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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

Another Top 5 Series Revivals

I’m back!  After making occasional cameos in list articles, it’s time for me to make MY OWN list article, my first full Retronasissance article since 2013.  And for my revival article, what better topic than a followup to my list of the Top Ten Video Game Series Revivals?  I’ve managed to scrounge together five more games that meet my criteria of being fantastic entries in series that either had at least two consecutive weak entries before them, or had been missing for at least one console generation.  Not going to rank them in a specific order this time, let’s just focus on celebrating what a great sequel can do for a struggling series.  Without further ado, let’s begin!

Yoshi’s Wooly World (Nintendo Wii U – 2015)

How Things Were Before:  I love Yoshi.  I’ve always loved Yoshi, ever since I played Super Mario World for the first time on my cousin’s SNES.  In 1995, Yoshi got his own platformer, and it was fantastic.  Yoshi’s Island was such a great spin-off of the Mario platformers that it transcended the spin-off designation and was promoted to actual Mario platformer (I know it wasn’t called Super Mario World 2 everywhere, but it was part of the Mario Advance line everywhere).  Then… then tragedy struck.  Yoshi’s Story was an absurdly short, badly controlling disappointment.  Then Nintendo handed Yoshi over to their worst developer, Artoon/Arzest, for his next three platformers.  While Arzest managed to very, very slowly improve, even their best effort was light years behind the SNES masterpiece.  20 years since Yoshi’s Island, and there had never been a Yoshi platformer that even came close to it.  Things looked hopeless.

The Revival:  In early 2013, Nintendo showed some very brief footage of a new Yoshi platformer developed by Good Feel, using the aesthetic theme from Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which had already felt more like a Yoshi game than a Kirby game.  I had a [Developer Name] about this game, and was very happy when E3 2014 confirmed it was still being made. While I expected that we’d finally have an unambiguously good Yoshi game again, I never could have imagined how good it would turn out.  After playing through Yoshi’s Wooly World twice, I still haven’t decided whether it’s better than Yoshi’s Island.  20 years later, the Yoshi series got not just a great game, but a masterpiece that is right up there with YI.  Wooly World plays very similarly to YI, managing to capture its feel better than the really blatant attempts Yoshi’s Island DS and Yoshi’s New Island made when they copied it as directly as they could.  The level design is just as creative and excellent, the control is just as good, completing it 100% is less frustrating: Wooly World is a masterpiece that deserves way more attention than it got.  Good Feel, you better be working on a Switch sequel as I type this, and be planning at least one more Yoshi game after that.  If we get a third Yoshi game from them in the 2020s, at least we’ll average one Yoshi masterpiece a decade.

King’s Quest (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC – 2015-2016)

How Things Were Before:  Yeah, I’m not exactly as knowledgeable about this as I am about Yoshi.  Aside from a couple obscure console ports, King’s Quest was a PC only series for the vast majority of its life.  The original King’s Quest pioneered graphical adventure games in the mid-80s, and continued into the late 90s with eight main installments.  I’ve only played one of those, briefly, and what I’ve read about their puzzle design does not make me want to go back and play them (plus the whole PC thing).  I don’t want to pass judgment on games I haven’t played (although it’s my understanding that the last King’s Quest game before the gap was definitely not well liked), and thankfully, I don’t have to.  No matter how the original games were, the 17 year gap between the last entry in the original series and the first episode of the reboot easily qualifies it for this list.  After several attempts to revive the series that never got past early development, the series’ future looked bleak.  Well, I assume it did anyway, wasn’t really thinking about the series at the time, but that would change.

The Revival:  Inventory/point and click style adventure games have made a bit of a comeback in recent years, and in 2015 a King’s Quest revival finally got off the ground in the form of a five-part episodic series.  King’s Quest Chapter 1: A Knight to Remember was released for PC as well as several consoles, and was even given away to PlayStation Plus members (maybe on other platforms as well, but that’s how I ended up giving it a chance).  In my case, at least, it paid off.  The modern King’s Quest games are beautiful, hilarious, and touching games with great puzzles, fun mini-games, and a fantastic voice cast.  Despite acting as prequels, interquels, and sequels to the original games, I was able to follow the story without issue despite knowing nothing about the earlier King’s Quest games.  Each episode is about a very old King Graham telling his granddaughter about an adventure that took place during a different period of his life, with choices you can make that will affect not only the chapter you’re playing, but the future ones.  Combined, the chapters make an intricate and lengthy story that (aside from some frustrating design choices in Chapter 2) is of consistent, very high quality throughout.  I imagine it’s even better if you’re familiar with the series and get all the references to past games, but the 2015-2016 King’s Quest chapters are something I would recommend to everyone regardless and a fantastic return for the series.

Kirby’s Return to Dreamland (Nintendo Wii – 2011)

How Things Were Before:  Since his debut in 1992, Kirby has been one of Nintendo’s most popular characters.  With platformers on most Nintendo systems and a wide array of spin-offs, Kirby’s appearances have been far too frequent to risk making this list due to a skipped generation.  The quality of the games has never dipped that much either, so what is the series doing on this list?  Well, in 1996 Kirby Super Star revolutionized the core gameplay of the series by changing Kirby’s signature enemy powers from situational one attack wonders to complex sets of attacks that varied based on directional input and Kirby’s position.  This made most powers able to handle all types of situations, and made the gameplay feel so much better.  Then, it was gone.  Kirby kept getting platformers in the years to come, but none came close to the ability depth in Kirby Super Star.  They weren’t bad games, but something was very clearly missing compared to Kirby’s masterpiece, and as a result, they felt bland.  Why had such a great advancement for the series been so quickly forgotten?  I still have no idea.

The Revival:  In 2004, a Kirby game was shown for GameCube that seemed to bring back the ability depth from Kirby Super Star.  The game was never shown to the public again after 2005, but Nintendo insisted for years on end that it had been moved to the Wii and was still coming.  After the excellent (but not really a main series game) Kirby’s Epic Yarn, no one really expected the game to still exist.  So of course, in 2011, just months after KEY’s release, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland was announced, clearly the evolution of the GameCube game.  Return to Dreamland features abilities just as deep as Super Star, as well as some of the best level design Kirby had seen up to that point.  And this time, it stuck!  The 3DS Kirby platformers keep the same great core gameplay from Super Star and Return to Dreamland, and the series has never been better.  After a 15 year wait for a worthy sequel to Kirby Super Star, we got three fantastic Kirby platformers in a five-year span, even if some of the games in the interim were still pretty good, it’s hard to argue that isn’t a fantastic revival.

Tomb Raider (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC – 2013)

How Things Were Before:  In 1996, at the dawn of 3D games with full freedom of character movement, the original Tomb Raider established itself as the premiere 3D adventure game that didn’t star an Italian plumber.  As badly as I think they aged, the first couple Tomb Raider games were beloved at the time and gave a sense of scope and adventure that few games could match.  As yearly sequels continued up to the fifth game, people started to get tired of the series and stopped forgiving the control quirks.  So, the series got a fresh start on the PlayStation 2… and the results were disastrous.  This led to another reboot with Tomb Raider Legend, which got pretty positive reception, but as its formula was repeatedly reused people once again got tired of the series.  Time for yet another reboot (and an excellent isometric spin-off), but was there any point in forcing this franchise to keep going?

The Revival:  Yes, there absolutely was.  Simply called Tomb Raider, the 2013 game got wrapped up in controversy over its darker tone and the fact that Lara would die if the player lost (which is somehow much worse than the playable characters who do the same in 99% of all games where you can die).  But none of that mattered to any but the most pretentious gaming journalist (as in, someone who can say ludonarrative dissonance with a straight face) once you got into the actual gameplay.   Tomb Raider 2013 took the basic gameplay of the Uncharted series (was had taken the basic gameplay of the Tomb Raider Legend and greatly improved it) and greatly improved it.  No more “follow the instructions” puzzles, there were tons of actual puzzles.  No more being told your character was an explorer while you followed a linear path, you actually explored the areas.  No more being limited to guns and “jumping”, you had Zelda style items at your disposal that you collected throughout the game.  No more automated jumping, you could CONTROL YOUR AIR MOVEMENT!  Combat wasn’t as improved, but it was still at least as good and very fun.  Tomb Raider 2013 blows away any previous Tomb Raider games or entries in its genre, and I really hope the just as good Rise of the Tomb Raider finds enough financial success to continue the series.

DOOM (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC – 2016)

How Things Were Before:  Like King’s Quest, this was another series that I didn’t play much of in the old days, due to the good versions being relegated to PC for most of its existence.  Unlike King’s Quest, the classic games eventually got faithful console versions, and in 2015 I dug into them and realized I loved Doom and the faster paced early FPSes it revolutionized.  Doom 1 and 2 are true classics that I can personally guarantee are just as great today even without nostalgia.  As FPSes became more focused on realism, story, and missions, however, the series was either gone or making us wish it had stayed gone.  The only truly new entry in the 6th or 7th gens was Doom 3, which became a linear, horror themed, relatively slow paced and generic feeling shooter.  Everything that made Doom great had been lost, and the development hell consigned Doom 4 didn’t sound like it would make things better, having had a version canceled for being Call of Duty with demons.  Had one of gaming’s most legendary series truly lost everything?

The Revival:  The 2016 release, simply called DOOM, showed signs prior to release that the long development cycle may have been a good thing.  There were promises that it would be pure “metal” as opposed to Call of Doom, and there were very promising details like not having to reload weapons or press a button to make your character move quickly.  But the cinematic glory kills seemed like a bad sign, and was recapturing the feel of 23-year-old original the least bit practical?  Well, I’m going to give DOOM pretty much the biggest compliment I can give a sequel:  DOOM is to first person shooters what Super Mario Galaxy was to platformers.  DOOM doesn’t feel exactly like the first two games, it feels like the evolution they and their ENTIRE GENRE should have had from the start.  DOOM has the same intense action where the enemies are scared of YOU and exploration friendly levels that the originals had, plus modern controls, console style conveniences (well-placed checkpoints), and a brilliant solution to the cover based health regeneration that has been slowing down FPSes for generations.  Remember the glory kills?  They’re basically your health regeneration, they always make enemies drop some health, and they’ll drop extra health if you’re really close to death.  So instead of retreating and slowing down the game when you need health back, you play MORE aggressively and go right up to an enemy to refill your health.  This simple change completely transforms the dynamic and makes the gameplay faster and more intense instead of slower and repetitive.  DOOM is an instant classic that we can only pray has dramatic influence on the FPS genre, if I was ranking the entries on this list it would be number one.

So, there you have it, five more sequels that show you should never give up hope on a series.  There’s no amount of poor entries, no amount of generations missed, that can take away the chance of a series returning to its former greatness.  That’s all for now, but with plenty of upcoming games that could qualify for this series if they play their cards right, I might be back with more in a year or two.  Until then, remember that video game sequels are a good thing, never be unhappy that your favorite series keeps getting entries, even if you didn’t like the recent ones.