Will Nintendo casually dismiss the hardcore?



This is it. This is the year that Nintendo has to prove that it still gives a damn about gamers – and no, Aunt, Uncle and Grandma are not gamers. I’m talking real gamers. The ones that have been playing since as far back as they can remember. The ones that have pumped thousands and thousands of dollars into the hobby they love most. The ones who are on top of the daily news and post about it on message boards.

Nintendo has a vast history, and is famous for saving the gaming industry back when it collapsed sometime before I was old enough to remember. Through the years, it has created some of the most memorable characters ever with Mario, Link, Samus, Kirby, Yoshi, Pit and Donkey Kong. Along with those characters and franchises, comes some of gaming’s best music – you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know the music to Mario’s 1-1.

The one, the only, and videogaming's mascot.

The one, the only, and videogaming's mascot.

Although it dabbled in other businesses before it found its way to gaming, Nintendo is known for one thing only: and that’s videogames. This is why it seems so odd that a company so rooted in the history of videogames now has to prove that it’s going to stay with what it does best.

A paradigm shift at Nintendo happened when the GameCube proved once and for all that the gaming crowd cared less for the company than it ever had in the past. It really started with the N64, which failed to appeal to the masses like the PSX did. At school, it was a rarity for me to ever find another kid with one. It really isn’t hard to understand, as I remember going to the local rental store to see one to two new releases a month whereas the Playstation was getting what seemed like hundreds.

Unfortunately for Nintendo, most people decided to get out.

Unfortunately for Nintendo, most people decided to get out.

So moving into the GameCube era, it wasn’t too surprising to learn that even newcomer to the scene, Microsoft, outpaced the ‘Cube. With Sony absolutely dominating the home console market, it decided to take Nintendo on in the one place the Big N still owned – the handheld market. Since this isn’t a history lesson, we’ll skim over the PSP versus DS war, but it’s easy to see they are two very different handheld machines.

The DS has seen absolutely amazing success, and is the first representation of modern Nintendo. Choosing innovation over raw power, the DS, with its touch screen and dual screen layout, has proven to be an amazing system despite going against conventional thinking. It has a huge selection of games appealing to everyone from hardcore gamer to casual gamer and even to the non-gamer. It took a bit to get into stride, but outside of its first year, Nintendo and 3rd parties had a clear understanding of what the little system is capable of.

The DS gave us a first look at Nintendo's new philosophy (original DS shown).

The DS gave us a first look at Nintendo's new philosophy (original DS shown).

Like the DS, the Wii would take an innovative approach over raw power – hell, it was expected at this point. Nintendo was failing against the competition when it came to competing strictly on better graphics, and that wasn’t likely to change, so Nintendo did what it had to. That being said, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata promised graphics that would make us say “wow.” This debate is long over, and the graphics aren’t going to get better with more whining, but the only “wow” I said was in reference to its GameCube like quality and lack of an HD resolution (major ouch).

Screw it though I thought, so long as it has all of my favorite titles and innovates with the Wiimote, I can accept that. Has that really happened, though? Since launch, we have had a Zelda, a Metroid, a Mario and a Smash Bros, and on paper, that all sounds great. And in fact, Mario Galaxy is one of the most amazing games ever, but when thinking about it, what part of it was truly enhanced by the Wiimote? What about Smash Bros.?

Despite weak hardware and mostly lazy efforts, Galaxy is proof that good visuals can exist on Wii.

Despite weak hardware and mostly lazy efforts, Galaxy is proof that good visuals can exist on Wii.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is the only one of the four to have benefited from the Wiimote, thanks to its infrared pointer, but in all honesty, it likely was the cause for Corruption closing the gap between adventure game and first person shooter even further – something not too cool with hardcore Metroid fans.

To stay focused and on course, I’ll refrain from Wiimote debates for now, but up until about midway of last year, Nintendo was delivering on some great gaming. While many people were arguing against it, it was a typical Nintendo system for me. With Mostly garbage 3rd party support (albeit, way more of it), it was mostly Nintendo games making the console worthwhile with rare exceptions like Zack and Wiki and No More Heroes.

Since the Wii’s launch, one thing has come to light: the Wii is a fucking beast among the mainstream audience and Nintendo is eating it up. Since its pre-launch advertising blitz, everything Nintendo has done, it has done with the masses in mind. Cheesy commercials featuring people of all races and ages with huge smiles waggling around the Wiimote Wand of Wizardry like a group of idiots are all the rage at Nintendo now. It’s to the point that core games like Prime 3 are getting the advertising shaft in favor of stuff like Wii Fit — a $90 fitness game with a balance board, and it is selling in the millions.

Is this the only crowd Nintendo cares about these days? Maybe.

Is this the only crowd Nintendo cares about these days? Maybe.

I’m no idiot, and neither is Nintendo. The company is raking in some serious bank these days, and the cry of long time Nintendo fans seem to get muffled through the thick wall of fresh $100 bills surrounding Nintendo’s offices.

So among this Wii craze, it’s easy to wonder where Nintendo’s head is. Does it know there are still millions of gamers that want new core games? Is it aware that we want a more focused online experience, HD graphics and huge games? Do they, or should they, care? For long time fans, I sure hope so.

Since early 2008, it seems as though all of its major releases have been phased out. Its round of titles that have been in the oven since before anyone knew how huge the Wii would get is out. Nintendo left the Wii in 2008 without any meaty adventures, and aside from a couple of 3rd party games, there hasn’t been dick to play on the system in a long time.

Nintendo made this a primary holiday title -- what a kick to the balls that was.

Nintendo made this a primary holiday title -- what a kick to the balls that was.

There’s a reason why the Wii generates a certain level of animosity among the general gaming publications these days. Nintendo is succeeding without having to put in any effort. It doesn’t matter that there was no huge holiday release, the Wii is going to drop jaws when the NPD releases just how many units Nintendo sold through.

It’s a new year though, and to use a tired and old cliché, the ball is in Nintendo’s court. Clearly, it’s made, and I quote Gears of War 2, “10 shitloads” of money with the Wii. Will Nintendo give back with some new, real content, or will the system still be reduced to an almost casual only appeal, like the second half of 2008?

The 3rd party support is there. Although there are no sure-shot triple A games that the PS3 and 360 got in 2008, with any luck, some of the many announced Wii games are going to be great. But again I ask, where’s Nintendo’s head, or better yet, its games?

MadWorld looks great, but what have you got, Nintendo?

MadWorld looks great, but what have you got, Nintendo?

Prove that you still care about the industry you once saved. Forget Factor 5, you give us the next Kid Icarus. Give the diehards a new Metroid, a new Zelda, a new Mario and the new Pikmin Miyamoto casually glossed over.

I’m not asking for it all in 2009, but certainly one or two need to be released alongside the new Punch Out!!, with the rest being officially announced. Oh, and by announced, I need something more concrete than “the Zelda and Mario teams are back at work” or “a new Pikmin is coming” – I need some screenshots and gameplay movies.

Because of all of this, 2009 is one of the most important years in Nintendo’s long history; at least for me. This is the year they prove whether they give a damn about real gamers, or if they will delve further into the casual world.

So Nintendo, are you going to be able to pull me off my 360 to dust off my Wii, or not?


3 Responses to “Will Nintendo casually dismiss the hardcore?”

  1. TheLimper Says:

    Great article. Since I know you’re a long time nintendo fan, I appreciate the honesty. I’ve drifted away from Nintendo after the N64 days. I spent way too many nights renting Japanese games just to have a new game to play.

    I just don’t know what they offer to me as a 26 year old gamer. I like new technology. I like HD resolutions and amazing graphics. Nintendo doesn’t have any of these things. And while I love their 1st party games, that’s not enough to keep me interested in the system.

    I don’t know what to make of Nintendo anymore. I completely understand why they are doing things the way they are.

    It’s perfectly logical in a business sense, but that doesn’t mean gamers have to agree with it.

    I think one of the main problems for the Wii is also it’s greatest weapon. The Wiimote
    is so easy for people to pick up that it’s become acceptable for everyone to play games.

    The problem is that most games don’t fit in well with the limitations of the Wiimote. I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d want to play all games with a wiimote and nunchuck. I’d much rather be playing Mario and Zelda with a controller.

    I think the most interesting thing in all of this is where does this lead Nintendo in the future. Will these casual gamers continue to buy games? Will they buy the next Nintendo system? I’m really curious to see what happens 5 years from now.

  2. rinkydinkydan Says:

    Great piece, not sure I agree totally, but well thought out.

  3. Justin Says:

    Thanks for the comment, Dan, and naturally, you’re absolutely entitled to your own opinion. I hope Nintendo proves me wrong and shuts me up, honestly. Despite the way I come off at times, I’ve always been a fan of Nintendo games, and I hope they deliver some great content in 2009.

    My most recent bit on the company is pretty damn optimistic for 2009, and I really do think the Wii is set to get some great content.

    Anyways, I hope you stick around and drop me a few comments, I love getting feedback!

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