I am a Nintendo fan. Years ago I could say that with a straight face. I grew up loving Mario, Link, Kirby, Samus, and even that yellow electric mouse that can only say its own name. When friends would ask me what game systems I had I would proudly boast, “Super Nintendo,” “Nintendo 64,” or “GameCube,” not even caring that I didn’t have a PlayStation or an Xbox. I didn’t need these systems. All I needed was Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and enough patience to find every single spider in the game.
But lately that isn’t the case. Now it feels like I can’t have a Nintendo system without having another system to turn to while Nintendo is getting releases like – I can’t believe I’m saying this – Babysitting Mama and its strange looking big eyed baby-mote. I now realize that the company I used to brag about has become the last on my list of gaming things to care about each year. It’s almost a chore to have any of its products as I spend more time defending them instead of enjoying them. Yet somehow I can’t make myself get rid of anything with Nintendo’s name on it. Am I just fooling myself? Am I in love with the memory of a great company that doesn’t exist anymore?
These thoughts stem from the recent anniversary of one of Nintendo’s most beloved icons: Mario. He’s still breaking blocks, shooting things with fireballs, riding dinosaurs and – of course – saving princesses. He’s one of the main reasons why I stick with Nintendo, and I’m usually satisfied with this decision until a couple of years ago when Nintendo decided to appeal to the casual audience. I don’t mind the “casual boom.” Let’s face it, Wii Sports was amazing for its time, and even the most “hardcore” players are enjoying Sony’s Sports Champion and Microsoft’s Kinect Sports. But Nintendo focused on the casual a little bit too much for me. At Nintendo’s E3 conference in 2008 the biggest announcements were Shaun White Snowboarding and frisbee throwing to the digital puppy from Wii Sports Resort. The once-mighty Nintendo had become “the casual system,” the one people would buy in an attempt to get non-gamers to play games. It became the “girlfriend console,” the one men would buy so that their girlfriends would play videogames. As if the goofy games weren’t shameful enough, now I had to be lumped into the casual “girl gamer” category because of Nintendo’s sudden campaign to skip Mario and Zelda in favor of some balance boards and yoga mats.
Occasionally, a Mario Kart or New Super Mario Brothers would emerge, but the core games I loved were still incredibly scarce. As Microsoft and Sony step into the casual market this point hits home even more. The Kinect and Move let me dance, play golf, pet tigers, and both companies still give me Halo, God of War, and other “hardcore” games that are anything but family friendly. Sony and Microsoft haven’t forgotten about their core players. Nintendo did, and that shadow still looms over the company. The worst part about Nintendo’s casual boom is the fact that the games were a complete train wreck. As I see games like Dance Central and Sports Champion I realize that casual wasn’t Nintendo’s problem, it was the games being produced. I remember the Nintendo whose third party titles were great: Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark, Eternal Darkness, and even the “casual” games like Mario Party or Wave Race were amazing. So Nintendo can do casual, and third party companies can do fun. Something happened with the Wii that I use to boast about, that I was so proud of getting a hold of since at the time it was damn near impossible. The games were just a mess, period, and here I sat with this embarrassment of a system that I had, once upon a time, rushed out to buy.
Nintendo knew it had to do something and, finally, things changed. Gamers were bombarded with first party titles and Nintendo finally felt like a company that could stand next to Sony and Microsoft in the ongoing console war. There were still the random, bizarre Imagine Party Babies games, but there was a giant ground-pounding ape right next to them. Finally, the games were getting great reviews, had good graphics, and were worth buying. I thought that this core game boom would please me, but going through all of the extra motions of the ridiculous galaxies of Super Mario Galaxy 2 – that final galaxy is probably one of the hardest challenges in gaming this year – I became more frustrated than ever. It proved a point that I didn’t want to admit: Nintendo is behind the times and I’m right there with them, still buying into past memories. It’s still Mario this and Zelda that, and every time I see them I drop $50 without blinking an eye. Nintendo relies on these characters to sell their product. It’s true that Sony has Kratos and Microsoft has Master Chief, but both companies have given me something new to try: Uncharted, Gears of War, Assassin’s Creed, Modern Warfare, all new games with new heroes and stories. Nintendo hasn’t changed at all.
It’s almost as if the system itself doesn’t have to be good; as long as Nintendo’s well-known mascots are somewhere in the vicinity I will give in, even if the game is a lazy remake of its previous version. Mario Power Tennis? The same exact game that was on the GameCube except with Wii controls. Pikmin? Resident Evil Archives? If you have the GameCube versions just stick them into your Wii and you have the same game. There was a time where I wanted every single game that was released on a Nintendo platform no matter what it was. Knowing this, I always cling to the pleasant memories of the Nintendo of yester-year. I sit and wait for these amazing games that I remember playing years ago. Now, for every Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby’s Epic Yarn there’s a My Baby Boy and Summer Sports which is like Deca Sports which is like Wii Sports. But still I sit, waiting for the faintest whisper of Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Not only is it embarrassing, it’s almost pathetic.
The gaming world passes Nintendo by, offering things that the company hasn’t touched – DLC, online gaming, achievements – and instead of joining the masses of Call of Duty and Red Dead Redemption I sit and wait for the next Mario adventure. Occasionally, I’ll turn my back on Nintendo and grab hold of a God of War or Super Street Fighter but as soon as I hear the adorable squeak of Kirby everything else is abandoned. I forget about the months of using the Wii Remote to play Jenga in an attempt to enjoy something that was better left as a board game. Inevitably, something happens that leaves me feeling ashamed for still holding onto the company. I see games getting low reviews and I think, “Oh god, why do I still have this thing?” When friends ask what games I’m playing I always hesitate in admitting that it’s a Nintendo name, even if it’s a first party title. “Kirby’s fun,” I say, “I already beat it …” while I listen to their adventures with Fallout New Vegas or Halo Reach and hear, “Yeah I beat the main story, there’s still more to go back and get,” or, “They’re coming out with another map pack so I’ll be putting Halo back in.” And then I turn my back on Nintendo again to join the rest of the gaming world, but while I take out the giant spiders of Castlevania I always glance back, secretly waiting for Nintendo to do something that I can maybe brag about like I did years ago.
As long as Mario is around I always flock back to the company which almost seems to give Nintendo a free pass to produce lame games. But with its competitors stepping into the casual market and coming out with better products, maybe now Nintendo will step up and become the company I remember. Or I can be ashamed of them for another gaming year.
Briana Lawrence believes that all men, women, and zombies are created equal.