Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How I Lost Touch With Nintendo

The first console we owned was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Our neighbors had been sharing time on their Atari for awhile, so one Christmas morning my mother finally surprised us with the NES and the Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt combo that came with it. My brother was delighted. Awhile later (it was his new toy, after all), I was also delighted. Soon after we acquired a handful of games including the original Zelda, TMNT, Ghosts & Goblins, Friday the 13th and eventually the Adventures of Link. I really loved Ghosts & Goblins even though I don’t think I ever made it past the second level. And Friday the 13th was the silliest game-a 2-D side scroller that primarily involved walking along a forest path and waiting for Jason to show up. I mostly remember watching the sun rise and set in the background and thinking it was amazing that a game could shift from night to day and back again. My mom would occasionally take over and play Dr. Mario for hours. What I recall most about the original Nintendo games, however, was just how HARD they were. Fighting your shadow in the Adventures of Link still holds the record as the hardest boss fight I have ever conquered-and I was a preteen at the time. I doubt I could do it again.

When the SNES launched in the early 90s we were instantly on board. I was twelve, in love with Christian Slater and video games and The Wizard was obviously my favorite movie ever (Use the warp, Jimmy! Use the warp!). As the years passed, Super Mario 3, Donkey Kong Country, Star Fox, A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy III and Chrono Trigger dominated our playtime. And these games were brilliant. SM3 had a flying Raccoon Mario, a warp whistle and the exterior map system-you could replay levels to get more coins to gain more lives! The current Mario games still use this system. The storylines in the JRPGs were like the best young adult books I was reading at the time. They included love stories and villains, time travel and 16-bit graphics. I think it was because we hadn’t seen anything like it before-it was innovative and awe-inspiring. And as a child we are more invested in the glory of playtime-learning the workings of toys and games is the quintessential goal of kids everywhere. We were better at it then because our minds weren’t cluttered with the adult world of work-bills-life-stress. Although I am loving my current gaming lifestyle, I must admit that the SNES years may be my own personal Golden Era of video games.

But then the Playstation One was released in the mid-nineties and Nintendo didn’t enter my gaming life again for ten years.

In 2006 I was in a relationship with someone who started working as a game tester for Nintendo (their USHQ is in Redmond, WA, two towns over). When you are employed at Nintendo you get access to their in-house store which offers deep discounts on merchandise. He brought home a GameCube and a handful of games, hooked it up to our bedroom television and put the controller in my hand. I looked through the games and chose Animal Crossing first. I played it for a few days, marveled at its real time quirks, pulled a lot of weeds and then got bored. I had learned from playing The Sims on the PC several years before that demanding video games just piss me off-I hate the guilt factor included in taking care of virtual characters. Whiny digital nonsense. I returned to browsing the small pile of games and Luigi’s Mansion caught my eye. Ah, Nintendo. You had me at Poltergeist 3000. I LOVED Luigi’s Mansion. It was like an interactive visit to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. I would even like to believe that using a flashlight to stun your enemies in Alan Wake can originally be credited to LM (pure conjecture on my part). I am flabbergasted that Nintendo hasn’t developed a sequel for the Wii considering the controller would seem ideal for a nozzle-weapon like the vacuum and the game was incredibly popular. But right as I was in the thralls of a glorious potential Nintendo-Jessica reunion via the GC they released the Wii…and since then the relationship that began in childhood has grown dusty and distant.

I own a Wii. I have talked about playing Wii Fit Plus and Just Dance in a previous post. But I don’t really play on the Wii. When it first launched I was curious about the new motion gimmick and took it for a test drive via Wii Sports, Cooking Mama, Trauma Center and WarioWare. I was unimpressed. I mean, it was new and it was different, but was it fun? Not to me-I prefer using a standard controller. Using the Wii-mote often makes me feel motion sick. And the biggest problem after launch was the flood of poorly developed games that followed shortly after. Nintendo has an incredibly impressive library to pull from-why weren’t they being featured on the new system? Even though the titles on the Wii have undisputedly gotten better, I think that ultimately Nintendo and I have lost touch. Every Wii game I start I don’t finish. New release information doesn’t move me in the slightest. New Pokemon DS game? I never understood the Pokemon culture. New Mario game? Tried it, no thanks (totally frustrating). A few spooky Japanese games sounded interesting enough to rent, but were forgotten days later.

I have every intention of playing Donkey Kong Country Returns in the fall, but there still is no guarantee it won’t end up with the other catch and release Wii games in my life. And it’s not really Nintendo’s fault, they are doing what they have always done-releasing games for an audience in which I am no longer a participant. Nintendo was my gaming parent, nurturing me through my formative years with the innocence of Mario and Zelda. Now that I am an adult I prefer high resolution graphics, more mature narratives and twenty button controller combinations. For now I will continue to play games on the 360 and PS3, but I imagine when I have a family of my own I will turn back to Nintendo. Because even through my own disconnect, I still believe that no one is better at creating the interactive family gaming experience than Nintendo.

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