The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

To Live and Die in Nintendoland

Written by: Alejandro Rodriguez, Special to CC2K

My fondest gaming memories from my childhood are from arguing console supremacy with my friends. I used to scan copies of GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly every day after school, making note of articles about exclusive titles or unique features of my Sega Genesis. The next day I would corner my friends on the bus, shoving these facts down their Super Nintendo-owning faces. 

At that time there were only a few ways to game. Either you spent hard-earned quarters down at your local arcade or you begged your parents to drop half-a-grand on a home console. There were only two companies that mattered in the video game market, Sega and Nintendo.

Editor’s Note: Sure, the Atari 2600 and Intellivision were pretty swanky, but only fourteen of you know what those were, so we’ll focus on the big two. 

Nintendo had a firm grip over the gaming market back then, there was just no stopping them. Even as a Sega fan, it was impossible not to look at the Super Nintendo with a mix of hate and envy.

Then in the mid-90’s, a series of mistakes put into motion Nintendo’s fall from the top spot of the gaming landscape. They stubbornly refused to do away with cartridges, causing the Nintendo 64 to fail against the affordable and easy to program Sony Playstation. (Sony only joined the gaming market after Nintendo scorned them on a deal for their Super Nintendo console) Then they made the bizarre choice of using a proprietary disk for their Gamecube, while their opponents began to use DVDs. Without a doubt, it was Nintendo’s insistence on doing things their own way that led the developers, publishers, media, and fans to move away from the consoles.

When the Wii was announced, it was presented as a Hail Mary. Nintendo knew they couldn’t afford to go face-to-face with their big name opponents, the Playstation 3 and XBOX 360. They not only had to introduce a new way of gaming, but also a brand new image.

Nintendo promised a world where the whole family could be involved in gaming. You would see grandma playing tennis on the Wii, mom and dad racing in Mario Kart, and younger siblings taking a beating in Smash Bros. People who had never considered gaming before were experiencing a new form of entertainment. Do you remember the first time you picked up a controller and played? A new generation of gamers was set to be born.

While the Wii was a success and sold over 100 million consoles worldwide, Nintendo received a negative backlash for introducing the gaming community to casual gamers. Suddenly everyone was told that Nintendo was turning its back on the “hardcore” gaming community in order to cater to a new genre of gamers.

But it wasn’t the casual nature of the console that hurt sales. The proliferation of smart phones caused a sudden and unexpected change in the video game industry. Instead of waiting for a console to boot or a disk to load, gamers simply tapped on an icon and started playing. 

Why drop $60 on a game that nets 25 hours of play when you could spend $1 on 60 games and go much further? Casual gamers left the consoles to rot, and the more “hardcore” players stuck to “adult” consoles like the PS3 and XBOX 360.

Nintendo already had a difficult time trying to capture the interest of the older crowd. While Nintendo has published mature games (Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Eternal Darkness, Geist), most of the output has been for their cute and cuddly franchises. Nintendo knows their niche is the family-friendly demographic, but as fans begin to grow up, their interest in gaming changes as well. 

Even amazing M-rated console exclusives for the Wii, like Mad World, were overlooked by the media and fans

It is somewhat surprising that Nintendo hasn’t been able to shake this reputation, seeing as the Gamecube was responsible for the redesign of survival-horror as we know it. Resident Evil 4, arguably one of the best games ever made, debuted on the Nintendo console.

While the Wii can be said to be a success, the WiiU is having a difficult time just finding an install base. Nintendo is still a reputable company when it comes to delivering great video games, but they can’t shake the negative stigma around their consoles.

Years ago, Sega told us that the “Genesis does what Nintendon’t.” It’s come to a point where even gaming news outlets overlook Nintendo. News from the company is often greeted by apathy, if not outright derision by people questioning why Nintendo has yet to go third party.

Sony and Microsoft are allowed to lose money when they release a new console; they are mega-corporations, meaning that their wallets don’t have a bill with fewer than six zeroes. When Sony announced that they were selling the PS4 at a loss, no one in the press batted an eye. However, if Nintendo can’t keep pace with XBOX One sales, then the sky is falling. It’s not just overreaction; the media appears to be waiting for the news that Nintendo is circling the drain.

The doom and gloom mentality of this generation has always called for Nintendo’s death. With an odd mixture of contempt and nostalgia for the company, gamers wait from afar like vultures waiting to pick off the scraps after Nintendo’s death. They’ve already planned it in their heads, Nintendo will fall and their games will be there for them to consume in a hellish frenzy. Finally, gamers will no longer have to return to Nintendo to enjoy their games.

With lower than expected sales for the WiiU, and Nintendo’s decision to forgo a live press conference at E3 for a digital event once again, most of detractors are in frantic schadenfreude ecstasy over Nintendo’s perceived failure to cut it with the competition.

But the old gaming standard won’t go quietly. Nintendo has decided to hold an invitational for the new Super Smash Bros., inviting gamers to select Best Buy locations to play the fighter before it’s released. Will it be enough to raise awareness for the WiiU?

It is more than a little odd that a major console manufacturer is not going to hold a press conference at E3, the biggest gaming event of the year.  However, Nintendo’s track record at the expo may have prompted them to forgo another panel. Some of the worst moments in E3 history belong to the aging company. Nintendo may have realized that they can get a better response from their fans if they allow them to be part of the E3 experience.

If this risk works, Nintendo can bring in a combination of new and old users to the WiiU and hopefully get more units into the households of gamers. If it doesn’t work, then the status quo will reign. Detractors will spew their venom, but whatever the outcome is, you can rest assured that Nintendo will continue to crank out amazing games.

Author: Alejandro Rodriguez, Special to CC2K

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