Sunday, October 23, 2011

Did Nintendo abandon the hardcore with the Wii?

Before I continue on, let me just say that I know this topic has been covered time and time again.  I just want to throw in my two cents on the issue.

Nintendo's strategy going into the Wii and DS was different from any other strategy they had before.  Instead of focusing solely on the already existing gaming market, Nintendo decided to expand the market by making games that are more inviting and controllers that aren't intimidating.  As we all know, the DS and Wii were huge successes in their mission to expand the market and ended up being Nintendo's most successful handheld and home console respectively.  However, because of Nintendo's desire to add older and female gamers, many people who had stuck with Nintendo since the original NES felt alienated, especially with the Wii.

Did Nintendo abandon the hardcore with the Wii?

When Nintendo launched the Wii in November of 2006, there was a lot of excitement from the hardcore.  It was launched with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and a new entry in the long forgotten Excite series, Excite Truck.  Additionally, we knew that Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl were all coming out sooner than later, and most of us were hyped for third party games such as Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition, Sonic and the Secret Rings, Red Steel, and No More Heroes.  All of this along with new motion controls that sparked the imagination of everyone. Things were looking great for Nintendo's new console.

Things started to change in 2007 and 2008 though.  Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Twilight Princess were regarded as disappointments to many, and the motion controls weren't living up to the expectations many gamers had.  Furthermore, Nintendo's games had gotten the reputation of being extremely easy by the end of 2008.  A popular opinion at the time was that Nintendo was purposely making their games easy because they didn't want to scare away the new gamers they had brought in with the DS and Wii.

Nintendo's online system was even more of a disappointment, which kept the strongly disliked friend code system from the DS.  Despite the lackluster friend codes, we were given WiiWare in 2008, and games like Mega Man 9, Lost Winds, My Life as King, and Final Fantasy IV: The After Years were all released within a year of WiiWare's debut.  Nevertheless, gamers generally viewed Sony's Playstation Network and Microsoft's Xbox Live as the superior online experience due to their more robust options, while Nintendo's Wi-fi was seen as a watered down online system meant for the entire family with Nintendo serving as the overprotective parent.

Nintendo's online service wasn't up to par with the PSN or
Xbox Live.

Things started to look even more bleak after Nintendo's E3 2008 conference.  Nintendo didn't announce any games that excited the hardcore, and instead, focused on games like Wii Music and Animal Crossing.  When asked what games there were for the hardcore in the holiday season of 2008, Nintendo of America's president told reporters that they had Animal Crossing to look forward to.

By this time, the third parties had abandoned Nintendo once again.  All the major third party releases were for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, while the Wii was left with lazy ports and party games, and many gamers blamed Nintendo and their fans for not having a better relationship with third party developers.  On top of that, the third party games that were released on the Wii usually ended up selling poorly compared to third party games on the HD consoles. Because the PS3 and 360 were getting virtually every major third party game, they were viewed as the more hardcore consoles by the average gamer.

The situation didn't get much better for the Wii's image in the following years.  Although games like Super Mario Galaxy 2, Donkey Kong Country Returns, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and Monster Hunter Tri were announced, people tended to focus on Wii Sports Resort, Wii Fit Plus, Wii Party, and Just Dance 1 and 2 since they were some of the best selling games on the Wii.  There was a noticeable lack of fan favorite Nintendo franchises too, with Pikmin, Star Fox, and F-Zero being the most notable.  Nintendo's WiiWare service also continued to be viewed as a watered down service since the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network were receiving games with a higher profile, such as Super Meat Boy, Outland, Limbo, and Flower.

So, did Nintendo really abandon the hardcore with the Wii?  I would argue that no, they didn't.  I know others have said this in the past, but I personally think the hardcore abandoned Nintendo, not the other way around.  In every year of the Wii's life, you can find multiple games that would satisfy the hardcore crowd.  Even in 2008 when the Wii's selection was arguably the worst, we still had Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Mario Kart Wii, Okami, and Mega Man 9.  I know you may be saying, "But Adam, Brawl was a disappointment and Okami was a port!", and it's true, but that doesn't stop them from being good games that gamers can enjoy.  Brawl may not have been as well received as Melee was, but it was still a great game, and Okami originally being released on the PS2 doesn't stop it from being a great game on the Wii too.

Brawl may have been a disappointment, but it wasn't a bad game.

Another aspect of the Wii that gamers seem to be missing is the fact that Nintendo revived a lot of their older franchises.  As mentioned before, the Excite series got a spiritual successor in the form of Excite Truck, which was then followed up by Excitebots, and we also got Sin and Punishment 2 and Punch Out!!, two games that were strictly fan service for the hardcore gamers that had stuck by Nintendo since the NES.  On top of that, we saw the first 2D sidescrolling Mario game on a console since the SNES, the first 2D sidescrolling Kirby game on a console since the N64, and the revival of the Donkey Kong Country series, which hadn't been seen since the SNES.  Casual gamers that bought the Wii for games like Wii Fit, Just Dance, and Wii Sports couldn't care less about classic Nintendo franchises.  They were brought back for the gamers that had been demanding those games for years.

It's also clear that Nintendo was listening to the hardcore gamer throughout this entire generation.  Before the Wii came out, gamers complained about how Nintendo always relied on the same franchises every generation, and this generation, Nintendo didn't rely on classics like Star Fox and F-Zero.  What did Nintendo get for that though?  Complaints from the hardcore for not relying on their old franchises.  Nintendo also fixed the issue of their games being too easy.  Starting in 2009, there was a noticeable jump in difficulty in Nintendo's games.  In fact, their games were so hard, Nintendo incorporated a "Super Guide" system into their games so they wouldn't alienate people who found their games frustratingly difficult.

There's also the case of Zelda.  After The Wind Waker, the hardcore complained that it was too colorful and not enough like Ocarina of Time, so we were given Twilight Princess.  What did Nintendo get for that?  Complaints from the hardcore that it was too brown and too much like Ocarina of Time. Now we're getting Skyward Sword, and Nintendo seems to have fixed the complaints from Twilight Princess.  The colors and nice and vibrant, but not too bright like Wind Waker, and it looks like the biggest departure from the Zelda formula since Ocarina of Time.  However, if you go to websites like GameFAQs or NeoGAF, you'll see professed hardcore gamers complaining about something in Skyward Sword, whether it be the controls, the structure of the game, or the art style.

Time and time again, Nintendo has shown that that they're trying to cater to the hardcore crowd, but it's the hardcore crowd that's shunning Nintendo.  Gamers aren't focusing on the games Nintendo's given them, and instead, they're focusing on the games that weren't meant for them to begin with.  Nintendo has listened to the cries of gamers for the past five years, giving the gamers what they want.  The hardcore gamers don't pay attention these actions by Nintendo though, and instead focus on two or three games while either ignoring or complaining about the plethora of other Nintendo releases that are meant for the hardcore gamer.

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