Playing to Perfection

Is Nintendo sacrificing right now for just right with its software strategy?

By Adam Sorice. Posted 08/08/2011 16:30 6 Comments     ShareThis

Like all good things, Nintendo can’t be rushed. As Americans fans have found out all too recently, the company is one that seldom bends to consumer pressure; whether they’re demanding Japan-only games or the release of titles before Nintendo feels they’re ready. (Yeah, Mother 3 just isn’t quite ready for America yet folks, just give it another five to bajillion years.)

In many ways, Nintendo sees its creations as more than mere product but instead as some form of art that should be respected and not misused for short-term profit. Which is all well and good; believe me, I’m happier than just about anyone that Nintendo is standing up for the moral integrity of its content rather than simply flogging dead horses and releasing somewhat unplayable games. I mean, who would even do that? (*coughs* Capcom *coughs* -Ed.)

However, I’ve been growing slowly more concerned over the last few months about Nintendo’s release strategy and it wasn’t until Noah asked a very interesting question on our most recent podcast that the issue came into focus for me. During a discussion on 3DS’s lacklustre release calendar, he hit the nail on the head with the simple question, “What is Nintendo doing?”

It’s an excellent question, what is Nintendo doing? Besides apologising. A lot.

We all know that video game development isn’t an overnight job; games can take several years to progress from conception to final product and the ever-escalating world of technology is likely more of a hindrance than a help to the typical programmer in the wild. But at the same time, I feel obligated to ask, “When did Nintendo get so slow?” When did one of the leading video game companies in the world become so sluggish and unreactive with its software development? The company that once prided itself on being built on unique, clever and engaging software seems to be more of a memory than an active fighting force in today’s market.

Allow me to now direct you to Wikipedia, specifically this list of Nintendo-published products. What you can see here is a year-by-year breakdown of everything that Nintendo has published for its consoles, obviously including its own games as well as third parties titles that it took responsibility for in particular regions. Now if we look at the first year of Wii we can see that Nintendo published at least fifteen games that were largely from its own merit or that of its second parties. If we look at the genesis of the DS, it released a similar amount of games for its dual-screened console and a large portion of those were brand new franchises or new takes on franchises because of the DS’s unique interface.

Pokémon Rumble Blast logo
It’s what you’ve been waiting for … or, uh.. something like that.

Now let’s fast forward to 2011 on 3DS. In the launch year of its most expensive handheld in recent memory, Nintendo only plans to release nine games. Two of those are remakes of (relatively) ancient games (Star Fox 64 3D and the unsurprisingly excellent Ocarina of Time 3D that was co-developed with Grezzo) and another three (Nintendogs + Cats, Pilotwings Resort and Pokémon Rumble Blast) that offer less innovation and instead more of the same from the company’s extensive back catalogue. That leaves only Steel Diver, a game that proved to be a brutally difficult tech demo according to our review, Mario Kart 7, Super Mario 3D Land and Kid Icarus: Uprising as truly genuine offerings from Nintendo to 3DS owners. And we all know angry they can get, just ask James.

So why this absence of software? Why has the creativity and spontaneity many love Nintendo for pulled a vanishing act? Well, without being inside Shigeru Miyamoto’s head we can’t be sure (although that sounds like the best field trip ever, no?) but there’s only really two possible reasons: Nintendo’s got lazy or it’s trying to get things just right.

As I said at the beginning, Nintendo can’t be rushed into releasing a product before it feels happy with it and the company’s sky-high standard of quality is part of the reason why the company has enjoyed success for so long. But when does that quest for gaming perfection start to harm a product? Miyamoto has gone on record as saying that he told the Zelda team that if Skyward Sword wasn’t the best game in the franchise then there would be no more Zelda. That’s all well and good but the fact that it’s taken this long and the tweaking still continues is more of a fallacy than a challenge.

Twilight Princess released five years ago come November and its sequel should not have taken five years to produce. It’s not like Nintendo is reinventing the wheel here, it’s a Zelda game… dungeons, sword, Triforce, you know the drill. The Wii is not brand new hardware, it’s older than Twilight Princess and even more critically, largely based on the GameCube hardware. Nintendo’s leading teams should be able to crank things out for Wii a dime-a-dozen these days and do it faster than they have been of late. Yes I can understand that Wii MotionPlus was added and the game’s new art style but Majora’s Mask took just one year; Nintendo should be less concerned with perfection and more with just letting fans play the damn game.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Screenshot
Sure, Skyward Sword’s gonna be good but will it be five times better than Majora’s Mask?

I think this is the problem that’s befallen the 3DS. As we discussed on last week’s podcast, the 3DS has quite a box of tricks but with accelerometers and 3D screen and cameras, it’s sometimes unclear as to where you begin because implementing one feature then rules out another and so on. Not wanting to let the side down, Nintendo has somehow found itself in a position where it would rather not release any games than release ones that are deemed to be less than perfect in its eyes. It would explain the current drought of content on 3DS, which appears to be even flummoxing its creators more than anyone else, and perhaps gives us a view into the issue that is slowly pulling the company apart at the seams.

Something has happened at Nintendo and I do think it’s largely to do with quality. On one hand, it’s understandable; after having produced Ocarina of Time, Super Mario Galaxy and countless other titles that rest atop lists of gaming greatness the pressure to outdo yourself must be huge. But regardless of that, Nintendo is over-thinking things. With Wii and DS it had larger install bases than it could have dreamed about five years ago and still game development seems to have shrank rather than grown. You’ve finally got more people than you could even imagine buying your hardware and now it’s your job to sell them as much software as possible, so what are you waiting for Nintendo?

No one wants to see franchises misrepresented, least of all the fans that hold them so close to their hearts, but if the build-up is too long then you’re only ever going to fall down, Nintendo. So I’m giving you permission to just go mental. Don’t worry about games being just right, don’t worry if they’ll rise or burn or not come out right. Make games with some rough edges, don’t sand everything down to a smooth, soulless edge and kill that spontaneous joy things like Brain Training and WarioWare and Majora’s Mask held. The power of an idea in its raw form is exactly what Nintendo deals in, bottling up that raw energy and selling it as the game you’ll hold close to you forever. The things that make your childhood, right? So just go do it, don’t take another five to six years to make a Zelda, just go with your gut instinct and then let us play it. Because that’s how you make the perfect game, you let your customers say it first.

6 Responses to “Playing to Perfection”

  • 360 points
    M. Noah Ward says...

    I’m wondering if, under the pressure of people saying there’s “no content” on 3DS, and suddenly we’re getting three to four marquee titles (Mario Kart 7, Super Mario 3D Land, Star Fox 64 3D, maybe Kid Icarus) in the next five months (versus across a year!), that we will finally start to see first party games that are less glorious than before. Maybe they’ll be shorter, maybe they’ll have a gameplay flaw, but like you suggest, why not? Just get some content out already (that’s not a Mii- or mini-game-centric dud, natch). And that’s what will happen to keep up this pace– less impressive games more often, or more 6 – 8 month droughts in between first party releases, making us wonder why we got the machines to begin with. And nothing’s filling in those gaps.

    Each successive generation of Nintendo hardware tends to increasingly emphasize to third parties that they can’t launch or sell system-selling franchises of their own on Nintendo consoles, leaving Nintendo responsible for creating a bulk of the original content. And that’s what we’re buying Nintendo hardware for anymore, right? It’s just disappointing because that means less and less to look forward to on Nintendo devices. Microsoft and Sony still excel at creating strong partnerships with quality third party companies, absorbing them into second party status when appropriate (still miss you, Sucker Punch). The last I can think of Nintendo’s actions in this arena is spinning off or shutting down the second parties it cultivated in the N64 years. But if Nintendo can’t generate enough of the (only) content gamers are buying its machines for, second and third party courting and development– better than what’s heretofore been done– needs to dramatically ramp up.

  • 42 points
    hp3 says...

    Perfection or close to it, is what Nintendo fans expect when it comes to the games. Majora’s Mask ran on the OOT game engine, so it was quicker for them to release it. Skyward Sword is built ground up for the Wii, not running off an existing game engine. So development will be longer.

    • 697 points
      Adam Sorice says...

      Of course that’s true but Twilight Princess was originally running on the Wind Waker engine, there was no reason to bin that engine when it was perfectly servicable and producing stunning visuals.

      I (vaguely) understand why Skyward Sword has taken five years but I’ve yet to find a decent enough excuse to legitimize that wait.

  • 1540 points
    penduin says...

    I think Nintendo does have teams and games oriented more towards the “right now”. I bought Steel Diver at launch and while it’s interesting, it’s missing that spark of Miyamoto magic I had come to expect. All Pilotwings Resort had to do was give me the awesome Pilotwings 64 in stereoscope, but instead it’s basically the Wii Sports Resort flight demo. Ugh.

    Some of their quick-ship-something games are golden (heck, that’s what the original Donkey Kong was) but as often as not, I wish they’d take their time and get stuff right.

    And for the record, Majora’s Mask was _going_ to take a year according to the original planning. It took two, and was well worth the wait. :^)

    • 697 points
      Adam Sorice says...

      Well I went and checked Wikipedia and it said one so that was good enough for me! I’m not sure how Nintendo sometimes loses its spark but I highly doubt it was achieved by tweaking Nintendogs and Brain Training for 5+ years; those were just great ideas that were ran with. That’s what the company needs to return to.

  • 3 points
    drnorge says...

    Honestly, I purchase Nintendo systems and games because of the “just right” approach. I think too often games come out that aren’t done or are missing features due to rushing. I do not want Nintendo to take this approach. I’d rather wait and get an amazing, polished experience than have a rushed broken experience.

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