“What is Nintendo’s place in the gaming world?”

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“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.”
-André Gide, Autumn Leaves

 

 

I’m old enough to remember a time before the Wii U.

With the arrival of Super Mario Odyssey, and accompanying swoons by critics everywhere, Nintendo is once again the talk of the proverbial town. The phrase “once again” is where people seem to be taken by surprise. Self-imposed amnesia can be potent but is it really so shocking that Nintendo put out a critically acclaimed video game? What can we come to expect from Nintendo?

This year has been a pretty strong one for the Big N, especially in contrast to the previous generation of consoles. There was a definite uphill battle to be fought, rebuilding their brand and reputation, attracting interest again with those who turned away on account of the Wii U. I include myself in that group, as a consumer. I’ve owned every Nintendo platform since the NES except for the Wii U. When that system came out, I like so many others was completely confused by it.

This year is different. The Switch had a successful launch and is selling well, or selling out, depending on your place in the world. I preordered the console, something I haven’t done since the PlayStation 2. On the Switch, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of Wild became one of the best rated and best reviewed games in history. There’s word of indies selling better on the Switch than on any other platform. Why navigate the ocean of Steam when Nintendo is handpicking indies for its Switch eShop? I played and enjoyed games like Axiom Verge and Shovel Knight for the first time on the Switch. Other Nintendo titles like Arms, Splatoon 2, Samus Returns, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and now Odyssey have been pretty well received.

There’s a whisper there of what the world should by now come to expect from Nintendo. Of course the first party titles are going to be good. Of course Mario Odyssey was going to be amazing. How could it not be? Where’s the precedent for that?

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Yet it seems that any discussion of Nintendo’s successes and failures must address how they build relationships with or alienate third party developers. It remains to be seen whether major and consistent third party support for the Switch will add to its success or not, with only some ports and titles to speak of at the moment. Third party devs seems to be taking a safe approach with the Big N, waiting the until the waters are tested.

That’s because Nintendo, while they have a great track record with incredible first party titles that become milestones in their respective eras, do not have the same record with third party titles, markedly so beginning with the N64. We might debate the necessity of third party support in measuring Nintendo’s successes and failures, which may inevitably lead to phrases like “you buy Nintendo for Nintendo” or “Nintendo only makes kiddie games” and what not, but there at least seems to be some relationship between third party support and the mass appeal of any console. With the N64, for example, we quickly saw consumer interest shift away from Nintendo to Sony and the 64 was Nintendo’s beginning of exclusiveness.

The SNES was at the forefront of leading its generation, then a few years later the N64 began to be swallowed up by the new PlayStation. Fast forward a few more years and you have consoles like the GameCube and the Wii U struggling to be heard among the far louder, broader and more popular voices from Sony and Microsoft.

The Wii is a funny anomaly, though. It managed to do what Nintendo is exceptional at: it appealed to non-gamers in droves. The fifth best-selling system of all time, it outsold both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 on its accessibility and the gimmick of some motion controls that swiftly grew tiresome. Some few hidden gems existed on the Wii, as well as great first party titles, and the best-selling single platform game of all time still comes from the Wii (Wii Sports), but it is a system which a lot of people look back at with disdain, retconning even their own histories of owning a Wii because it became a cultural symbol of being uncool (I’ve known more than a few people who believed that). I empathize with that perspective, though I don’t share it. After all, the Wii quickly made itself an artifact.

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Nintendo’s history is replete with bizarre products and weird decisions that leave many of us scratching our heads. What was the Wii U even for? Why buy a Power Glove? Why did the Virtual Boy hurt my neck? Where’s Virtual Console for the Switch? Why make so few NES Classic Editions? Why stubbornly stick with cartridges in the mid-90’s? Why use a phone app for your online multiplayer set up? Where the heck is Smash Bros. for the Switch? Why not emphasize stronger hardware capabilities? Why are they stuck in the past?

Yet… Nintendo releases Super Mario Odyssey and people go nuts for it.

Where are we now? Nintendo once played a major part in revitalizing the gaming industry for consoles with the NES. They informed how modern controllers look with the revolution of the d-pad. They practically invented and popularized the handheld market with their original Game Boy. Nintendo has sold more units (consoles and handhelds together) than anyone else. Franchises like Zelda, Mario, Metroid, and Pokémon have left undeniable impressions in the gaming world; there are clones of these galore and more. Even the motion controls of the Wii were quickly emulated by both Sony and Microsoft, hilariously. They’ve lead from the outside, as an outside influence, with few compromises.

My view of Nintendo is they’ve shifted away from the mainstream, so much so that someone told me they doubted the Switch could play “newer games”. What?

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Not a newer game.

Nintendo has become a niche interest and yet this colorful corner of gaming, doing its own thing without seeming to care what goes on around it, this corner helps to define the mainstream itself. Sometimes you’ll hear: “Nintendo is stuck in the past. They need to get with the program and [insert arbitrary demand here]”.

For all of the nonsense we have to put up with from them, I wouldn’t want it any other way if we couldn’t have the landmarks that Nintendo puts out. I don’t want to see them become more like Sony or Microsoft. I don’t want to see them sacrifice their off-the-wall, lovable nature for the sake of the graphics arms race. Why? Because that would mean less variety in the gaming industry, not more. Turns out variety is the spice of life and the spice of gaming, or do we really want all video games to look and play the same? Without Nintendo, a corner of gaming would be missing. A large, vibrant, surprisingly influential corner filled with bright achievements and innovations. This is a company that repeatedly emphasizes “fun” in games.

For Nintendo’s place in the gaming world today, that’s my impression (or you can just agree with this dude).

What’s yours?

In your service,
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-The Well-Red Mage

 

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29 thoughts on ““What is Nintendo’s place in the gaming world?”

  1. Great article! I do love Nintendo. They are the reason I got hooked on video games, and I hate to say this, but the new Zelda and now Mario aren’t clicking with me like they should. I find it hard to get into BoTW because I wasn’t looking for a survival Zelda. I don’t like my weapons breaking and the world feels big and lonely to me (with no epic theme music, haha). Mario failed to capture my interest because of the plot (we have to save two damsels in distress – the princess and her tiara… *eye roll*). I’m just tired of Peach getting kidnapped every single game and Nintendo revealed too much in the previews (the Dino part didn’t excite me since I knew it was coming)

    Don’t get me wrong – I like Breath of the Wild and Odyssey. I just don’t like-like them like I was expecting, and like most everyone else does. I guess Ocarina of Time will always be my favourite Zelda, and Super Mario 64 will always be my favourite Mario game. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I think Nintendo is probably responsible for a lot of us getting hooked on games. I know that’s definitely true for me. Though many have grown out of Nintendo, there are many others who stay and continue to enjoy what they put out. Like I mentioned, the market is big enough to find something for everyone to enjoy, because of the variety that’s present. That includes things which click and things which don’t. I thought Breath of the Wild was pretty near perfect and Odyssey, while a great game, is definitely not. I’ll detail why in a review that’s coming shortly but in short I think that the lack of control versatility in demanding that you go with the “option” of detached joy-cons shoots the Switch in the foot, the motion controls are unreliable, and there’s really no new ground being tread. Odyssey doesn’t do for Mario what BotW did for Zelda and open-world games in general.

      I do have a few questions for you. Well more than a few haha! You and I are no strangers to epic conversations, even those which bridge upon the controversial but I appreciate that we can have these discussions without imputing any ill will to the other person. You know of course that I don’t mean anything in any accusatory fashion; I’m genuinely interested in your perspective. So I have to ask if you were expecting any different kind of plot than the damsel in distress shtick? That’s literally been Mario’s routine since 1985 and I doubt that Nintendo has much interest in updating their classic franchises to fit in with social movements or equality. Fortunately, again with variety, there are many games with strong female leads now, many which came out this year, so that’s great and I hope there’s more. I just don’t think that we’ll ever see that from Mario, in the same way that I don’t think Nintendo at all anticipated the controversy which arose from simply putting Mario in a sombrero. Is Odyssey a case of putting up with Nintendo for the sake of Nintendo variety, like I mentioned?

      Do you think that you couldn’t enjoy a game with the damsel in distress archetype, or that a quality damsel in distress story is worse than a poor game with a strong female lead? Is there more to that complaint against Odyssey, like its execution, or is it that you’re wearied of it? Again, that’s all fine that we can all gravitate toward the games we’re interested in, due to the variety in the market now. I don’t think you’re advocating for eliminating the damsel plot entirely? Anyhow! I’m happy to hear your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m always happy to have a civil chat with you, my mage friend! Sensitive topics like this need to be talked about without people raging at each other. The world would be a much happier place then, I think, haha.

        I’m coming off playing three serious games with strong female leads – Horizon Zero Dawn (Aloy), Hellblade (Senua), and Dragon Age Origins (a female warrior I created named Ellen, haha). I think going back to the same old cheery Mario “save the princess” routine just felt like a setback to me. I get that it’s all in good fun, and I’m not saying Nintendo should change it up. I do understand that other people really enjoy the damsel in distress archetype too, so power to them! I was just in a bad mood and the whole forced marriage plot got on my nerves a bit. My problem, no one else’s 🙂

        Also, I’ve been playing the damsel in distress stories for a long time and it never bothered me before. I guess in this gaming age with stronger female characters, I prefer to games with them, even if they are considered a poorer quality game. I plan to give Odyssey another try soon! I’m sure I’ll enjoy it more now that I’m feeling better.

        Also, I do enjoy games with male leads too! It’s just that as a female gamer, I feel a stronger connection if I’m controlling a female character.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I personally love Nintendo and it’s hard for me to come at this question objectively – the N64 was my first console, and as a kid I looked up to Link and Mario as my heroes rather than traditional superheroes like Batman or Spiderman. I’ll always think they have a place in the world, and the Switch has really cemented that for me. There was a time when I would have said that Nintendo should move away from hardware and just put their amazing first-party games on the console of one of the other two developers – but if that had happened, we wouldn’t have the Switch, which in its uniqueness from those other consoles has become my favorite gaming machine. So as far as I am concerned, Nintendo should absolutely stick around and keep doing what they do, even if it means making some oddball decisions from time to time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is even more challenging, but more valuable, as a Nintendo fan, isn’t it? Yet being critical of products you like is good. Criticism can help them improve. Can. If it’s constructive.

      Nintendo hardware is unique, as you rightly pointed out. Gone are the days when the next Nintendo device can be at the forefront of graphical power. The last time that was true was likely with the SNES, but they make up for it with new and interesting ways to play. The Switch has allowed me to keep gaming in new ways that I appreciate. I could wish a few changes upon it but ultimately I’m glad it exists.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I remain a big fan of the Wii U. For all the criticism it took there were, simply put, a lot of truly exceptional exclusives on it. But most people wouldn’t give it a chance as, you know, “Nintendo sux lol” etc.

    The Switch is a marked improvement, however, but the idea Nintendo has suddenly found form with two masterpieces in 2017 isn’t accurate. Other than Star Fox Zero, which should have been brilliant, the company has been absolutely on it non-stop. Without them, I wouldn’t own a console – I’d be on Steam with indie games as I find the other consoles largely uninspired.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I recall we’ve talked about the Wii U before, and if I ever do pick one up I’ll likely want to hunt you down for your recommendations again. As it is, there are a few exclusives and a couple of HD updates plus Smash that I’d want, but that’s about it. I was baffled by the marketing for the Wii U and I do think that was its downfall. Compare the Wii U’s commercials to the Switch’s and it’s like night and day. The very first Switch reveal floored me. I never had that experience with the Wii U, in any of its commercials. Financially and in terms of general consensus I think it’s safe to say the Wii U was a bizarre failure few people wanted in contrast with the Switch. Where did I read it? The Switch is set to outsell the Wii U in a single year’s time? I’ve been a Nintendo fan my entire life since the NES and the Wii U was the only console of theirs since the NES that I didn’t buy or have much interest in. Figuring out why is something I’m intrigued by. Now I do think there are a few people like me but the others were likely anti-Nintendo anyway and they passed on the Wii U because it was likely easy to. With the Switch it seems like we’re at least seeing people get back on the fence, so to speak. Minus the stupidity that was 1,2,Switch, that is…

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  4. When news of the Switch hit, I remember my brother saying something along the lines of ‘why don’t they just do what Microsoft and Sony do’. At the time I said they couldn’t compete with what those guys were doing, and that they frankly, didn’t want that.

    Half a year later and I’m blown away by the direction they’ve taken. Has it been perfect, no, but they’ve truly delivered something in the Switch that not only sets them apart, but will make them money. They don’t need to be what Microsoft and Sony are, they can be what Nintendo is and frankly, I think we should be hoping for more of that and not less of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Perfectly said. I was just as wary of the Switch before its release but I’m glad I have it as an alternative to my PS4. It’s such a unique console we could only have received through Nintendo. The Big N would become less valuable if they tried to compete on the Sony/Microsoft ground because we don’t need just another box that’s all about graphics.

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    • I expect I’ll pick one up eventually but I couldn’t fathom getting one new. Like most folks, the commercials for it baffled me. Why would I want to play on a tablet and a tv at the same time, I thought. I find it a little hard to believe that I’ve missed out on too many games on it. I’ve played its Smash which is about the only thing I’d want on it currently. What games on it stand among some of their best?

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      • I found the two screens to be very appealing. There was great potential with it, but unfortunately only a few games ever utilized it cleverly.
        As for games, the ones made by Nintendo obviously are all really, really good. Super Mario 3D World even became my favorite Mario game, finally toppling Super Mario World.
        Wonderful 101 is a unique new ip that is a whole lot of fun.
        Bayonetta 2 and ZombiU are fantastic, and Xenoblade Chronicles X of course.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I really appreciate the insights and recommendations. That’s a rare conversation for me regarding the Wii U. I feel like ZombiU would be something I’d likely not turn on to but I’ve always heard good things about Chronicles X and even Bayonetta. I have never heard of Wonderful 101, at all.

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          • haha, yeah I don’t know what happened with wonderful 101. It is actually a first party game developed by platinum games, most of the team who worked on viewtiful joe before leaving capcom made it, I believe, so there are some similarities in character design and the like.
            But yeah, there was never any real advertisement for it for whatever reason and I think it just kind of went unnoticed for the most part

            Liked by 1 person

            • In retrospect, I think that was true for a lot of the Wii U’s library. I really cannot recall too many games that appeared on the system. Someday I’ll hunt one down, the only Nintendo console I’ve never owned.

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  5. Great post and great perspective on where Nintendo stands and what their importance is to gaming as a whole. The gaming world certainly needs their unique take on game design; that variety, like you said, is absolutely necessary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is necessary, a necessary evil to some perhaps but Nintendo puts out good stuff. I wanted this to read more like an observation than a defense but I just think that without Nintendo there wouldn’t be much I’d be interested in playing. Sony and Microsoft don’t put out the kind of big releases that I enjoy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “without Nintendo there wouldn’t be much I’d be interested in playing”

        Same here! I often say, perhaps half-joking or perhaps fully seriously (it’s hard to say), that if Nintendo just quit the gaming industry I would probably stop playing games altogether.

        Liked by 1 person

          • Yeah, there are a few games on the other platforms that catch my eye, but I am not sure it would be enough to justify a purchase of those systems.

            I would probably stick to a PC so I could play some interesting releases.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. Personally, I think Nintendo deserve to be rendered add one of the most enduring success stories of the gaming world. For all the odd decisions and gimmicks, they still created good and bounced back from failures. When you look at other titans of yesteryear, like Atari and Sega, it doesn’t matter if you sided with them over Nintendo, because in comparison they crashed and burned. They may not always be everyone’s cup of tea, but Nintendo’s is a rich legacy worthy of praise, and I fully expect ten to add to it for years to come yet.

    Liked by 1 person

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