Nintendo is the greatest video game company of all time.
I know that’s quite a bold statement, but it’s true.
They consistently produce popular games and started many trends later taken up by their competitors. Shoulder buttons? Rumble controllers? Motion controls? Touch-screen controllers? All these and more are innovations that Nintendo developed first, before copycats Playstation and Xbox jumped on the bandwagon. Yet in the grand Playstation vs. Xbox race, Nintendo often isn’t even considered a competitor. And it’s true, while Sony and Xbox were champing at the bit with the Xbox 360/PS3, and now Xbox One/PS4, to produce the most powerful processor and the highest graphics (things the PC master race will smugly point out that they’ve already championed the market in for years), Nintendo released the child-like Wii and WiiU. These little plastic machines, with their wand-like controllers weren’t even on the same level as the mighty behemoths of Xbox and PS, right?
Well, you are right. The Wii isn’t anywhere on that level. But they were never trying to be.
The genius of Nintendo, in staying out of the vicious battles between the other two major companies, was that it was able to dominate its own market; the nostalgia market.
The major releases for Nintendo in the past 10 years have been dominated by remakes, sequels, and spinoffs of its’ top franchises: Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. Sure, sequels aren’t a unique idea. Xbox and Sony have their sequel franchises, pumping out a new Assassins’ Creed, FIFA, Madden, and Grand Theft Auto practically every year (just to name a few), as well as the hundreds of identical war First Person Shooter games that are so homogenous they might as well be sequels (That’s right, fanboys, Gears of War and COD are the same bloody thing). But Nintendo is unique in that they focused more on their long-running franchises fans have grown up playing.
Humans tend to love the familiar and routine. Yes, every Zelda game is basically the same 8-dungeon, solve-the-puzzles, rescue-the-princess, collect-the-things structure, but where it differs is in the dressing. Each Zelda game has a different story, sits somewhere unique in the multi-verse timeline, and adds something new, some new feature, amongst all the old familiar things you know and love. Each game is just different enough to make you want to buy it, even though you’ve already played the last 12.
This is the exact same strategy they use for Pokemon. And Pokemon is one of the most successful gaming franchises ever, coming in third after Mario and Super Mario. In fact, on a list of video game franchises that have sold over 100 million copies, 7 out of the 15 listed are Nintendo franchises, or at least released predominantly on Nintendo consoles. Sure, some people bitch and whine that only the first 151 pokemon count, and maybe 721 is getting a bit much to try and “Catch ‘em all” (and who knows how many more Sun and Moon are going to add to that number), but when those new games are released in November, you can be sure there will be long lines camping out at every EB Games in the city of nostalgic twenty and thirtysomethings (some even with their own children) waiting for their next fix. And in its 20th anniversary year, we were treated with the surprsing release of Pokemon GO, the first official mobile game that allowed us to become a real trainer, finding and catching Pokemon on your phone depending on your location, in what proved to be a world-wide hit, daily users outdoing Tinder and Twitter during it’s peak. AND at the start of the year, Nintendo re-released the first generation Pokemon games, Blue, Red, and Yellow, onto their 3DS digital store, where they broke the record for first-week sales previously held by Super Mario Bros. Will these re-releases out-sell their total original cartridge release? Time will tell, but I’m predicting it may well happen.
What does this mean for the future of gaming? Will everything just become a re-make of a re-make? While Nintendo is highly successful, they are still just one player in the market. Outlets like Steam are absolutely championing experimental indie gaming, making sure that we don’t devolve into a sea of brown FPS games and Mario Kart reboots (yeah, I’m less into their “party game” series’). And if Nintendo were simply remaking the same thing every year, it would be bleak. But it’s their combination of nostalgia and innovation that keeps them going, keeps the whole industry charging forward. And that’s a future I’m excited about.
First Published in Empire Times, 43.3