It's been in plain sight the whole time! And I finally discovered how Nintendo is trying to regain that hardcore base that left them the past several years.
Nostalgia! That's it! Pure, unadulterated nostalgia!
Have you noticed that some of Nintendo's more notable releases the past year or two have something in common? Yeah yeah yeah, casual minigames, fitness games, and overpriced peripherals... let's get that out of the way, but let's look at Dr. Mario Online RX on WiiWare, Punch-Out!!, Excitebike World Rally, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
- Dr.Mario Online RX is an updated version of the classic NES game Dr.Mario.
- Punch-Out!! is an updated version of the classic NES game Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream.)
- Excitebike World Rally is an updated version of the classic NES game Excitebike.
- New Super Mario Bros. Wii is an updated version of every 2D Mario game ever made.
I have a strange feeling there's a secret Donkey Kong platformer in the works or maybe an update to 10-Yard Fight... perhaps Startropics?
Okay, enough wishful thinking. I think we can agree that the general consensus is that Nintendo has essentially abandoned their hardcore past in favor of the blue ocean of casual games because that's where the money is and Miyamoto is an old, old man who will make games based on mundane activities he's interested in like toenail clipping or stamp collecting... or maybe toenail collecting? Yeck! But Nintendo has been betting on attracting some of their old base with the most familiar of games with a Wii twist. For example, Excitebike World Rally on WiiWare. Excitebike World Rally is Excitebike, the NES version of Excitebike, but in a slightly fancier package, some waggle, and a track editor that is eerily identical to the track editor we all know. Why remake a game from 1985 that adds virtually nothing new except for better graphics? It's for people like myself who remember how great Excitebike was at the time and Nintendo is totally trying to capitalize on our memories of that era. In a way that's cheating. Actually, that's cheating in every way! This is great for those who remember Excitebike with fondness, but most people won't get it because it's an 80's game with a current gen gloss. Might be fun, but too simple for some.
I have a feeling that if these games succeed, Nintendo is going to keep up with this trend and just give their old, dormant franchises a current-gen makeover. That is not to say it's a terrible strategy or a bad thing for gamers because people who grew up with Nintendo will be happy and younger gamers who never touched an 8-bit machine will get a similar experience. The problem is that the gaming population has dramatically changed over the years and many gamers (you might be one of them) can't be swooned at just the mere sight of a new 2D Mario game or an outdated track editor. Today's hardcore gamers want new and innovative experiences, lots of depth, and the occasional bloodbath. Nintendo doesn't really need to mess around with gratuitous violence, but other than Zelda or Metroid, depth is hard to find. And innovation has become almost casual exclusive on the Nintendo side. None of the games I mentioned are extremely deep or innovative and that's where Nintendo ultimately fails in attracting the hardcore with old franchises. If Punch-Out!! was released with twice as many fighters, some additional moves, and additional multiplayer modes, Punch-Out!! can be major draw. But from my experience with the game, it sticks to the formula almost to a tee except for Title Defense Mode and some cosmetic changes.
Same thing goes Dr. Mario which is basically a carbon copy of the NES puzzler. The only game that can be described as being truly new and unique is New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but some critics still find the game uninspiring and too similar to previous 2D Mario games. Some people are hard to please.
Nintendo can win some gamers back with their back catalog of games, but they need to be dramatically different and bring something new to the table. Simple remakes will not suffice. However, nostalgia can only go so far and will not be a successful strategy on its own because there's a large group of gamers that started gaming much, much later and have no connection to any of Nintendo's classic games. For Nintendo to bring back the core, they need to focus on new IPs and games with more depth like Zelda or Metroid. They can mix nostalgia in there, but a balanced portfolio is normally a winning strategy. Something for everyone... something Nintendo gets and is trying hard to make work, but not entirely succeeding.
Personally, I say bring on the nostalgia... but no remakes. If you're going to bring back Stunt Race FX or Wrecking Crew, do it right and make a sequel.