Wednesday, June 13, 2012

#25: Nintendo: The Good and the Bad

Last week marked the start and end of this year's annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). It was the time of year that most of the major power players in the world of gaming emerge for a few days to talk about the near-future of gaming. While I have my own opinions on this year's E3 (which are well documented on my twitter account), this week's article is not exactly about that. No, this week I will be focusing on one specific company in the console race, Nintendo. Now, this one is a tough one for me to write. Even though I stopped buying and playing Nintendo consoles and games long ago, I still have a soft spot for the company in my heart because of there influence on me in my formative years. However, the more I hear from them, especially lately, the more concerned I become. This has invoked a number of mixed feelings. This week's article is my attempt to organize my thoughts and write my feeling down regarding Nintendo.

I should start with what I really like about Nintendo. The best thing about Nintendo, and I do not think this is hyperbole, is that they are some of the most creative people in terms of gameplay and how players interact with the games they play. Nothing exemplifies this more than the Wii and its successor, the Wii U. Both of these pieces of hardware attempted to revolutionize gaming with a new twist on control schemes rather than release the same console again but with better hardware and an internet connection. The Wii used motion consoles to try and immerse players more deeply into game worlds (to arguable success, but I digress) and the Wii U is attempting to build on this by adding a touchscreen to one to two of the controllers to allow for “asymmetric gameplay” or the ability of one player to see/do something completely different than the other players. This concept is a totally new and unexplored territory in gaming that has many people rightfully curious regarding its application. This is one thing Nintendo does very well. Nintendo understands that not all games have to be serious and that not every game needs to be a “gritty” and realistic. As such, they are willing to play around and think of concepts that might be fun for the consumer. I have great admiration and respect for this.

However, this strength can also be a weakness. While Nintendo is interested in breaking new grounds in gaming, most of the third-party publishers that console makers rely on to make games and push their products lack either the same drive or the same creativity. They are unable to make experiences that cater to this new technology, making it effectively worthless. This becomes more obvious upon inspection of the lineup advertised on the Wii U. Two of the most notable games on the lineup, Mass Effect 3 and Batman: Arkham City, are both ports of games that have already become old news. Once the Wii U is released this holiday, they will have long been absent from the game industry's radar. The rest of lineup also consists of several ports like Darksiders 2, Ninja Gaiden 3, Assassin's Creed 3, and more. All of the potential of this new and interesting technology is being used to port games with audiences that already have consoles capable of playing them. It gives the impression that nobody can really use this technology to add to the experience in any significant way besides Nintendo.

Which transitions nicely into my next point: While Nintendo is very creative and ambitious, it appears that they may be trying to proverbially bite off more than they can chew. Nintendo's strength of creativity is also a weakness because no one seems to be able to reign in their creativity and put it towards something much more manageable. The best demonstration of this is the “MiiVerse” announced for the Wii U. The unique feature of MiiVerse is that people will be able to send messages that will be able to be seen by anybody playing the same game (to ask for help, give help, brag about high scores/accomplishments, etc.). While I would prefer to avoid a deluge of messages clogging my single player game, I admit that this is an interesting concept. The problem with this is that the internet, being the way that it is, will always have somebody that will swear up a storm and draw penises on everything. Nintendo, trying to stay as kid-friendly as possible, will naturally be trying to avoid that. In order to keep their console kid-friendly, they will of course be using the standard language filters used in many chat programs. In addition, they intend to have teams of people dedicated to going in and actually reading every single message ever sent on MiiVerse. Every! Single! One! I should not have to tell you how impossible such an undertaking would be. Even if it was possible, such a brute force censorship would require an untold amount of resources to be anywhere near as successful as it should be. When planning a feature like MiiVerse, Nintendo should have put more thought into how it would be policed. I am not against Nintendo policing its own service, (After all, we all know how the internet tends to behave.) but I think that they need to be much smarter about it than that.

My last gripe with Nintendo is in the use of its IPs. This is something that I know I will be in the minority when I say it, but Nintendo does not do nearly enough with their IPs. While they definitely alter the gameplay with each iteration, it is hard to not feel like they keep treading and retreading the same ground over and over again. They rarely do any significant change-up of their core franchises. To be fair, this is partially the fault of their fan-base that complains if they do so much as change the art style of a franchise. However, it often feels like if once one has played one Mario/Zelda game, they have played every other one as well. Even when they change up a franchise, it often feels like it is just another reiteration with a gimmick attached to showcase some new technology. In other words, it becomes a glorified tech demo. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was a good example of this on the Wii and New Super Mario Bros U, Nintendo Land: Luigi's Mansion, and Pikman 3 are examples from the Wii U. There is nothing wrong with Nintendo using its own IPs to showcase its own technology, but they need to do something more than the same old thing with a slight twist.

There is a chance I am just being unnecessarily harsh on Nintendo. However, most of these grievances are legitimate concerns that Nintendo does have to address to its fans at the very least. The Wii U has the potential to be an awesome platform with a variety of completely unique, interesting, and fun gameplay experiences, but potential is the only thing I have seen. I want this to succeed. I want the Wii U to deliver on the potential that anybody who keeps tabs on this industry can see is there. I am just concerned that Nintendo may not be able to deliver. I will close with the following statements: Nintendo should have definitely revealed the price for the Wii U at that press event. This is because Nintendo has never been known to sell their products at a loss, unlike the other two console manufacturers and that touchscreen GamePad looks to be expensive. Announcing a price point would have allayed many of the fears people have. Nintendo can succeed, but they have to be smart about their next few moves.

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