OPINION: Creatively Bankrupt

Monday, May 28th, 2012

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Over the past few years, there has been something building in my chest like a bad case of bronchitis. Now that E3 is coming up, I’ve got a chance to cough it all out in one big, icky burst. Here it is: the Gamecube era was the most creative that Nintendo has ever been with their console properties. There, I said it.

I’m just going to list some of the things Nintendo did with their properties in no particular order. Giving Mario a water-pack to play around with. Letting an American development team have you play a Metroid game from the first-person perspective. Putting two people in racing karts at the same time and allowing you to switch between them on the fly. Letting Rare develop a Star Fox game that was basically a Zelda clone. Creating not one, but two full-fledged Pokémon games for a console. Having Kirby be in a racing game. Giving Luigi his own game. And, of course, creating a real-time strategy game about growing little multi-colored men who scavenge parts for a rocket ship and kill the local wildlife. Not all of these ideas worked out (especially in Star Fox’s case), but I respect them because they showed that Nintendo wasn’t afraid to take some risks and to experiment with some big ideas for their franchises.

Now take a look at some of the games that Nintendo made for the Wii. Oh look, it’s Super Mario Galaxy again, but now with Yoshis in it. Oh child, it’s New Super Mario Bros: Four Play Edition. Oh golly-gosh, it’s Ocarina of Time again, but now with slightly laggy motion controls and the worst support character in the history of the franchise. The imagination and creativity at work here is incredible.

That’s not to say that they haven’t tried some new ideas for their franchises, like turning Kirby into yarn or letting Team Ninja make a Metroid game (which we all know how that turned out). And, of course, we got Xenoblade Chronicles a couple months ago. But on average, most of their new games haven’t evoked anywhere near the same level of creativity I saw on the Gamecube. Even Kid Icarus: Uprising, a game that I really liked, was heavily banking on nostalgia of a game that wasn’t very good in the first place.

I’ll pause for a moment so you guys can clean off the soda you just sprayed onto your computer screen.

Done? Alright, let’s continue.

And you know what? Nintendo has absolutely no reason to try anymore. If Super Mario 3D Land and the New Super Mario Bros. games have demonstrated anything, it’s that showing anything resembling Super Mario Bros. 3 will create a Pavlovian response in people who loved it. This will, in turn, make them automatically buy whatever new games come out. Super Mario 3D Land pushed a lot of 3DS sales when it was released and I guarantee you that New Super Mario Bros. 2 will sell millions solely on the fact that the Raccoon Tail is back. With that kind of money, why would Nintendo ever want to take creative risks again?

That being said, we are seeing some interesting things being done with other franchises, they’ve just all been on the handheld scene. As I mentioned before, I really liked Kid Icarus: Uprising primarily because it decided to be an on-rails shooter instead of a horribly designed platformer and because the main characters decided to speak. I’m also very interested in how Pokémon Conquest will turn out, seeing as how it’s the first cross-over between a Nintendo franchise and a third-party franchise outside of Smash Bros. And say what you will about Super Princess Peach, but I really respect it for turning the traditional Mario formula on its ear by having you play as Peach and rescuing Mario instead of the other way around, for once.

With E3 2012 fast approaching and information about the Wii U coming soon, I sincerely hope Nintendo taps into some of that creative spark that was present during the Gamecube era and is still kind of present in the handheld scene. The casual gaming market isn’t going to come back to the Wii U now that they can play games on their smartphones, tablets, and Facebook accounts. Reminding people of Ocarina of Time or Super Mario Bros. 3 will only work for so long before people get tired of it. If Nintendo wants its fanbase to stick around, they need to shake things up with crazy ideas for their franchises, not just with hardware gimmicks.

About Kyle Emch

Kyle has been studying music at college for about three years now. He's played the piano since he was 6 years old and has been recently been learning how to write music. He has followed the Operation Rainfall movement on Facebook since it started and was happy to volunteer for the website. Just don't mention Earthbound or the Mother franchise around him.