Nintendo and Innovation

Nintendo has been (and arguably continues to be) the beacon for innovation since the inception of home console gaming.

Whether it be through revolutionary game design, three-pronged controllers, or modular consoles, Nintendo seems to be determined to be the people others will point to and say “they thought of it first.” This is obviously a pretty good business approach. The idea that you need to constantly reinvent yourself and adapt to changing times is still a prevailing one.

But as far as I can tell, this hasn’t always been Nintendo’s plan. And it’s gotten a bit crazy recently.

Nintendo is actually pretty infamous for being a step behind modern gaming conventions. Sony and Microsoft had internet-capable consoles and pushed the boat of online multiplayer out to sea before Nintendo hopped on board, and one could easily argue they’re still not quite caught up with the competition. The same could be said for HD consoles, with Nintendo pushing higher graphical fidelity to a lesser degree in the last decade or so.

A decent balance of power and innovation was maintained up through the GameCube era, which had absolutely stunning visuals in games for the time (and arguably still does). But the next home console to come from Nintendo – the Wii – would shock the world not by being powerful, but being very unique.

The Wii and its motion controller gimmick would prove to be a turning point for Nintendo. It cemented their status as “the alternative.” The Wii simply couldn’t do the things its competitors were capable of, but its competitors also couldn’t do what the Wii was capable of. This is very apparent in games which were built for the PS3 or 360 and then ported to the Wii. In many cases, these games were wildly different.

Ultimately, the Wii was a huge marketing success. It became (and remains to this day) Nintendo’s best selling home console (though the Nintendo DS remains Nintendo’s best-selling console overall). This would seem to be due to the motion controller which, itself, remains a divisive issue, but opened up avenues for many casual gamers who found wagging a plastic stick around to be more intuitive than pressing buttons on said plastic stick.

It’s worth noting, however, that Nintendo’s balance between making what average consumers want and what average consumers didn’t know they wanted wasn’t lost with the GameCube. Between iterations of games easier to make and sell, like New Super Mario Bros., were more niche titles like No More Heroes. This business strategy essentially allowed Nintendo to keep making money while continuing to take risks on new ideas. See also the failure of the Wii U being supported by the success of the 3DS.

This brings us to the ultimate point of this article… What changed? Why is Nintendo now so obsessed with innovation above all else?

We haven’t seen a new F-Zero game in over a decade simply because Shigeru Miyamoto insists that a new control scheme would be required and he isn’t sure how to implement one. Meanwhile, the latest attempt at a Star Fox game had motion and gamepad-integrated controls forced into it for the sake of innovation – to the detriment of the game overall. And to top it off, the Pokémon Stadium franchise is on hiatus because “seeing pokémon in 3D isn’t new and exciting anymore.”

And yet we have Fast Racing Neo on the Nintendo eShop, a game compared to the F-Zero franchise, generally well-received. Star Fox 64 3D sold over 1 million copies despite being little more than a remake of the original Nintendo 64 title. The Game Boy Pokémon games – Red, Blue, and Yellow – were released on the Virtual Console also to warm reception, and again were relatively unchanged (the most notable feature these versions have being connectivity with the latest games in the series).

The above shows that Nintendo is – or at least has been – clearly willing to remake, resell, and otherwise profit from their existing franchises (or even just the idea of them) without needing to force new innovations on them.

But now they seem convinced that to truly revive these franchises means to reinvent the wheels that originally carried them forward.

At the very least, the new Legend of Zelda iteration in development – Breath of the Wild – seems to be a step in the right direction. More specifically, a step back to the basics that originally made the series great. I like to hope this is a good sign.

But fans of some of Nintendo’s older innovations are still left wondering where the newer version of their favourite IP is. These games, if made, would almost certainly sell… so why aren’t they being made?

And before I close out this piece, I want to pose a question to you, the reader: if Nintendo made a new game in whatever is your favourite franchise by them, and this game was mostly just an updated and expanded sequel to whatever game came before it, would you buy it?

It’s my personal hope that if enough people are interested in sequels to neglected franchises that Nintendo might finally get the idea and start working on those games, no matter how “innovative” they are.

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