Being a Nintendo fan is a unique brand of insanity. As an owner of a Nintendo system through every generation of consoles, Iím someone who has been playing the same video games over and over again for the last 24 years. I've essentially been buying updated versions of Pokťmon Red ever since I was 10, and I donít know if itís just some form of arrested development that makes me believe theyíve changed the Legend of Zelda formula in a meaningful enough way to justify shelling out money for Skyward Sword. But thereís no denying thereís some sort of mental deficiency at play whenever Iím excited to see theyíve given Mario a new flying rodent costume.
Though I donít think anything exemplifies my issues as a Nintendo fan quite like my anticipation for the upcoming Wii U. As a (debatably) fully functioning adult with a (relatively) sound, rational mind, I should be regarding Nintendoís new console about as seriously as people regard Carly Rae Jepsen as a musician. I mean, you all saw the same E3 I did, right? A useless touch screen add on that makes the Kinect look like the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey? The only noteworthy launch title an overdue sequel to an eight-year-old game about micromanaging sentient plants? A social media system that is some combination of Twitter and the scrawled penises and racial epithets usually found in bathroom stalls? The Wii U isnít a next-gen console, itís Nintendo recreating the money burning scene from The Dark Knight.
And yet, despite everything indicating a colossal waste of a future paycheck, I know beyond a doubt Iíll have one sitting in my apartment one day.
I may not be elbowing the throat of some spoiled kidís grandma to nab a box on release day, but I know somewhere down the line itíll be sitting there in a Gamestop window, refurbished and significantly slashed in price. And like an alcoholic returning to his sweet boozey mistress, I wonít be able to help myself. I will buy a Wii U, its corresponding iteration of Smash Bros., and whatever steering wheel and inevitable Touch Screen Plus peripherals are needed to make the console semi-functional. Because if thereís one thing every Nintendo system since the Gamecube has taught me, itís that I will happily fork over cash to wade through the companyís endlessly yawning shit swamp in search of the few gems they produce.
Take the DS, for instance. Touch screens have now become the norm in handheld gaming, but at the time Nintendo was introducing the usurper to the Gameboy line it seemed like they were touting technology that had been used by ATMs for years as revolutionary.The use of dual screens and touch controls really only appealed to Shigeru Miyamotoís whimsical sense of childlike wonder, while everybody else just wanted games that didnít try to awkwardly shoehorn them in. And confidence wasnít exactly instilled by the DSís starting lineup, which boasted repurposed Nintendo 64 games and a dog simulator that proved a hypo-allergenic alternative for people who could never know the love of a real pet.
Fortunately, as the DS winds its eight-year life to a close, we can now say with certainty that Nintendoís grand experiment... wasnít a totally unmitigated crash-and-burn failure? Look, the DS may very well go down as the last great handheld system, but a near decade later and poorly implemented touch controls are still screwing up the likes of Kid Icarus. And out of its bottomless wealth of cheap movie tie-ins and Bratz dress-up games, youíd be hard pressed to find a top 25 of titles that used the DSís features to their full potential. Only a handful managed to take advantage of the touch screen to create something uniquely satisfying, while the vast majority used it for seemingly no other reason than to serve as evidence in a future class action lawsuit for inducing early onset arthritis. I look forward to my day in court, Geometry Wars: Galaxies.
Those titles that did figure out how to build a game around the DS, however, are unquestionable classics. See, itís not entirely a sense of self-loathing and resignation that always brings me back to Nintendo. For all theyíve gotten wrong these past few years, the things they get right are the sort of brilliant games that bring you back to the days you spent inseparable from the end of an NES controller. When you werenít such a jaded, cynical twentysomething, and you didnít write angry blog posts about how the Zapper was an overblown and ultimately useless piece of hardware.
Iím talking about The World Ends With You, one of the few modern day JRPGs I managed to beat, because the fast paced swipe-and-tap battle system kept me from quitting out of sheer boredom. Elite Beat Agents and its Japense precursor Ouendan, which are still my all time favorite rhythm games and managed to save me a bundle on fake plastic instruments. And, of course, Kirby Canvas Curse, with which I spent more time playing with rainbows than an adult heterosexual male probably should.
And then there were those games that, while mostly shunting the touch controls off to the side, proved Nintendoís other great strength. That is, as I said, convincing people to buy the same games theyíve played hundreds of times. I honestly canít tell you what New Super Mario Bros. does differently than Super Mario Bros. 3 did in 1988, but that almost isnít even the point. Nintendo has distilled the most standard genres Ė platforming, adventure, roleplaying Ė into their purest forms. Playing Spirit Tracks or Phantom Hourglass isnít so much about experiencing something new as it is about getting a fix. The tried and true formula of dungeon crawling, light puzzle solving, and bosses with giant glowing weak points prone to boomerang shots are scientifically proven to hit all the right pleasure sensors. All the developers have to do is slap on a fresh layer of paint and theyíve got a best seller on their hands.
The Wii is an even greater example of this ďdiamond in the roughĒ phenomenon because motion control technology is gamingís greatest monster. In fact, the entire console is an amalgam of short comings and inadequacies, and while I relate to that on a deeply personal level, it does not make for an enjoyable home entertainment system.
While Sony and Microsoft were busying exploring ways to deepen playersí online experiences, Nintendo clung to it archaic Friend Code system that was like the alt newsgroups of online multiplayer. Its library was a veritable breeding ground for low-res cash ins of more popular games that replaced everything fun with segments where you got to realistically turn a doorknob. And Reggie Fils-Aime should publicly shamed for any part he played in convincing the industry that the future of video games resided in virtual bowling.
The Wiiís legacy will forever be that of the puppy every family was excited to get for Christmas, only to be dropped back on to the steps of the SPCA two weeks later when they grew bored of it.
But its gimmicky trappings didnít stop the system from releasing some seriously essential games. Waggle controls may never have transcended in quite the same way that the DSís touch screen did, but the Mario Galaxy games are still the closest 3D platforming has come to perfection. Niche titles like Little Kingís Story and Zack & Wiki provided the kind of cutesy all-ages fun thatís become rare now that developers are chasing graphic engines that most realistically render Lara Croft getting impaled on a rusty pipe. Donkey Kong Country Returns and Punch-Out!! were nostalgia-soaked security blankets.
And, again, it was Kirby that really figured the system out. Epic Yarn provided one of the rare motion controlled games that didnít make players want to rend their Wiimote asunder. Why the pink blob has become the companyís chief innovator is beyond me, but it probably has something to do with having no established formula from which the slightest deviation would send fan boys into a frothy rage.
But none of that matters. There will be a Legend of Zelda game for this system, and I am going to buy it. There will be a Smash Bros. game, and I will buy that. I donít know what they have in store for Kirby, but itís going to be revelatory. And Iíve already got my heart dead set on whatever insanity is going on in Project P-100.
So why am I excited for the Wii U? Shut the hell up, thatís why.