Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Nintendo & Me | I've Changed My Relationship to 'It's Complicated'



I trapped myself in my room over the weekend and went about completing Super Mario Bros. U, ZombiU, and making some major progress in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. I've warmed up to my little Wii U, but I'm also kind of iffy on trying to care about Nintendo itself at this point. This seems to be the topic this week, as a string of Nintendo announcements has everybody questioning Nintendo's place and relevance for 'today's gamer'.


Nintendo seems to have finally had their hand irrevocably scorched by the times. Disappointing Wii U sales, third party developers jumping ship, and an agitated appetite towards their over-reliance on nostalgia are just the introduction to this very much old discussion. This is of course a good and bad thing. On the one hand we have the Nintendo that has pissed me and thousands of other 'core' gamers off during the past six years. They've in many ways disregarded the fanbase that helped make them a household name in lieu of chasing a fleeting demographic under the pretense of 'bringing us together' (or whatever crock they said that name was for) when it was in reality just good business.

Nintendo (as always) seems to be notably stubborn in it business and design practices. It took them almost a year to admit what almost everybody called right off the bat concerning the Wii U's reveal[1]. The Nintendo 3DS suffered the same problem, with an additional price cut that happened so fast I could only muster a somewhat vindictive laugh to them learning a lesson with it. It even suffered the same identity problem due to their marketing for it, confusing most of the mainstream audience to the extent that they just thought it was a regular DS with some new bells and whistles and not a new system altogether.

People are thankful for Mother 2 (Earthbound) finding its way here again, when my stance on the matter can be summed up in a too-little-too-late apathy (there's no good reason that entire series should not have been on Virtual Console already). For some of its bigger name franchises, they still seem unwilling to let go of archaic design tenants that have been long rendered obsolete. The biggest mascot for this is no doubt Pokemon, which stays a more-of-the-same handheld title with no real innovation that can't be grasped outside of a macrocosm of the entire franchise[2]. The Wii U in particular is a prime candidate for bringing a first mainline entry to a console, but both Nintendo (and by extension Game Freak) seems determined to hide behind their install base for as long as they possibly can.

Amusingly, this bullheadedness often reflects in their most loyal of fans as well, who've rightly earned a sort of global revulsion akin to what people view in devout Sonic the Hedgehog followers now. They're staunchly iterative in their recognition of the obvious, don't seem to grasp the concept of  restraint in terms 'sales' or money, and their attitude towards online digitization can be summed up quite aptly as 'straight out of the 90's'.

On the other hand...

There's a Nintendo that took motion controls and basically made them relevant at large. Regardless to their overall efficacy and relevance in games---for better or worse, it stuck. It stuck so much in fact that Sony and Microsoft followed suit like cartoonish notes jiggling to a goofy tune.

There's the Nintendo that didn't jump on what I still assert seven years later as the irrelevant (but now here to stay) HD bandwagon and instead focused on the games that they were known for. Despite the gimmicks and shovelware, they seemed more focused in-house on matching their hardware to the strengths of the system at large (something consoles in general have almost lost sight of entirely). This has more or less been consistent through all of their past consoles, but it really started shining through with the Wii and the DS, both systems with somewhat off-kilter design and non-traditional interfaces. 

There's also a Nintendo that recently decided to forgo a large E3 conference for the sake of more personalized and direct addresses[3]. Nintendo hasn't been competing with Microsoft or Sony for a while now, and that they're formally acknowledging it says something about where their head is at (which may not be as deep in the sand as some people believe).

The Miiverse is arguably the Wii U's most enticing feature at the moment, ranging from a poor man's social networking app to something that can actually materialize some interesting discussion in its integration (and something Microsoft and Sony will still try to ape in some fashion during the coming months). They've been the only one out of the 'big three' to not outright antagonize lower budget titles (though this is admittedly just the 'least shitty' in reality), and it took until this generation---seven or eight consoles in to begin manufacturing their machines at a loss.

These newer consoles have yet another factor to consider and one which is rather nebulous to design around, particularly for the audience that grew up with them:

Time.

They're no longer competing for money so much anymore. Time is an equally if not more important luxury for people like me now. And even the younger generation that does have an abundance of idle time on their hands is kind of a dwindling demographic for them to chase after. The newer generations don't grow up with the mainstay loyalty to the brand now because they have a myriad of other options to choose from, options which are arguably just better in many respects. Though all three seem somewhat oblivious to this large factor, Nintendo is the only one with the strength and reach to begin counteracting it. How? Their primary moneymaker, handhelds. Have they capitalized on this yet? Hell no. They're too busy with their belated surprise that they don't command the same power they did twenty years ago. The Nintendo Network could easily be a unified paragon of digital distribution for consoles if they wanted to, but they're either living in another decade or just incompetent.  I don't really care which is true anymore.

The only thing I find odd about this is the sort of doom and gloom prevalence in all of this[3]. I've admittedly been pretty spiteful towards Nintendo for a while now, but never so much just pessimistic. People seem to have just jumped to the worst case scenarios, even the 'Nintendefenders'. Every other week, I'm seeing news about how another game will not make it to Wii U and how we should regard Nintendo if they went third party (and that's ignoring the outright asinine maliciousness of others far more tired of them than I am). I suppose armchair analysts are nothing new, but I've guess I've finally reached the point where I'm weary of being angry at a corporation that even when at its best, still doesn't really care about little ol' me. 

In fact, the only emotion I can muster up towards the big N is something akin to sympathy (for the obvious and not-so-obvious reasons). Even now, they remain the most interesting of the console manufacturers in my eyes, if for no other reason than they seem to be the only ones somewhat focused on making an actual console.


1. Meaning that they only focused on showing the controller so much that even enthusiasts were initially confused on if it was actually a new console or just some kind of funky addition to the Wii. Seven months later and the population at large still seems rather indifferent or confused too? Go figure? 

  • Iwata admits some consumers are confused about the Wii U [Link]  
  • Nintendo takes to Wii consoles to remind owners what a Wii U actually is [Link]

2. Yet they keep dancing around eerily related ways to apply their titles to digital space in their scramble to make up for the past decade they seem to have just disregarded. 

  • Nintendo offers refurbished handhelds, undercuts GameStop [Link
  • Nintendo eyes free-to-play, subscriptions and micro-payments as it expands digital business [Link]

3. Alex Navarro provides a pretty good read/collection on the recent surge of Nintendo's 'Luiginess' these days. 

  • The Guns of Navarro: Wii Would Prefer Not To [Link]