I love Nintendo. One has only to look back at the sheer number of absolute classic titles they have made to realise that they are surely the greatest game development studio of all time. They have been a driving force behind all that is good about the video game industry since the Color TV Game home console was released in 1977. Their games and hardware have shaped our childhoods, sparked our imaginations and blistered our thumbs. Sitting down and playing a Nintendo game is like becoming reacquainted with your first love, who will all too quickly entwine their fingers with your own and whisper sweet nothings in your ear. From NES to Wii, they have always been there walking beside us, ever evolving and always delighting. The affection I have for this company has never wavered, but for the first time I now find myself with a genuine sense of uncertainty regarding Nintendo’s future.
With games like Assassin’s Creed III, Mass Effect 3, Batman: Arkham City and ZombiU all confirmed as Wii U launch titles, the general consensus seems to be that Nintendo’s trying very hard to ensure their new console will appeal to the “hardcore” gamer. It’s probably the most concerted effort they’ve made in a very long time to try and reclaim that part of the market they feel have abandoned them for Sony or Microsoft, but when I look at that list of Wii U launch titles, a feeling of uneasy melancholy quickly takes hold of me because I don’t believe they should be there in the first place.
For me, these aren’t the games that should be launching a new Nintendo console. Sure, we’ve got Mario in New Super Mario Bros. U, but what about Donkey Kong, Link, Samus and Fox McCloud? Hell, even Kirby would do! Unfortunately, though, the troubling perception of Wii and Nintendo in general from many gamers (both hardcore and casual) is that they’ve never been considered a company or a platform that caters for the so-called “hardcore” gamer. But does this really mean that Nintendo should be trying to increase its efforts to make hardcore games and appeal to a wider audience in order to survive the fast approaching next generation console war? Indeed, what does it even mean to be a hardcore gamer nowadays?
One take on it is that a hardcore gamer is simply an individual who plays a lot of games and spends a considerable amount of time playing them. The term is generally reserved for those who take it to the extreme and spend all day in front of an MMORPG or FPS, wallowing in their own filth and feeding themselves nutrients via an intravenous drip to ensure they don’t even have to get up to go to the fridge.
Another interpretation is that the hardcore market is specifically interested in games that have a more mature theme, and it seems to me that these are the individuals Nintendo’s trying to entice to Wii U. This doesn’t sit easy with me, though, as I fail to accept that an individual who plays every new installment of Call of Duty or Gears of War should somehow be considered a more serious or hardcore gamer than someone like myself, just because I’d rather spend what little spare time I have trying to obtain every gold medal in Kirby’s Epic Yarn.
Yet the truth of the matter is that the majority of developers and, more importantly, the marketing teams that are tasked with promoting their games know that violence, gore and sex sell. Who would possibly be interested in spending time with a rotund plumber, a pink puffball and a tie wearing ape when they could be wielding a gun with a chainsaw attached to it or copulating with an alien or a prostitute (or, indeed, an alien prostitute)? From what I have seen, ZombiU looks like it could well be a fantastic game, but I’m uncomfortable with the fact that a lot of people seem to hold the opinion that Nintendo needs more games like this, simply because it has zombies (yawn) and blood in it. I mean, if we carry on down this road, how long will it be before we’re faced with a Zelda game in which Link savagely decapitates Ganondorf, or the Mario equivalent of GTA’s notorious Hot Coffee scene?
So, I guess the “cutesy” tag has been well and truly banished.
Wii was such a massive success, mainly because of its motion controls. Even though they were never fully realised until the very end of the console’s lifespan with Wii Motion Plus, they allowed almost everyone to enjoy playing video games. Grandparents were able to play Wii Sports and bored housewives could spend their days getting up to all sorts of sweaty mischief on Wii Fit. It was a genius piece of design because it was accessible, appealed to the casual gamer, and in turn was a huge success in terms of sales.
Let’s not forget, however, that while the vast majority of Wii’s library consisted of poorly conceived, poorly implemented filler, there were also some incredible titles which are about as hardcore as they come, such as Xenoblade Chronicles, Monster Hunter Tri, and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. I’d also consider something like Little King’s Story to be an incredibly deep, complex game despite its kiddy art style, yet this is precisely why it fails to be perceived as a “hardcore” title– simply because, at first glance, it looks like a children’s game.
The same can be said of other under-appreciated gems like Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure. These games contain more charm, imagination and heart than a thousand Call of Duty’s, yet they’re dismissed by so many as irrelevant or immature. In this respect, it seems like Nintendo is swimming against the tide because the sad truth is that these types of games won’t be enough to ensure Wii U is a success– a damning indictment of the video gaming landscape at present. Nintendo seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place, like they are standing at a crossroads, with no clear idea of which direction they should take.
I understand the fact that Nintendo feel they need to appeal to more mature, hardcore gamers, I really do, especially when you consider that Wii U doesn’t appear to have the accessibility of Wii to fall back on. It’s been well publicised that the company made a loss for the first time last year, and with the next generation of Microsoft and Sony consoles on the horizon, Nintendo clearly doesn’t want to be overlooked or trampled underfoot. If moving towards games which are considered more mature helps Nintendo stay afloat, so be it.
However, I am worried that this will come at a price– that they’re in danger of losing their very identity, especially when the mainstream perception of hardcore games seems to be those that rely on bad language, blood and tits. The very reason I sold my Xbox360 and rediscovered the wonder of my Wii was that I was sick and tired of perusing the release schedules each year and seeing the same old games that were being targeted at the mainstream or hardcore market. I don’t want to play Modern Warfare 12 or Gears of War 274. The market is saturated with these generic annual releases and I truly believe that the Nintendo brand, which has created so many iconic characters and games over the years, is strong enough to stand on its own two feet and be a success, as long as they continue to dedicate time to making great Nintendo games and securing innovative, third party exclusives. They need to resist the temptation to try and become cool and “with it” by appealing to the masses. It could be a bit like watching your dad navigate his midlife crisis and may well result in a catalogue of games which is almost identical to those available on other platforms.
Nintendo is special; it’s an iconic brand with a real sense of heritage. They created Super Mario for God’s sake! More importantly, they make games that seem to be touched by magic, as if they were pulled from a conjurer’s hat. For years they’ve been at the forefront of everything that’s good about video games and it’s heartbreaking that this seems to have been forgotten by the public, the very people that Nintendo now seems so desperate to lure back to their new console. That may sound rather elitist, but I am not ashamed of that fact; the last thing I want is for Nintendo to lose themselves– that would be a true tragedy.
Lest we forget.
I genuinely believe that Wii U will make or break Nintendo, at least in terms of the home console race. One only has to look at how Dreamcast knocked SEGA from their very lofty perch as evidence of how quickly things can change. The only advice I would give to Nintendo as we head towards the release of Wii U is that they stay true to themselves and don’t lose everything that made them so incredible in the first place by pandering to the shallow, quick-fix needs of the mainstream. I have no doubt that they’ll continue to create and release stunning first party games; I just fear that they’ll do so less and less frequently as the focus switches to pleasing a wider audience. Just imagine if Nintendo stuck to their guns, gave the finger to the haters and re-embraced their often derided, misunderstood roots. We all know that Link and Mario will have their moment in the Wii U sun, but close your eyes for a second and dare to dream of a future in which we could experience a new F-Zero, a remake of Chrono Trigger, even a brand new Earthbound!
I know it’s still early days yet and I don’t mean to write Wii U off before it’s even reached the shelves– there’s every chance that Nintendo has some incredible tricks up their well worn sleeve and it will probably only take a glimpse of a new Zelda or 3D Mario title to make me look back on this very article and hang my head in shame. I genuinely hope that will be the case. I still have faith in Nintendo, but now’s the time for them to show their fanbase that they still have faith in us.