The Fear of Luigi

Things are looking up for Nintendo at the moment.  The Nintendo Switch has pretty much had the most successful launch anyone could expect, with critical reception and third party support going better for a Nintendo console than they have in a long time.  The Switch hasn’t even set off a wave of anti-popularity backlash like the Wii did.  The Nintendoomed meme has officially regained its full irony status.  It’s as if the last four years never happened.  But that’s what I want to talk about, the last four years…

Now some of my more observant readers who can do basic math may be wondering why I said the last four years.  After all, Wii U launched in 2012, five years ago.  The second it came out, or even the second it was announced, the world turned on Nintendo and their confusing Fisher-Price Wii add-on, right?  Not exactly.  While the Wii U’s launch certainly wasn’t the explosive success that the Wii and Switch enjoyed, it wasn’t bad either.  Wii U sold a decent amount during the 2012 holiday season, and if it had kept on track it wouldn’t have been a huge success, but it would have been a reasonably sized one.  Things didn’t go wrong until 2013.  On February 14th, 2013 it was revealed that the Wii U had sold only 55,000 units in North America during January 2013.  This was a pathetically low amount, and marked the start of disastrous console sales numbers that the Wii U never recovered from and that would cast a dark cloud over Nintendo for years to come.

^956835CF111FAABC3B8D6355485EAE6B943634BCB2E687AA34^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

Hot buttered popcorn, what a curse!

You know what else happened that exact.  Same.  Freaking.  Day?  The Year of Luigi.  On February 14th, 2013 Nintendo announced that in honor of Luigi’s 30th anniversary, the year 2013 would be dedicated to the second best green Mario series character (Yoshi being the first, of course).  Luigi marked the year that sent Nintendo into a dark age.  The Year of Luigi was the year of what can best be described as a curse being inflicted on Nintendo.  Luigi is the symbol of every bad thing that happened to Nintendo from 2013 to 2016, and the poor Wii U never recovered from the darkness of that year, that specific day.

Well, is it really fair to blame Luigi for all of that?  It’s not like 13 is renowned for being a lucky number.  But let’s look at some of Luigi’s other big years.  1983, the year he debuted?  The North American video game crash hit in full force.  1993, 10th anniversary?  Worst year for SNES in its console war.  2003?  For Luigi’s 20th birthday Nintendo fell into third place in a console war for the first time ever.  2008?  The year of Wii Music’s E3 and the height of fears that Nintendo had abandoned their fans.  In addition to anniversaries, Luigi was the star of Nintendo’s big launch game for the GameCube, the worst selling Nintendo console until he cursed Wii U.  When did Nintendo 64’s launch hype wear off and set Nintendo on course for their first console war loss?  Early 1997, the same time Luigi made his first appearance on the system in Mario Kart 64.

luigi

He knew exactly what he was doing.

When we look at the evidence, it’s clear: there is and always was something ominous about Luigi, a kind of darkness inside that is inexplicable and frightening.  Luigi’s insecurity, envy, cowardice, what have they been molded into inside the mind of the tall green plumber?  Is Luigi the sympathetic, comedic figure he is often portrayed as?  Is Mario oppressing Luigi by saving the world at great personal risk as a grand manipulation to make sure his brother never gets the glory?  Or is he protecting us, knowing what would happen if Luigi got the glory and power that his twisted heart desires?  I haven’t seen the true form of Luigi, I don’t know his real motives, but I… can feel them.

There is a bleak dryness inside and around Luigi.  A constant feeling of despair and dissatisfaction that eats away at you, distracts you, makes you unable to fight the darkness overlaying you, your view of the world.  Luigi knows he can’t do what Mario does, and it consumes him, he is a being of jealousy and bitterness.  But he has other talents, he can do things that heroes like Mario and Yoshi could never do, and would never want to do.  He manipulates people, makes them feel sorry for him.  Mario risks his life again and again for the sake of others, yet Luigi has a sizable percentage of gamers convinced that he is the victim because he does not receive as much credit as his brother.  The fear Luigi demonstrates, it isn’t real, it is a psychological manipulation technique.  Luigi puts others on edge, plants seeds of anxiety in them.  Luigi makes everyone around him weaker, and less able to counter the darkness he sows.

^47FEDBA5AEF43CD0B951DB550A8C59705E08792DEAD7F94CFD^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

The darkness within will claim you.

So what is Luigi truly capable of?  What is his ultimate goal?  I don’t know, deciphering the shadowy depths of this horrifying mystery is impossible.  Maybe Luigi wants everyone to be as miserable as he is, viewing himself as an evangelist for gloom and despair just as the Joker views himself as an ambassador for chaos.  Maybe he wants to use vague, creeping fear and hopelessness to do what Bowser’s minions never could and defeat Mario, taking his spot as Nintendo’s brightest star afterwards.  Maybe Luigi is an eldritch abomination who adopted the form of a green Mario and its intention is no more coherent than making children hallucinate a show about screaming puppets.  Whatever he is and whatever he wants, the curse of Luigi is a danger that we can no longer ignore.

So, what can we do about it?  How can we possibly combat the shadow of Luigi that hangs over Nintendo like the Sword of Damocles?  I wish I knew.  There are things beyond human control, beyond human comprehension.  Humanity lives at the mercy of the type of darkness that Luigi exudes.  We can only hope that our brush with him doesn’t cause complete madness, that his indecipherable whims don’t call for the total destruction of all that we hold dear.  Let’s hope that Mario can keep the darkness within his brother under control, but we’ll never be truly safe.  No matter what happens, we are destined to live in the fear of Luigi.

^87E4009677C94F5D23271DE172885182DF8F792AEA3BE26E39^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

We’ll never be safe.

Disclaimer:  This article is completely serious and absolutely not a creepypasta style parody written for Halloween.  The author really thinks that Luigi is a real life incomprehensible force of negative emotions while still viewing Nintendo as a video game company that makes the games Luigi stars in.  He is 100% serious when he blames Luigi for Wii U’s sales failure, the North American video game crash, Wii Music, and Trump being appointed president.  This is both serious and not at all related to the author being an only child who rarely encountered Luigi in classic Mario games and just never got why so many people love him so much.  Despite this being completely serious, he for some reason wants you to know that he wrote a similar Halloween article in the past accusing Mario of being a sociopathic attempted murderer, so it’s not just him picking on Luigi for the aforementioned reason that has nothing to do with this at all.  He will neither confirm nor deny wishing you a happy Halloween or knowing what Halloween is.

 

Advertisements

BeiN True to Yourself: How Nintendo Wins

I’ve been meaning to write an article like this for a while now, and with E3 having just happened, I think I can finally get started now.  As my past articles may give some ultra-subtle foreshadowing of, I am quite happy with how the Switch has been received so far.  After at least four years of almost unrelenting negativity towards Nintendo’s console division, someone finally flipped a switch and turned the light back on.  The Switch has recreated the phenomenon of the original Wii’s launch, an even more impressive feat considering it launched in March instead of November.  With Nintendo seeming to have finally fulfilled their longstanding goal of a launch year without droughts and an incredible E3 that featured a healthy mix of 2017, early 2018, and far away but ultra-exciting games, Switch’s future looks very bright.  So with Nintendo’s four most recent consoles alternating between explosive success and market failure (no, you having nostalgia for GameCube doesn’t mean it sold well, it was closer to Wii U in sales than it was to Nintendo 64, and that didn’t even win its generation), is there any way to make sense of this pattern?

Well, let’s look at the goal behind the four consoles in the most general terms.  The GameCube and Wii U had a focus on attaining something that Nintendo’s competition had in the previous generation that they lacked (disc based software and HD graphics, respectively) and bringing Nintendo back to getting the biggest third-party games and controlling the traditional gaming demographic again.  Both systems also suffered from something of an identity crisis, having drawbacks that stopped them from achieving true parity with their competitors (GCN’s smaller disc space and Wii U’s limited power compared to competing systems) and having stylistic features that conflicted with the goal of winning over the competitor’s fanbase (GameCube’s general “kiddy” image, Wii U’s tablet inspired controller).  After showing a lot of promise at launch, both systems quickly fell behind in market share and third-party support, becoming solid but niche systems you bought for Nintendo’s games.

 

^23204BC8192842AC130F28DDF9067D77A4A64418F04BB75862^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

And look how well pandering to EA worked out.

 

Now let’s look at Wii and Switch.  They actually don’t seem to have fixed the problems I mentioned above, you could even argue they got worse.  Was Wii any less “kiddy” than GameCube?  Is Switch a powerhouse that obliterates or at least matches PlayStation 4 and would be giving PS5 a run for its money if the generations hadn’t gotten completely de-synced?  Did/will either one get all the AAA third party multi-plats that PlayStation/Xbox/PC share?  The answer to all those questions is no.  So why did things work out for these systems, but not their predecessors?

Because Nintendo didn’t half-try to be something they weren’t, they embraced what made them different and turned those weaknesses into strengths.  They flipped things around and succeeded at things their competitors weren’t even trying.  The Wii may have been at least as “kiddy” as GameCube, but it appealed to middle aged parents and senior citizens just as easily, it genuinely was for all ages.  The Switch may be only marginally more powerful than Wii U, but take it out of its dock and it’s a technological marvel as a portable system.  Nintendo solved their problems in ways that their competitors never would have attempted, and unlike trying to copy the other systems, this approach has been rewarded.

 

^176EC402DDFF396523CB8596628054111735D03042A302B364^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

Mocking its name just made it stronger.

 

Of course, that doesn’t mean GameCube and Wii U didn’t contribute anything to Nintendo’s future.  Remember GameCube’s bizarre controller layout and various gimmick controllers (bongos, the Game Boy Advance)?  I’m sure you remember Wii U’s attempt to get people excited to play games on the controller’s screen.  Neither of these features caught on, but Wii and Switch managed to evolve these ideas into a functional, wildly popular form.  The Wii had a new way of controlling games that got a huge amount of mainstream attention, and it being included with every system allowed it to thrive.  Wii U’s ability to stream games to its controller at a limited range turned into Switch being a true hybrid that allows you to take complete console games anywhere you want.  Instead of giving up on these ideas, Nintendo believed in them and turned them into something hugely successful.

 

^6A0C550146CE9A26F59AF8C6E49334EF0B5F9A60B5387D9249^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

Its heart was in the right place, it just needed a few tweaks.

 

Now this section is a bit of a leftover from one of the earlier incarnations of this article, but since I’ve compared Wii and Switch so much, I think it’s worth addressing.  Some may ask if we really want Switch to turn into another Wii.  Was its success actually good for gamers?

Yes, it absolutely was!

It’s time to get over the delusion that Wii was nothing but Nintendo lazily making mini-game compilations and third parties badly copying the aforementioned mini-game compilations.  Yes, the Wii ___ series and shovelware that all market leaders attract existed, but you could and can ignore them, and there is a diamond mine hidden under them.  Nintendo made some of their best games on the Wii, and I don’t just mean the Super Mario Galaxies and Xenoblade.  Punch-Out, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, Wario Land Shake-It, Metroid Prime 3, Sin and Punishment 2, Pandora’s Tower, games you should give a genuine chance like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Zelda: Skyward Sword, Nintendo absolutely did not just focus on gimmicky mini-game compilations during the Wii’s lifespan.

But the lack of attention those games get is nothing compared to the third-party hidden gems on Wii.  Zack and Wiki, Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands, Muramasa, Madworld, No More Heroes 2, Dead Space Extraction, A Boy and His Blob, Rabbids Go Home, Sonic Colors, Epic Mickey, Lost in Shadow, Red Steel 2, Trauma Team, House of the Dead Overkill, Goldeneye 007, Medal of Honor Heroes 2, Boom Blox Bash Party, Rodea: The Sky Soldier, there are so many third party Wii games that may not have been super hyped AAA budget games but were the type of quality mid-ware that people thought died in the seventh generation.  Switch turning out like Wii would indeed be a good thing, and fortunately, there are already signs of its portable ability bringing back some of those mid-ware style games.

 

^64915DBFAF79422ECBF9939BAD80A2A700DC3E6E6F27C7860F^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

Have you played this game? Do you know what it is? This is Trauma Team, just one of the many underappreciated Wii games.

 

So in conclusion, I think the moral here is pretty obvious.  Nintendo systems with one syllable names do better, end of story.  In seriousness, I think it’s safe to say that Nintendo does a lot better when they focus on their strengths instead of trying to attain the strengths of others.  Directly competing on their competitor’s turf doesn’t work, and with the console generations being out of sync between companies now it is barely measurable (I defy you to find a way to compare Switch and PS4’s success that doesn’t require waiting 5+ years to judge).  While it would be nice for Nintendo to achieve the third-party dominance they had with the NES and SNES, I don’t think it’s practical right now and both Nintendo and their fans will have a better time if they focus on what worked for Wii and Switch instead of trying to bring SNES back with one fell swoop.  Wait a second, if you pronounce them “Ness” and “Sness”, those systems are also one syllable… that IS the key!

How Wii Will Remember U

As I write this, Wii U owners and critics are preparing for a dramatic switch.  I don’t mean the console, I mean a switch in how the system is viewed.  Wii U did not sell very well, it was the underdog for almost all of its life.  This led to excessive and vicious trolling at every opportunity: people bashing it for lacking games while the “real” eighth gen systems subsisted on very slightly polished PS3 games, redefinition of what 3D meant to bash Nintendo, and of course predictions of its imminent death.  And what happens when it actually dies?  Worship.  When’s the last time you saw Dreamcast or GameCube or Neo Geo Pocket Color bashed for their poor sales?  Wii U is destined to be a revered cult favorite, and will surely be Nintendo’s last “real” console according to trolls at some point.  So, as we look back at its life, let’s do it both ways.  Every system has good and bad parts, so let’s look at Wii U from both perspectives.  I always get the bad out of the way first, and it came first chronologically anyway, so let’s begin with:

The “Wii U is Still Alive” Perspective

Wii U was a spectacular failure.  The very first we ever saw of it was a horrible trailer that made it look like it was just a controller accessory for the original Wii.  The tablet like controller never caught on with the mass market, and even Nintendo was quick to pretend it didn’t exist.  Retail games dried up almost instantly.  Nintendo went right from their best-selling console to their worst, everything about the Wii U was a disaster.

After launch day, the system suffered a terrible drought that lasted nine entire months.  Nintendo delayed their “launch window” games and the most we got from third parties were multi-plat games that were often missing features.  Despite bragging about all the third parties supporting them at the system’s reveal and re-reveal (where it was just possible to tell it was a new console), third parties were quick to abandon the Wii U.  Late or inferior PS360 ports were the extent of the support from major western publishers, and even those dried up to almost nothing within a year.  Major publishers and developers openly mocked the system and no efforts were made by anyone to give it games that were only on eighth generation systems.  Third party support became worse than it had ever been.

Nintendo’s games should have been the saving grace, but they refused to give gamers what they wanted.  We got a 2D Mario at launch, a linear 3D Mario, a freaking Donkey Kong game instead of Metroid, and some squid game.  Paper Mario Color Splash was a slap in the face to every former fan of the Paper Mario series, and Nintendo constantly let 3DS steal Wii U’s exclusives.  Nintendo had clearly given up on the system by 2015 and forced it to do a death march until they finally released a new console.  Everything about the system was a mistake and it would be in the best interest of Nintendo and gamers everywhere to just forget that this failure ever happened.

The “Wii U is Dead” Perspective

The Wii U was a fantastic system subjected to some of the greatest injustices in gaming history.  The system had some of Nintendo’s best games and incredible potential that could have easily made it a bigger success than the original Wii if anyone had given it a chance.  The Wii U Pad can do everything you could possibly want out of a controller and simple quality of life improvements provided by the touchscreen could have given it the edge over other systems in nearly any multi-plat.  Wii U didn’t fail, we failed the Wii U.

The supposedly terrible drought was the result of the system having a launch that was too good, over 30 games were available at launch and if you were depending on Wii U for your console needs there was enough to last you until Pikmin 3 in August 2013.  That’s right, the “great drought” lasted nine months, as opposed to around two years for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, which had terrible launches to boot.  And remember PS4 getting praised for playing used games, and Xbox One for adding limited backwards compatibility long after release?  Guess what system fully supported used games and had full backwards compatibility from the start?  Wii U was the victim of a hypocritical and vicious media, plain and simple.

The lazy, entitled, and viciously unprofessional actions by third parties were in no way the system’s fault.  Did Nintendo tell Ubisoft to traumatize everyone with the original Red Steel, leading to Zombi U’s disappointing sales?  No, and they didn’t tell them to sabotage poor Rayman Legends in response to that just to make sure Wii U didn’t even have it as a timed exclusive.  Did they tell companies to leave DLC out of the Wii U versions of multi-plats, setting up a vicious cycle where they couldn’t sell?  Did they personally summon whatever demon was running EA and provoke it into every act of blatant sabotage or immature public shot at the Wii U?  Third parties never gave the system a chance, Nintendo’s big mistake was giving THEM a chance.

Now as for Nintendo’s own games, they made some of their best games ever.  We got two fantastic Mario games lacking nothing but nostalgia rebranded as “soul.”  Mario Kart and Smash Bros. were leagues better than their Wii counterparts.  Star Fox, Pikmin, and an absolutely phenomenal Yoshi platformer made their returns.  Splatoon showed Nintendo can still make a great and popular new IP whenever the mood strikes them.  Nintendo made alliances with third parties to get great exclusives like Bayonetta 2, The Wonderful 101, Pokken Tournament, and Hyrule Warriors.  Super Mario Maker made the longstanding dream of gamers come true, and Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is one of the best platformers of all time.  Even the mini-game compilation at launch was bursting with content and far deeper gameplay than you would expect.  Nintendo not catering to the exact whims of jaded gamers (who would doubtlessly have changed their demands as soon as they got them) doesn’t mean they didn’t bring their A game.

My Actual Thoughts

So, to conclude, what do I think of the Wii U and its life when I’m not purposefully being blindly positive or negative?  Well, I’m not going to deny that some mistakes were made, there’s no way to deny that the console sales were indeed pretty much a disaster.  I’m not going to absolve Nintendo of all responsibility for what went wrong, but double standards on the part of third parties and the gaming community definitely share some blame for what went wrong.  Nintendo misjudging how long it would take to get the hang of HD development was a big factor in the initial drought, and they should have made Wii U being a new system clearer.  Third parties abandoning it after their late, often inferior ports didn’t sell a huge amount, though, is something that really happened and it is not at all fair to blame Nintendo for that.  The things PS4/X1 got praised for that Wii U had ignored probably weren’t the result of malicious intent, but it was unfortunate timing that Nintendo wasn’t responsible for.

Nintendo really did make some of their best games on the system, even if they had clearly changed their focus to the Switch late in the Wii U’s life, the things I said about games in the positivity section are pretty much how I really feel.  New Super Mario Bros. U, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, and Yoshi’s Wooly World are exceptional games that people unfairly dismissed because they were 2D.  The collaborations with third parties for exclusives were a great idea and were usually successful (assuming anyone remembers Devil’s Third, that was the obvious exception).  Wii U’s amazing attach rate for first party games shows that Nintendo was still making great games and that people still like them.  However, third party was clearly lacking (and not just in big budget games like the hidden gem filled Wii) and Nintendo’s learning period for HD game design limited the quantity a bit.  While there were some great indie games, Wii U really could have used the mid-ware style retail releases that gave Wii so many overlooked but great games.  Thankfully, the portable/console dual nature of the Switch shows signs of bringing those back.

Appropriately enough, I’d rank the Wii U solidly in the middle as far as Nintendo systems go.  It didn’t match its predecessor or the legendary SNES, but it could easily compete with Nintendo’s other systems.  Definitely a quality over quantity system, a couple of dozen great exclusives that definitely justify its purchase, but aren’t going to push it to the top of the Nintendo heap.  I’m not sad to see the negativity that dominated the Wii U’s lifespan go, I’m more than ready for a Switch.  The system itself, though, has a solid lineup of great games that I would strongly recommend collecting before their inevitable price inflation.  In the future, when the negativity of the era has been washed away by time and the nostalgia filter, I think Wii’ll have many fond memories of U.

 

Doomed Since 1889 (Part 2)

Oh they’re doomed, every year Nintendo is doomed!  Yep, it’s time to go over even more occasions where Nintendo was 100% really doomed for sure and we mean it this time.  Continuing chronologically, let’s jump in at the start of the sixth generation

Cause of Doom:  Playstation 2 market dominance
Time Period:  First half of the 2000s

The Problem:

After Nintendo 64 lost its console battle by a considerable margin, Nintendo’s GameCube had a lot less momentum going for it when it was released in 2001.  The momentum had shifted to Sony, and Playstation 2 was enjoying a tremendous amount of success.  In the most one sided console war since NES’ domination, the PS2 sold well over three times as much as the GameCube and Xbox combined.  GameCube was fighting with Xbox for a very distant second, Nintendo’s home console line seemed to have stopped being relevant.

Chances of Actual Doom:

While GameCube’s market performance was certainly a big disappointment, the chance of Nintendo actually being doomed wasn’t very high.  Nintendo is very self-reliant thanks to their first party franchises and focus on making games and systems profitable, even with GameCube’s meager sales they could release successful first party games.  There’s also the portable factor, Game Boy Advance continued portable dominance that would make NES and PS2 jealous, giving Nintendo plenty of money and keeping their name well known.

What Really Happened:

Things never really picked up for GameCube, despite some good years for game releases it ultimately ended up in third place by a tiny margin.  While the system would be considered a failure until nostalgia inevitably deified it in the eyes of the internet, it certainly did not kill Nintendo.  It can be argued it killed their status quo, but that’s for another entry…

Cause of Doom:  Sony’s making a portable
Time Period:  2004-2006

The Problem:

As mentioned in the previous entry, Sony dominated the sixth generation console war by a huge margin.  More than ever, Nintendo needed their unbroken streak of portable dominance to support themselves and stay relevant.  So naturally, when the so far undefeated Sony announced they were making a portable system nearly as strong as their PS2 console, it looked like the end for Nintendo.  Nearly a generation more powerful than Nintendo’s new gimmicky DS, Sony’s Playstation Portable was poised to finally end Nintendo’s 15 years of portable dominance and finish off the company once and for all.

Chances of Actual Doom:

Probably the highest since NES established Nintendo as an industry titan.  If PSP had beaten DS to the degree PS2 had stomped GameCube, Nintendo would have been in genuine trouble.  While Nintendo’s ultra-valuable IPs made it unlikely they could literally be forced out of business, being forced to become a third party if PSP and the upcoming PS3 won by a PS2 like margin was a real possibility.  And at the time, it didn’t seem like an incredibly unlikely scenario.

What Really Happened:

I think everyone knows.  While the seventh generation console wars are for the next entry, DS vs PSP turned out very much in Nintendo’s favor.  Despite a slow start for DS and a strong start for PSP, by late 2005 people were starting to notice that DS was heating up with game releases while PSP seemed confused about what to do now that it had launched.  PSP’s attempt to imitate PS2 with scaled down games in the most popular console series didn’t work, even the mighty Grand Theft Auto didn’t give PSP much of a boost.  Meanwhile, DS’ combination of extremely popular portable centric new IPs (Nintendogs, Brain Age) and revival of classic Nintendo series that many hadn’t liked the GCN incarnations of very much (New Super Mario Bros, Mario Kart DS) soared it to new heights.  No longer just the strongest portable, DS was the best selling game system period for several years, and come within striking distance of PS2 as the highest selling console of all time.  Not exactly doom for Nintendo.

Cause of Doom:  Everything associated with Wii
Time Period:  2005-2007

The Problem:

After GameCube’s market failure, Nintendo clearly felt they needed to take their consoles in a new direction.  And that direction was utter insanity.  A ridiculous motion based controller, graphics barely better than GameCube, and called Wii?  Nintendo had lost their minds and killed themselves in the console wars.  This was a colossal joke, it couldn’t be real.  There was no way Wii could possibly succeed, Nintendo would be third party within a year.

Chances of Actual Doom:

Wii was certainly a big gamble, if it had failed Nintendo’s home console line would have been in serious trouble.  However, by the time Wii’s controller was unveiled the tide had shifted in DS’ favor.  Even if Wii had failed, Nintendo still would have had their supremely successful portables, with the added security of knowing Sony wasn’t invincible.  Wii’s future was certainly uncertain, but the doom chance was much less than when DS’ had been.

What Really Happened:

Seriously, this is one of the most hilarious things that ever happened in gaming history.  After a hilarious yet devastating E3 conference where Sony took over a decade of market dominance and broke it into 599 pieces, Nintendo had Wii’s grand public unveiling and… the market loved it.  In two days the power dynamics of the past decade of gaming history had been completely reversed, and Wii launched to huge success.  With a year of release Nintendo was leading the console market wars, and built up a gigantic lead that even phasing out the system years before its competitors couldn’t overcome.  Nintendo was less doomed than they had been in decades, which is saying something.

The Problem:  3DS and Wii U not as successful as their predecessors

Time Period:  2011-Present

The Problem:

After a generation of incredible financial success for both their portable and home system, and lots of very bitter gamers and journalists who were so sure Nintendo was finally going to go third party, it was time to start again.  DS and Wii had lost some of their momentum late in their lives, so the doomsayers were primed to declare that the fad was over and Nintendo was doomed yet again.  Both systems had strong launches but sales quickly faded afterwards.  This, of course, led to a flood of “Nintendo is REALLY doomed this time!” articles.

Chances of Actual Doom:

Since this scenario is still happening as I write this, obviously this section will have a different perspective.  With 3DS already having recovered from its supposed doom with an early life cycle almost eerily similar to the DS, Nintendo is not in terrible danger.  Even in a worst case scenario for Wii U, it Nintendo’s first party games could likely support it until a new console generation, while 3DS comfortably supports Nintendo.  Regardless of how certain people are that Nintendo is doomed this time FOR REAL, I don’t think there’s much cause for alarm.

What I Think Will Happen:

3DS’ future looks pretty clear and bright, while it may not pass DS as one of the top two best selling consoles of all time, the hardware and games have reached a very good place in sales.  What is often overlooked with Wii U is that it actually had very strong sales at launch.  Claims that the public is tired of Mario simply aren’t true, New Super Mario Bros. U DID sell systems, it just didn’t keep selling month after month while delays caused a nasty drought.  With the drought finally over and a price cut, I think Wii U will recover and even if it doesn’t win the eight generation it should at least pass GameCube by a significant amount.

If there’s one thing Nintendo’s endless supposed deaths have shown us, it’s that you should never count out the company.  Not everything Nintendo does succeeds, but their perseverance, self-reliance, and impressive number of amazing comebacks should make you very skeptical of anyone trying to convince you that the 50th time is a charm for doomsday.  Nothing lasts forever, but there is nothing to indicate that Nintendo’s end is anywhere in sight.

Losing (Middle) Ground

If you’ve read quite any of my articles, you probably know by now that I often wax nostalgic in many of my articles, generally longing for what I consider to be gaming’s “golden age”: between the third (NES, Master System) and fifth (PlayStation, Saturn, Nintendo 64) generations, with the obvious sweet spot in the fourth (TurboGrafx-16, Genesis, Super Nintendo). You might also recall an earlier article of mine where I outright said I considered the sixth generation to be a “dark age”. Still, thinking back on that article, there is one thing I have to admit I miss about the previous generation: the mid-tier game. What is the “mid-tier game”, you ask? I guess the best way to explain it would be to explain how it differs from other classifications of video games.

Of course, perhaps the most well-known style of game, at least these days, would be the AAA title: a game with a behemoth budget both in the game’s production and its marketing budget. The Call of Duties, the Halos, the God of Wars, that sort of thing. On the other side of the spectrum, you’ve got the “downloadable game”: a smaller game at a smaller price point. Of course, by this point, simply calling them downloadable games is kind of a misnomer, as you can just download AAA games on consoles and PCs nowadays. Still, that’s the name they were given when they started popping up on consoles and I really don’t feel like coining a new term for it right now. After all, we’re talking about a totally different subject. Then, of course, you’ve got the indie game, which for the most part are just a subset of the aforementioned downloadable game, except it’s made by a developer without any help from a publisher. Well, unless a publisher decides to pick up the game and publish it. Sorry, going off-topic there again.

So, having defined other classes of video games, the question still remains: what is a mid-tier game? Well, in my opinion, it’s sort of a catch-all for any game that, while clearly not a triple-A title, it is also far too large to be viable as a downloadable game. If I had to give it a definition by price point, it would be a $40 game, compared to the $60 AAA game and the $5-20 downloadable/indie game. The “AA game”, another term I’ve heard used but never actually seen a proper example of, would probably fall into this category. I’ve also seen some people refer to them as “budget games”, likely due to the smaller sales price point in addition to the smaller budget involved in the game’s creation. That’s a nice and accurate term and all, but “budget” has a negative connotation: implying that the game is somehow inferior because they didn’t blow $200 million on animating hand signals or paying some celebrity to show up in the TV commercial. I’ll stick to “mid-tier”, thanks.

You’re probably asking why I feel the mid-tier game was important, if I can only define it in the most nebulous of terms. Simple: mid-tier games were safer to experiment with. Rather than giving an untested concept a massive budget to piss away when the game fails to sell, a new idea could be given less resources, sold for less and the concept could be properly tested, perhaps leading to a much more substantial sequel if the game manages to succeed on a significant degree. After all, that’s how gaming started: as a by and large experimental field, where extremely tiny dev teams (typically subsisting of one or two people) churned out several games in succession and from these less-reined titles, the building blocks of gaming were formed. While admittedly the mid-tier games of the recent past weren’t quite as important to the development of gaming’s future, they still played an interesting part in allowing new talent to surface and rise through the ranks.
Why am I defending the mid-tier game with such fervor, you ask? It’s simple, variety is always a good thing, especially when it comes to video games. This is pretty much an objective fact. Water is wet, grass is green and more variety is better than less. At the very least, there’s a better chance that you’ll find something you like. When it comes right down to it, having a vast selection of games that were, admittedly, cheaper to make, there’s a better chance you’ll find a great (or even just inventive) title compared to the bland focus-tested sludge that makes up a vast portion of the AAA market, especially these days. Sure, there were several mid-tier knockoffs of whatever the biggest-selling franchise at the moment was, but chances were, there were also other games that weren’t just rehashes of the flavor of the month. Obviously, there’s also the nostalgia factor: many of the games I loved growing up didn’t have the largest budgets or the most advanced graphics, but rather, they had solid or inventive gameplay. That’s really the most important thing when it comes to video games for me, back then and especially now.

I can only really think of a few examples of what I would consider to be mid-tier games. God Hand for PlayStation 2 is a pretty good example. On the surface, the game is hideous and it’s been said that it was released before Clover Studios was able to complete it, but it’s still an incredibly fun game with a hilarious storyline and serves as the missing link between the side-scrolling beat-’em-ups of yesteryear and the melee combat-based action games (Devil May Cry, God of War, etc.) that began to spring up in the sixth-gen and are still widespread to this day. Tim Schaffer’s Psychonauts is another good example, not only of a mid-tier game, but also of a mid-tier publisher: Majesco. Hell, last generation, established companies made their bread and butter from mid-tier releases. SNK Playmore comes quickly to mind, with console releases of both their classic (Art of Fighting Anthology, Metal Slug Anthology, the Fatal Fury Battle Archives games) and modern (King of Fighters XI, NeoGeo Battle Coliseum) arcade games.

This generation, we’ve seen a significant drop in the number of games that were full retail releases that weren’t classified as triple-A games or some kind of compilation of download-exclusive titles and this trend has only been increasing each year, with no signs of slowing down. The homogenization of the market looks like it might get even worse next generation, especially considering the fact that Nintendo has finally made the jump to high-definition graphics. But what exactly is causing the mid-tier well to dry up? While I praise the advent of downloadable games on consoles for reviving the ability to craft smaller experiences more in-tune with my admittedly more old-school tastes, this had the added side-effect of creating an even more perfect environment for experimental games than the mid-tier of old. Of course, that’s not the only thing killing the mid-tier market. AAA games are becoming more and more pervasive by the year, due in part to a sluggish economy and higher costs for game development than ever before. Add that to the fact that many video game publishers are publicly traded and investors typically value a minor short-term gain overall (over more significant long-term gains and even the continued health of the company they’re investing in) and it’s honestly no surprise that mainstream gaming has become such a wasteland of banal, formulated cashgrabs.

Frankly, I think it’s a shame that as the console industry exists today games can only exist in the form of an bloated paint-by-numbers AAA monstrosity or as some dinky little downloadable game (let’s face it, folks, nine times out of ten, whenever a major publisher decides to make anything in the downloadable range, it’s going to be small, overpriced and on the whole, unsatisfying). From a businessman’s perspective that kind of makes sense: AAA games are where the big bucks are at (when it comes to consoles anyway), and anything smaller simply isn’t worth dumping any significant amount of resources into. They’ve only now begun to drop their stigma of being wholly inferior to disc-based titles, due mostly to a flood of indie titles on both PSN and Nintendo’s eShop (let’s be fair, XBLIG really didn’t do anybody any favors). Still, without the mid-tier buffer, a massive divide has formed in gaming and if anything, it’s hurting the established publishers that can afford to make triple-A games more than anyone else. As they continue to keep up with the absolute apex of what today’s consoles (and doubly so, next generation), every game that doesn’t make back at least twice its own immense budget is considered a financial flop and another nail in the company’s coffin.

Perhaps mid-tier is dead for good, but the concept behind it is certainly important to keep around. Massive AAA budgets are draining most publishers dry, and that’s on top of the fact that HD development has crippled all but the largest companies. All it really takes is one or two AAA bombs to bankrupt a company, which just leads to a more fearful (and therefore conservative) industry, which is especially disappointing for any form of media. We saw games go from a nearly-uniform $50 price point in the PS2-era to mostly $60 (with a significant number of $40 titles as well) last gen, and yet we still hear from most publishers that the prices have to go up in order for them to even break even. Something’s got to give. Perhaps the success of indie games like Guacamelee! and the fact that all three first-party companies are beginning to support indie developers with the amount of fervor afforded to them only on PCs in the past will show the major publishers that not every single solitary game needs photo-realistic graphics and a massive marketing budget in order to deliver a worthwhile experience. Maybe the mid-tier renaissance will be a downloadable one, breaking down the current downloadable stigma with regards to console and handheld games and leading to an increase in satisfying experiences. All I know is that it needs to happen soon in order to prevent another industry-wide crash, we lost too many good publishers and developers last generation.

The (Fool’s) Golden Age of Gaming

Lately, I’ve been noticing a trend that I find disturbing. There’s been a lot of nostalgia regarding the sixth generation of video gaming: you know, the PlayStation 2, Gamecube and the original Xbox. Now I understand that turnovers with regards to nostalgia have definitely decreased in length, as we’re already riding a wave of 90’s nostalgia, but this is different. Less of a wistful recollection of the “good ol’ days” and more a damnation of both the “current” (PS3/360/Wii) gen and the upcoming “next-gen” (PS4/XB1/WiiU) generation. I can, from at least an intellectual standpoint, understand where these people are coming from, but at the same time, to me, the sixth-generation was that bleak period where I lost my passion for the medium (more on that later).

So, let’s start by setting the stage for the so-called sixth-generation. Now some of you are probably wondering, why haven’t I mentioned the Dreamcast itself? Well, in my personal opinion, while the Dreamcast was technically a sixth-generation machine (and the only one that was referred to as a “128-bit system” for any significant amount of time), Sega’s abandonment of the platform in North America was truly the event that ushered in the true start of the sixth generation of video games, as it happened in close proximity to the North American launch of the PlayStation 2. Still, Sega dropping out of the console market and becoming a third-party developer was truly the end of an era. If you couldn’t tell by some of my earlier articles, I am a huge Sega fanboy. I picked up the Dreamcast at launch, so watching Sega effectively lie down and die in the wake of Sony’s second console, well, it was pretty devastating for me.

So, with the Dreamcast spoken for, let’s move onto the true contenders for supremacy during the sixth-generation, or as I like to call them, “the post-bit triplets”. Why such a stupid cumbersome name, you ask? Well, from the days of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, video game generations defined themselves by the number of bits they were able to process at a time. There was the 8-bit era, with the NES and Sega’s Master System, followed by the 16-bit era. The previous generation had both the original PlayStation and Sega’s Saturn referred to as 32-bit consoles, while their contemporary the Nintendo 64 had a 64-bit processor, though the differences between them were only vaguely noticable. As I said before, the Dreamcast was referred to as a 128-bit console, but after it was discontinued, so was the use of using the number of bits a processor could handle as the generation’s naming convention. As only the Xbox was capable of presenting resolutions higher than that of standard televisions (480p) and this ability was rarely utilized, the term “next-gen” was used to describe this generation as it unfolded. However, by this point, they are clearly no longer “next-gen”…so, I’m sort of at a loss on what to name them. As we typically refer to the two more powerful of the seventh-gen consoles as “the HD twins” for reasons that should be obvious, I’ve decided to give the previous generation’s three major consoles a similar moniker, the “post-bit triplets”. Due to both the abandonment of the “bit” naming convention with regards to these three, and as with the PS3 and Xbox 360, the differences in power and processing speed between the three is negligible at best.

First up, the PlayStation 2, the true harbinger of gaming’s sixth generation. Building on the market dominance of the original PlayStation, the PS2 was literally a juggernaut. To this day, it’s still the best selling home console OF ALL TIME. Though, this was mainly due to both the strength of the PlayStation brand and the fact that, at the time of its release, it was considered a reasonably priced DVD player (the PS3 would later fill that same niche with Bluray players, and actually helped BR win that particular format war). Most gamers focus less on those aspects of the PS2’s success and prefer to extol the system’s massive library of games. Most of the games worth playing, however, were their exclusive titles from third-party publishers. But in my opinion, when compared to both the previous generation and even its “pseudo-contemporary” the Dreamcast, the majority of even the most popular games in its library felt like they were all flash, no substance.

Next, there was the GameCube, Nintendo’s last attempt to “directly compete” with the other console manufacturers by attempting to match them in terms of power. As with the last generation, Nintendo went their own way when it came to storage media: finally eschewing cartridges (a major issue with the Nintendo 64), replacing them with mini-DVD discs. While this would have the added benefit of curbing piracy (likely a part of the reason Nintendo stuck with carts in the last generation), it came with its own set of disadvantages: smaller discs meant that certain games had to be split across multiple discs on the Gamecube, while their counterparts on other consoles could be burned to a single disc. In spite of this shortcoming, the Gamecube was actually more powerful than the PS2.

Sticking with the Gamecube for just a moment, I’ve seen a lot of revisionist history going around recently, about how beloved the Gamecube was in its day. Bull. Shit. I forget when exactly this whole rose-colored look back at Nintendo’s last “true competitor for the dominance over the console market” began, but I remember it especially getting bad just after the Wii U’s North American launch, though I’d seen an inkling of the things to come during the Wii’s last year. I don’t understand exactly why the Gamecube became the icon it was, roughly a decade after its debut; no one liked the Mario platformer on it, the Zelda games on there fell victim to the “Zelda cycle” almost as spectacularly as Skyward Sword is still suffering to this day, most of its third-party exclusives ended up not being exclusives a year after their release and throughout the console’s lifespan, Nintendo was still unable to shake their kid-friendly image with regards to the hardcore. Yes, waggle was generally shoehorned into third-party games as hamfistedly as humanly possible and Wii U had a horrifically abysmal game drought post-launch, but a lot of these people who look back at the Gamecube with warm fuzzies while tearing into modern Nintendo tore into the Gamecube when it was still around as well.

Getting back on topic, the last contender of this particular generation was a newbie to the world of video games, but not to the world of electronic entertainment: Microsoft with their incredibly powerful (well, at the time) Xbox. As with Sony, Microsoft had prior experience with regards to consoles: the Sega Dreamcast ran on a variant of Microsoft’s Windows OS. Ironically, for a long time, I pegged Microsoft as Sega’s successor. What can I say, Sega’s departure from the console market left a massive void in my love for video games. The fact that many sequels to latter-day Sega classics hit the Xbox, like Jet Set Radio Future, Shenmue II and Panzer Dragoon Orta, as well as Peter Moore jumping ship to Microsoft only served to strengthen the connection. Unfortunately, the Xbox’s largest weakness also mirrored that of Sega’s previous two consoles: there was a significant lack of meaningful exclusives. Sure, Halo and Forza sold like gangbusters, but when compared to Sony’s glut of third-party content and Nintendo’s impressive first-party showing, the Xbox’s library felt a bit sparse.

Of course, the Xbox was more than just Microsoft’s first direct foray into the gaming market: I’d argue that it was actually the harbinger of the following generation’s advances. As the Xbox was named for the Windows PC interface “DirectX”, which it utilized to bring out the best of sixth-generation video game graphics, the Xbox itself also gave rise to many formerly PC-exclusive features that would become commonplace in future consoles. For example, while the PS2 had an external hard drive accessory, the Xbox was the first home console to come with an INTERNAL hard drive, thus negating the need for memory card accesories (which, the Xbox also had anyway). The Xbox was also the first home console with the ability to display games in high-definition natively, though this ability was used sparsely and mostly during the end of the system’s lifespan. And while many other consoles in the past attempted to utilize playing games online, the Xbox was the first to make it a worthwhile investment with their Xbox Live service. Unfortunately, this also set a bleak precedent of “pay to play (online)”, which has finally wormed its way onto Sony’s next-gen offering, but mostly stuck to Microsoft’s consoles at first. Still, this was the cost of progress: online gaming opened up so many avenues for multiplayer, I can sparsely imagine modern video games without it.

I think that, besides the aforementioned death of the Dreamcast, the largest blow towards my enthusiasm towards video games during the sixth generation had to be both what I’ve always referred to as “the death of 2D” and the widespread disappearance of many genres I, to the day, hold among my personal favorites. Sure, during the fifth-generation, the disappearance of 2D games in favor of flashier 3D titles was pretty much preordained after the Saturn (purveyor of the former) was utterly thrashed into oblivion by the original PlayStation. But even the PS1 had its fair share of 2D games. The majority of 2D releases on the PS2 were just ports and collections of older games, and as it was the market’s leader, Gamecube and Xbox just decided to follow suit. Same goes for those beloved genres of mine I mentioned earlier: sixth-gen was literally the worst generation for fighting games, 2D platformers and puzzle games since their inception. This is actually a pretty big part of the reason why I view any nostalgia for this period with barely-veiled disdain. The first two genres made a resurgence this past generation, and while puzzle games still have weak showings on consoles, they appear to have found a few new niches, in the form of handheld gaming, smartphones and downloadable titles.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: in my opinion, this particular generation was the worst era of gaming I’ve ever personally experienced. The period featuring the PlayStation 2 and its doppelgangers was by far, the worst era with regards to the actual offerings the market had to offer; to the point where most of the games I bought during this generation were either on the Dreamcast or just re-releases and sequels of games I’d enjoyed in previous generations. Even more irresponible is the fact that it began the rise of the AAA title, which is to this day, slowly choking the life out of the industry, leaving several bankrupt studios in its wake.

Then again, I can’t really say that the sixth generation didn’t also have its good points. Take the Game Boy Advance, for example. A haven for 2D games, platformers, puzzle games and even the occasional fighting game every once in a while: scoff if you must, The King of Fighters EX2 was actually quite excellent, despite the GBA’s button limitations. The GBA had pretty much everything I liked about gaming, to the point where, for quite some time, I totally abandoned console gaming in favor of handhelds, which was an eerily easy transition on my part. This wasn’t exactly hurt by the fact that the Game Gear was my first dedicated video game system, period.

Of course, by the end of the sixth-generation, Sony’s absolute unquestioned stranglehold over the majority of worthwhile third-party titles finally began to slack. Their exclusive deal with Rockstar evaporated, allowing the GTA spinoffs Vice City and San Andreas to find their way onto the Xbox. This coupled with the looming release of the Xbox’s successor, the Xbox 360, led to many of Sony’s exclusive partners jumping ship, going multiplatform as opposed to abandoning Sony outright, quite the opposite of what had happened two generations before, when Nintendo was met with a mass third-party exodus to the original PlayStation. This made third-party exclusives a far less common occurance in future generations and their strategic importance also began to diminish as time went on and budgets expanded, being replaced with time-exclusive release schedules and platform-exclusive DLC.

So, in a nutshell, all of the wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth with regards to how either the seventh generation of video games or the upcoming eighth generation has or will ruin gaming forever fills me with little more than severe contempt. The longing for the “glory days” of when Sony reduced the entire industry into little more than a bland trudge with every console manufacturer going through the same exact motions strikes me as a strange longing, especially when confronted with the twin boogeymen of the future: patches and downloadable content. After all, all games were immaculately coded in the good ol’ days and there were no such things as hollow expansions in the past, right? Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to play some Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition in order to drown my sorrows over how Soul Calibur 3 totally wiped my memory card clean.