Let me paint you a picture. It's the year 2001 and a hugely innovative company that once dominated the videogame landscape has missed the boat on one of the biggest technical developments to ever hit the industry. In a desperate attempt to catch the boat while retaining its image it releases a new console with a slight twist on this innovation that fails so hard commercially that they finish the generation behind a company new to the industry. Fast forward to today and the same company has not only been rejuvinated but dominated the videogame industry once again by making sure everyone else missed the boat on a technical innovation like they did 9 years ago.
Nice story huh? The company I speak of is of course the great granddaddy of the videogame industry, Nintendo. No matter what financial troubles happen within the industry, no matter how badly the company screws up and no matter how many people try to rip it down they are the one constant of our hobby. They are always there whether we like it or not, even though their glory days of publishing revolutionary and diverse games have been left behind in favour of dumbing down their best loved franchises in order to appeal to a new breed of idiot 'casual' gamers.
Except there's something wrong with that statement. It's wrong. The Nintendo we love is still there, still publishing brilliant and original games and it annoys me to see people bashing a company I've grown up with just because everything's gotten a lot more white. So I'm going to make a bold statement, one that might shock you.
Nintendo are the greatest publisher of the decade.
This goes beyond simply wanting to defend the company or recalling past glories. This goes beyond wanting to draw attention to the great stuff Nintendo still produce. This even goes beyond begrudgingly giving props to a company that we don't want to like making shitloads of money. This is about putting forward the case that no other company has come close to the kind of publishing record that Nintendo has over the last 10 years.
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE WILL DISINTEGRATE INTO LISTS IN PLACES
First let's look at the very beginning of the decade and the last gasp breaths of the sickly N64, or rather let's look at some of the finest games ever released for the console. Rare's platforming masterpiece Banjo Tooie, Treasure's downright unusual shooter Sin and Punishment, more Rare goodness in Perfect Dark, an ill-fated attempt at a console version of StarCraft and even the shockingly excellent Mickey's Speedway USA all came to market with Nintendo doing the publishing duties. Then there's the Nintendo developed games to think about. The Zelda series was turned on its head by time-control in Majora's Mask, Kirby looked better than ever in The Crystal Shards, RPGs got a lot funnier with Paper Mario and a much loved franchise was resurrected as Excitebike 64.
Then there were the technical innovations that came from the late N64 days, the Super Game Boy had put portable games on the TV screen many years ago but the Transfer Pak made some games look downright beautiful thanks to Pokemon Stadium and its 2001 sequel. Voice control was also being toyed with long before Tom Clancy had a go. Hey You, Pikachu! didn't exactly set the world alight (or really work at all) but the very fact that it existed was a sign of a publisher willing to take some risks, hell it was losing ground in the marketplace so what else could go wrong?
Enter the next thing to go wrong. A finely designed and downright beautiful console known as the Gamecube. While its 2 competing consoles were dicking about with being multimedia players (and the PC was busy doing its own thing and not really giving a toss) Nintendo focused on one thing, games. Damn fine games as well, the downright unusual Doshin the Giant flopped at retail but remains a great relaxation game, Kirby's Air Ride flopped at retail but was a brave attempt to rework racing mechanics, Donkey Konga flopped at retail but was a ridiculous amount of fun especially when allied to its platforming brother Jungle Beat, also the flawed but fun-if-you-find-it-cheap possess-em-up Geist.
Then we can move onto the big list of solid gold classics published by Nintendo during the GC's life. The Metroid Prime series rejuvinated the series after taking the N64-era off, Pikmin proved RTS' could work on consoles given enough care, Super Smash Bros Melee came about as close to party game perfection as is legally allowed, Wave Race Blue Storm managed to be both downright gorgeous and insanely difficult (and still is even after 8 years), Eternal Darkness became one of the best horror games ever made, 1080 Avalanche found the potential the N64 game had missed and not only did old enemies Sega make F-Zero GX, they made it one of the best racing games I've ever played.
Then we think about The Wind Waker, tag-team co-op LAN-enabled karting in Mario Kart Double Dash, the Paper Mario series continuing to improve, Pokemon Stadium being reborn as the story-driven RPG Pokemon Colosseum (and later the slightly lacking Gale of Darkness), the Fire Emblem series' first appearance on western consoles and more voice control tomfoolery with feudal pinball game Odama and Mario Party 7. This is also in addition to more Game-Boy-to-console link-ups thanks to the brilliant Four Swords Adventures and the slightly less brilliant Crystal Chronicles.
Now we move into trickier waters. I think we can all agree that the N64 and the Gamecube were brilliant consoles which played host to a massive amount of great games. What we don't want to think however is that the great-granny-baiting-waggle-box that is the Wii can easily stand alongside both of them. We'll ignore the publishing duties done by the Big N on the entire Virtual Console library and go from the top of the list. Console pack-in game Wii Sports still rates as one of the best tech demos in gaming history and easily stood alongside semi-Gamecube-port Twilight Princess and the unfortunately insubstantial (big words!) Excite Truck as launch titles.
Now let's think of a great thought put to me once. The only company that knows how to develop for a Nintendo console is Nintendo. It's a decent thought, and one that seems to have gotten a lot of traction from the poor third party sales on the Wii. The other thought though is that they're just fighting a damn strong opponent. While others were busying themselves with horrible flailing motions to make their game look good in their pure white ads Nintendo were going with more subdued motions. Wario Ware Smooth Moves, Kororinpa, Metroid Prime 3 and Trauma Center hardly had flailing in their playbooks, preferring to go with more delicate and subdued motions. Of course the biggest stuff like Mario Kart, Smash Bros Brawl and Mario Galaxy hardly had any waving, Brawl and Mario Kart even going as far as to ditch the Wiimote for the old Gamecube controller.
I'm not here to persuade you of the Wii's worth though, I'm here to bring to light the publishing power that still burns bright. It's hard to imagine other publishers bringing out hyper-relaxing dive-em-up Endless Ocean or bringing side-scrolling platformers to full retail with Wario Land: Shake Dimension and New Super Mario Bros. It's even harder to imagine any publisher releasing a game called Captain Rainbow. Then there's adventures in downloadable games, Burch-baiting relationship analog You, Me and the Cubes and the DOWNRIGHT BRILLIANT ArtStyle series all carry Nintendo's name next to them on the WiiWare store.
Another excellent thing done by the Decade's Greatest Publisher in this new era of having shitloads of money is actually giving older titles that didn't quite reach the audience they should've another chance. Excitebike was resurrected again for WiiWare, the New Play Control series breathed new life into the Pikmin series, Punch-Out returned after nearly 15 years and possibly the biggest bargain of all time, all 3 Metroid Prime games were reworked with Corruption's excellent control scheme and released as a single disc. Even hardcore SRPG series Fire Emblem got brought to the 'casual' console.
This is Nintendo's greatest publishing act, not only continuing with series' beloved by everyone such as Zelda and Mario, but bringing older series to a new breed of gamers. They may not necessarily bite at all of them, but dammit they're trying and I believe that is to be congratulated.
Last and for fuck sake nowhere near least let's dash through the stupidly large list of portable games. The Pokemon series, first dips into motion control with Kirby: Tilt and Tumble, the Harvest Moon series in Austrailia, Zelda's Oracle games, the Advance Wars series, Golden Sun 1+2 (arguably the best portable RPGs ever made), Metroid Fusion, the revival of the Final Fantasy Tactics series, Mario & Luigi, THE MOTHER GAMES, the gleefully silly WarioWare games, the sadly Japan-only BitGenerations series, THE POKEMON MINI, Meteos, Another Code, Jump Super and Ultimate Stars, Electroplankton, Ouendan/Elite Beat Agents, Hotel Dusk, Professor Layton and RHYTHM FUCKING HEAVEN alongside anything I may have missed.
So if you want to, take all the games I've mentioned here and put them in a big list without all my fluff and padding. Can you think of any publisher who can even compare to the sort of record Nintendo has in this decade? From end to end they've produced brilliant games, some stinkers in there too (Wii Music anyone?) but no-one can keep a 100% record through 10 solid years. The evidence is there for you to consider my original point which I shall reiterate now for you to hopefully agree with.
Nintendo is the greatest publisher of the decade by miles.