room to try something new. If trends change, alter your model to accommodate change and tread lightly without losing essentially what your business is.

As an outsider looking in, Nintendo is having problems and is falling behind Sony and Microsoft in the gaming market. Unlike its rivals, Nintendo has an air of confidence that shows that they don't need short-lived tastes of shallow consumers to dictate how they make their games. They want to make games that challenge the player, to test their skills, and to help them learn something about themselves or their hobby. Nintendo capitalizes on quality gameplay over pretty graphics. I cannot praise them enough for this mindset, as I strongly believe that a beautiful-looking game can still be a massive pile of shit in terms of content.

But here's the catch. Nintendo focuses so much on their little world and their diehard fans that they ignore anyone and everyone else. I have always been a casual fan of Nintendo. I don't mind their games, but I don't find them to be godly and earth-shattering. Again, a majority of their series mean next to nothing to me. But when I ask someone what I should buy for a Nintendo system, very rarely I hear something that's not made by the Big N. Most times it's always the new Mario or the new Pokemon. And those games all look exactly the same - minus a few tweaks to graphics. Gameplay has some variety in something like Super Mario 3D World (an "original" and "interesting" title), but it's all elements used in past games - minus FLUDD, because everyone hates Super Mario Sunshine. And, just because the universe loves me, it's the only game I tolerated.

Like Yahtzee articulated much better than I ever can in his review of Super Mario 3D World, I can't tell you what the difference is between Super Mario 3D World, New Super Mario Bros. U, and Mario 3D Land. They all sound the same, and the excessive emphasis on 3D models in a 2D platform is so identical, it's impossible to tell which game is better of them all. None of them have a story, because everyone hated Super Mario Sunshine's attempt at voice acting and having a plot (except me). New setting seems to be an issue as well, since Super Mario Galaxy was WAAAAAY too far out of everyone's comfort zones (I appreciate the concept at least; too bad I sold my Wii long before any games came out). Upgraded 2D levels from the original Super Mario Bros. games is evolution; taking it all to space is like turning Final Fantasy X into Call of Duty! BETRAYAL!!!!

I don't sympathize with this juvenile mindset.

It's not like Mario is exclusive to this problem. Zelda is in the exact same boat. Like some fans, I want a new setting other than Hyrule - something like the bizarre Termina in Majora's Mask or the vast ocean in Windwaker. I want Zelda to be the protagonist for once or make Link a female, as it won't hurt the story or gameplay as a whole (it's Nintendo, guys, they'll make it work), but it will make some gamers shut up over the "female characters shouldn't be playable" mindset. I want new weapons, new and more challenging puzzles, and creative dungeons in theme. Stray away from the reincarnation stuff for a while, and focus on a living, breathing world - like the side quest-heavy Majora's Mask did. Instead, we have Twilight Princess, a remastered Ocarina of Time; Skyward Sword, the compressed, repetitive little brother of Windwaker; and A Link Between Worlds, an open-world A Link to the Past 2.0. Of the three, Skyward Sword has the most potential with new ways of traveling and new puzzle-solving tools and locations, but as good as the plot may be in the short term, it added fuel to the obnoxious fire over the series' "timeline".

Whatever problems Pokemon suffers, I cannot tell you without looking like I was born with half a face. Nearly every aspect of the game - minus the whole monster capturing concept, which Shin Megami Tensei came up with first, but Pokemon popularized - fundamentally does not appeal to me at all. I don't wanna catch them all. I don't wanna compete with others. And the in-game world is happy with Pokemon, with no critics or political, sociological, or cultural issues in sight, so where is the tension? Friendly competition as a selling point and fundamental crutch may work for most people, but not for me. Some have said X and Y actually tried implementing a new kind of narrative theme, so I may give it a sticker... and that's it.

And in SMT, demons are like condoms: when beyond their
effectiveness and usefulness, throw 'em in the trash.
Other series are less known to me, for better or for worse, because I fear that they'll suffer the same amount of repetitive whoring out as poor Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon. I'd rather have Nintendo bank on brand-spanking-new IP, with no influence from their main staple series' except in small easter eggs. If they want to keep digging their own grave, innovate the existing IPs by stretching the boundaries of what is possible. Nintendo can make competent games more often than other companies, and I hate to see them stick to what they have known and done for nearly forty years. It's not working for the community at large anymore, and it makes everyone outside the niche audience face palm and sigh in disappointment.

And for the love of god, Nintendo, show off different and brand new software. I still haven't forgiven you for E3 2012, when you announced the US release of Fire Emblem Awakening... THROUGH A FUCKING TWEET. You could have showed it off on your big conference showcase to give more reasons to buy a 3DS. It'd stand out beautifully next to the seven or eight Mario games you decided to present instead. Was it a risk at the time? Perhaps. The game was meant to be the "final" installment due to declining popularity. But that was a chance to take a risk, to show you do more than fart Mario games biannually. This year at E3 they did a bit better. Bayonetta 2, Xenoblade X, and Splatoon were different titles, third party of course, and they stood out among the sea of the usual you continue to present.

That was my first console.
Truth is, I really want to like Nintendo. The Gamecube, Gameboy Advance, and 3DS are wonderful systems. They are the most reliable pieces of hardware I have ever owned. The games I have for them, as few as they are, play like a dream. I have played them to death. I wish I had more games for these systems, because I hate treading lightly. Gamecube games are expensive as fuck nowadays, and Gameboy games are rare too. The 3DS has done better after a few years of steady releases, but I still have to dig past third-party "Learn How to Draw" gimmicks and other shovel-ware, as well as the indomitable mountain of Pokemon and Mario to find what I want. Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, Devil Survivor: Overclocked, Rune Factory 4, and Shin Megami Tensei IV would all be a bitch to find if the internet did not exist.

As much as they piss me off like Microsoft when it comes to multimedia hype and shooter trends, I had more fun with Sony's consoles as I got older. They are not as reliable in the hardware department, but they enable developers to try new things whenever they can. There's more diversity. Games may not sell as well, but I can easily find an RPG, action adventure, fighter, puzzle-platformer, or indie game, depending on my mood, on the Playstation 3 and the Vita, as an exclusive or multi-platform title. I have more room to try new things, ranging from being rare gems to average but fun to god-awful. But at the end of the day, at least I have more choice and the reward is more satisfying in the end.

I want Nintendo to do better. I demand them to do better. I demand them to stick their head out of their asses occasionally and take complaints from an "outsider" seriously every once in a while. I am tired of Nintendo being seen as the butt monkey in third party support ever since the Gamecube was released. It was understandable for disk limitations, but several multiplatform titles played way better consistently performance-wise on the Gamecube than the PS2. Ever since, Nintendo just fell behind and isolated themselves in the tiny world their hardcore fans loved since the 80's and 90's. That is disappointing.

Maybe I'm alone in this. Maybe I'm on another planet where Nintendo is winning the console race and they are universally adored and worshiped by all. Maybe they are the physical manifestation of the superior being(s), whatever you refer to the god(s) and/or goddess(es) you pray/worship, incapable of wrong and corruption.

If so, I'd hate to be in that world. I don't wish perfection on any company or individual, or else the world would be boring. But, damn it, Nintendo, jus TRY to be better.

I love-hate you and your fans so much, Nintendo.


Voltech said...

"I never and still do not understand the appeal of Pokemon at all."

Oh, that's easy. It's all about addiction. To date I've only owned ONE Pokemon game -- Pokemon Black -- and before I knew it, I'd logged 90 hours. I was falling asleep and waking up to the game in my hands, and in mid-battle. I went on grinding sprees just to see my next Mon's evolution. (I raised one a solid 30 levels just to get its final form...before I found out I could only reach it by trading.) And thus, I learned that I can never play Pokemon.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if Nintendo ever makes a Poke-MMO, humanity's doomed.

But back on topic. I still posit that all three of the console devs should have waited at least another year before they put out their next-gen boxes, but the way things are looking -- in a world where every dev is running the race with their pants around their ankles -- the Big N is at least a spiritual victor, even if it's nowhere near the victor financially. Right now, they're one of the few companies that seems genuinely interested in putting out good games. In a world where a title like Watch Dogs exists, that stands for something.

BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT you've got it right. You've got it exactly right -- and it pisses me off that it's so true.

One of the Big N's surprise reveals this E3 was a new Starfox game. That's something to be excited about...but it's also just another Starfox game. New Kirby game and new Yoshi game coming...but they're just a new Yoshi and a new Kirby. In all fairness, those games -- much like the latest Mario or the latest Zelda -- get a (soft) pass because, while they use the same concepts and canon, each one is different enough from another or well-made to keep people from dwelling on it. Majora's Mask =/= Skyward Sword (though yes, Skyward Sword is eerily similar to Wind Waker.)

Here's the problem. We can pretty much count the number of new properties Nintendo's made in the past decade on one hand. Pikmin. Animal Crossing. Wii Fit. Splatoon. That's it. THAT'S A BIG PROBLEM. If the talented minds at Ninty Keep wanted to make a new IP, they could have by now. But I'm partly convinced that, just like everyone else, they're forced to rely on what they know will sell, especially now. Granted I don't have the sales numbers for, say, any of the Pikmin games, or F-Zero GX, or any of the other stuff, but they have to go with what they know.

They'll put out what they know will sell, because there's no guarantee that the other stuff will. (Seriously, there have been a ton of FANTASTIC second- and third-party games on the Wii, but nobody touched them.) It's easy to blame consumers for that, but the Big N's responsible, too. Setting aside, you know, MARKETING THEIR PRODUCTS, I suspect that Nintendo puts more weight on their first-party stuff than the stuff that really matters -- the in-betweens that can fill those gaps. So basically, they ended up putting themselves in the worst situation. They're at once the most innovative and most creatively-bankrupt developers that have ever existed. And that fault has caught up to them. People aren't willing to buy into "tweaks to the formula", however large. They want a different formula, period.

It's sad, but true. I want Nintendo to succeed, because there have been points where I've genuinely considered giving up gaming in its entirety, full stop, if the Big N ever bowed out. But if they're going to stay relevant -- or even alive -- they need to do it right.

That's...pretty much where I stand. So yeah. I can't say I blame you for having the opinions you do, because they're entirely justifiable. Although, there is ONE thing that stuck out:

"But when I ask someone what I should buy for a Nintendo system, very rarely I hear something that's not made by the Big N."

The Wonderful 101. YouTube it.

Anonymous said...

Minor correction, but Xenoblade X and Splatoon are both first party. Bayonetta can be viewed as first party too, since it's funded by Nintendo.

Also, just found this place and wondered what the deal with the superior being stuff was. Trying to avoid offending others by not using certain terms?

Anonymous said...

Ah, and o should add that Nintendo have made quite a few new IPs, like Pushmo, Kid Icarus f you count reboots with no relation t the previous game, Dillons Rolling Western and Pikmin. There is Tomodachi Life as well as Golden Sun, but most people seem to ignore those and they don't localise certain fun-seeming games, like Soma Bringer . The list goes on, but I concede that it's not quite as much as Sony and they do need to step up their game, as it were .

Melanie~Light said...

Thanks, guys, for pointing out more first party Nintendo games. Regardless of them being in a genre I'd like or not, at least Nintendo has more tools in its arsenal... which they should better market or - yes, Anonymous - actually attempt to localize. Plus, the fate of the Wonderful 101 is pretty sad, Voltech, especially given the other "wonderful" stuff you cover that does get big.

I wish I could give Nintendo more chances to try something new, but they keep making dumb move after dumb move (like the NEW 3DS - wtf were they thinking?!) that I cannot sympathize with them anymore. I, personally, as a consumer, am done with them.

ps - BTW, there's nothing special with me using "superior being(s)" other than I'm agnostic and still undergoing an admittedly rebellious phase against my catholic school years. And yeah, to a degree, it doesn't mean to offend anyone. Given how opinionated and acidic I can get, being sensitive about whether you believe in God, Allah, or a sea of spaghetti monsters is pretty minuscule.

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't think it's too bad, with the New 3DS thing, considering phones get similar upgrades at a quicker pace, and I doubt there will be a lot of new games or exclusive content for it, judging from the DSi's lack of exclusive games and how there are already over 40 million 3DS owners. It'd be suicide to alienate all of those customers, so it'd probably be mostly used for additional features in games that weren't possible with the original 3DS.

I wouldn't really say it's a great idea to avoid games featuring Mario characters since Yoshi's island and other games share almost nothing similar, but money can be a big issue in that regard (though emulating on a phone or PC takes money out the equation.) though that's your choice.

The brand thing s a problem, but they seem like they're taking steps to fix it. http://www.continue-play.com/news/miyamoto-splatoon-was-nearly-a-mario-game/

Sorry to go all fanboy, especially considering the disclaimer at the top, but I do think they're a good company - they take responsibility for what they do, like when Satoru Iwata cut his pay in half to make up for losses, instead of firing a bunch of innocent employees, as well as offering the ambassador program as compensation for cutting the 3DS's price early on. It's rare to see a company like that.

Nice preference regarding RPGs, though - Persona 3 was one of the best SMTs, though Digital Devil Saga and SMT 1/2 are arguably better (well, the latter is in terms of analysing religion as the originals were intended to be. Plot wasn't really ts strong point or focus).

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