I walked into my favorite “barcade” a few months ago and was utterly shocked and delighted to see an original Super Mario Bros. arcade cabinet with what seemed like a faint light shining down on it from the heavens. It could have been the track lighting but I prefer to believe it was the prior. I stood there and looked it over for a minute as if it was an old car kept in pristine condition. Yes I played it for quite some time. The child I once was had returned in full force, bopping blocks for coins and smashing Goombas with reckless abandon.
That was the first video game I ever played, when it was in a laundromat in 1986. I was 5. Most people my age had their first gaming experience with who? That’s right, Nintendo. A company that kids in the 80’s and 90’s looked at in awe dreaming about the games they played day in and day out, reading the publications that talked about the next great game and don’t forget the Nintendo hotline. Friends sharing their own tips and tricks was a foundation of bonding between two young lads biding their time at school until it was time to get back to it. Grey plastic game carts with the sticker the size of a business card affixed to the cart with its artist’s rendering to represent the game that awaits. “Hamburger thumbs” from hours at the controller were a badge of honor. Then the Super NES came and the frenzy started all over again. Sega put out their own system, the Genesis and as much as I enjoyed that console as well, it just didn’t hold a candle to the “Ninten-Duo” of the NES and Super NES, producing games concurrently. 8 red letters that jump started a revolution for the gaming industry.
What’s this now? A HANDHELD game system? The Game Boy? Madness, I tell you! The Game Boy was such a big deal. I can’t remember my first days with my NES but I remember my first days with my SNES and Game Boy. The day my grandma took me to get a Game Boy the store was madness and my grandma thought there was a fire, robbery or bomb scare. Nope, just all the crazy people trying to get a Game Boy and some games, no big deal. After a very impressive production run for the NES and SNES, the Nintendo 64 came out. A console with rounded lines, flat bottomed curve-topped cartridges and very strange controllers N64 was a well received system but nothing like its predecessors. As a hardcore fan of the big “N”, I took the word on the street with a grain of salt and experienced it for myself (via my mom or grandma providing the financial backing).
In 2001 Nintendo put out the Gamecube, their next generation and first foray into disc based content. Half-size optical discs that were proprietary to Nintendo were what we got when we bought a game and opened the case. Memory cards that utilized “blocks” for game saves. In the more recent generations of gaming and consoles it’s important to note that Nintendo was able to secure several iterations of the Resident Evil series for the Gamecube which was a big deal when it happened. Resident Evil for the Gamecube had new graphics, sound, and body language in the characters. Followed by one of the arguably best games in the Resident Evil series, Resident Evil 4. The controller was a hybrid of the SNES and the N64 that I adored. No awkward reaching for any of the buttons and all of the fluid multi button uses and combinations were like 2nd nature. My wish would have been more first person shooters on the Gamecube so more people could see how the controller operated.
All the varied games in the world couldn’t save the Gamecube from being discontinued in 2007, ending its lifespan in 3rd place behind the Xbox and the Playstation 2. Gamecube’s extensive library and well done games made it a favorite among the hardcore gamers today, a staple at the technology resale shops that have become a force in the industry in the last 10 years. I was disheartened when I found out that the Gamecube was being discontinued after only a 6 year run yet my faith in Nintendo wasn’t shaken with the Nintendo DS coming out before the Gamecube discontinuation.
A flip open handheld system that was the new generation after the long line of Game Boy, Pocket, Color, Micro, Advance, and Advance SP, had finally passed the torch to a worthy successor. It was a revolutionary move and design for Nintendo with the top screen and a bottom touch screen for interaction. It was the biggest hit for Nintendo since the Game Boy or even the NES, selling almost 154 million units as of the end of 2013. How could you not love it? The DS Lite was more contoured and form fitting, and after that the DSI, DSI XL, 3DS, 3DS XL and even the 2DS have all been hits. My 3DS XL goes with me everywhere. Virtual Console is a service that you download retro NES games (for a price ranging from $3.99 – $5.99) with a big enough SD card stuck in your 3DS it’s extremely possible to eventually get the entire NES library on your 3DS. My only sadness is it’s only NES and Game Boy games. No SNES which I feel Nintendo should address much sooner than later.
At the same time the DS family was established in the world the Wii entered the market in 2006. A small white box that used regular sized optical discs (yay!) but no dvd playback (boo!) that used a wireless remote and sensor bar along with a “nunchuck” that attached to the wireless remote for a very interactive experience with games like the Wii Sports package or Zelda Twilight Princess. I didn’t really like the Wii for anything other than the Virtual Console so needless to say this was the first time I felt let down buy “my guys”. I had a 360 and PS3 at the time too so my disappointment was overshadowed by the things that were happening on the other 2/3 of that generation. My biggest problem with the Wii was the third party games. Seemed like Nintendo would let almost anybody with a knowledge of code make a game for the Wii. Wander into a GameStop today or a tech resale store and you’ll see for yourself what i’m talking about. Games that are just trash where you think it looks good because of the marketing on the case. I’m not one to just say something sucks or is terrible just for the sake of being negative. I give everything a chance. Think about it. How fair is it to the people that slaved away 60-80 hour weeks to put their all into a game. this applies to all forms of media as well but for this article it’s for gaming. If a game looks good, i’ll give it a shot. That’s what I did for a lot of Wii games and there were many that I didn’t like. The technology in the Wii for the wireless communication was something that started more than 20 years ago with the NES accessory “U-Force”. Those that were in the know with technology knew that there wasn’t anything revolutionary about the controller operation.
The Wii is still rolling along even after being discontinued in Japan and Europe October of last year. I applaud Nintendo for keeping the “family” console going 8 years now. When I worked at a retailer that sold consoles, games, and accessories that’s where it went to most of the time: families. Not a lot of hardcore gamers invested in the Wii save for the Metroid, Zelda, and Mario games (who wouldn’t?)
Now in 2014, we are graced y the presence of the Wii U. Or are we? The system has been out for over a year and the library of games frankly is not good. There’s a few that are top notch titles like Mass Effect 3 or Arkham City but the expanse of the library for a system that has been out this long isn’t very strong. I adore the control bad however, with the 2nd screen ability that could be a bit more refined for some games but a huge step back in the right direction for Nintendo home console controls. Gone is the crazy wiggling and flailing around to control characters unless you want to go backwards compatible and play Wii games on the Wii U (which you must launch and use from a completely different home menu).
The integration between Wii/Wii U and the Virtual Console is not great with Nintendo just recently making statements that they are going to make it better. A big plus that the Wii U had in the beginning was the graphics that the console produced were not only Nintendo’s first dive into HD which gave Nintendo their first real competition against PS3 and Xbox 360. Nintendo didn’t really seize the opportunity they had with this and the sales numbers were up and down more than a roller coaster. I can only take the Wii U seriously for the Virtual Console and only a handful of games available for the system. Wii U has the potential to be a great system and Nintendo should wake up. They’ve had struggles since they made what feels like the inevitable and forced transition to disc based games without a solid long term recovery that it needs to regain that powerful foothold and influence that Nintendo had for close to 15 years at one point being king of the hill. What are they going to do with the Wii U? What’s their next focus, will it be good, is it going to have the longevity that its 3rd and 4th generation had? I’m not sure. Is anyone sure? Development is always a gamble. Systems that looked good on paper have failed in the past and vice versa. For Nintendo, i’m going to continue to be a fan and find the silver linings and wait for them to step up and reclaim their glory days.