The Nintendo games of tomorrow

Infendo

It’s fair to say that the view we are currently afforded of Nintendo’s future products is rather lopsided.

We know quite a bit about new hardware. The 3DS is already in our hands and the Wii U was unveiled months ago. We have been made aware of the consoles’ technical capabilities, know a good deal about their potential as well as their limits, and, as a result of this knowledge, we can speculate as much as we want about their future applications.

But the software picture is a little foggier. The recent 3DS press conference has finally cleared up some of the questions surrounding upcoming 3DS games, but the roster of what we can expect on the Wii U has remained, for the most part, a mystery.

All we have to go by are the tech demos Nintendo displayed at this year’s E3 and a smattering of third-party port promises and developer testimonials. The demos, dubbed “experiences” by Ninty, were no doubt designed to showcase the hardware’s potential as well as sate our collective curiosity surrounding the first reveal of what is the eighth generation of the home console wars. Some were completely floored by the presentation. Others, flatly unimpressed. Most of us, however, seem to sit somewhere in the middle- pleased, by far- but clearly wanting to know more about what we will actually be able to play when the launch date rolls around and that dual-sticked tablet is firmly in our hands.

At the moment, there is no reason to expect any new landslide of information. The console’s launch is a year away, give or take. As with any new hardware, the kinks must be worked out and the possibilities thoroughly tested. From a business standpoint, it’s in the interest of a company to generate a thick layer of mystery surrounding a new product. And, as fans of an innovative company, we’re frankly lucky to have any information at all. If it were Apple, we’d know practically nothing.

So, barring the unlikely occurrence of a careless and inebriated Nintendo employee accidentally leaving his or her prototype Wii U console at a local Kyoto sushi bar with a first version build of Super Mario Universe still in the disc drive, we can, at the moment, only imagine the awesomeness that is, no doubt, to come.

Nintendo has always innovated with regards to both hardware and software. The first d-pad, first analog stick, first motion controls, are just some of the things they have brought to the proverbial tea-table, which they have always made sure to upend every now and again. But the area in which Nintendo has made the most lasting changes has been that of pure gameplay. Super Mario Bros cemented the notion of the sidescroller. The Legend Of Zelda created the idea of exploring an open world. Mario 64 focused the industry on what was to be expected of a 3D game. And Ocarina Of Time defined the adventure genre.  And while Nintendo’s hardware experiments have not always been as successful as they might have hoped (Power Glove, anyone?) their games have always consistently amazed.

Fun is something we all understand, something we all can intuit. We all know innately when a game is fun, just like we all know when we are not having any fun at all. But we may not know precisely why we are having that fun. What Nintendo did for video games was give that experience of fun a language and establish a high standard from which all game developers have benefited.  You don’t get to 34 games on the list of the top 50 best selling games of all time by accident.

But Nintendo gets a lot of flak regarding the rather tame perception surrounding the nature of their content. “Childish” and “Kiddy” are two adjectives thrown around a lot. Some say that even Metroid, arguably Nintendo’s most mature franchise, doesn’t come close to what you might find on the rosters of the other consoles. To be fair, there is something to be said for this criticism. Nintendo, has, for the most part, maintained a library of games which deliberately appeals to the largest audience, often times at the expense of the tastes of those in niche markets. But at the same time, some critics will use the words “Childish” and “Kiddy” in the pejorative, implying that the growing presence of more mature titles means that games should be expected to be mature. As if the grown-up nature of the mature content is inherently better, rather than subject to personal tastes.

Reggie has gone on record saying that Nintendo isn’t interested in making adult titles. But Iwata, recently asked about Nintendo’s stance on creating adult titles by a shareholder, responded:

“If I understand your request correctly, you want Nintendo to develop games which fulfill people’s intellectual curiosity by combining culture and entertainment in a clever way, so I would like to consider it as a future challenge for us.”

Miyamoto has expressed interest in adult titles, but has also said he feels that games with a focus on destructive violence limit what games can be. In his own words:

“I could make Halo. It’s not that I couldn’t design that game. It’s just that I choose not to. One thing about my game design is that I never try to look for what people want and then try to make that game design. I always try to create new experiences that are fun to play.”

So it’s fair to assume that Nintendo won’t be focusing on mature content, but may try their hand at it a few times.

Nintendo itself has mentioned that it wants to recapture the attention of the hardcore gamer, leading some to accuse them of abandoning the casual market they championed in the last hardware cycle. Ninty has even admitted that the Wii may have caused the Hardcore/Casual split. And since then, we constantly hear about games being categorized based on their appeal to either the “Casual” or the “Hardcore” sections of the gaming market.

If you’ll permit a tangent- the problem, I think, lies in the distinction itself.

What is a casual gamer as opposed to a hardcore gamer? Do you define one by the nature of the content one prefers or do you define one by the amount of time spent playing games? Do hardcore gamers only crave lengthy and mature titles with HD graphics or do they appreciate all games, long and short, across all platforms? Is some one hardcore if the extent of their gaming is to play Call Of Duty for half an hour once a week? What about the person who sinks dozens of hours into Farmville? Hell, can’t I have my COD and my Farmville at the same time without being needlessly classified into some oversimplified definition of what is or isn’t a gamer? So what if I play a motion-based tennis simulation with my friggin’ Grandma? I’ve played Tekken with her, too.

The Hardcore vs. Casual distinction is the gaming industry’s equivalent of the Left vs. Right spectrum of the political world. Sure, it’s useful to have a simplistic label and, for all intents and purposes, we pretty much know what is meant by employing it. But when you get down to the truth of it, attempting to condense the diverse tastes and behaviors of an entire culture down in to a one-dimensional line segment just serves to unrealistically polarize things. It fosters divisiveness and snobbery. It pits everyone against each other. And after a while, we begin to buy into it so much that what began as a simplistic categorization actually starts to become part of our identities. We begin to want to be defined as a hardcore gamer, or, if we are ashamed of the hardcore stigma, we dismiss our interest as merely casual.

But that’s a topic for another article, for there are games to talk about.

With the impending release of the Wii U, Nintendo currently sits at the crossroads of what could be one of their greatest opportunities to change things since the advent of 3D games back in the early 90’s. At long last, that undebatable ability Nintendo possesses to refine and innovate gameplay across all genres will be unleashed on the HD-capable, processor-intensive console experience.

It’s about time. And I’m pretty psyched.

It’s a safe bet to assume that Miyamoto, who was quoted in 2010 as having said that his “best is yet to come”, has been itching to play around with the sheer possibilities granted by powerful hardware for years. I’m not talking about simply graphics. Just the prospect of huge battles in the Legend Of Zelda series is enough to fill this Hyrulian with glee.

And games like Super Mario Galaxy, with its unique gravity component, weren’t possible back in 2001 even if you had two GameCubes and a roll of duct tape. With each successive hardware generation, and the leaps in computation that come along with them, the Big N has evolved their franchises in new ways and essentially into new games entirely. Compare the first Super Mario Bros. game with Galaxy. The first Zelda with Skyward Sword. Metroid itself made the leap from sidescroller to first person shooter and though we may have resisted it at the time, would you want it any other way now?

But even more exciting than the prospect of seeing a Zero-Suited Samus in high-def, is the prospect of new games with new characters and settings native to the capabilities the Wii U will offer.

In my opinion, two areas that could use a good old upending of the tea table would be the area of Fantasy RPG’s and Sandbox-style games. Nintendo has ventured into open-world territory before. In fact, they practically invented it. But the sandbox game is a little different than a Zelda game with an open, but compartmentalized overworld. Take that kind of world and truly crack it wide open- then add in a wealth of optional activities and abilities that transcend the traditional notions of a sidequest- and, like GTA did several years ago, you end up with a large amount of non-linear possibilities for the player to discover themselves.

And should Nintendo ever wade into the waters of the MMORPG, what could we expect?

New hardware means more possibilities. It means new IPs both “adult” and “kiddy”. And it means innovation with regards to existing franchises. We’re ready for it. And we certainly know Nintendo can do it. There’s really nothing left to do at this point but wait.

But one thing is fairly certain. The characters and franchises we’ve come to know and love over the years will not be hastily rebooted in favor of something more commercial with greater adult appeal. Miyamoto has made it clear that Nintendo doesn’t cater to what is popular for the sheer sake of it. They just want to make stuff that people will have fun experiencing. The Big N won’t sell out what is tried and true. They won’t cash in on any gaming trends because they’ll be too busy trying to set them, for good or for ill. And they won’t screw up what they already have in favor of some sort of misplaced attempt to cater shamelessly to the erroneous but widespread marketer’s assumption that the only thing the “hardcore” and “mature” audience desires is the same repeat experience of raw ubridled carnage in the form of contrived and threadbare Hollywood tropes and clichés.

Besides, we have Activision for that.

Don’t get me wrong, though- I love violent video games as much as the next guy. But I also like getting my “kid” on, too. As a gamer I like a wide variety of games to play. Some with blood. Some without.

As for the future of Nintendo games…Well… it’s quite unlikely that we’ll see Mario clad in a black leather greatcoat and wraparound shades, collar popped, clutching the sides of a sleek, futuristic hovercycle hurtling down some abandoned twelve-lane highway towards the neon glow of Bowser’s Castle. We won’t glimpse Luigi sitting in a dark and dilapidated warehouse in the midst of some factory-riddled shantytown, his laptop open, sweat dripping from his massive eyebrows, communicating via hologram and expertly hacking into the KoopaNet mainframe to disable some sort of friggin’ ridiculous shield grid with only seconds left on the clock. Toad will probably never be the leader of an underground resistance network of counterinsurgents bent on subverting the dystopian armies occupying the Mushroom Kingdom through a campaign of bio-warfare, while he and his hardened followers roam the landscape like bedouins, camping out on the windswept Donut Plains and subsisting exclusively on a diet of insects and rice. Yoshi will most likely not paraglide into World 8-1 under the cover of darkness with a night-vision equipped Special Ops team, brandish a gleaming sawed-off Smith-and-Wesson, uttering eye-roll worthy one-liners and leaping sideways into a dramatic slow-motion dolly shot as he blows a star shaped hole into the skull of Bowser Jr. Princess Peach will not surprise the gaming audience in the third act with assassin-level martial arts skills, backflipping, neck-scissoring, and roundhouse kicking her way to freedom as she prevents a rampant artificial intelligence from opening a matter-energy gateway to an alternate dimension. Daisy will not don fishnets and seduce a lust-blinded Wario in order to obtain sensitive strategic information about orbital plasma-cannon deployments. And Waluigi will not have a shadowy past of child abuse and drug addiction revealed in a startling and tender cutscene montage of pure cinematic vulnerability. After all, we’re talking about a pastel-colored fantasy world in which cartoon mushrooms can alter your size; where clouds have cartoon eyes; where Mario has never shed a drop of blood; where no one, not even the bad guys, can ever truly die; and where even the bullets themselves are adorable.

But we will see something soon- and hopefully when that happens we’ll be wondering why no one thought of that something before.

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

– C.S. Lewis