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Nintendo cares about Nintendo. It’s the way it’s always been and likely the way it will always be. Nintendo has always done what they want to do and to hell with anybody and everybody else if they don’t like it. While this may seem like a very appealing strategy for all you take-no-prisoners styled gamers, the reality is that it makes for an extremely poor hardware manufacturer.
Consider the NES and the Super NES. The NES was the system that sparked the video gaming phenomenon, and the SNES is by many, and by most standards, the best and most complete system ever manufactured. Both systems boasted an enormous library of games and for their time were considered the very best system for which to develop games.
Now consider the N64 and the Gamecube. The N64 took us into a new generation of graphics and wowed the masses with truly classic games like Super Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The Gamecube had a very respectable amount of horsepower under the hood, and…well…it had a handle for easy transport…does that count as a pro? Both were avoided like the plague by third party developers.
What was the difference? How could a decade-old legacy of having a huge library of diverse games change so quickly into the opposite? Nintendo’s philosophy on hardware hasn’t changed, and their software quality certainly hasn’t changed. So what is it?
It’s the controllers.
The NES and the SNES were a hit with developers because their controls were so flexible. They had simple setups that kept the focus on what the players were doing in the game, not what the players were doing with the controller. Soon enough though Nintendo’s success must have gone to their head, and they gained this strange “whatever *bleep* we’re Nintendo so if you don’t like you can go *bleep* *bleep* next to your uncle’s *bleep* *bleep* before Shigeru Miyamoto unleashes his Pikmin army on your *bleep* *bleep* inside a *bleep* *bleep* *bleep*”, attitude.
Exhibit A: The N64 controller. Seriously, what the hell was that thing anyways? It looked like the business end of a trident. The fact is that controller was a Zelda playing device. There was probably a board meeting at some point in the development where Miyamoto was all, “Look I’ve got this amazing game, but it has a very complicated control scheme…what can you guys do for us?” Nintendo designed that controller for Nintendo. In doing so they alienated every third party on the planet because honestly, how the heck are you supposed to map a control scheme to that monstrosity when you can’t even reach half the buttons unless you change your grip?
The Gamecube controller on the other hand, was a perfectly practical piece of hardware; it was just the goofiest, ugliest son of a gun this side of the Virtual Boy. Curved buttons; three triggers; control sticks all over the place, that thing was just plain artsy. And as we all know, art and function rarely agree. To this day, after owning a Gamecube for nearly five years, I still have to look at the controller to figure out which one is X and which one is Y.
Next comes my favorite. The Nintendo DS. I have to say first that I love the DS as a gaming platform and it has a great and ever growing library of awesome games. It’s just that the controls are useless to the point of being mind blowing. It’s gotten to the point where most developers have all but given up on trying to input some of the special functions.
I ask you: How many games are out on DS that could not function on any other platform?
I count Kirby Canvas Curse, Wario Ware Touched and uh…well that’s about it because Nintendogs simply is not a game and Phantom Hourglass isn’t out yet.
All we get are these tacked on, useless features that exist simply for the purpose of existing. The features are there so they can say “IT’S SPECIALIZED FOR DS!”
This is exactly what we’ve been getting with the Nintendo Wii in its first 6 months on the market. A bunch of curiosities sure, but anything of real substance? The Wii is startlingly similar to the DS in its launch. What we got for both were a bunch of tech demo’s that were ok but not what we would consider a full game and one ported classic. It’ll be the Wii six-monthaversary soon and what do the early adopters have to show for it? The only really good games for the system are titles Nintendo promised to their loyal Gamecubers and then snatched away.
I predict with some certainty that Wii will follow very closely in patterns to the DS. It will gain enormous popularity (especially in Japan) and for a while everyone will try to incorporate Wii specific mechanics into their games. Sooner or later though developers will realize that having a couple innovations in your controller in effect actually limits your possibilities because it forces them down a narrow path of tools to work with.
Metroid Prime 3 bears a much larger responsibility than I think most people realize. It has the burden of showing the world that designing a game from the ground up for Wii can actually produce incredible results. That’s right, MP3 needs to be amazing. If it ends up just plain good, then it’s a failure for Nintendo. First Person Shooters already have a nasty reputation on Wii so it won’t be easy. Retro Studios is one of Nintendo’s marquis squadrons, if not their finest, and if they can’t deliver on the promises of the Wii then I submit that there are none who can and the Wii-moye is thus, useless...except, maybe if Bioware had a crack at the Wii, but those guys can do anything so that’s not really fair.