Is Nintendo Still Innovating for the Hardcore?

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).

12 Comments
13 Comments
Posted by JCGamer

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).

Posted by oldschool

It is called myopia.  Thing is, Nintendo hasn't slipped, the rest of the industry caught up.  They have a style of their own and I for one fail to see the need for change.  Innovation isn't really happening elsewhere.  All the FPS just seem like all the others.  GTA IV is just the others before it.  All the zombie games are much the same, hey, RE 5 isn't groundbreaking.


As we get older, we have seen it all before and it gets hard to genuinely excite.  Sure Animal Crossing isn't a big departure from the last, but I love it.  Plus, a large part of the market never played it before.  Even though it is old to us, a substantial new market of both old and young are experiencing something new.

The Wii itself was innovation, just as the DS was.  Sure, it is underpowered compared to the opposition, but that didn't hurt the DS.  It is what the developers do with it.  I for one enjoy both hardcore and casual, but in reality, those terms are artificial and subjective.  The games I enjoy the most are still coming through and I would still love some more big Nintendo franchises to be done (Starfox, F-Zero, Pikmin), but it is the other developers I look to for my fix - RPG (Namco, SE).
Posted by Meowayne

Whine, whine. I think it's time for another "Wii 2009" thread to make people realize there are other things than Zelda and Smash Bros.; and if you're looking for innovative titles, you'll have to stop looking at Nintendo. You are not their target audience anymore. The next Zelda will come, but it will be advertised in a friendly fashion with laughing model families.

The Wiis 2009 is great so far and will get even better, but definatly not because of first party Nintendo titles.

Posted by Lashe

Im on the fence about this one. As much as it pains me to say it I think Nintendo are very much resting on their laurels right now that they've got a decent bit of hardware out, and understandably so. The Wii brought something into the mix that worked, and the DS has been marketed and developed to the point where it is relevant; did you really anticipate it going as far as it has back in the DS Phat days? Hardly the fashion accessory then.

But consider the fact that near the end of the GameCube, the company were pretty much done. If the Revolution/Wii was to flop, they were as good as dead in the water. Thankfully, the idea caught on but in order to bring back their audience I feel they are trying to appeal to the casual. Not a criticism, as it's a great business move. But for the most part they rely on tried and tested formulae: mario kart arguably hasn't changed much, Galaxy still has smidgeons of SM64 gameplay, Twilight Princess is an OoT fan's orgasm as it was pretty much the same game but prettier, Smash Bros. is the same fan service as ever, etc. These all work fine and sell great because of where they came from and not where the Wii has/can take them to, I would argue. At least for the first generation of Wii games I don't think you saw much in the way of innovation within the standard Nintendo IPs. However, you did get things like Wii Fit which to an extent is very much classic Nintendo innovation, just perhaps not in the way we would wish for.

I'm not sure. Nintendo have found a business model that works and congrats to them but as for hardcore gaming? I'm not sure.. I'm more inclined to say 'No, they're not innovating for the hardcore any more' but I think part of me wants to believe in Nintendo too much to say that. I think we'll just have too wait for a time where Nintendo is comfortably in the money before they'll think of experimenting with anything new for their hardcore fans which, going by the last year or two, shouldn't be too long.

Posted by HandsomeDead

There's no such thing as the 'hardcore gamer.' It's just a case of developers being lazy and profiteering.

Edited by Al3xand3r

Nobody's innovating for the hardcore anymore really. We've seen everything before. But I don't see Nintendo compare unfavorably. So they haven't made a new IP this generation (yet they brought the EXCITE back) but they did last gen by giving the Metroid franchise the overhaul Mario and Zelda got before it, creating Pikmin, Eternal Darkness, and other things. What has Sony or Microsoft innovated this gen? Halo 3 and God of War 3? Nobody's really innovated as far as I can see. That's usually left to the small indie devs nowadays, and I think XBLA, PSN and WiiWare all get their fair share of awesome indie games, but the PC gets most.

Nintendo still have core offerings (even if some overlap with casual), there's the Excite franchise, the usual Mario, Kart and Zelda, the addition of Pikmin to that, the continuation of Prime, whatever Monolith is up to next, whatever Retro studios is up to next, and even moves you'd never expect like getting Treasure to make Sin & Punishment 2. Nintendo haven't really reduced the amount of games core gamers can enjoy, they've just increased the amount of casual games they can't enjoy. Fans always had to wait for the next hit. At least they are finally growing to have much, much better third party support so that the waiting is far less painful.

Agreed with Meo about the Wii 2009 thread need. Here's a very good start. Seriously, check some of those games out dude. It may include duds like Sonic and the Black Knight but hey, you can't always foresee how a game will be prior to release. It still has many promising titles that are bound to be simply awesome thanks to respected developers. Ignore the typos or the false listing of publisher or developer it may have at times :)

Posted by SSbabel

IM CLEARLY AN NINTENDO FANBOY, AND I CAN SAFELY SAY THERE DONE WITH HARDCORE AND BASING MAJORITY OF THERE TIME ON CASUAL GAMERS.

Posted by SSbabel

IM CLEARLY AN NINTENDO FANBOY, AND I CAN SAFELY SAY THERE DONE WITH HARDCORE AND BASING MAJORITY OF THERE TIME ON CASUAL GAMERS.

Posted by SmugDarkLoser

If I've learned anything from my favorite games, the best ones aren't necessarily innovative.  Don't get me wrong, typical they push the genre in some way, but more of an evolution. 
Look at Final Fantasy 7 or Halo 1.  Neither were incredibly innovative, they just took existing concepts, twisted them a bit, and it just felt fresh.

Granted, they did it in completely different ways.

Posted by Dalai

When you're all playing Halo 4 with motion controls, then you'll know Nintendo is innovating for this hardcore you're speaking of.

Posted by HandsomeDead
Dalai said:
"When you're all playing Halo 4 with motion controls, then you'll know Nintendo is innovating for this hardcore you're speaking of."
Of course, the team developing Halo 4 will have nothing to do with it.

Also, why is innovation suddenly a big deal? Story, graphics, gameplay and everything people used to hold dear is falling at the wayside for innovation.
Posted by ThomasP

I love my Wii and DS combo. So many great games for the DS, and the Wii is starting to build a solid library.

I do understand how you feel about lack of innovation with some of Nintendo's main franchises, but there has been Melee, the Prime series, Pikmin and Galaxy as of late. Punch Out, Sin and Punishment, a new Pikmin and a new Zelda are coming to the Wii. I'm also hoping Kid Icarus will be revived. So there is a chance for some great new experiences from the Big N this gen.

The casual movement has obviously been huge for Nintendo, but I still feel they've been releasing some great stuff on the Wii and DS. Games for everyone, and despite what many think, games for the hardcore as well. 3rd party support for the DS is great, and the Wii is just starting to turn the corner with a big 2009. Hopefully, more 3rd party support for the Wii will follow... and remember, a game doesn't have to be innovative, to be a great game.

Good read, good points.

Posted by AgentJ

I'll get back to you after Sin and Punishment, and the next Wii Zelda comes out. On the Wii, there has not been enough effort from Nintendo in making innovative experiences. On the DS, i'd say its a different story. After all, we had a Zelda completely controlled by a stylus, a touch-controlled FPS in metroid prime hunters, kirby kanvas kurse (lol kkk) and Warioware Touched.