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In defense of Nintendo’s obsession with memory lane

Nate Ralph | April 19, 2013
Nintendo’s 2013 lineup is looking a bit familiar, and I’m okay with that.


Yesterday's Nintendo Direct presentation was a love letter to the faithful, largely eschewing "new" intellectual properties (hereafter, IPs) in favor of re-visiting classic franchises or simply remaking old games. This year-dubbed "The Year of Luigi"-we'll see new Mario Party and Mario Golf Games, a 3DS re-make of the Nintendo Wii's Donkey Kong Country Returns, a new entry in the Yoshi's Island series, remakes of GameBoy Color Zelda games as well as a successor to 1992's Zelda: A Link to the Past.

This is standard fare for Nintendo. The company's rap sheet consists almost entirely of the same characters experiencing variations of the same adventures. With every new Nintendo console we can expect to rescue a princess (Zelda or Peach), race go-karts, play a few rounds of golf and hoard bananas while blasting about in barrels as a dapper ape. Tack on a few "new classics" that have begun making regular rounds-Super Smash Brothers, Pikmin, and Animal Crossing, to start-and we've got a formula for success tied to mining an aging gamer population's fond remembrances. Nostalgia begets purchase begets profit.

You know what? I'm okay with this.



New IPs are exciting. In the last few years larger developers and publishers have captured our imaginations with franchises like Bioshock, Dishonored, Dark Souls and Borderlands. Ignore for a moment that half of those are first-person shooters and all are centered around inflicting bodily harm on ne'er-do-wells. From the indie developer side we've seen colorful narrative romps like Bastion, or hauntingly engrossing "dungeon crawlers" like The Binding of Isaac. New IPs are a huge risk, but reward developers and gamers alike with rich new worlds to explore. Nintendo's reluctance to stray from their safe harbors smacks of laziness, or the desire to make a quick buck by mining our memories and serving up the same experiences over and over again.

Of course that's absolutely wrong. If the Nintendo Wii, DS, 3DS, and Wii U have taught us anything, it's that the company is no stranger to taking risks to deliver entirely new experiences, even at the cost of its fanbase (the hardcore vs casual debate and the Wii) or success (as evinced by the Wii U's languishing sales). Microsoft and Sony have championed the hardware arms race to deliver increasingly attractive, connected gaming experiences. Nintendo, by contrast, seems hell-bent on reinventing the wheel to give us exactly what we've been clamoring for: something new.



Consider Mario. We've been traipsing through the Mushroom Kingdom and rescuing Princess Peach since 1985, but every incarnation of his franchise has taken the basic platformer premise-move left to right, jump on enemies, collect coins-and added entirely new mechanics, refinements, or (in the case of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy) dimensions. No Mario game has ever truly been the same: Super Mario 64 ushered in the era of 3D platformers, and Super Mario Galaxy revamped that notion, toying with perspective, gravity, and a total disregard for physics. New Super Mario Bros. (on the DS) brought Mario back to his 2D platforming roots with a style reminiscent of the legendary Super Mario 3, chock full of new abilities, mechanics, and an world map replete with secret passageways and surprises. And then New Super Mario Bros. (on the Wii) did it all over again, with a fantastic (or devastating, if you value friendships) new co-operative mode that championed emergent gameplay in the traditional platforming rubric.


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