When it comes to video gaming today, a lot of peoples’ focuses seem a little narrow. The Xbox One versus the PlayStation 4 is the new debate that dominates the console gaming community, since those are the systems perceived to bring the entire pantheon of home gaming to new life in the next generation. Sony, Microsoft. Microsoft, Sony. It seems like a very important piece has been left out of the equation, a piece that likely got many of these gamers into the video game world in the first place.
I’m talking, of course, about Nintendo.
The same company that revolutionized home video gaming in 1985 with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System has been marginalized in recent years because their focus isn’t necessarily on the hottest graphics, or the consumption of VOD and TV services, but on the one fundamental factor that always keeps us coming back for more. Can you guess what it is? Because if you say anything other than “gameplay,” it may be time to reevaluate exactly why you play video games in the first place.
Nintendo’s complete domination of the home console market lasted through three generations of systems. In the third generation, the NES was released and completely changed the perceptions of what home gaming could be. In the fourth generation, Nintendo took it a step further, doubling the power of their previous effort in the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, going head-to-head with Sega and the Genesis/32X/CD, and pretty decisively winning. The fifth generation was the last time that Nintendo was perceived to be the undisputed champions of home video gaming, with the release of the Nintendo 64 and some games that, to this day, are still widely considered to be the best ever made. Many of those games were first-party Nintendo titles, like Super Mario 64 or The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.
In the sixth generation, Sony and Microsoft really stepped up to the plate, with the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox now making their full presence felt as powerful graphical forces. Although a bit marginalized in favor of the darker, more adult designs of their competitors’ products, Nintendo’s GameCube followed the trend first set by the N64 with some amazing games, many of which were first party Nintendo titles like Super Mario Sunshine, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. Into the seventh generation, Nintendo introduced the revolutionary control scheme with Wii, but the novelty of that standard definition system soon paled in comparison to the HD offerings found on Sony’s PS3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360.
The main problem with the Wii was that it’s rendering hardware was not as advanced as its HD brethren, and its control scheme was so radically different that it created a separate class for itself. The result was that you were either playing with the “rest” of the gaming world on the 360 and PS3, or you were in another area with Wii. The only caveat with that is that the people who were segmented were likely still having the time of their lives, because again, Nintendo made some incredible games for Wii, from Super Smash Bros. Brawl to Wii Sports. In 2008, when games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Gears of War 2 were considered the highest profile releases of the year, they were outsold in the U.S. by four Wii games (including Smash Bros.), with the best selling game of 2008 being Mario Kart Wii.
This past November, Nintendo was the first company to step into the eighth generation of game consoles when they released Wii U, their first HD effort with the inclusion of a touchscreen GamePad that can allow for highly immersive experiences. Unlike the forthcoming launches of the PS4 and the Xbox One, the Wii U is completely backward compatible with its immediate forerunner, including all Wii controllers and peripherals. Unsurprisingly, Sony and Microsoft fanboys are happily proclaiming that Nintendo’s days in console gaming are perhaps numbered, since the overall response to the Wii U has been pretty tepid.
I beg to differ.
This year at E3, Nintendo unveiled some forthcoming entries for the console that have been highly anticipated by practically everyone that loves the kinds of gaming experiences Nintendo provides on their consoles (which is almost everyone), and the forthcoming promises look nothing short of spectacular. From Mario Kart 8, to a new Super Smash Bros. entry, to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Super Mario 3D World, people forecasting death for Nintendo are doing so a bit prematurely.
Not only do Nintendo games sell well, but they are a company, developer, and studio that is one of the most reliable in the industry. Even the most hardcore first-person shooter gamer, addicted to the likes of Halo or Call of Duty, will still thrill at the intuitiveness, the challenge, and the outright fun that is accessible to so many people when they pick up a Mario game. The awesomeness of Nintendo games can only be played on Nintendo consoles, and with that fun now being featured in full 1080p HD glory, with some of its best franchises still forthcoming, the Wii U hasn’t even started picking up steam yet. They’re pulling out the big guns when? Just as their competitors’ consoles are being released.
Game developer-extraordinaire Electronic Arts have recently gone on record saying that they will no longer be supporting the Wii U due to its lower-than-expected sales, with an EA sports developer even going so far as to call the console “crap.” Ubisoft, on the other hand, sensing that some of Nintendo’s most anticipated games in years will be coming starting this holiday season, has pledged more support for the system if, and when, it sells more units.
I bought a Wii U at the end of last month, and I’m having a great time with it. Having been a Nintendo player for as long as I can remember (remembering sitting on my Dad’s lap and playing Duck Hunt when I was a toddler), picking up New Super Mario Bros. U and seeing that Italian plumber jumping on goombas and grabbing coins in high definition has been beyond satisfying. It has a ways to go in its classic offerings, but the addition of the GamePad, its new online ecosystem, and the sheer beauty of the console have not evoked even an iota of buyer’s remorse out of me. With the promise of what’s to come (particularly with Mario Kart and the new Smash Bros., also the very reasons I bought the Wii back in 2007), I urge people not to count out Nintendo just yet.
The fact is, I play video games to have fun, and that’s exactly what’s had every time I play a game that’s given proper care by Nintendo. Whether it’s Mario or Metroid, Zelda or F-Zero, Donkey Kong or even Pikmin, I still feel like I’m playing with power whenever I play Nintendo. If you’re overlooking the greatness of some of the best games ever made because you feel like they’re “too cute” or “not serious enough,” try telling me that you won’t get serious about stomping the hell out of Bowser by the time you get to the final castle, or don’t break a small sweat when outrunning space pirates in the Varia suit of Samus Aran herself. If you like a challenge, if you like good game design, and most importantly, if you like fun, then do yourself a favor and give the house that Mario built a chance. I have a feeling that when you properly sit down and do it, you’ll be very glad that you did.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a princess to save.
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