A return to form: Project Cafe and the hardcore gamer


[Project Cafe is big news, and Starmac isn't sure that we're all going to be happy with the result. Should we be careful what we wish for? Be sure to join in the discussion and share your own ideas about Project Cafe. Want to see your own writing on the front page? Write something awesome and put it in the C Blogs. -- Kauza]

There has been a lot of talk lately about Nintendo and their new console, known only as Project Cafe. Next to none of the rumours surrounding it have proved themselves to be either true or false, but of course this hasn't stopped people from endlessly weighing the pros and cons of each one - and it shouldn't.

I myself have spent a few hours contemplating the possibilities a new Nintendo console could bring, and if half of the rumors (especially those regarding the new controller) turn out to be true, then it's a very exciting time to be a gamer. But my musings on the console's potential is not exactly the topic of this blog. No, this is concerning a certain mindset and attitude that has reared its head in the wake of the rumors. The mindset concerns Nintendo, and the possibilities of their triumphant 'return to the hardcore'. A return to form, so to speak, that could theoretically come about if the right steps are taken. 

To me, this is not only completely asinine, but sensationally improbable, and if it were to happen the way most are hoping, would most likely be disastrous for Nintendo.

So now that I've made such bold claims, I should probably back them up with some words

First off, the mindset. Broadly defined, this is the desire for Nintendo to cater to the 'hardcore gamer', by making a console that aligns with their needs and tastes. What exactly are the needs of a hardcore gamer? Well, what's your definition of a hardcore gamer? The term came into fruition this generation as a way to differentiate the long term gamer, the one with the passion for games and a history of playing games, from the new audience of 'casual gamers'. In the early days of the phrase it was badge of pride, proudly declaring their love of games with substance and damning the new crop of casual games as a threat to gaming's potential. 

The hardcore gamer's natural enemy. 

But lately, negative connotations have come to be associated with the term. When asked of the meaning nowadays, it means the gritty FPS obsessed frat boy man children with a contempt of anything 'kiddie' and a love of violence and realism. To me though, this definition is more of a corruption - a stereotype based off the worst parts of the movement. 

I can't imagine it's the latter type of gamer who even cares an ounce about what Nintendo has to offer, so we'll go with the former definition, the true hardcore gamer. So what does Nintendo need do then, to appeal to these gamers? What steps need to be taken to reclaim this market? What do these real gamers want? 

As far as I can tell, they want Nintendo to do what the competition does. They want a console that can output cutting edge graphics, with a standard two analog stick D-Pad four button spread two shoulder triggers controller, Blu-ray playback, HD compatible, full fledged online, with ports of games from other HD consoles - a sleek, black, hot off the line console that appeals to every bit of that hardcore gamer appetite. 

Basically this thing. 

And you know what I have to say to that? 

WHY? WHY WOULD YOU WANT THIS? AND MOST IMPORTANTLY: WHY WOULD NINTENDO DO THIS? I hate this idea that Nintendo has somehow failed this generation, that for the past generation they've been sitting around jerking off, and that the Wii has been nothing but a big failure. It's just not true. The truth of the matter is this: Nintendo has no reason to go back to what they were. Right now they are coming off the most successful console run of their lifetime, they have shaken the foundation of gaming, they've forced the competition to play follow the leader, they have quite possibly changed the field of gaming forever. They are riding high. 

Nintendo returning to the hardcore just isn't likely and I'm not buying it. 

Now don't get me wrong, by no means do I think everything Nintendo has been doing with the Wii has been gold. And I absolutely do not think that no changes are necessary. Indeed, Nintendo needs to play catch up in a lot of ways. In order to stay competitive, Project Cafe needs to meet or exceed the PS3 and 360 in horsepower and features. But I don't expect Nintendo to simply stop there and do battle with them on equal grounds, ie motion controls against motion controls. I expect them to shake things up again with some kind of new angle. This new angle is assuredly not going back to the hardcore - if anything, it will be the opposite. Nintendo is not going to give up their hold on the casual market so easily, and I'm guessing that more casual ideals will be implemented in order to keep this hold. What could these be? For some reason I think that social types of games like those seen on Facebook would appeal to them quite nicely. 

Seems like Nintendo's style. 

But enough about baseless predictions, and what may or may not come to be. Let's give the above wishes the benefit of the doubt. Suppose then that the console described above comes to pass. Project Cafe is graphically powerful, traditionally controlled, fully HD, fully online, fully hardcore. What would change? Yes the games would look nicer, the controls would be traditional and we could all play Smash Bros. online without any hiccups. But would the games change? Would the inevitable Mario really be any better now that it's compatible with your HDTV? Would it be better than Mario Galaxy? Would it play better? I'm not so sure. Twilight Princess wasn't better than A Link to The Past, despite having better graphics and a more modern control (of course, this is debatable). 

Graphics and style of play do not determine a game's quality. To be well designed, what a game needs above all else are fluid and functional controls, everything else comes second. Nintendo made great games for the Wii. This will not change with Project Cafe, no matter what it can go graphically, and no matter how it controls. 

I guess graphics are pretty important or something. 

But maybe that's not what you're after. Maybe what the hardcore really desires, is for other developers to make great games on the console. Maybe they figure that if Nintendo does what the competition does, then there will no longer be an excuse for developers to ignore the Nintendo console. And hey this sounds great! This way, you get the library of great Nintendo games, as well as a slew of other greats. However, since I'm playing the role of a downer here, I'm doubtful this would play out as some would hope. 

Some of you (if not all) know where I'm going with this. 

Let's rewind time to the Gamecube era. A fantastic console, one of my favorites. It had the graphics, it had the controller - it was superior (and inferior) to the competition in many regards. And it had games, fantastic games, some of my favorites ever! But what it didn't have, was games in abundance. Maybe one or two great games were being released a year at one point, mostly by Nintendo. Where were the other developers at? 

Developing for other consoles, those harlots. 

Except for these guys, these guys did quite a bit if memory serves. 
But they also played Nintendo for fools with talks of exclusivity and Capcom 5's. 

Now let's jump back another generation, the 64 era. A fantastic console, with groundbreaking games every which way you looked - many of which set the bar in their genres for years to come. But the same problem was there. One or two games were released a year, and despite them being phenomenal it wasn't enough for gamers. 

So what's the deal then? Why, for three generations now, have developers eschewed developing for Nintendo consoles in favor of the Playstation family, or the X-Box family? Well there are a myriad of reasons for each era, but the most critical I think is this: non-Nintendo games don't sell on Nintendo consoles. 

When I say this, I mostly think of the Gamecube. This was at a time when multi-platform releases were becoming more common, or at least. Consistently, games released on all consoles would sell worse on the Gamecube than on the others. Now one could chalk this up to the Gamecube selling the least amount of units, but let's remember, those were only the final tallies. During its more virile years the Gamecube was ahead of the X-Box in terms of sales, and it was at this time that the multi-platform sales were going on. So why the lack of sales then? It's because, and I'm speaking from experience here, when you own a Nintendo console, you own it because you love Nintendo. You buy Nintendo's games, and you could care less about what the others have to offer. 

Naturally this isn't true for all, but I'd say it's a common ailment in the Nintendo fanboy - who happens to be the guy who was buying the Nintendo consoles back in their rough Gamecube spot. Well, them or children, if you ask most people. 

Some kind of Nintendo basement worship den. 

But enough about that. I've been writing for some time now, and have done very little to cover my contempt for the hardcore market of games. Nor have a done a lot to explain this contempt. 

I have a lot of problems with the state of gaming these days, specifically concerning the AAA market. Games like Gears of War, Uncharted, Dead Space, Call of Duty (and its many clones), God of War, and nearly every other game that's come out this generation have done very little to appeal to me. I'm not going to go in depth as to why, but I will say this: it's because they all feel the same. Gaming, as of late, has lost a bit of its creativity. It's still there, but in small amounts. Too rarely are games like Valkyria Chronicles or Braid released, and too frequently do we have another first person shooter with a marine of some sort as the protagonist. In fact, I think the only games I'm excited for this year that have yet be released are Catherine, & Skyward Sword

I feel like with the cost it takes to make games these days, little risks are being made, and as a result, big name titles are beginning to show very conspicuous similarities. 

I would hate to see Nintendo get sucked into this. The Wii, for all its faults and shovelware, had a very diverse selection of games. Most great Wii games are highly unique, with unique visuals (usually necessitated by graphical restraints), and a unique control style because of the waggle. And more often than not, the premise itself was often unique as well. Where else can you find games like Little King's Story, No More Heroes, Muramasa, Zack & Wiki, or even Elebits

An awesome game, which I sadly never got to finish. But that's a story for another day. 

I'm not sure why this is, maybe developers came to the Wii with bright ideas and a more modest and manageable budget, allowing for more freedom to take risks? 

Who's to say? 

So now that I've talked endlessly about what I don't think Nintendo will do (or maybe what I don't want them to do), I think I'll briefly touch upon what I want out of Project Cafe. Honestly, I don't care what the graphics look like, what the controller is like, what features it has, or even if it has a ton of 3rd party games. All I want are Nintendo games. I want Nintendo to continue to make their wonderful games, be it a new Mario, Zelda, Metroid, or Nintendogs. 

Most of all though, I want new IP's. I want some fresh ideas to come out of Nintendo. I want a game that will define what the Cafe really is. A game that kids will look back on years later and say "Remember that game? That game was awesome!" 

I know they can do it. If they can constantly make new games for 25-year-old franchises and have them seem fresh and new every time, just think what they can do if they pour some of that idea juice into a new outlet. 

This year, I'd like to see some more unfamiliar faces

I think I'll wrap this up here. This blog was a little ranty, and a little too negative for my tastes. But it was something I needed to get out of my system. 

And let me know what you think! There are many objectionable points strewn about this ol' post of mine. Tear them apart and enlighten me to your thoughts! I'm sure you all have a lot better arguments than I could muster up. 

Despite what may seem to have been a pro Nintendo vibe running through this post, I love all consoles. 
Just so long as they provide the goods.

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