Nintendo takes a lot of flack these days for their Wii wand waggling efforts, criticised by the gaming enthusiast for not having enough ‘real’ games, panned by critics for recycling old IP and ideas, and finally, even the Ninty die-hards are beginning to turn their back. Now I’m not going to try and tell you about how wrong everyone is, or how Nintendo is actually the saviour of gaming by cornering the casual market, but instead I want to put forward that in actual fact, Nintendo’s outlook on the industry has never changed, and perhaps we should look at how we now perceive games as the key factor in our disenchantment with the house that Mario built.
When in 1983 Nintendo launched the Famicom and later the NES, the company perceived it as a toy, another electronic gadget to have in the home, good family fun for all involved, just like the cards they originally sold 90 years previously. You can see by several games from their NES launch line-up; Golf, Baseball, Tennis, and other similarly titled games, that the market they were trying to capture wasn’t the Atari 2600 playing ‘gamer’ (arguably this term hadn’t even come into use) but the parent looking for a new gizmo to play for the upcoming holiday they bought it. The console came packed with two hard wired controllers, one of which included a mic that replaced the Start / Select buttons. Later the console and its various NES incarnations would include a light gun, motion sensing hand glove, and even disk system that allowed for external media to store games ‘downloaded’ from an external source.
It should, because this focus on the casual consumer, a wealth of innovation and hardware experiments that would be used in later iterations, epitomises the Nintendo ethos throughout the ages. Modems, RAM expansions, the 64DD, shoulder buttons, analogue sticks, Virtual Boy, hand-held gaming and all manner of third party interactive sport peripherals, all of these features and technologies have had one, and only one thing in common. To sell more games, to more people, over a wider audience.
But what about said games? General consensus seems to be that Nintendo consoles traditionally provided swathes of high quality titles, in a timely fashion. But if we take a look at the highest selling games of each console you begin to see a pattern emerge. Relatively few high quality titles per console iteration, of which all highest sellers are first party (as are the majority of the rest of the top twenty), and most are based on existing franchises from previous generations. Third party efforts bring up the rear, mainly consisting of ports of other consoles. Similarly, it tends to be titles launched early into the consoles life span that sell the best, from Super Mario Brothers, to Wii Play.
So if Nintendo hasn’t changed, what has? Speaking with a fellow gamer recently, they referred to the Wii as a ‘boardgame for retards’, and whilst their words could have been better chosen, the sentiment rings true, its a console (and company) that has maintained it’s family orientated approach, a thing for children and the easily amused. And if we are being honest, perhaps that was us all those years ago, too young to notice bad game design, too ignorant to see any other way of doing things. ‘Hardcore Gaming’ has moved on, our expectations now much higher, our tolerance for anything not catered specifically to us, much lower, and whilst that’s not a bad thing, its also not the fault of a company staunchly resolute in the practices that have kept it afloat for nearly 110 years.