Is it okay to be a Nintendo fan again?


posted 4/28/2010 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
One Page Platforms: Wii
I was a Nintendo fan; and not an old school one either. While Nintendo was basking in its gold and silver ages during the late 80s and early 90s, I was being raised on an Atari 800, Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. No, I caught the Nintendo bug during the beginning of the end, the arrogant halcyon days of the N64 when Nintendo wouldn’t admit it was behind the times, and Nintendo fans wouldn’t admit that the Playstation was handing them their hindquarters. As Private Ashley Williams might say, it takes a special kind of thickheaded to become a new fan in a dying fandom. It’s like starting your Star Wars craze with the prequels. There’s some fun to be had but you really need to go retro to get the whole effect, or better yet, broaden your horizons.

The problem with Nintendo fandom, generally, is that it’s an exclusive club of sorts. The people in the club won’t look outside the clubhouse no matter how much the sun is shining, and the heathens that do leave are seen as sellouts. And the perception of the other clubhouses? For an appropriate analogy, let me direct your attention to that little Protestant/Catholic skirmish that’s been happening in Ireland for a while now.

As a PC gamer first I’ve never technically been an official member of the club but let me tell you, Nintendo loyalty is practically a religion. Thankfully I went agnostic as it were a few years ago when my Guitar Hero habit required the purchase of a PS2, but as a former devotee I might be able to shed some light on recent perceptions of Nintendo and their products.

Let’s keep the religion analogy going for a bit here. For instance, do most members of a religion bother you? No, it’s just the really annoying ones, the die-hards, the campus preachers who tell you you’re going to hell Y for obscure reason X. Unfortunately the fire of Nintendo fans can be just as fierce, and considering that Nintendo has actively stoked those flames with fan outreach since the 80's, a lot of Nintendo fans are zealous.

This also means that gamers on the outside of the clubhouse, in the wider backyard of gaming, tend to resent the Nintendo zealots for their immaturity. This has a lot to do with Nintendo’s image as the Disney of video games. Aside from the obvious dearth of blood, swearing and sex in their software, Nintendo’s games rarely touch on the deeper, more serious subject matter that appeals to more adult tastes. A lot of this has to do with the genuinely lighthearted and childlike outlook of Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s guiding creative light for the last three decades. He just doesn’t do the angsty soul searching and ethics commentary of Kojima—it’s not his style. Regardless of recent gameplay innovations or depth, Nintendo is still perceived as kid stuff.

The Wii certainly hasn’t helped matters. Nintendo decided that after two generations of playing third fiddle to their ravenously competitive peers, they would tap the market that Microsoft and Sony were ignoring—baby boomers. This grew the industry in the burgeoning genre of casual gaming, spawning numerous titles that focused on simple yet quality core gameplay without the bursting production values of bigger titles. For a while it worked beautifully—the Wii was the hottest selling toy three years in a row and casual games flooded the marketplace.

But there were a couple key mistakes made in handling this new audience. First, many third party publishers and even Nintendo itself at times equated casual and simple with cheap and lazy. They ignored the hallmark of the great classic arcade games—simple yet well-made and thus addictive—and instead produced a torrent of cheaply-made and nearly identical collections of minigames. As I said, Nintendo is far from lily-white here; remember Wii Music and Animal Crossing City Folk? If those were merely mediocre, then you can imagine how bad the scads of third party clones were. Most of these games centered on flailing your arms wildly and didn’t use the Wii’s motion controls creatively. What’s more they were virtually indistinguishable from one another, at least to the casual audience. Exactly how many cooking games or sports collections do you really need?
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