No Love For Nintendo
Why the gaming industry needs to appreciate the Big N.
Nintendo is a curious company. For decades, the magicians in Kyoto have managed to supply us with lovable characters of Disney-esque proportions, placed them inside wonderous and fantastical worlds, and wrapped everything up in a gorgeous, glossy layer of unmatched gameplay. Generations of kids (and, yes, adults too) have traversed the lands of Hyrule and the Mushroom Kingdom as if they were part of their own backyard. Some have played with Wave Beams and Morph Balls more than action figures and baseballs. And – unlike old He-Man cartoons (have you seen any of those lately?) – these games have stood the test of time, with mechanics and challenges that are equally entertaining when played ten and twenty years after the fact. That’s damn impressive.
Yet despite their gloried history, the Big N still receives more criticism, condescension, and palpable glee at their troubles than any other name in the biz. And why? Truthfully, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps it’s a ‘hate-the-big-guy’ sort of thing. Maybe it’s a conspiracy waged by the Dark Brotherhood of Sega Genesis fans. But it exists nonetheless.
Nintendo dominated the industry for two console life cycles. The NES was a relatively unchallenged colossus and the SNES received only mild shrapnel from the aforementioned Sega Genesis. By the mid-nineties, their first real competition emerged in the the Sony Playstation. This is where the anger began.
Enough people were ready to watch the big guy fall, as Sony overtook Nintendo for the first time. Nintendo’s answer to the Playstation, the Nintendo 64, was met with scathing criticism. The cartridge-based games were ‘too archaic and expensive’, ‘most games offered better graphics but not much else’, ‘the system was big and clunky.’ Sounds like an argument against an Xbox perhaps? Not back then.
Nintendo’s response to these complaints came with the release of the Gamecube five years later. This time, the Big N heard their critics loud and clear. Disc-based games, lower prices, and a smoother overall design. And wouldn’t you know it? The graphics ‘weren’t good enough’ and the system ‘looked like a toy.’ Similar criticism followed the Wii, along with the everlasting belief that ‘Nintendo is for kids.’
The Big N-ovators
So here we stand in 2011, and the results are in. The NES and SNES are considered classic systems. And ironically, so is the Nintendo 64. Super Mario 64, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Mario Kart 64, Goldeneye, etc, are held in the highest gaming regard. As time passes, the Gamecube is also aging quite well with Metroid Prime, Pikmin, Zelda: Wind Waker, and many other games also being appreciated among the best. Coincidence? Luck? Hardly.
The fact is Nintendo, before any other video game company, should be appreciated much more than it is. They are artists before anything else. Their games – while often scoffed at as being ‘for kids’ – have influenced countless other developers working within the genre. The Company set the bar for 2D side-scrolling with the Super Mario franchise, set it again with 3D platforming in Super Mario 64 (and its sequels,) and introduced open-world exploration with the Metroid and Zelda franchises.
They have changed the industry in hardware as well. The analog stick and rumble-responses in your controller? Nintendo. Touch screen gaming? Nintendo. Motion-based gaming? Yep, you guessed it – Senor Nintendito as well. Even the failed Virtual Boy was an attempt at something new, and did pave the way for the gaming age we are currently entering. Today, the 3DS and the Wii U are again plowing into new territory that will eventually be embraced and inevitably copied.
This isn’t to say that there are not incredible game designers out there or that the competition has nothing to offer. Quite the opposite in fact. All three systems offer incredible gaming experiences featuring cutting edge graphics, enormous worlds of exploration, and quests that were never thought possible ten or twenty years ago.
However, it is important to remember that Nintendo, more than any other, has led us to this point. Their innovation in software and hardware can be found in most of our favorite gaming experiences. How much inspiration did the open world of Liberty City get from Hyrule? What did games like Limbo learn from Mario’s escapades? Would we be playing with Move or Kinect today were it not for the Wii? How much thanks should Steve Jobs and his flock of Angry Birds give to the Nintendo DS?
Nintendo is an innovator. They are what Walt Disney was to animation; what Coke was to Cola; what Ford was to cars. No, they’re certainly not perfect nor free from criticism, but we as gamers should remind ourselves of their contributions and give credit where credit is due. We should hope for their continued success in software and hardware; just as we should hope to see Mario, Link, and Samus for many more years. The gaming industry probably wouldn’t exist without them.
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