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!

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The Forgotten Universe

For anyone not living under a rock, you’ve probably already heard the good news regarding our beloved Blue Bomber: MegaMan has officially been confirmed as a character in Nintendo’s upcoming Super Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U. Frankly, everything about this makes me excited: from his movelist to his revamped design, which seems to be a slightly stubbier and more refined take on MM’s design from the promotional art in the Complete Works re-releases of the NES games on the original PlayStation. Still, it’s perhaps the first real bit of good news that fans of MegaMan have seen for some time, considering we’ve gone 3 years without seeing anything major in the way of new games. And while the wounds have still yet to heal completely, it still seems like a good time to talk about one cancelled game in particular. No, I’m not talking about Legends 3: many have already spoken on that game’s behalf already, it’s a cliche at this point. No, I’m going to be talking about the first game that got cancelled, the one only a few mourned when it was first cancelled. I’m talking, of course, about the ill-fated MegaMan Universe.

For those of you who don’t remember, MegaMan Universe was one of the games announced by Keiji Inafune back in 2010, right before he announced the aforementioned Legends 3. Universe was revealed with a stop-motion animated trailer made by various artists from the “i am 8bit” art movement and with music from acclaimed MegaMan tribute band The Megas. Full of references to various other Capcom games, including trippy bits where a claymation MegaMan turns into Arthur from Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins/Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts games and Ryu from Street Fighter while fighting off a horde of Metools, Tellies and other old-school MegaMan foes. It also showed off the birth of the now-despised Bad Box Art MegaMan, a good-humored ribbing of the downright bizarre North American boxart for the original MegaMan on the NES.

I’ve always speculated that MMU was planned as a reaction to the then-recent fan backlash against MegaMan 10 for being another NES throwback game like 2008’s MM9, but then, considering it was announced the same year 10 was released, that doesn’t exactly seem plausible. The game’s art-style was also a significant departure from the traditional Inafune-inspired artwork of old. Frankly, I liked it, but there were many others who didn’t. Still, the game was 2.5D, which was definitely a change from the 8-bit sprites. But it also resembled a previous attempt at a Classic revival: MegaMan Powered Up.

The game’s 2.5D format wasn’t the only thing Capcom took from Powered Up. The game had an extreme emphasis on customization. In addition to bringing back the Stage Builder mode from MMPU (and making it a major portion of the game itself), players would’ve also have been able to create their own player character, using parts from MegaMan, various robot masters, characters from other Capcom properties and even alternate versions of MegaMan (like the aforementioned BBA MegaMan and the more Inafune-inspired “Rockman”). Many fans and journalists likened the idea to effectively being a ripoff of LittleBigPlanet. Ironically enough, Powered Up predated LBP by over two years.

Of course, Powered Up wasn’t the only game Universe was inspired by. Pretty much every part of the game was a direct reference to the most famous Classic series game of them all: MegaMan 2. From the various stage builder locales, to the Robot Masters depicted and even the soundtrack, the entire game appeared to be a heartfelt love letter to MM2, not unlike MM9 was. Whether or not this was the entire scope of the game or if this game was an attempt to revitalize the MMPU series, I guess we’ll never know.

What I do know is that I actually experienced the game firsthand. While I was in attendance at New York Comic-Con in 2010, Capcom had a booth there with, what I believe was, an alpha build of MMU. I’ll be honest, the game was a bit rough around the edges, but I could see some real potential there. After all, the game was still in development. I managed to beat the stage I picked: I remember little about the playthrough aside from the fact that there were three stages (easy, normal and hard) and the one I had chosen (one of the latter two) used the MM2 Airman stage motif and I managed to beat it fairly easily, despite losing one of the three lives I was granted in the demo. I was rewarded with an inflatable lance based on Arthur’s from the GnG games with the MMU logo on it. I still have it to this day.

Considering how intrigued I was by the new designs and how much I had enjoyed the demo, I was honestly sad to see the game get cancelled. I can still remember how the entire affair took place. After playing the demo and the announcement of a variant on Japanese childrens TV show character Gachapin (dubbed “Megapin”) was announced as a playable character, news on MMU dried up. Keiji Inafune had left Capcom at that point and the future of the title (both MM titles he had just announced, arguably) was uncertain. I remembered asking Christian “Sven” Svennson about the status of the title on Capcom’s “Ask Capcom” forum. He assured me there would be some big news regarding the title coming soon and that it certainly wasn’t cancelled. About two weeks later, MegaMan Universe was officially cancelled. I’d like to say I was surprised when it happened, but frankly, I was just a little ticked off that I had been lied to, either as an attempt to avoid negative PR or due to Svennson’s own ignorance of what was going on. I already knew that when Inafune left Capcom, the two MegaMan games he announced just before his departure were already dead.

Somehow, I think that the gaming press was somewhat to blame regarding Universe’s demise. MMU honestly got torn apart by a lot of journalists when it first became playable. One major complaint I recall showing up a great deal was the fact that it had stiff controls. Stiff controls in a game that was still in its Alpha phase? What a concept! Whatever it was that got MMU cancelled, it just seemed kind of weird how quickly everyone seemed to turn on the game. First they were griping that MM10 was “yet another” 8-bit throwback game, ala the universally-beloved MM9 and said they wanted a change of pace. MMU does just that, departing from many of the stylistic conventions of past MegaMan games and everyone throws an even bigger tantrum. Then, two years later, we get a free PC game that started out as a fan homage to both Street Fighter and MegaMan and people complain about the 8-bit style used in that as well. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how popular opinion works.

In the end, I think the most insulting part of the cancellation of MegaMan Universe was not so much the way it got cancelled or the way the majority of people reacted to it when it happened. In reality, I think the worst part is what it took to make people start caring: the cancellation of MegaMan Legends 3. It was only after Legends 3’s failure to be greenlit that people started complaining, wailing and moaning that “we’d seen two MegaMan games cancelled”, while when MMU got cancelled, most people responded with a shrug and a resounding “meh”. It wasn’t an outrage until the game you wanted got trashed. It reminds me of the whole Operation Rainfall “movement”: sure, they talked about bringing all three games (Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower) to North America, but let’s face facts: as long as they got Xenoblade and Last Story, they were more than willing to throw Pandora’s Tower (the one game that actually looked interesting to me) under the bus, to the point where they declared total victory once Last Story got confirmed for NA release by XSEED. To them, Pandora’s Tower getting a release down the line was just a happy little bonus.

Of course, regardless of who’s to blame for the game’s cancellation or who used said cancellation to fuel feigned outrage, the point is no amount of ranting will ever bring this interesting little game back. But looking back at that MegaMan reveal for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS (really wish they had put more effort into coming up with a title), there was one little graphical detail that struck me as a bit strange. Despite the clearly Classic NES-inspired motions and design of the Blue Bomber, there were noticable creases in the cyan part of his armor. Not unlike those seen in the design of “MegaMan” in MegaMan Universe. It’s probably just a coincidence, but part of me still likes to think it’s just Nintendo’s way of paying homage to the cancelled game, sort of like how I believe that the upcoming Sonic Lost World is totally a revival of the cancelled Saturn game Sonic X-Treme, despite Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka saying he had never even heard of X-Treme beforehand. Just the thought that interesting old ideas that got scrapped can come back in some form just cheers me up, I guess. Maybe one day, we’ll see another attempt at a MegaMan game with a stage builder.