Why I love Nintendo
As some of you may already know, I used to work in the video games business. I started in that career just before I turned 21 and at the time it was a dream come true for a university dropout turned lucky git. I was so excited, I had dreamt of making video games since I was a kid, and even though I’ve been playing games since I was about 5 years old, it was in the summer of 1991 that my life would change forever after I received this…
… and played this game…
As the very first few beats of the classic Super Mario Bros music came out of the TV speakers, something happened, and in that moment I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up, I was going to make video games.
This was the early 90s, a time when the video games business was still in it’s infancy yet was still a global phenomenon amongst the hardcore gamers who were helping the business grow by paying the extortionate premiums that games cartridges commanded, a brand new game was often £60 upon release and market for grey imports to secure Japanese or American titles that would often be released months ahead of Europe, if they were released in Europe at all would easily command an even higher premium that engendered a very strong financial discipline in young kids like me if we were ever to acquire the likes of Super Street Fighter 2 for the SNES.
Loyalty is a virtue shared amongst humans to strengthen bonds in relationships and even in business, however brand loyalty is something that would suddenly become very apparent between the two console heavyweights; Nintendo and SEGA. And as Nintendo were the manufacturers of the first console I personally owned and that Super Mario Bros was such a fantastic game that captured my imagination and took me on an adventure to rescue the then named Princess Toadstool in the secret world of the Mushroom Kingdom in the guise of a short, fat Italian-American plumber from Brooklyn, I swore my allegiance to Nintendo with a sycophantic zeal that would put any imposing religious fundamentalist zealot into a shame that only apostasy could induce. Years later I would go on to work for my arch nemesis SEGA, but not without wearing my SEGA ID card around my neck hung by a Nintendo branded lanyard.
Why I love Nintendo is not only entrenched in a deep love of the experiences their video games created in my childhood, but also by their innovative design ethics that have constantly provided original, refreshing, enjoyable and even revolutionary experiences that have stood the test of time and have been imitated by their competitors. Some of you may have read that last sentence and have agreed with me, some of you have read that last sentence and thought “oh, another Nintendo fanboy rant!”. Well, this is my blog, so you can take your hating to a more appropriate section of the internet where you and the rest of those who insist on being wrong, can bask in the pomposity of not appreciating the superiority of Nintendo. If you disagree, you can face the wrath of my level 25 PIKACAT –
Many of Nintendo’s most loved games that have not only stood the test of time, but have subsequently grown by embracing the changes that new technology and the new genres they would afford designers to create even more immersive and enjoyable games. Whatever the technology, Nintendo’s strong design ethic would always be King, putting the user experience before the superficial promises that faster processor or nicer graphics would allure, Nintendo would consistently promise these core principles –
1: SIMPLE & INTUITIVE MECHANICS
Nintendo games are very easy to get to grips with, a couple of buttons is all you need to get started and enjoy yourself. Dedicated players can further invest in the more complex controls to really get the most out of the game.
It’s like learning to walk, first it’s hard and then you get a hang of it. Then, suddenly you realise that you can Parkour and things really get exciting as you leap and bound over the landscape in a way that you had never previously been able to do, before misjudging a hop onto a small bollard near Southwark Tube Station and thus face planting into the surrounding concrete much to both the concern and entertainment of your colleague after a hard day work at Kuju London in 2007… ahem.
2: GAMEPLAY THAT ENCOURAGES THE PLAYER’S INGENUITY
By the time you’ve mastered the simple actions of running and jumping around, the player will then see the game world as the landscape in which to exploit their newly found skills in a way where injury and death is of no concern and easily replenished by the various power ups or for the more discerning player; cheat codes. Once the player realises that their skills can be exercised over the game world, it’s time to explore, not only through the guided paths, but also through curiosity. Some ledges and platforms will appear purposefully different, enticing the player to see if they can apply their ingenuity and exploit these little nooks and crannies, which if they do, often results in a reward.
It’s a bit like being late for work, but then finding alternative routes into the building and to your desk without eliciting the suspicions or evidence that you were late. When I used to work at Eidos, I would often be late, but sometimes an early morning fire drill would have the entire building spill out into the street, into which I would stealthily mingle and pretend that I too had also just left the building whilst feigning righteous indignation that such an exercise in caution was keeping me from testing Championship Manager 5, which I enjoyed so much… I did, I really did… Also leaving your computer on overnight would prevent the company from seeing what time you logged in that morning, which is something I never discovered at Midway Games in order to evade detection from the all-seeing IT Manager ;-p
3: WASTE NOT WANT NOT
Nothing, I mean nothing is wasted in a Nintendo game. No superfluous menu navigation (Almost any driving sim is guilty of this) or extraneous features or structure to the game world, everything in a Nintendo game is designed with the experience of the player as utmost importance. By focussing on only what is necessary for the player to progress, there is no ambiguity or confusion over what is happening in the game, you can simply enjoy the adventure. Even the colour palette is reduced to a certain range, to keep the visual language of the game coherent to reality in which the designers are grounding the entire game.
Games that don’t adhere to this principle, is like when you have to fill out multiple forms for services that already have your information. Like when you’re on an airplane, even though you’ve checked in with your official national document known as a Passport and thus given all your details to the airline and relevant immigration departments, you’re still given a landing card on the plane, which asks for all your personal details AGAIN and also if you’re carrying too much money, vegetables and where you intend to stay. This is why immigration people are insufferable uncreative psychopaths with no friends or a greater purpose to their existence.
Sometimes, geniuses grace our world and create amazing things. Mr Shigeru Miyamoto is one such genius, he’s created some of the world’s greatest games and has time and time again proved that he is super human with his creative powers and thus was the very first person to be inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame. Many years ago, Nintendo hired Shigeru Miyamoto as an artist, after being given a punt in a creative capacity for game design, he created Donkey Kong, Super Mario and Zelda. And much like my hero; Jackie Chan (see Why I love Jackie Chan), once given unmitigated creative freedom in his vocation, he effortlessly created amazing art that no combination of self-professed ‘producers’ could dream of matching.
INNOVATION NEVER IMITATION
Nintendo have consistently proved themselves as innovators, regularly introducing new features and concepts in video games, and often being copied by their competitors who have always had the upperhand in marketing and user base since Nintendo lost some grip in the mid 90s when they got way too complacent with the delayed, expensive and cartridge based Nintendo 64, which was ursurped by the well timed, cheap to develop for and optical based PlayStation which expanded the market, gave birth to “casual gamers” and suddenly became synonymous with gaming, which Nintendo and SEGA once were the monopolisers of. Regardless, Nintendo’s hallmark of quality always shone through. Here are a few things Nintendo innovated and how they were subsequently copied by their competitors –
Super Nintendo Controller
With it’s faultless layout, shoulder buttons and perfect size, the Super Nintendo controller was the best controller during the 16 bit era regardless of the genre of the game. It was perfect for driving games thanks to the shoulder buttons adding a skidding feature in a very ergonomic place and it was perfect for beat em’ ups like the system seller; Street Fighter 2, thanks to the 6 button layout which made all quick, medium and fierce attacks easy to execute. However, the design was soon copied by the PlayStation –
Considering the SNES pad was pretty much perfect, there wasn’t much room for improvement until Nintendo introduced the following feature which was to become a staple of the games business as we fully entered the 3D arena –
That mushroom-looking stick thingy was about to change gaming forever. As we entered the 3D realm, we required subtle 360 degree control to explore and exploit these new 3D worlds, and what better way for Nintendo to showcase this new innovation than with a revolutionary and ground-breaking brand new Mario title.
SUPER MARIO 64
I remember the first time I saw Super Mario 64 at the tender age of 15, it was unlike anything I had seen before and it was so revolutionary, breaking the very paradigms of the video game worlds I had been used to in the soon to be extinct 16 bit era, that I remember not understanding what I was looking at, as it broke the very frame of reference that I had come to understand made video games.
With such a double whammy of both revolutionary hardware and software, Nintendo’s competitors were quick to respond with their flattery –
As you can see, these were smart additions to make for Nintendo’s competitors, and although SEGA didn’t last long in the home console market, they did do their fair share of innovating in many other areas, but let it be known that it was Nintendo who always introduced many of the conventions that we take for granted in the home console video game market. Both PlayStation and SEGA also replied to the innovation of Super Mario 64 with the likes of Crash Bandicoot, Croc, and Nights, but none of these games could match Super Mario 64 in any area, and to this day only Mario has stood the test of time and has become a classic.
Also, don’t forget that it was Nintendo who was first with the…
As it was probably too expensive to integrate rumble features into a home controller at the time the Rumble Pak was introduced, PlayStation wasted no time in integrating such a feature into their already copied controller and rebranding it as the “DualShock”. Despite shamelessly copying Nintendo, I must admit that PlayStation had the superior controller for all genres in the face of Nintendo’s innovation as the N64 controller was only really ergonomic and suitable for specific genres and not all.
If you’ve not yet been offended by my sycophantic Nintendo fanboyism, then this part might be a little bit more contentious as motion control has been experimented with for a while (with the PlayStation 2 EyeToy featuring as an add-on gimmick) but it would never become a staple feature until Nintendo did this –
With the introduction of motion control to become a staple feature of Nintendo’s new Wii home console, we were almost done with buttons in favour of now waving your arms in the air like you just don’t care. Suddenly casual gamers got even more casual, because now with the random wave of a hand or pure accident, your Mum could serve a perfect ace in Wii Tennis, feel like a champion and make you look like a bitter chump as you tried to explain that no skill was involved.
As this new feature offered effortless gameplay for people who were intimidated by too many buttons in overly complex games, Nintendo did what PlayStation did in the 90s and expanded the market by introducing something very new and appealing to people who had never played games before. And on cue, PlayStation 3 quickly rebuilt their “DualShock 3” into the “Sixaxis” by including motion sensing technology into the existing classic DualShock design. Microsoft took a few years and introduced the Xbox Kinect, an infra-red camera that requires no controller and simply picks up any movement from the player as input into the game.
Essentially, the concept of motion controlled games becoming a staple feature of modern video games was really kickstarted by Nintendo, because before the Wii Remote, motion control was merely a gimmick which featured in add-ons in a small amount of games.
Between these innovations and the true joy that Nintendo’s games evoke, these are the reasons why I love Nintendo. Whether it was from the very fist time I bounced around the Mushroom Kingdom in Super Mario Bros, accidentally being rewarded for creative game play by unveiling secret rooms and warp zones, to the social gaming scene that Super Bomberman and Street Fighter 2 engendered during the 90s, or the epic 3D adventure that was Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or the 8 player carnage of Mario Kart on the DS, Nintendo have consistently put a smile on my face. This is why I have kept all my Nintendo consoles and one day intend to share them with my kids, so that they can enjoy the same experiences that I did from the early eras of gaming, when it was really all about the game play. With news that Sony pictures is about do a film called “Console Wars” based on the business of competing console manufacturers battling for the biggest installed user base, I just hope they do the film some justice and acknowledge Nintendo with the respect they deserve for being a revolutionary force and a total inspiration both to the video games business and to the hearts and minds of gamers for generations.
Watch the end credits of Super Mario 64 and tell me that it doesn’t make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside…
Nintendo, not just games, it’s a way of life…