Do you remember the first time in Super Mario 64 when Lakitu explained how to see the world through our favourite Italian plumber’s eyes instead of the conventional third person view? You pressed one of the slightly superfluous C buttons and suddenly it hit you from nowhere. The world around you came alive and I swung the viewpoint ’round to take in the vast spectacle unfolding before me.
“This is so involving! How marvelous; I shall play the whole game in this wonderful mode!” I declared in a slightly rose-tinted, over-staged memory. Until I tried to walk. Instead of bounding off into the distance in Mario’s usual, giddy leap, I remained rooted to the spot and felt a severe jarring sensation as the camera span round to an odd angle.
“What’s the point of that then?” I rhetorically questioned in my much-higher-than-it-is-now ten-year-old voice. And so I switched back to third person perspective, intrigued but disillusioned to the marvels of first person gaming.
And that’s really as far as Nintendo (and to some extent the wider developing community) has pushed the envelope at this point in time. Sure, the FPS shooter has obviously adopted it as the default system of portraying itself and even Nintendo has dabbled to great success with the Metroid Prime series, but in mainstream gaming it always seems to be the exception and not the rule.
Whenever I write articles about gaming in a wider sense than just Nintendo I always want to talk about games not just by Nintendo but games not even available on Nintendo consoles, something you’re probably acutely aware of if you’re been weathered to my frequent references to Bayonetta and the girls from Dead or Alive. When I started thinking about this article the first thing that jumped into my head was none other than Mirror’s Edge, a game that I love despite numerous shortcomings. For me, the first person perspective of the game made it something completely different and fresh, immersive, heart racing and incredibly involving.
And it had no guns. Okay that’s a lie, it did have guns. But they were about as useful as a chocolate teapot, so running for your life really was a far better strategy. The point is that Mirror’s Edge showed you first person perspective could be used in a game not conventionally associated with the style and not only be successful but also use it to enhance and deepen the player’s experience with the game. It’s the exact same reason the Metroid Prime games survived the segue into first person so well, albeit with different thematic undercurrents, and it’s why developers should start taking more notice of games shown through the eyes of their inhabitants.
Because Nintendo can do gameplay. Over the years, its characters, narratives, target audience and marketing strategies all received their turn of criticism, but it has managed to completely ignore it all because it’s a company that is excellent at making very fun video games. If anyone could pull off a fully fledged game that used first person perspective in a truly radical way– that also played perfectly– then it would have to be Nintendo.
There’s a few other reasons the Big N should consider making the leap as well, the major one being depth. And when I say that I don’t mean spacial depth (although bizarrely I just want a first person Sonic game; where was I?) but more emotional depth. As I said, Nintendo is the king of gameplay, but its narratives sometimes feel like someone jotted them down on the back of an envelope. Take, for example, Mario: “Hero saves love interest from villain. The End.” It’s hardly a great moral struggle for the ages, is it? The motivations behind all of the characters are instantly obvious and completely consistent throughout, while we’re never challenged as an audience over who we should empathise with. It’s the colour-by-numbers dialogue of infallible good against the ultimate evil with the untouchable innocent in the middle.
And yes, that’s what some people expect and enjoy about Mario games, the simplicity and obviousness of the story. After all, if you tried to crowbar great melodrama into the series, it would likely start to buckle under such laboured discourse. But while Mario may not be the prime candidate for a moral struggle, there are plenty of IPs in Nintendo’s back pocket that are screaming out for a few kilometeres more depth than their current shallow narratives. Just look at the Pokémon series, notably absent of any twist or turns that will shock even the seasoned player by this point, or any game in the Zelda series, arguably Nintendo’s most epic franchise. If one of the greatest video game developers in the world can’t succeed in generating some drama in a game about the fate of the world being placed in the hands of an unlikely hero, then what can it achieve with narrative?
A possible solution or grass root to this problem? Try presenting some of these games in first person perspective, Nintendo. When players look out into their virtual world through the eyes of the character, it immerses them in that world and connects them to it. Instead of looking over someone else’s shoulder, becoming that person allows them to emotionally involve themselves in the experience so much more. And that’s precisely what series like Pokémon and Zelda need, a greater opportunity for emotional involvement. Just imagine looking over the fields of Viridian City or Hyrule and feeling a part of that world.
Obviously, changing the perspective of a game isn’t going to instantly make a gameplay-anemic gaming experience into one that’s truly heart-touching without any further changes, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Nintendo’s games are fun, enjoyable, well-crafted and successful, but sometimes you feel like you wish you could be there, being part of the action. If grabbing that star, slicing up that hobgoblin or knocking out that last gym leader’s Pokémon is incredibly fun when you feel to some degree detached from the action, could becoming a part of the scene yourself not only intensify that experience?
Because that’s what Nintendo needs right now, I think. A drop of intensity and a pair of brand new eyes.