The Nintendo Difference

The Nintendo Difference

It’s been a while since I submitted anything to the wonderful DarkZero. My History of Zelda series is currently on ice as I am yet to complete The Minish Cap fully. Don’t worry, it won’t be too long before the last chapter is here. Nevertheless, this afternoon, I began to give myself the guilt trip. As an editor here, I have a little more responsibility than the regular writers. Yet, I haven’t submitted anything in ages. I hate being hypocritical, yet I recall a post of mine on the forums some time ago that our administrator should remove those that had not contributed in a length of time. What made it worse is the fact that our updated staff page shows me as a ‘regular writer’. I have a somewhat decent excuse; I am doing my last year of secondary school for the second time, and have not had the time I would have liked to play any of my games.

That is beside the point, and I thought about the slander I would give to someone telling me that, of which I would have thought ‘you set yourself up for the responsibility, now manage it or get going’. The words that come to mind are not fit for here, so I’ll bash myself in my own time. As a result I set about to think of a topic of interest that I could write about. I have another ‘What if?’ on the way, but that will be conserved for the coming weeks. The more I think of games, the more I come back to Nintendo, the things I like and the things I don’t quite like. This afternoon, I had a quick bash at Donkey Konga, took a couple of swings in Mario Golf and a slash in Soulcalibur II. Then it hit me. I had a quick thought about E3, and something that Nintendo have said confirmed what had hit me. Now here’s what I think.

Nintendo seem to think that video games are broken. They are not going the way of Microsoft or Sony and pulling off high end hardware for game experiences. I have a lot of respect for Microsoft. However, I don’t like them. I also have a lot of respect for Sony, and I have many Sony products, a PS2 included. But I am primarily a Nintendo gamer. Before you go shouting down the ranks “Nintendo Fanboy”, I’ll give my opinion on why the PS2 is continually selling by the bucket loads around the world. It is not, contrary to what Nintendo and Microsoft fanboys suggest, that the system is so poorly designed that Sony has to replace great amounts for factory defects, and in the process, counts these as sales. Simple reason; It has great games, and it is promoted well. I have a first edition PS2. It is five years old. It functions as if it was taken out of the box yesterday. I am not a Nintendo fanboy. Sony has 90 million consoles shipped, so what’s the problem for Nintendo?

The problem is Microsoft is a new contender and has delivered a blow to the former video game king. Nintendo has seen continual dwindling of console sales. The GameCube is in third place, by numbers. It has near 20 million units in homes. The Xbox has about 22 million. I don’t look at this as a win for Microsoft. I think of it as a draw. 2 million sales in worldwide terms is like a McDonalds selling one more medium fries per day in comparison to the KFC down the street. Abysmal.

The market in Japan is broken, as Nintendo claim, sales are declining, and so too are profits. However, the western world is a separate story, as markets grow, adding sales increase year after year. Nintendo has a problem in that it is a very Japanese orientated company. Fair enough, they originate from Japan. However, the thing is that North America is Nintendo’s biggest market now. And Nintendo shows promise, releasing the DS ahead of the Japanese market in North America. The company is beginning to realise that their key market is abroad. And this is where the Nintendo Difference begins to take shape…

We have all heard the term used at some stage or another. The Nintendo Difference has been used to label the once 100% of titles for the NES as exclusive. It then shifted towards the “Dream Teams” of the SNES and N64 days. Nintendo wanted to be the best games developer, and provide the best games, all exclusively for their systems. The problem was Nintendo chose to stick with cartridges. As a result, the term “Nintendo Difference” was labelled for a much worse reason; the low capacity by Nintendo to manufacture cartridges for popular games at a faster rate. Nintendo tried to fight this off with the “quality over quantity” excuse. However, not one of these is the sole Nintendo Difference. The Nintendo Difference is something of a much greater meaning.

Innovation. Nintendo has been pushing it since Donkey Kong Arcade 25 years ago. The Nintendo Entertainment System provided the arcade at home. The Super NES offered added buttons and the shoulder buttons. The Nintendo 64 provided a three dimensional world, and an analogue joystick to explore it. The GameCube has offered new play mechanics, bongo drums, Game Boy Advance connectivity, and a pirate free machine. But then there is the Game Boy line. In 1989, the world’s first portable system with interchangeable games came to life, and has never looked back. It was shrunk in 1996, it was colourised in 1998, it was advanced in 2001, it was lighted and shrunk again in 2003. The year is 2005, and now, it’s micro.

But as if this was not enough for Nintendo, we are apparently on the dawn of a ‘Revolutionary’ era. The Nintendo DS doesn’t sport high end graphics or blistering media. It doesn’t have a projection screen that’s bigger than the unit itself. But what it does sport can only be described as unique and risky. Two screens, GBA compatibility, 16 player WiFi support, long battery life and a touch screen. Not one video game machine can boast all of these qualities. The risk seems to be paying off, already, we are seeing new, different and unique experiences never had before, with games like Feel the Magic, Yoshi’s Touch and Go and simulators such as Nintendogs and Electroplankton. The beauty is that the train is gaining momentum. The DS is cheaper to develop for. More and more third parties, online games and worldwide sales continue to out perform Sony’s technically superior PSP. Has Nintendo hit the nail on the head? Is gameplay over graphics the answer to winning back gamers? With the attitude Nintendo now has, it would seem so…

Now it’s time for a Revolution. I heard what Nintendo said about how graphics are not the be all-end all of next generation games. I heard how both Iwata and Miyamoto suggested that games are now far too long for the ordinary gamer. I saw them give their speeches at the Nintendo Press Conference and say that they want to make games that anyone can pick up and play, regardless of the skills. And until today, I would have disagreed with them, until, that is, I did what I stated at the beginning of this article. I hadn’t played games for ages which is why I haven’t posted any new articles or news items on DarkZero. This isn’t because I have lost interest, but because I lack the time. I just don’t have the time at the moment for Tales of Symphonia, Resident Evil 4 or even Star Fox Adventures, games I immensely enjoy. What I did have was the time for these pick up and play games. And I enjoyed it, it was a delightful break from study. Nintendo’s philosophy is beginning to make sense to me. Nintendo isn’t going to dump the hard core gamers that do enjoy epic adventures. Twilight Princess is an example. But they are beginning to cater for those that even today are not gamers. I don’t know how powerful the Revolution is going to be, and quite frankly, I don’t care. If it can do what the GameCube can do, I’ll be happy. But my excitement is growing. I long for a new experience, with distant memories of sleepless nights on explorations for the Spiritual Stone of Water or the last Jinjo or Jiggy. This thrill has left me for some time. I don’t remember the last time I experienced it, but Majora’s Mask would be close. Nintendo has big plans for both its key franchises and third party offerings.

I do have some concerns. If Nintendo skimps on the technology, they may be branded as cheap and kiddie once again. However, if they can take an aggressive stance, market the machine with a good price and plenty of titles, it will compete with the Xbox 360 and PS3, just as the DS is now with the PSP. It has begun. The Revolution concept looks sleek, it looks high tech. It doesn’t look like Nintendo at all. Furthermore, over 200 games for the launch of a system? Well, that doesn’t include GCN titles. Famitsu claim Nintendo will have over 200 backlogged games from all previous systems ready for launch. Combine this with GCN games, and you have the largest backwards compatibility list, not including the Game Boy, of any system. Over 600 games, ready for launch, 200 of which are free, with the potential of thousands from Nintendo and third parties. Even the possibility of Sega’s Mega Drive, Master System, Saturn and Dreamcast titles. I have never cared much for ROMS, but with such a new definition for backwards compatibility, I am finding it difficult to contain my joy to finally play games I never had, such as Metroid, Mother, Fire Emblem, Banjo Tooie, Star Fox, F-Zero, the list goes on and on. If the success of the Famicom Mini series is anything to gauge upon, then the Revolution will be a force highly underestimated by both Microsoft and Sony. Famitsu polls seem to confirm this.

What’s more, Nintendo is promising new methods of gameplay, new input mechanics, most likely new kinds of controls. I can’t wait to see what’s on offer, and hopefully, there will be a Spaceworld 2005. These methods must be of importance or value, as Nintendo have remained very tight lip. Is it truly this unique, or is Nintendo without a killer mechanic to live up to the ‘Revolutionary’ stature? Only time will tell, but they must get it right, and ensure that this is something people are going to want, unlike a purple lunchbox. The Nintendo Difference is, they are trying, and daring to deliver something new, refreshing and not on offer by the other two manufacturers. Sony and Microsoft’s next offerings do appear to be too alike to me. And I don’t appreciate that. What I do appreciate is that Nintendo is attempting to innovate, and if the Revolution is half as fun as the DS is with its features, then I’m all for a Revolution. That is the Nintendo Difference.

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