Nintendo’s having a tough time with the 3DS, but the Wii U could be about to open up a door to a new world of gaming. It’s got our opinion split, so we’ve decided to duke it out with words: should Ninty pull the plug on hardware altogether?
Nintendo needs to focus on games
Adam Bunker, senior staff writer
Over the weekend I spent a little while trawling through the App Store on my iPhone for a game. A specific sort of game. I wanted a racing game that wasn’t all gung-ho and po-faced. I didn’t want NOS injections and engine differential tweaks; I wanted bright colours and mad weapons. I wanted Mario Kart.
Only I can’t get Mario Kart, can I? And I didn’t buy anything else for that very reason. Yes; there are a few Mario Kart clones on the App Store, fronted by the recognisable cast of Crash Bandicoot games or Shrek films or whatever, but they’re all clones and nothing more.
They’re probably not bad as Mario Kart clones go, but everyone – including the developers – knows what they’re trying to emulate, and knows that it’s almost impossible to do so.
The kind of brain-dissolving, shame-inducing creativity that routinely spurts out of Nintendo HQ is unrivaled. Mario Kart, Mario platformers, Metroid and Zelda games are all in a class above most other franchises.
These games are the primary reason that people buy Nintendo’s hardware; Ninty fans are loyal because that loyalty is uniformly rewarded with gaming excellence. Which got me thinking…
I realised that I love these games, but I fundamentally dislike every attempt Nintendo’s made to produce hardware since the SNES. The N64? Had one, loved it… but what in God’s name was the trident controller about? And cartridges? You’ve misjudged the industry there, Ninty old boy.
The same can be said of the GameCube. I had one. I liked its unique oddness. This time the controller was pretty comfy in the hand, but the format was the issue once again – Nintendo completely glossed over a current trend for the second time running. If DVDs are gaining ground, enable your console to play them. It’s hardly crystal ball stuff.
The next generation is where my views will probably differ from yours more wildly, but stick with me. In my view, the Wii and the DS are both a complete mess. The DS turned into a top option when it shed about a stone of unsightliness and dropped to £100, but when it launched it looked like this:
Yeah… you forgot about that, didn’t you? What is it?! A horrible, Fisher Price slug, that’s what it is. It’s like the Gameboy Advance, which was constantly tweaked and redesigned after launch.
The same can be said of the Nintendo Wii: game-changing concept, but it’s as if Nintendo’s gone into a rut of releasing consoles still in the beta stage of development. Why not just wait a bit and stick the Motion Plus add-on in as standard?
I’d rather have the finished product, thanks. I’m not going to argue that the Wii hasn’t changed the market significantly, but I will argue that it’s not as good as the subsequent PS Move, thanks to a lack of foresight. It doesn’t even have HD graphics.
This trend continues up to the so-far disastrous Nintendo 3DS. Have you seen the gargantuan Circle Pad Pro add-on? I can’t look at it without thinking that someone very high up at Nintendo has properly lost their mind.
Again, why not wait and launch the console with the thing that you probably knew it needed to begin with? And tie it in with your Mario games, like… at launch? Doing things the way Nintendo actually has done is just embarrassing.
To my mind, when a company’s hardware insight goes this far off the mark for this long, it’s time to do a SEGA and take a giant step back. The gaming market is very different now to what it was when the DS launched. It’s an entirely different space thanks to the sudden and enormous success of mobile gaming as a genuine platform for excellence.
Given that Nintendo’s never really put massive emphasis on graphical oomph, you could probably port any Mario (Kart) or Zelda game to the iPhone or any dual-core Android handset without losing anything.
And more to the point, if you did that you’d sell absolutely f***ing millions.
Imagine if Nintendo just pulled both feet out of the sticky drudgery of hardware manufacturing to focus solely on what it does best: making amazing first-party games. Games which could then be launched on PS3, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Android, iPhone and everything in between without limitation.
I would buy Mario Kart on both my phone and on my home console without a moment’s hesitation, as would pretty much everyone. …Because if you don’t like Mario Kart, you don’t possess a human soul.
Look, it’s this simple: if at first you don’t succeed, try a different tact. Nintendo outstrips the world in terms of game design, but in my eye falls short when it comes to machinery. I know that the Wii’s sold more units than the Bible, but how many of them are now just gathering dust? And if that’s the case then what’s the point at all?
If you’ve got gaming franchises that sell just because of the name on the box, why not let Microsoft, Sony or Apple worry about making and selling the expensive kit?
To me, this road is overwhelmingly the right one to take, and I’m confident the numbers would still stack up in Ninty’s favour. Perhaps more so if 3DS sales are anything to go by.
We need Nintendo kit more than ever
James Holland, editor
Either Adam has been at Mario’s mushrooms or we need to beat some sense into him using a Wiimote. The boy’s missed the point to the effect that it might be time to revoke his Mario Kart driver’s license. Nintendo’s hardware is, and always has been, amongst the tech industry’s most important.
Nintendo’s gameplan has never been to release technically advanced kit. Instead it favours gadgetry that improves experiences, makes games easier to play or more eye-widening. In a way, its hardware division is similar to Apple’s, with a golden rule of keeping it simple.
Unlike Microsoft (HD-DVD add-on, anyone? How about an Xbox Live camera?) Nintendo picks its battles and concentrates on how its hardware affects the slack-jawed kids who’ll do anything to get their hands on it. The secret’s not in the lustful wanting, it’s in the long-term owning.
My first taste of Nintendo was with monochrome-screened Game & Watch machines. They were fiercely addictive, but beautifully simple. They lasted for months on a single watch battery, and bleeped away countless hours of adolescent boredom. Then I got hold of a two-player machine.
It was a typically ludicrous setting for a game, with Mario and Luigi performing tasks that would struggle to earn them minimum wage: Passing parcels from a machine in a factory to a waiting delivery truck, but my underage brainbox didn’t care. I might as well have been super-glued to the thing.
Nintendo’s genius was taking two Game & Watch machines and sticking them together. The player had the option of gaming with a friend, or operating both sides simultaneously for an mind-melting challenge of dexterity. It was a playground sensation, and with a bit of practice so was I.
This was a gadget of no greater simplicity than its single-player counterparts, but with an enjoyability factor multiplied by the hundreds.
Nintendo’s gameplan is exactly the same now: take some average technology, add some ingenuity and great gameplay, and you’ll get a device that is more than the sum of its parts: The Wii blew away the competition when it took its first steps into our lives for this very reason.
When I first got hold of one, just before release in the UK, I took it home for Christmas and set it up. It was the first time I’d seen my parents play a computer game other than Solitaire or Minesweeper. Nintendo had pulled off a magic trick of the highest order.
My dad was playing tennis in the living room, and that was due to the controller’s non-existent learning curve, and the software’s simple-is-better design.
Within minutes my family were hankering after high scores and buzzing about achievements. My dad even showed off his carefully crafted Mii to some visitors.
For the first time, I saw a games company transcend the generation gap and use humble components and code to unite a family. It was a beautiful moment.
And the 3DS continues to do the same. These days, I see kids waving their Nintendo machines around, but quite often they’re not playing a game at all, they’re using AR apps or taking 3D photos and cooing at them with friends.
Nintendo’s technology has always been about joyful experiences with friends, not gaming hunched over in a darkened room on your own. It’s hardware is the medium, and as much an important part of the delivery as the game itself. It doesn’t need to be HD-capable, NFC-enabled or have the latest spec-laden silicon under the bonnet. It’s purer than that.
And now, more than ever, the world needs a pure and powerful Nintendo.
The Xbox just received an update that makes it more on-demand TV receiver than games machine. The PS3 is following suit, and Sony has promised we’ll see more media services out of their stables soon. Whoopee. Just what I need: another dozen TV sources to watch in silence.
Sony and Microsoft are busily squeezing more features out of their hardware, and waiting to see which one sticks.
But Nintendo? The company that had iPlayer on its console before any of the others? They’re putting in the brainpower where it counts: Games, and making sure they’re the best in the business at hooking players and keeping them entertained.
The Wii U is a stroke of genius. Unlike any next-gen console before it, gamers can bring their entire Wii set-up (and games) with them as they upgrade. Those well-worn controllers needn’t be tossed away. They can live on in harmony with the Wii U’s upgraded hardware, and mean you’ll end up gaming with even more people at once.
I don’t want to play Wario Ware: Smooth Moves on a PlayStation 3. Its raw power and clinical execution works great for shoot ‘em ups, but it’s not the friendly console I want to huddle ‘round the friends or family.
Adam, I agree it’d be a happier world if I could play Nintendo games on my iPhone or PS3, but the experience really wouldn’t be the same as pointing a cutesy Wiimote at the screen or jigging around on the reassuringly chunky Balance Board.
It’s about friendliness; accessibility not stopping anyone getting in on the fun.
Last Christmas I had to explain what the Sixaxis’s PS button was for to both parents, and that was just to watch the BBC iPlayer. By the time the programme had finished, they were asking if I had any new games for the Wii. I think that says it all.
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