I’ve been a fan of Nintendo for about 15 years now. I’ve seen the way they they’ve changed their games from era to era, console to console. It’s also interesting to see the things that have not changed. The company is still the king of unique first party titles. They deliver bright, colorful, fantastical stories and worlds. When one thinks of Nintendo they think of mushrooms, princesses, stars and things related. In the distant past they’ve bordered on only having games for core gamers (the ones who go down to Gamestop and invest hours into each game) and also for the whole family such as Mario Party. The company kept a balance, but they didn’t forget that they were a video game company first and foremost in making quality single player (and multiplayer) experiences. What’s the purpose of a video game? Generally speaking, I believe the purpose is to challenge the player to complete some sort of quest. On another note, there’s also party games, racing games, fighting games and sport games, all of which the major companies have.
But the core thing is to generally challenge the player, young or old, and to throw them in an unknown world. The goal is to complete the adventure, whether it be saving the world, rescuing the princess, or becoming the world champion. Nintendo has delivered these things in different formats very well over the years. Of course as you probably noticed I used the term “distant past” to describe Nintendo’s practices. That’s because I believe the company has truly fallen short these past years.
Recently it was announced that the upcoming STAR FOX ZERO would be including a mode called “Invincibility.” Basically, it will make the Arwing invulnerable, granting players the ability to fast-blast the level. I couldn’t help but laugh and shake my head at this. Let’s think about it for a second: the game is literally giving you a cheat code. It’s telling the player that if this is too hard for you, here, take a pass. You might tell me that just because it’s there doesn’t mean I, or anyone else, have to use it. True. The thing is that it shouldn’t be there at all. A kid playing is given an option to defeat the level without overcoming anything. This defeats the purpose of a challenge to be overcome. The fact that it’s there encourages the easy way out when something seems too hard.
Let’s say you’re faced with an exam. It’s truly tough and you’re having a hard time completing it. Instead of the student learning to study harder, the teacher decides to give you the answers, guaranteeing a pass. Does this ever happen? Should it happen? Of course not. Things like “Invincible Mode” encourages no hard work. Back in the day you had games like Yoshi’s Island and Mario Sunshine. These games didn’t have invincibility modes. The players, whether they be kid or adult, had to learn to overcome each stage every time they got stuck. There was no “holding the player’s hand.”
If Zero was the only game with this type of mode I wouldn’t have too much of a problem. The thing is that this has been a practice of Nintendo for years now and has become a staple for the company. In New Super Mario Bros. Wii (7 years ago) after losing eight lives the game offers the player a “Super Guide.” Basically if they use it the game shows the player how to beat the obstacle. Instead of the player using their head, the game offers a cheat. Super Mario Galaxy 2, one of the finest platformers ever made, sadly utilizes this concept and takes it a step further. If the player chooses to gain the help of a “Cosmic Spirit,” it will literally possess Mario and propel him to the end on auto-pilot. In Yoshi’s Woolly World the game constantly reminds you that you have “badges” to help make the already easy game, easier. You wouldn’t find this stuff on the Gamecube.
This isn’t only limited to Mario games. In SONIC LOST WORLD for Wii U and 3DS it allows the player to skip segments after losing a number of times. You’ll pretty much never find this on any Playstaion or Xbox game. Of course, the actual Nintendo games are usually of quality despite having that Super Guide option. Even then, those quality games are becoming rarer since the company has put their attention elsewhere. Where did this begin? With the Wii.
The Wii was revolutionary for introducing motion control to the world of gaming. While on the onset it was a brilliant idea, it would be the start of Nintendo’s downfall. Why? Because with motion control Nintendo started to shift away from core gameplay experiences to things like Wii Fit. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a game like the Fit, (it does have great benefits) but the problem is that starting there is when the company began to be known not by its games, but by its gimmicks. This isn’t the main negative aspect however. The really awful aspect starting with the Wii is that Nintendo had become known for being squarely aimed at non-gamer children. Remember the game Transformers: War for Cybetron? It was ported to the Wii under the title “Cybertron Adventures,” a severely watered-down version. The Wii also featured the largest amount of shovelware and Z rank games to date. You wouldn’t find low budget entries like those on the PS3 or Xbox 360. Things like these alienated gamers from Nintendo. (Why should a Wii owner get a lesser version of the same game?) The company still hasn’t quite recovered from the Wii era.
Nintendo also seems to really dislike the internet and competitive scene. Leaderboards and player rankings have been virtually nonexistent. One would imagine with its latest console, the Wii U and its biggest fighting game to date, Super Smash Bros., they would implement a leaderboard system like how Capcom is doing it with Street Fighter V. But we didn’t get that. (At least Pokken features a ranking system, though not in-depth.) The servers are almost seamless on all PS4 and Xbox One games. The peer-to-peer system of Smash can often be full of lag, making some battles online almost unplayable. What could be worst however is how the company interacts with its fanbase, which is basically nonexistent. Their secretive policies in Mario Maker for example shows that they have no idea how to communicate with their own fans.
Nintendo is so out of the loop with how to market products that many people still don’t know that the Wii U is completely separate from the Wii. I was talking to someone not too long ago and when I inquired about the U he thought it was just another version of the Wii. The U is one of Nintendo’s worst selling consoles to date for this very reason. While it has stepped away from some of the failures of the Wii, it hasn’t reached the greatness of the Gamecube and its predecessors in delivering consistent, quality content. A running joke which is still going is a lack of third party support. Ubisoft have said in the past they wouldn’t release more exclusives until the system sold more units. Sadly, Nintendo has thrown itself into a hole which could take quite awhile to get out of. The sad thing is that they don’t seem to care!
The Wii U has been out for just four years and Nintendo is already prepping release for their next home console. This is their not so subtle way of saying the U was a failure. The company is so set on Miis and Ambiibo gimmicks that they’ve forgotten what gamers want to play. A prime example of this is the upcoming 3DS Metroid game, Federation Force. Instead of giving us the next Samus Aran installment after 6 years, we’re getting a 4 player co-op where she isn’t even a focus! (The first trailer received over 25,000 dislikes on YouTube day one.) The company doesn’t seem to understand that this is not something a fan wants to invest hours into.
From the NES to the Gamecube, the company was in its prime. Since the Wii the company has moved away from its earlier practices. The Wii alienated many people a couple of years in as it started to focus on other areas than delivering quality gameplay. That’s not to say every game was bad, because the console houses some truly fine additions. There’s more mediocre than positive however. The continuing usage of a “Super Guide” and “Invincibility Mode” shows that Nintendo isn’t in the same mindset as the Yoshi’s Island days. The Wii U doesn’t look to pick up as already the NX is being released in the near future. Nintendo was once a company which delivered consistent, fantastic games which made the player smile and challenge them to overcome obstacles. Now I’m inclined to say their competitors are better at being video game companies. The sales showcase this too, for Nintendo has been in decline since the Wii U has failed to sell as much as the PS4 and Xbox One. (To put this in perspective, it took the U 3 years to sell 10 million units, while the PS4 and Xbox One only 1 year!)
I don’t think Nintendo is going to regain the respect of gamers anytime soon. Maybe the NX will change things. (That’s the hope anyway.) If the company can start delivering quality content consistently from the start and slowly move away from its Mii, family party-centered practices it can happen. Again, there’s definitely nothing wrong with having gimmick or party-like games. Families should be playing together. The company however should put their focus in making challenging installments for the main buyers of a video game console, the gamers.