Saturday, 25 June 2011

I am more drunk, but I am less angry

Evis T has posted his thoughts on Nintendo, the 3DS, and their new game schedule post-E3... or rather, their lack of it. It's an excellent piece which raises a lot of points, and I encourage you to go and check it out.

Then once you're done that, I encourage you to come back here and read this riposte.

Ninty's E3 lineup was not exactly awash with new and exciting things. To be fair, neither was anyone else's. This seems very much to be a year of resting on laurels, with sequels occupying those small parts of the landscape not dominated by old games reimagined for new technology. Nintendo bucked the trend slightly by announcing games which were actual honest-to-god reworkings of old games and not mere ports. New versions of most of their staple series abound: Super Mario, Mario Kart, Mario Party, Paper Mario, Mario of Duty, StarFox, Kirby, Animal Crossing and, of course, the new Zelda game Skyward Sword, in addition to a new edition of Ocarina of Time.

There's actually a fair bit of new content there - but how new is it really? As Evis notes, a new Kirby or Mario Party is rarely going to be functionally any different to any old Kirby or Mario Party. The new Zelda will have the wood dungeon, the fire dungeon, the water dungeon. It will have the ice cave and the big mountain. It will have the hook shot and the bombs and the boomerang. It will have stalfos and peahats and moblin.

But isn't that just gaming? The new Gears of War will have locust and chainsaws and glowing yellow stuff. The new Civilization will have workers and animal husbandry and press B to build a base here. The new FIFA will have footballs. It's not gaming, in fact; it's culture and media in general. TV sitcoms always have the same stock characters. Pop rock songs always have the same variation on ADE. Shakespeare tragedies always have the same ending. The human brain is hardwired to both seek and create patterns, elements we know we can rely upon. Comfort food is called comfort food for a reason.

Likewise, a classic game is a classic game. Can there be any realistic argument against Nintendo being the greatest development house in gaming history? No other studio has produced as many grade A titles over the course of their lifespan. I'd still rather play Ocarina of Time than anything put out nowadays by Bioware or Square-Enix. Good gameplay doesn't age, but current audiences put off by technical limitations of older games might be unwilling to give them a try. ROMs are illegal, so why shouldn't Nintendo update and resell their old games to a new generation?

In my opinion, the problem isn't that these remakes and rereleases exist. On balance, I like that they exist. The problem is, as Evis notes, being expected to pay for a new edition of Ocarina of Time EVERY time a new minor variation on their current console comes out. Hey guess what Nintendo, you can download classic games straight onto home consoles now! In fact you guys started the trend, remember? No? It was quite popular. So popular that Microsoft and Sony copied it - although I suppose you've grown numb to that by now, so much so that you forget what was originally your idea. Admittedly, there are no reliable virtual arcades for handheld consoles, but anyone with a Wii can get Ocarina of Time whenever they want.

The real problem for me is that, year on year, Nintendo's output is built ever more about remakes and rereleases of classic games. To put it bluntly: it's not that they do it, it's that it's all they do. Didn't the sixteen thousand different releases of Ocarina eat into development time which could have been spent on other titles? Wouldn't three or four versions have sufficed? The big games of the year from Ninty are always new editions of something old, suggesting that they don't have the confidence any more to push something fresh. Nintendo's past glories are immense. I can't see any developer matching the quality of Nintendo's back catalogue any time in the next decade at least. Yet sadly Ninty don't seem to care about adding to that catalogue anymore. Being proud of your past is fine - as long as you're still looking to the future. Can Nintendo honestly say that they still are?

1 comment:

  1. I have to agree. Most of my post was made in a haze of anger and booze so I didn't present the facts as even handedly as I normally would. Nintendo can of course claw back some respect, but at the moment I hold them in disdain. The reason the 3DS was the final straw for me is that I have yet to see a single new game on the shelves. There's a submarine one released a while back, but that's about it.

    As for the statement regarding stagnation in general, I think I'll need to make a full post for that. One thing I would say though is that civ does move and grow quite a bit. Civ 5 introduced some really new concepts, some of which were excellent , but it left a lot of the best stuff out to do it. There's a thoughts piece on it over on my blog.