By JCGamer 13 Comments
So Miyamoto was just named is the #1 game creator of all time, and I have to agree. Miyamoto and Nintendo created some of most memorable characters from my childhood not to mention some of the best gaming franchises in history (Zelda, Mario, Metriod—not Miyamoto, but Nintendo none-the-less). Then I started to wonder what the hell happened to Nintendo? They still make great games (Mario Galaxy was fantastic), but it seems to me they are much less of an innovator recently.
Now, the Wii is a huge success and I love Wii Sports (my wife and I bowl all the damn time) and while I don’t think Wii fit is all that, you can’t argue that Nintendo is innovating for a broader audience. But like most people that visit this site, we are not the broader audience. And it seems to me that for the hardcore, die-hard Nintendo fans, Nintendo really hasn’t innovated in quite a long time.
During the NES and SNES days, every Nintendo release managed to set the bar higher for a particular genre (Mario-platform, Zelda-Adventure, Metriod-action/adventure, F-Zero-racing, etc…). During the N64 era, Nintendo showed the rest of the world how to do 3-D platforming with Mario 64, and 3-D adventure games with Zelda: Ocarina of Time—hell they even came up with the target lock system. But during the Gamecube era, I feel like they started to slip.
Now, platforming after Mario 64 basically stuck to the “enter a work and collect a bunch of crap to pass the level” paradigm and early in the PS2 lifecycle, we saw the same kind of stuff. Jak and Daxter, while a great game, still stuck to the same formula developed by Nintendo. By this time though, I was getting sick and tired of the collect-a-thons, and thought that I had to wait for Mario Sunshine to experience the next generation of 3-D platforming. Instead of getting a game that redefined a genre, what I got was a game that seemed like a rehash of an old game and an old, tired formula. Worse of all, the game seemed to lack a level of polish that I usually associated with Nintedo games.
While Nintendo stuck with the old Mario formula, other companies decided to take the reigns of the platform genre and advance it. Jak 2 brought in more of an open world aspect as well as a more action heavy combat system. Insomniac games gave us Ratchet and Clank and brought upgradable weapons to the 3-D platformer fold. Now as much as I love Mario, I have to say that I think that the real innovation in the platform world during the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube generation came from Naughty Dog and Insomniac games. Then of course came Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto III, which can be considered the evolution of the platform genre.
Well, so Nintendo didn’t innovate with the 3-D platformer, so what? Didn’t mean necessarily the Big N’ had lost it—we still had the next Zelda to blow us away. While I did like the Wind Waker and it’s art style, it seemed like a prettier version of Ocarina of Time. The game mechanics were almost exactly the same. It had very similar special weapons, similar puzzles and dungeon themes—all that, and they tacked on a needless fetch quest at the end of the game. Did Wind Waker innovate or was it more of the same?
Now lets look at Twilight Princess. Other than some of the motion controls (which were tacked on to make it a Wii release), did this game to ANYTHING different any the 3 prior Zelda games before it? During the entire time I was playing the game, I kept having this “I’ve done this before” feeling. Now even bad Zelda is still good, I started wonder how many times can I use the Boomerang? How many times have I used the Hookshot. Let me see, I guess this sidequest will reward me with a heart container. Twilight Princess was the first Zelda game that made me think that the Zelda formula was getting a bit stale.
So not only was Nintendo not innovating in the genres it dominated in the past, but it seemed like it was in a different era all together. In this day of DVD/Blu-Ray storage, Nintendo still sticks with MIDI. Nintendo’s FMV efforts are laughable. And their reluctance against voice acting makes their games seem dated, not to mention their horrible on-line implementation. Now were getting Wii-makes of old gamecube games with tacked motion controls. Now I’m really looking forward to the new Punch-Out !!, but with the news that it will also utilize “classic” controls, I'm wondering how much innovation can possibly be in this game? Animal Crossing: City Folk didn’t have much change from a DS game, Smash Bros. Brawl really wasn’t that different from Melee. What’s happening?
Now I know Nintendo is making money hand-over-fist now, but that not the point. As a long time Nintendo fan, Nintendo games used to mean the best production values, the best game design, and the most innovative products. Now it seems like Nintendo makes fun games that could have been so much better with a bit more innovation and production budget.
I don’t know. I could be crazy. I could be wrong. Nintendo did make Metriod Prime, and Pikmen, but that was still last-gen. What have they done for us recently? Well, whatever they do, I’ll still probably buy it, but man, I really hope some of the future products manages to recapture that old magic (Zelda—I’m looking at you).