Stagnation has always been just as much of a problem among video games as it has with other entertainment and artistic media. Spend hours with a product, work out all of its nooks and crannies, and it’s only natural that we would eventually become tired of the formula.
This is one of the driving reasons behind the evolution of video games as a medium, helped along as it is by the constant improvements of the involved technologies. Time and again we’ve seen game series die out because they failed to evolve, and because they stuck to the original plan far beyond its welcome.
So how is it that Nintendo games, the flagships of which often cover the same themes and stories, manage to not only avoid this stagnation but actually improve?
While, again, a lot of it comes down the advancing technology which allows for expanded opportunities, this is only part of the equation. Nintendo succeeds, in our minds, because their focus on quality helps to find a rare balance between iteration, improvement, and appealing to the base sensibilities which originally captured our attention so long ago.
On the technological front, we could look at something like Super Mario 64. One of the first platformers to offer a fully 3D environment, all the way back in 1996, SM64 didn’t just enter this new dimension, it helped define it.
Analog controls, a manipulable camera, and a movement scheme which was both intuitive to learn and difficult to master meant that this entry took advantage of the new, and far exceeded its competitors in the progress. While this avenue of pursuit has become more difficult over time, due to the diminishing returns on hardware processing power, this still stands as Nintendo taking a bold step, taking inspiration from the past, and using that to create a new twist on an old story.
In more modern terms we could turn to titles like the New Super Mario Brothers games. 2D games in an era where 3D reigns supreme, the deck was stacked against these games in terms of possible player fatigue but, as it turns out, both old and new players love them.
A lot of this is owed to the classic appeal, which is hardly new in the case of gaming. After all, this is how cousin industries like sports and online casino games have succeeded – the base is always fun. In terms of playability, Super Mario titles are closer to casino games, where the industry continues to innovate, with some companies offering over 200 games to create a fresh and exciting brand.
Innovation without alienation, for Nintendo, has become the key. With each new game, they keep one foot in the past and one in the future, holding on to what works while looking towards what might work, and in this, they set themselves apart from the competition.
As a medium, games are unique, and few publishers and developers understand the interactive and artistic side of this as well as Nintendo does. This is why their games always generate hype leading up to a new release and is why fans always maintain faith – because we are rarely disappointed.