Nintendo: Stumbling into Success Since 1981
Why hello there internet folk, welcome to another installment of: questioning the gaming industry’s decision making. Before we start, I’m going to clarify a couple things. For one, I am and always have been a massive fangirl of Nintendo consoles and games my entire life, having started my gaming journey when I got Super Mario World for the GBA when I was five. And second, I chose 1981 and not the company’s founding because 1981 is the release year of Donkey Kong and to me, that marks its heightened relevance in the video game market.
So, please keep in mind that this article is critical because of my love for the company, and not an example of unfamiliar bashing. Now that all that is said, let’s get into the meat of the article: Nintendo’s often times strange decisions with their consoles and games.
Let’s start our journey by mentioning how much experimentation the company has done over the years through various gimmicks. I’d say the first, easiest example is the Virtual Boy, which attempted something that was so far away from its renaissance that the system simultaneously launched and died.
The color choice that the games could play were all offensive to the eyes, not to mention that every game on the system felt like tech-demos that costed way more than they were worth.
As far as I’m concerned, this system was a marketing tactic, and a failed one at that. Despite its uniqueness, the Virtual Boy didn’t live up to its price and swiftly died. This can be attributed to the fact that the technology just wasn’t there to pull off such a console and as such, the idea should have been shelved, rather than released. They spent a fortune on its marketing, having dished out a reported twenty-five million US dollars.
To this day, the Virtual Boy is considered one of the biggest failures in gaming and serves as a stain on Nintendo’s past.
Motion controls may not have done anything to actively hinder the company, since the Nintendo Wii was an amazing success for the company, but Nintendo still failed to listen to fans by consistently making motion a priority long after people didn’t want it. This can be seen as recently as Super Mario Odyssey, where you can’t even use all of Mario’s moveset without use of motion, despite it being much simpler to have just made it a button press. This causes games to feel more tedious than they have to be, since most people play games to relax and unwind.
A big example of failure on Nintendo’s part is the mandatory motion controls of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. While the rerelease of the game on the Switch makes everything possible with button presses, the initial release made the player use the Wii Motion Plus to make precision strikes in-game. While that sounds cool, the system was fundamentally flawed, as the wiimote constantly needed readjustment and had problems detecting certain movements, making things way more difficult than they needed to be for the casual audience they were shooting for.
Most games on the system also only minimally involved motion controls as a sort of obligation, such as having to shake the wiimote to spin in Super Mario Galaxy and pointing the controller at the motion sensor to collect star bits. Neither of those things being activated through motion really add to the game as a whole and could have been implemented without adding needless actions.
How about that Wii U, by the way? Despite the system being capable, it had so little support from Nintendo that the system really fell apart. It was a premature upgrade to the Wii and with the hindsight of the Nintendo Switch’s sales, Nintendo should have waited a bit longer until their true vision was a possibility. The Wii U felt like a half-baked idea that was perfected with the current system.
The first console I ever paid for myself was this doomed system and as much as I personally loved it, Nintendo left it to rot by barely supporting it. There was no mainline Zelda game, which really hurt the system and while Super Mario 3D World was a strong game on its own, it wasn’t marketed well enough to push sales toward the console.
Nintendo took an almost fifty-million dollar hit from the system and put themselves in a very bad position with fans. While they bounced back quite well, it was a risk they never needed to take, in my opinion.
The last thing I’d like to talk about is gimmicks in their own series’. I’m talking about things like FLUDD in Super Mario Sunshine. These things never needed to happen in the series’ and yet, they exist and the company continues to do things like that. Super Mario Odyssey could have been a solid platformer with the tight controls that Mario has in the title, and yet it was held back by the mechanic of capturing things. It slows the game down and makes some encounters infuriating, such as the frog sections.
Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is a great example of something that could have been simple, had Nintendo not built the game on the use of the bongos. The title could have been devoid of that mechanic entirely and the game would have been better off, I think.
While I admire Nintendo’s desire to innovate and experiment, especially in this day and age, it has hurt them just as much, if not more, than it’s helped them. I think the company should take a step back and return to a time similar to the days of old, where most of its series’ were devoid of those superficial gimmicks.
Also, please listen to your fans, Nintendo. You can be such a stubborn company sometimes, especially when it comes to fan criticism.