I am going to share my perspective on Nintendo’s performance of late. If you’d like a primer, see Nathan’s recently-posted article and its comments. We all know it’s been a rather ‘new’ window period for Nintendo. By that I mean that we have a new console, we have a new future ahead, we have the unknown. So it’s during a time like this when it helps to communicate and formulate your views on things. I express those views but I will address myself as if it were meant to reach someone at the Nintendo headquarters.
To whom it may concern at Nintendo,
Somehow, some way, things are not being carried out as I wish they were, as many– many, of your followers wish they were at your offices. Let’s start simple..
The Wii U name is great. It sounds like a dedicated gamer’s console. It doesn’t matter if it ‘sounds merely novel’, or if it distinguishes itself from the Wii. It’s just that the Wii U needs more than a good name and baring cool blacks, blues, and whites. Surely though, the system should have been made available in a single color– in black– coincidentally as was the Nintendo 64. The choice to also make it white was a marketing mistake, one supplementary way to confound the buyer. Onto the 3DS..
The 3DS is not an appealing name, brand, or design. Its hardware and graphical performance is poor, including framerate per half the games I’ve played. The screen is not dynamic like the iPhone, but more sluggish and aesthetically and visually bland. And like the original DS, it is not above average industrial design: you did not reinvent or revolutionize technology, certainly not in the way Apple managed to with the MacBook re-defining laptops. In contrast to the 3DS, the Game Boy line was easier to hold and play for long durations in different postures.
Yes your systems continue to perform generally well. No need to comment about lifetime DS sales to which we add the 3DS. Same for Wii and Wii U. But we know that ‘lineage’ isn’t everything. A closer look at your software evolution will show that you are indeed, in hot water right now.
Your familiar brand names generally continue to sell well, though they do not, by any stretch, sell better than they did the further back we go in time. Any modern game (Donkey Kong Country Returns or Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Pokemon: Black and White 2) will have lesser overall sales than older or founding titles. Most of the familiar brand (IP) sales are steadily and surely decreasing. The one and only exception is the Mario franchise. Mario Land titles follow this trend of decreasing sales, but milestone ‘console’ titles have sales literally all across the board, regardless of time.
Now, no matter what sales will indicate, there follows a general principle from my thinking that says ‘sales are not everything’. That is, consulting sales/revenue history as a measuring stick for every subsequent developmental decision is not the answer, even though I made a point about it just previously. I want to make comments about what I feel is lacking in the games themselves, whether in their production or in what they represent.
Even with every last argument that someone will make about the Wii U lagging behind because of all the technical and hardware missteps (and marketing missteps) you are making, I sincerely deny any chance that these failures are at the core of the problem at Nintendo. The core of the problem are with the games themselves, as I said earlier, what they are producing and what they have come to represent.
The games you are making, for starters, are not in any way like the games made during the 90s. They are diametrically opposite to a certain extent. Their design is reproductive and sometimes generic– they rely mostly on older artistic trends to make it by (Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks follow Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, which follows Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and ‘Link to the Past 2’ takes this to a whole new level when it explicitly aims to copy and re-produce the look and the world of more than one previous game (count three).
This in no way is sufficient to make your game interesting, I hope you realize it. The Mario games no longer have a style of their own– they are the same generic Mario in 3D, in Paper, or in the toon style seen in Mario & Luigi. Mario is the single most important franchise and (despite sales) the one in the most desperate need of dramatic change: be it in his appearance, or in his ‘etiquette’ and signature behavior. Mario is in need of another vacation, not in need of going into space or hovering around on random cloud levels (a la Mario 3D Land). Why not give him a swimsuit design? Why is turning him into a bee more interesting? Nintendo is prioritizing ‘the function’ of the IP over the form, here. You are not letting the characters speak for themselves any longer.
In terms of Samus, we have seen more than enough with the design in Metroid: Other M. Samus is transparent, almost invisible, drowning in her vulnerability, outside of her costume. If this is the Samus outside of the suit (I doubt it is) then avoid taking her out of the suit anyway. Do not assume that people who design your games know what they are doing with subject matter because they are good at designing games. Conceptually (and to an extent thematically) Other M sucked.
I’m going to wrap up with a comment on presentation and representation. In the Mario Kart franchise, we saw an interesting change from 2D-pixelation to 3D rendered styles right around Mario Kart 64. The game was a very pleasant creation, lively and much ‘its own’. It set a precedent in the 3D world at the time. The environments were simple and pseudo-realistic. Forgot hyper-realism and forget realism itself, but hear me out: pseudo-realistic– as in, the games pretended to put cartoon characters in a benign real world atmosphere. Farms, Turnpikes, Jungle Parkway, Raceways, Castles, Mountains and Snow realms… All arguably plausible– with a twist of the imaginary such as in Rainbow Road.
One could feel the simulated experience of driving, the technology managed to present that to us. yet in later games like Double Dash!! and Wii, this dimension of the experience was lost to sensationalism. We are in a wonderland in literally every track. Even the signature ‘Mario’ Circuit has a rainbow. Why does every Nintendo game have to feature an important element of its design with a complementary rainbow? What is the intent behind this? What is it to you guys that you must do this? Let us take a moment to ask ourselves: does the rainbow work everytime?
Rainbows were featured once or twice in Super Mario 64 at key moments. Over time, Nintendo have lost their sensibilities and moved toward excess. And really, interspersed throughout this discussion is an essential, central point I would make: the company is trying to pull off sensational but in the process, is killing off its familiar franchises where the attempts do not work.
I would close off with the rainbow problem but I want to add that I find Link’s look in ‘Link to the Past 2’ to be particularly insufferable: how is it possible to make Link even more juvenile than he already was when cel-shaded? I don’t want to undermine the ‘classic toon’ Link of the 90’s, but I don’t think anyone in the entire world was expecting this. This is no longer ‘Young Link’, but Baby Link, more akin to Baby Mario than anything else. And I cannot believe you did not consider the fact that this would bother fans, just in the same vein that the diminutive portrayal of Samus was carried out in Other M.
There is simply no need to carry on out like this. You have successfully created modern IP that benefits from the sensualist edge you have had in recent time (Pikmin, Animal Crossing, the entire Wii brand and Wii monikored games), but this solution is not working for your classics… In the long term, it will destroy them. Please go back to the cinematic experiences of previous games (Majora’s Mask was cinematic because it centered the game around a very specific concept, Link’s Awakening in the same sense). By contrast, The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess are less cinematic because they act more like storybooks/novels in their narrative style. For instance, the visuals and the story are not as tightly entertwined as they are in the former games, they act more independently of each other. One of the strongest indicators of this is the ‘cel-shaded syndrome’: no one really knows why the game was cel-shaded.
There is more impending on the images and on-screen action in both Majora’s Mask and Link’s Awakening than there is in Phantom Hourglass or Twilight Princess. We demand a return to more urgent formulas of gameplay, concepts that tie the stories back to the worlds in a more connected fashion and not in a deliberate or arbitrary manner. In the larger picture, Nintendo, you need to stop prioritizing function and gameplay over stories. This will help fix a lot of the internal problems that fans have with your more current games.