So I guess this will be a thing for my thoughts on games, representation in games, and all the things relating to that. I’ll write some more in-depth stuff later, but I guess for now I should write something so I have some content on this blog.
So let’s talk about Nintendo.
Ever since the Wii U came out, there seem to have been two differing viewpoints on Nintendo which have reached their extremes lately. One side believes that Nintendo is doomed, that the Wii U is the next Dreamcast, and that anybody who buys a Wii U is a moron. The other believes that Nintendo can do no wrong, that Nintendo always puts out amazing games, and that Nintendo is clearly superior to Microsoft and Sony and every 3rd party developer in every way.
I think both sides are wrong, for a number of reasons.
Nintendo isn’t doomed. Not in the slightest. They’ve got cash to burn and even if the Wii U isn’t doing amazing, the 3DS is doing gangbusters. The Wii U isn’t as stupidly popular as the Wii, but that doesn’t mean they’re hurting for cash by any means.
At the same time, I hardly think Nintendo is a flawless company. Yes, Nintendo makes good games. They have some of the best people in the industry working for them. When Nintendo puts their mind to it, they can release amazing games that rival the best 3rd-party games out there.
But not every game they put out is like that. Every now and then, I’ll hear somebody say “Nintendo doesn’t annualize their franchises like other game devs do! When they release a new game, it’s always new and different and they spend a lot of time making it unique!” And in a way, it is true. Nintendo doesn’t release a new Mario game every year. They tend to stagger their releases, with some only releasing one game in a series per console/handheld.
But Nintendo is more than willing to release games that are incredibly similar, if not exactly the same, to other games in that series. The most damning case being New Super Mario Bros, a series where every single game is a carbon copy of the last one, with new level designs and minor changes (sometimes the only major change will be a single new power-up). New Super Mario Bros: Wii featured the most significant change in the series, adding 4-player co-op. But it was still the same basic game, and no game in the series has really done anything else to differentiate itself.
In this case, the fact that Nintendo doesn’t annualize this franchise is somewhat damning. Nintendo very well could spend the time between each NSMB game making significant changes to the formula and improving on aspects of the game that feel outdated or bad. But they don’t. They farm out the same game to ring in a new console or handheld, and people happily eat it up.
Call of Duty and Assassin’s creed are franchises that have issues with being samey. But this is because when you release a game with the same base gameplay year after year, it gets rather samey fast. Even then, the games do have fairly significant differences between them. And in the case of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the changes they made to mobility actually helped make the series feel more unique than it has in a long time.
Nintendo is also happy to re-release the exact same game again, but with very minor changes. It wasn’t that long ago when Nintendo was releasing 2 versions of every Pokemon game with minor differences, and then a third that combined the two with some new content. People would buy the same game twice, on the same system, without a hint of self-awareness.
There are several other cases like this, but I hope I’ve gotten my point across. What it all boils down to is that Nintendo does a lot of the same stuff 3rd party developers do, but doesn’t get called out for it. I also have my beef with their approach to online games and account management, but I’ll save that for another article.
And once again, I must stress that Nintendo is still a company that puts out great stuff. Some of my favorite games of all time are first-party Nintendo games, and I have fond memories of playing games on their systems. But they aren’t flawless, and they do a lot of the same stuff 3rd party developers do. And it always annoys me to see people who are critical of AAA development practices bend over backwards to defend Nintendo from any and all criticism. If this industry is to ever improve, we need to be equally critical of developers and manufacturers, and stop playing favorites.