The “big news” from this year’s E3 wasn’t the announcement of any new exciting game. It wasn’t the first sightings of any new, up-and-coming console. It was the news that Nintendo, or more specifically, Nintendo of America, had completely failed to show anything for their core audience. Sure, Wario Land: Shake It was at E3 08, tucked away in a corner somewhere, but that game had been announced months prior to the event.
The only newly announced Wii games from Nintendo were the decidedly softcore Wii Sports: Resort, the beyond-casual Wii Music, and the “close but no cigar” pseudo-core title Animal Crossing: City Folk, all games best suited for fans of “new” Nintendo.E3 08 offered nothing on the rumored-to-be-in-development Kid Icarus Wii, nothing on the rumored Punch-Out Wii, and nothing on the potential localization of Disaster: Day of Crisis, Fatal Frame IV, or Captain Rainbow. Where was anything for the gamers who been playing Nintendo games since the days of the NES, or even the N64?
To be fair, Nintendo has already released nearly as many “core” titles on the Wii as it did in the entire lifespan of the GameCube. The fact that Metroid Prime 3, Super Paper Mario, LoZ: Twilight Princess, Super Mario Galaxy, Mario Kart Wii, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl have all seen release in the span of two short years is something of a miracle by Nintendo standards. No, Wii-owning Nintendo veterans aren’t disheartened with NoA because of the the lack of core games on the Wii. It’s NoA’s new attitude towards their longtime fans: an attitude of severe disinterest. That’s what has their core fans worried. E3 08 was just the culmination of a long-brewing fear amongst the Nintendo faithful that NoA has dropped them like a bag of trash in favor of a larger, richer, soccer mom-ier segment of the Western population.
If NoA followed my simple five-step plan, they could appease their core market and make some decent money at the same time, and all in a matter of months. Hit the jump for this plan in detail (and no, sticking Wario in an amusement park and making the stars do NoA’s bidding are not part of it.)
Step Number 1: Super Smash Bros. Brawl Special Edition
I feel a little foolish even including this entry, because anybody with a marginal level of knowledge about Nintendo and its fanbase could have come up with it. Still, it’s worth noting that Super Smash Bros. Brawl is by far Nintendo’s most globally successful “core” Wii game, and that more Smash Bros. releases could only work to make that “core” more happy with Nintendo.
Specifically, what the “core” is currently looking for is more online Smash Bros., as Super Smash Bros. Brawl only half-delivered on its promise of online play. For whatever reason, the amount of lag in the average Brawl match is horrendous, much worse than in Nintendo’s other big online game, Mario Kart Wii. A lack of lag isn’t the only thing Mario Kart Wii has over Brawl. Its superior online interface (which shows the names, Miis, and countries of all its online opponents) and special monthly tournaments (some of which include new tracks and even new bosses) make Brawl look sadly outdated in comparision, and Mario Kart Wii was released only a few months after Brawl. The simple inclusion of all of Mario Kart Wii’s online services alone would make a Super Smash Bros. Brawl special edition worth the price for many a hardcore Smash Bros. fan.
To round out the package, the disc would need just a few more additions. First, it should include Super Smash Bros. and Super Smash Bros. Melee, with both games bolstered with all the new online options that would be given to Brawl. Second, Brawl would need to get some alternate character models for its existing roster. As huge as Brawl’s playable character list may be, it’s still too small by the standards of many Smash Bros. fanatics. A simple way to fix this would be give each existing Brawl character a different set of polygons based on a “similarly shaped” Nintendo icon.
For instance, one of the least popular characters in Brawl is King Dedede, a Kirby boss who was most likely included in the game just because he was created by Smash Bros. producer Masahiro Sakurai. Now if Nintendo were to take King Dedede exactly as he’s programmed, but give the player the option to swap out his character model for one based on Tom Nook (armed with the golden shovel instead of a hammer, and with Timmy and Tommy Nook replacing the King Dedede’s Waddle Dee and Waddle Doo special attacks), they’d have themselves a “new” Smash Bros. character with minimal effort, and in this case it’s a character who already has millions of fans. Do the same thing with Chibi Robo and R.O.B., the Pokemon Diamond/Pearl starters for the Pokemon Red/Blue starters, Claus for Lucas, Mewtwo for Lucario, and before you know it, you have the inclusion of nearly 35 “new characters” in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, all without much in increased spending or altering the game’s delicate power balance.
Throw in Mega Man as a new playable fighter, and you’ve got something that would please hardcore fans enough to make them forget all about E3, not to mention shell out another $50 for a game they already own. And if Nintendo really wanted to sweeten the deal, they could also make DLC for this Super Smash Bros. Brawl: Special Edition, though that would probably require more storage space than the Wii is currently capable of. That brings us to step 2…
Step Number 2: Allow outside hardware developers to make Wii hard drives
Do I think the Wii really needs a hard drive? Absolutely not. As a member of the gaming press, I still haven’t even come close to filling up my 2 GB SD card. If I did, I’d just buy another one for the paltry sum of $25, half the price of the lesser equipped 512 MB memory unit for the Xbox 360.
No, the Wii doesn’t need a hard drive, but that doesn’t mean Wii owners don’t deserve one. It’s a matter of pride for Wii owners to know that if they wanted to, they could store just as much random crap on their system as PS3 and 360 owners can. With a hard drive, Wii owners could potentially download bigger WiiWare games, game demos, Virtual Console games from past disc-based consoles, and generally do all the online things the other guys are doing (porn) on their lesser powered console.
Why hasn’t this happened already? Maybe Nintendo doesn’t want to run the risk of the Wii hard drive becoming a financial failure. The console is certainly selling well without the option for more storage space, and there is no way to be sure a Wii hard drive would even sell. Thing is, the risk wouldn’t have to be NoA’s to take. All they would have to do is develop a simple firmware upgrade allowing some external hard drive developers to make their own Wii-compatible hardware, take a percentage of their profits, and move on. Just like that, the Wii would be one step closer to being universally superior to its competitors, all at little to no cost to NoA.
It’s highly unlikely that NoA will ever allow for a Wii-friendly external hard drive because of all the fun that videogame pirates and homebrew hackers would have with it. What NoA must not realize is that videogame pirates are already having a field day with modded Wiis and SD card-friendly Wii mod programs. As for the homebrew guys, they are mostly just trying to do two things: make their own Wii games and play imported games on their Western region consoles. Which begs the question, “Why on God’s green Earth in the year 2008 would anyone need to do anything special to make their console play import games?” and brings us to step number 3…
Step Number 3: Allow Captain Rainbow to be localized
If you’ve been playing Nintendo games since the NES era, it’s safe to say that you are over 20 years old, and are therefore “mature” enough to handle a videogame wirh some vibrating dildos and/or gentle ball-scratching humor. It’s also safe to say that at your age, if you still remember who Birdo or Little Mac is, you are something of a hardcore Nintendo-phile. This is exactly why Captain Rainbow, currently only released in Japan, may be the premier comedy game of the 2000s for those of us looking for a parody/tribute of the Nintendo of yesteryear. Captain Rainbow is a game made specifically to appeal to people whose sense of humor and sense of awareness of the world has grown up right along Nintendo — namely, Nintendo’s “core” audience.
A prime example of this “mature” take on a classic Nintendo icon is the game’s inclusion of Little Mac. Captain Rainbow shows how the ex-boxing champ has gotten fat and depressed since his Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out days in a way that may not make sense to most kids, but that the average adult will definitely be able to relate to. It also shows what would happen if someone/something like the gender-confused Super Mario Bros. 2 mid-boss Birdo was caught in a women’s bathroom. Now, Birdo has always been gender-confused; it says so right in the manual for Super Mario Bros. 2. That’s not the “mature” part of all this. What makes Captain Rainbow special is that it shows what would happen to someone like Birdo in the real world — namely, ridicule, xenophobia, and even imprisonment. That’s weird, funny, and sad stuff, the kind of stuff that longtime Nintendo fans thrive off of (see also Tingle).
It’s not the first time that developer Skip, creator of Captain Rainbow, has taken mature themes and integrated them into a lighthearted comedy game. At the center of their 2006 GameCube title Chibi Robo is the potential divorce of Chibi Robo’s owners, a action figure-loving computer programmer and a Martha Stewart-esque American housewife. In the game, Chibi Robo must work hard to make these two people happy, and eventually save their marriage. It’s a theme that could in no way influence a child to commit acts of violence or other deviant behaviors, but one that, in its own right, was still very risky. Captain Rainbow‘s themes are the same. Finding Birdo’s censored vibrator could never harm or really disturb a child (if they even knew what it was), but at the same time, its inclusion in the game is “mature” in its own particular way.
Captain Rainbow might raise a few eyebrows with the mainstream, but the game is hardly shocking in this modern day of killing hookers in GTA IV. It’s certainly nothing compared to the swear-filled, urine- and blood-soaked Conker’s Bad Fur Day, developed by then-Nintendo subsidiary Rare and published on the N64 with NoA’s blessing. Taking that kind of risk with the release of a controversial but harmless game is exactly what NoA needs right now to work against their increasingly vanilla image. They need to get back to being known as the game company that’s run by actual game developers and game artists, and not a bunch of overly cautious businessmen who only see gaming as a way to make money.
Speaking of risks and artists, let’s talk about step 4…
Step 4: Support Starmen.net and bring their translation of Mother 3 to WiiWare
Have you heard of Mother 3? Starmen.net? If so, chances are you’ve been a fan of Nintendo for more than a few years, and that your fandom runs deep. You also probably don’t have to read this step any further, as you already know exactly why it would do NoA a world of good, both finacially and politically, to…
1) give Starmen.net a little money,
2) take their already nearly complete translation patch for Mother 3,
3) call it EarthBound 2 and
4) put it on WiiWare.
A little background for the uninitiated: the Mother series is the brainchild of famous Japanese essayist Shigesato Itoi. All three games in the series both mock and pay tribute to Western culture, with Mother 3, the last game in the series, being the most narratively rich and brazenly critical. All the games in the series utilize both absurdist, South Park-style humor and intermittent moments of true drama — of both the nail-biting and tear-jerking varieties — in order to communicate their messages.
Only one game in the series was ever brought outside Japan. Mother 2 was localized in the US and Europe in the mid-1990s under the name EarthBound. In the US, NoA used the line “This game stinks” to attempt to sell this $80 turn-based RPG. Sadly, this seemingly purposefully bad advertising scheme didn’t work all that well, and the game failed to become a hit, though it did develop a dedicated cult following. The best and brightest of this cult following, stil thousands strong, can be found at Starmen.net.
What’s so bright about Starmen.net, you ask? Well, beyond the fact that they have regularly posted Mother-related comics, fan art, fan fiction, music, and videos for literally years, they have also taken it upon themselves to do everything they can to get NoA to give their beloved franchise another chance in the States. They do call-ins, write-ins, and email-ins to NoA on a regular basis, which may have a lot to do with why Mother 1 and EarthBound entered the top five in Nintendo Power’s monthly poll for most wanted Virtual Console game for each and every month the poll was run. Starmen.net even made a 250-page book filled with evidence of their love of the Mother series that was sent out to various Nintendo administrative types and members of the press.
The thing that will really make Starmen.net famous is their translation hack of Mother 3. They’ve been working on it for over a year, and from what I’ve seen of it so far, it’s as good — if not better than — any of the excellent work done by NoA’s professional development team.
This brings me back to NoA, and a question that sits at the very core of this entire piece. Why exactly does the company exist if not to find people that are truly passionate about Nintendo games and help them to tell the rest of the world about how wonderful they are? That’s clearly not what NoA is trying to do, for if they were, the entire Starmen.net team would have full-time NoA jobs by now.
In the same way the sandwich chain Subway took one of their most dedicated customers and made him into their spokesman, NoA could do the same for Starmen.net. To do so would once and for all prove that NoA is concerned with more than just riding the coattails of NoJ: letting their PR firm do all their advertising for them, and just waiting for the money to pour in. It would show that they are willing to actually bond with their core audience in a way that’s both validating and empowering. Wait a minute, that gives me an idea for step 5…
Step 5: Make some goddamn videogames
OK, so “make” is a pretty vague term. Perhaps “publish,” “fund,” or “develop” would have been better, but you get the point. NoA needs to find some Western developers who can make games that connect with the West’s hardcore gaming audience, and they need to do it today. Sure, NoA published three Metroid games with Western developer Retro Studios over the past six years, and have also published the occasional Western-developed Mario, Metroid or Star Fox spinoff here and there, but for the most part, NoA publishes nothing but NoJ games. They don’t publish new IPs from Western developers, and they don’t publish anything from Western developers unless NoJ is calling all the shots.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There is no shortage of quality Western developers dying to make games for the Wii and the DS, developers that are without any publishers. Take The Conduit, for instance, a Wii game that truly speaks to the West’s hardcore gamers in a way that no NoJ game has thus far. It’s a competitive FPS with sci-fi elements, the kind of game that sells millions of copies in America within a few days of release. And yet, The Conduit still has no publisher.
Why on Earth wouldn’t NoA want to publish this game?
Or take Castle Crashers, a game that would have been right at home with the old-school gamers who bought the Wii in large part for its Virtual Console service. NoA could have funded The Behemoth to make Castle Crashers a Wii exclusive, or even now could fund any of the literally thousands of talented game development studios that want to make the next Castle Crashers-style game, but haven’t the funding to do so. Or what about the thousands of developers who want to make the next GTA on the Wii, but also don’t have the help from a major publisher to make it happen? Why isn’t NoA looking into these developers?
When Nintendo launched the Wii, it was under the banner of their new “Blue Ocean” philosophy. Every kind of game was supposed to be made available for the console, from the most casual to the most hardcore. For the most part, they’ve made good on their promise; just about every kind of game imaginable, from surgery simulation to 70-hour action/RPG epic, has been available on the Wii since the start. The two exceptions to the Wii’s otherwise amazing library of genres are the two types of games currently most popular in the Western world, competitive online games and violent sandbox games (e.g., Halo and GTA).
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if NoA wanted to win back the love of hardcore gamers, they’d look into getting an answer to those two series ready on the Wii, and they’d start looking quickly.
The situation with Nintendo right now is a lot like when Kiss went disco. They look like they’ve sacrificed their creative souls in order to make a quick buck, and the people who supported them through the tough times (read: GameCube) feel betrayed. That has caused a intrinsic sense of disconnection between the hardcore Nintendo fan and NoA. Without that connection, Nintendo home consoles in the West will not survive past the Wii.
While it’s fantastic that a new group of people feel connected with gaming in way that they never did before through games like Wii Sports and Animal Crossing, that doesn’t mean that Nintendo can discard the connection they had with their previous fans. Everyone can be happy with Nintendo; the company doesn’t have to be casual or hardcore.
Moms and kids still want to own DVD players, even though they can play movies like Hostel and Scarface. Born-again Christians and pacifists still go on the Internet, even though it’s packed with porn and videos of people being punched in the balls. However, if DVD players couldn’t play Scarface or Hostel, or if the Internet wasn’t a portal to so much in the way of sex and ball-punching, would either be so popular? I don’t think so.
So it’s pretty simple, Nintendo: in the future, don’t leave anybody out. More specifically, if you want to continue to be successful in the West, don’t leave Western gamers out. Make Super Smash Bros. Brawl into an online game that meets online gamers’ expectations. Allow for a hard drive to be made for your home console. Respect your longtime fans by localizing games that were made specifically for them, and help those trying to bring hardcore games on your consoles to do so.
Is that really so much to ask?