Normally, an article like this would begin with some sort of cop-out statement that renders every succeeding comment strangely pointless. Something to wash the author’s hands of the thing before it starts, and keep the rabid fanboys off their back. Something like:
“Don’t get me wrong, I love Super Mario Galaxy as much as the next guy!”
“I’m sure everyone reading this has enjoyed the hell out of Pokemon X/Y!”
But that’s not going to happen. I haven’t enjoyed a Super Mario game in years, and every single Pokemon game released after the first one just looked like more of the same old toss. Instead, this article will begin as it should. With a strong thesis that shows the intent of the piece. Like:
“Surely by now, enough is enough?”
Nintendo is the bulletproof games company. For every criticism of the lack of games for the wii-u, there are a hundred thousand eager fans willing to take a bullet for Nintendo and argue that it’s the fault of game developers for not being into the system enough, or the fault of gamers for not buying it. For every doctor that steps up to warn that the 3DS might cause eye problems in the target demographic, there are thousands of fans willing to threaten to kill him and his family if he doesn’t keep his reasonable, qualified mouth shut. There are so many people eager to swallow Nintendo’s shit that I can’t help but wonder what kind of strange Stockholm syndrome afflicts them. It makes me wonder how long they spent chained to a radiator in the mushroom kingdom, defecating into a bucket while Mario watched over them. Nothing else explains the perverse nostalgia that forces them not just to like Nintendo, as one might quite like Valve or Rockstar, but to dedicate themselves utterly to it. And Nintendo capitalises on this nostalgia, with a recent advertisement reminding players that Mario “grew up with you, too”, in what amounts to a very cynical ransoming of players’ childhoods, piece by piece, rehash by rehash. It remains to be seen whether this rather desperate clutch at straws will add anything to flagging wii-u sales. A ‘new’ version of their flagship franchises of Mario, Zelda and Pokemon can’t work forever.
Because, after all, that’s what these games are, and they’re no longer even bothering to hide it. The latest wii-u fare offered at E3 2013 offers the same-old same-old gameplay that most of us got sick and tired with after completing Super Mario World for the 3rd time, but this time, Mario gets to dress up like a cat! Some poor hapless goon at Nintendo was even encouraged to make pathetic meowing noises as he feigned excitement over it. And of course, the crowd went wild. Because what else could it do? Mario is a cultural icon! Mario is a phenomenon! Mario is..realistically, a tired old mascot character that really should have been put nobly out to pasture when the other mascots became unpopular. We don’t still bother with Sonic the Hedgehog, Bubsy the bobcat or Cool Spot because the era of mascots ended somewhere in the mid 90’s, and though we might look back with skewed fondness for McDonaldland, there’s no army of fanboys ready to support our delusion that it was any good, unlike Mario.
And it’s a delusion of religious proportions. You can’t criticise Super Mario Bros to these crazed Nintendo fans for the same reasons you can’t criticise the Bible. It’s divinely inspired, and who the hell are you to say anything bad about it? In fact, you have probably never seen a criticism of Super Mario Bros. Why does that not seem odd to us, when a criticism of everything else on the planet exists on the internet? The control system is erratic, at the very least, and the power-ups imbalance the gameplay greatly. It’s an enjoyable game, sure, but not my favourite of 1985 by a long shot. Criticism of Nintendo has become taboo, and if you do so, however reasonably, there is something wrong with you. It’s a slavish cult-like attitude, and it seems to be what have allowed Nintendo to get away with spamming the lowest-common denominator for so very long, adding only the very least of new content to scrape by. New additions to the Legend of Zelda franchise have become more and more lackluster with each passing iteration, and the company has fallen back on a stream of virtual console and HD re-re-re-releases to make money without a new product.
Modern big-budget games are cinematic. Modern big-budget games hire crews of writers, story developers, characterisation specialists and voice actors. These games receive criticism for their sexist approaches, their stereotypes and their content. Nintendo is somehow able to sidestep all of this by miring itself firmly in the 1990’s. We live in an age where videogames, arguably, challenge us more than movies or books. We are invested in the narrative in a way that we can only view from a distance in other forms of media. That allows for games to become something more than interactive entertainment. They can be an experience in art, and in human understanding. If there’s one thing we learned from Telltale’s ‘The Walking Dead’, it’s that grown men can cry like little bitches over video games. But Nintendo seems immune to all of this. They have some sort of golden ticket to churn out the same rubbish, year after year, with plotlines no thicker than “Princess Peach has baked a cake for you!” and still charge 60 bucks a pop. The one attempt to release a story-driven title, ‘Metroid: Other M’ was so cringeworthy that they distanced themselves from it as much as they could.
We’d feel better about this if Mario was specifically a game for children, and was kept to the children’s market, but that is never the case, is it? Not only are all other games franchises held to far higher standards, but games developers face the societal pressure to cite Super Mario as inspirations, and it is embarrassing to see that no matter how far gaming has come, we all have to keep constantly referring back to a tired old stereotype character, and the flat out lies that “Nintendo saved the industry!” (though, perhaps I was too busy playing awesome titles like Elite, Bomb-Jack, Paperboy and Knight Lore to notice the apparent lack of games). Other art forms do not share this problem. Artists don’t hark back to their inspiration they received from cave paintings. Musicians don’t get all dewy-eyed about how they based their work off Edison’s wax-cylinder recordings. These industries have moved on from what they consider their infancy. Perhaps it’s time that gaming took off the training wheels?
In the end, it all comes down to business, and no matter how much you love them, or like to pretend that Reggie is your friend, he’s a marketer, and Nintendo is a corporation. They’ll do their best to ensure exclusivity for their little goose and shit out a golden egg every year or so. They can’t be wholly blamed for this. It’s the aim of a business to make money. They made a successful play for the family market a few years ago with the wii, and it worked out great. They’re a company completely set up to bringing casual, family-friendly games to mainstream market, and they no doubt hope to hook a new generation of children to their product. But where do they go from there? The wii-u isn’t washing as well with the “hardcore” gamers as they would have liked, and third party developers know better than to painstakingly tailor their games to whatever control system Nintendo decides to implement rather than the usual set-ups offered by other companies.
These days, all Nintendo has to fall back on is the idea of “Exclusives”, at a time when most big-name titles are going multi-platform. Every week, there’s some new sensation about a title that’ll definitely save the wii-u, from Bayonetta 2 to ‘exclusive’ versions of games that have been on other consoles for years. The sad truth is that the wii-u wheezes to keep up now. In a few months, when the xbox one and the ps4 take centre stage, Nintendo’s ‘next gen’ would have drowned before it learned to swim. Ultimately, the fault for this situation mostly lies with us, the gamers, for never growing out of this weird dependency. For never realising that we’re paying way over the odds for a barebones platformer, and that you can play something just as good for free on Kongregate.