Green Switch Palace: Innovation, Iteration, and Initiation

Nintendo in multiple choice format.

By Marc N. Kleinhenz. Posted 04/06/2012 10:00 1 Comment     ShareThis

Green Switch Palace 3.0 Masthead

With the Wii U releasing in just a few months (maybe?), Nintendo has both the natural and manufactured opportunity to reinvent itself– or, at the very least, to redress the way it presents itself to a number of its various demographics.

Given that software is worth a million words, what’s the best tack for Nintendo to take with the Wii U launch lineup?

    a. Killer, “old-school” installment of a previously established IP
    b. Innovative twist on a previously established IP
    c. Brand-new IP

To answer, I’ve gotten together a few talking heads from all over the gaming map. Some are familiar faces to the Green Switch Palace, while others are first-time guests (mind the Yoshi droppings, please)– but all are experts in the gaming arena, and their answers just may shed some light on what may or may not be a dark time in Nintendo’s 38-year (electronic) lifespan.

Survey says…

Tim Stevens, editor-in-chief of Engadget:

I’d say Nintendo needs a combination of A and B, with a strong push toward B.

Nintendo is all about its established franchises, and it’s going to need to launch with big, new entries there to draw in its established fans. But, if those old-school properties don’t take strong advantage of the console’s unique assets, it’s in trouble. We’ve seen some interesting demos, like a multiplayer, augmented-reality, Metroid-style shooter that adds a new twist to a familiar environment. Nintendo’s going to have to find a way to make that kind of experience sparkle while still delivering the familiar gameplay experience its fans expect.

Sam Bishop, editor-in-chief of TotalPlayStation:

I wish it really was as simple as an A, B, or C proposition, but as I think everyone knows, it’s really a combination of all three. That was what gave systems like the GBA, DS, and especially the PS2 such legendary libraries.

What Nintendo does better than any other platform holder is analyze what makes their franchises so damned good and then sort of tips their hat in one of those three directions (or, wisely, opts to just leave a franchise on the back burner until it can be properly updated, as in the case of Kid Icarus).

That said, I know what I’d want, and that’s a proper, full-on, HD-level embracing of some franchises that lend themselves to getting something that’s really eye-popping. Metroid is a great fit, I think (more exploration than pure action, please), as is Zelda.

What I don’t think is needed (and what Nintendo is clearly aware of) is a sort of over-gussying up of stuff like Mario or Kirby that has a clean, simple look by design. Mario Galaxy (especially if you run it on really great hardware using Dolphin) is damn near already there as it is. The look of those games is just overwhelmingly gorgeous, but without all the hyper-normal-mapped surfaces and grittiness of so many Unreal Engine 3 games. Clear art direction will always trump busy textures any day as far as I’m concerned.

And yes, they must start creating new IPs, stuff that satisfies the general audience, sure, but Nintendo needn’t be synonymous with just games that appeal to every demographic. They can go after the core audience, but it really has to be a consistent, long-term effort, which means bringing in second-party devs. I wonder what could happen if someone like Insomniac were allowed to give a sequel to a game like Geist a shot, or if Silicon Knights was able to go back to Eternal Darkness. Their first-party staff numbers aren’t huge, but just imagine the kind of stuff we’re going to see when Monolith Soft does something like Xenoblade on an HD system.

Really, what I want from Nintendo is a refocused approach to their work. I hate to say it, but Sony does a fantastic job of really treading that line between being friendly to third-parties with a hands-off approach to letting them run their own servers and hook into the PSN, and really backing concepts that will clearly never be breakout ten-million-sellers with stuff like Journey. They’re doing a great job of keeping most publishers and devs happy and have a massive suite of development studios around the world that can work on stuff (right, SCEJ?).

Nintendo will always, always be gaming’s North Star. They’re consistently good at understanding what the general public wants (even the public doesn’t know it yet), but they’ve lost that oomph to try to run with guys that do court the core audience so much. Consistent, daring, long-term output is going to be the key. The Wii may have reeled in a whole new audience, but many who were there since the days of the NES felt like they were forsaken a bit. Balancing the two, letting that new controller really work in ways that can’t be done anywhere else, is going to create those new experiences, but facilitating all the whiz-bang third-party stuff is going to be important, too.

I’m unbelievably excited about Nintendo’s prospects with the Wii U. They have a chance to really nail multiple areas that were lacking in the past, and I genuinely think they can do it, but they’re also the one company where you buy a system knowing that, for good or ill, the stuff Nintendo makes is going to be a reason to own the system.

Now if they would just force Game Freak to update fucking Pokemon. It doesn’t need to be edgy, but there’s no reason why it has to stay limited to the realm of handhelds and simple graphics when online multiplayer exists. Gameplay needs some serious updating too, but that’s a different rant.

Short version: all three, without a doubt. Fresh blood, reinvention of old stuff, and a return to the non-coddling games of yore is a good thing all around. Oh, and the usual goodies that remind us why it’s okay to have a game that looks cutesy because it’s fun, dammit, and that’s what matters most. So, y’know, all those other three things still have to be fun, but they also need to look modern.

Scratch that– they have to look next-gen (where appropriate).

Michael Pachter, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities:

I’m not sure why they can’t do all three, and expect them to do so.

Nintendo’s success has always been dependent upon proprietary software titles, and I think that they can do any of those three things with existing brands. The big problem is that they don’t have that many brands, so we’re talking about 10 games a year, at most. They need 100 to make a difference and get non-core gamers to consider the console. Thus, while I think your question is philosophically interesting for a fanboy magazine, it’s not particularly relevant to the overall health of the console itself. Nintendo content will be there for the Wii U, and I expect them to do a phenomenal job in all three areas. The open question is third-party support, and I’m not sure it will materialize very early on. Most publishers will make one or two titles and wait and see if the Wii U is a success.

Rob Crossley, online editor at Develop magazine:

It depends what you mean by “best,” seeing that commercial and creative strategies are not always unified.

Early console adopters tend to be the more core audience, so classic IP isn’t a terrible idea, though it is crucial Nintendo’s first-party launch output elegantly explains what the system is capable of, as well as its unique selling points. Setting such a template for other developers and publishers to follow without too much difficulty is important.

Monte Cristo, principal editor at GameGiggles:

In the coming generation of systems, I think the focus will shift from the essential to the accessory.

The essential has always been capable and reliable hardware, combined with a rich videogame library. In recent years, the accessory included alternative control mechanisms, multiplayer gameplay, online integration, and social engineering features.

The hardware race and platform-exclusive titles have come to a peak, so the battlefield must shift to new horizons. I expect future systems to include voice chat, party systems, competitive arenas, geolocation, crowdsourcing, and social networking as integral parts of their respective platforms.

As far as Nintendo is concerned, there is no doubt adding quality games to their best franchises will always generate revenues from their loyal base, but, to leave the N64 yard, Nintendo will need to meet their competitors in the middle of the market. The ideal scenario would involve a blockbuster new IP, which you thought you would never see on any Nintendo platform, developed by a third-party developer and capable of attracting as many Halo players as Zelda fans.

Such an event would send a double message to the industry:

– Third-party developers and publishers can make money off of a Nintendo system.
– Nintendo has a system capable of reaching new players on the non-casual side of the fence.

Shaun Mason, gaming ronin:

One of the things that Nintendo has been doing with a lot of its hardware recently has been highlighting the strength of the hardware, but not particularly delivering when it comes to some of the software. The motion controls of the Wii shifted the entire gaming industry to imitating the Wiimote with the PS Move and Kinect, but the system was flooded with lackluster titles. The 3DS was impressive with its 3D functionality, but it had a weak launch lineup that didn’t fully take advantage of the handheld, and that led to a (premature) price cut. The Wii U that was shown off at last year’s E3 was more a conceptual launch than a legitimate demonstration of what the system could do, especially since it was more of “imagine your game system can do this” instead of showing actual games, apps, and services.

Now, if Nintendo were smart and wisely used the past year, it would use a mix of B and C to fully take advantage of its upcoming system. Look at option B first. Let’s face it: Nintendo is sitting on a gold mine of classic IP and characters– Donkey Kong, Star Fox, Pokemon, Smash Bros… Those are some of the “less impressive” ones, considering everyone immediately thinks of Mario, Zelda, and Metroid. Unfortunately, after years of creating and hosting excellent games, it has also squandered it with simplistic and trivial sequels. Imagine a Wii U that used the touchscreen controller as a mini-map and weapon console that you can use to augment Samus’s power suit in Metroid, but could also be used as a portable Vita-like experience when you’re away from the console. Imagine if Nintendo actually brought back Eternal Darkness, and messed around with the display in your hands as well as on the screen. This could create completely new and classic game experiences.

Of course, there are only so many revamps that Nintendo could launch with, which is why it needs to have a solid lineup of brand-new IP to help sell the console. New games that fully took advantage of the Wii U hardware could actually establish the next generation of classics and make it a must-have system. But the new IP can’t be gimmicky and not take advantage of the hardware or peripherals with the system; it would have to actually produce games that were engaging and impressive enough to keep the attention of consumers. To that end, it would need to be a range of gameplay to suit all kinds of gamers. That means that Nintendo should consider putting its focus into both “hardcore” and family-friendly games and consistently produce games in each category. Nintendo can no longer rely upon pumping out Animal Crossing, Nintendogs, and Kirby games, or turn into a dumping ground of software that no one wants to play. Instead, it needs higher quality standards, and it needs to consistently appeal to all kinds of players.

Andrew Hsieh, co-editor-in-chief of Nintendojo:

While I’m sure Nintendo has the know-how to establish a brand-new IP, I’m not so sure the Wii U launch is the time to do it. I’ve always thought that the Wii launch was a pretty good meterstick: a new console means a new demographic interested in new IPs (that is, Wii Sports, etc.). Considering Nintendo’s courting the “hardcore” crowd with Wii U, I’m more than certain that going with a previously established IP would make more sense– and, although I’m a little bit irked at myself for saying this, I’m also pretty sure the gaming community at large would be more open to a familiar retread rather than an upturning-the-table type of game. Oh, sure, fans will complain and collectively roll their eyes at, say, another Twilight Princess-type of deal– but they’ll buy it, too.

I’m not saying that Nintendo’s solidified its reputation, though– the complete switcharound from has-been to rolling-in-the-dough-meister in the past generation attests to its protean capabilities. It’s just that there are some things the company just happens to know how to do already, and I’m betting it’ll stick to its guns rather than buy some new ones.

Ryan Green, senior editor at TotalPlayStation:

It is hard to say where Nintendo should go from here. Their track record with home consoles shows they are more than capable of success and for failure in the eyes of the market. What may very well be their biggest obstacle is something they created themselves: the name.

Anecdotally, I asked several non-gaming friends and family about what they play now, if anything, and about Nintendo. Take any popular iOS or Android game and they probably mentioned it. Interestingly, most of them owned a Wii but haven’t touched it in a while. Not surprisingly, they didn’t know what the Wii U was, but after I explained to them that they had to buy a whole new system, they felt cheated. The name is terrible and an obstacle that retailers and marketers alike need to impress upon the public, because– let’s be honest with ourselves– the casual gaming market is where the money is.

With that in mind, Nintendo should make games that can’t be seen on other platforms specifically with the new tablet controller in mind. Nobody wants to play an iPhone game with a set of digital buttons and a digital joystick. The same philosophy needs to carry over to the Wii U. First things first: games you can play, at least partially, without the TV being used. Classic titles could easily be handled on the tablet controller as tie-ins. Buy the latest Mario Twins game and get the ability to play Mario 3 on the big or the tablet screen. I know that is a dark path to go down, but it is an easy way to get people interested and playing their Wii U more than they did their Wii.

New game franchises might be scary for your average Wii user, but the platform itself has been dying for a good new franchise. Remember Zack and Wiki? That was a great game that was both a new IP and incorporated strong use of the existing controls. Ultimately, Nintendo will trot out the same old games and characters, but they can score big by not getting the same multiplatform games that Microsoft and Sony grab. They need to sell this system hard and make it clear that you will still get Mario and Link, but you’ll also get these new cartoony guys with attitude that have intriguing use of the new control setups.

If Nintendo wants to strike it rich again, the same old games can’t show up. They need not just new ideas, but strong ones, and, to that end, Nintendo has to make the Seal of Quality actually mean something for the first time in… ever. Support, work with, and guide other companies to make wholly original games that they cannot reproduce with Move or Kinect support. We already know that, graphically, whatever the competition puts into their new consoles will blow the Wii U away, so new ways to play has to be their main gateway. But, secondly, a clear message needs to be sent to consumers: you need a Wii U because your Wii cannot do this.

Ryan De La Rosa, Game Over Nation co-host:

I think the Wii U will have to have at least one of their major franchises on tap right from the start. These franchises are what have kept Nintendo afloat and relevant through the Wii era. Quality third-party support has been nonexistent for the Wii, and the third-party games we know about on the Wii U so far are games that will have already been out on the PS3 and the Xbox 360. They’ll be hard-pressed to get people to buy their new system and a game they likely already own. I guess there could always be people out there who are waiting to play Arkham City on the Wii U. Maybe? Are you laughing? I’m laughing.

That being said, I think that Nintendo will end up mixing the strategy of bringing a well-established IP along with adding a new twist to it. Using their own franchises gives them an opportunity to showcase the touch screen on the new controller. Nintendo has to show people its real worth and find a way to keep the screen from being shoved off as a useless gimmick.

And just to touch on the idea of bringing a new IP along with the launch, I wouldn’t say it’s a bad idea. It’s just not something that could stand on its own. Unproven franchises would be a huge risk when trying to sell a new system, especially one that’s taking criticism for being underpowered and behind the curve for the next generation. It would have to be alongside an established name.

Marc N. Kleinhenz has covered gaming for over a dozen publications, including Gamasutra and TotalPlayStation, where he was features editor. He also likes mittens.

One Response to “Green Switch Palace: Innovation, Iteration, and Initiation”

  • 1244 points
    lukas85 says...

    To michael patcher..

    Super Mario bros, zelda, metroid, donkey kong, star fox, pikmin, wave race, mario strikers, super smash bros, mario kart, warioland, fire emblem, exite bike, kid icarus, pushmo, mario tenis, wii sports, pikmin, kirby, yoshi, mario party, pokemon, wii fit, chibi robo,mario golf, mother, ice climbers, luigi’s mansion, mario rpg, animal crossing, nintendogs, F-zero.

    So 30+ brands, aren’t enogh brands for you?

    I think that the wiiU needs to launch with a mario game, and another franchise like metroid or star fox. A new ip would be nice, but an old one will push the sales. We know that is to soon for zelda, maybe for the third year of the console, but it has to be superbadass!.

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