Every year we find ourselves in the same place here, writing up on the big companies of the year and judging how well they did or didn’t accomplish the goal of being a video game company. Gus took a strong Pro Sony stance with his 2011 Sony Wrap Up, Brian was less thrilled about Microsoft’s- and by extension all of gaming’s- contribution. So that just leaves Nintendo to me, but rather than just the simple rundown of games they released and didn’t and what was good and what wasn’t, I’m going to explain why I’m still a diehard Nintendo fan, even with the missteps this year. So then, shall we begin?
Nintendo’s Heavy Hitters
The hardest part about rounding up everything for the Wii, 3DS, and DS systems this year is that Nintendo really didn’t try to outdo themselves whatsoever. Yes, there are some big exclusives, but overall things felt a little…barren. The year has now finished with Skyward Sword, Super Mario 3D Land, and Mario Kart 7, but other than Pokemon Black and White Versions on the DS in March and perhaps Ocarina of Time’s remake during the 3DS launch, there hasn’t been anything to really go on about.
Still, I should give the briefest summaries of the largest titles, starting with Skyward Sword. I’m up to the third dungeon and finding myself hard pressed to find time to play, not necessarily because I’m too busy but because my motivation to play is low, thanks entirely to Fi, the constant tutorial system that’s brought the game down from a solid recommendation to a cringe-worthy affair. Don’t misunderstand though, the game controls wonderfully and looks fantastic, but being forced to hold the game’s hand for so long, despite being a seasoned vet, is painful.
Super Mario 3D Land is an entirely different story. I can’t recommend it enough for Mario fans, platformer fans, or people with a 3DS and no clue why it’s so great. Super Mario 3D Land proves that the 3D function of the 3DS can truly be something special and walks that perfect line of fun and difficulty. As a Mario fan, I was able to complete the game 100%, but I know that such will not be the case with many other players. If you don’t have this game by now, then you must not have a 3DS.
Mario Kart 7 is much he same. I’m still waiting to get my copy, but that’s only because I had to wait until Christmas since there was a high chance someone was planning to get it for me. The consensus out there is that if you’re not tired with the Mario Kart formula, then Mario Kart 7 is one of the best games in the series with some of the absolute best tracks and an enjoyable hang gliding mechanic, whereas if you’re not really a fan or want something more advanced than Mario Kart DS, you’ll be disappointed. I loved Mario Kart DS and want its excellent wifi multiplayer back with a simple handheld game, so I’m set. Judge for yourself accordingly.
Pokemon Black and White Versions turned out to be predictably good and yet stagnant as always. I found myself sinking my teeth in once again and really finding a connection with some of the new faces, but still, it felt like the same old song and dance that we’ve seen before, and yeah, I’m getting too old to be catching them all again. Give me a new incentive, one that doesn’t require trading with half a dozen other versions and waiting for event-specific Pokemon to complete the central driving force behind the game. Still, I discovered that Black and White Versions make great companions when on exercise bikes. At this point exercise bikes should just come with Pokemon installed in the handlebars.
The Quieter Releases
It’s not all high profile games with Nintendo, but the smaller, quieter titles are quickly forgotten in the rush of things. For instance, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, a great return to form for the franchise at last, has all but been forgotten now that the rest of the holiday releases have arrived. Kirby fans decided that Return to Dreamland was a nearly perfect game, and after playing the demo at PAX I can easily see why they’d think that. It’s fun, the controls are tight, and there’s flawless drop in/drop out multiplayer.
A title that’s been getting hammered a bit though is Fortune Street, a game I played at PAX and actually really enjoyed. The easiest comparison is to Monopoly, though add in Mario and Dragon Quest characters for good measure. Criticism has been leveled stating that the game is slow, boring, and looks shoddy. I disagree on all accounts, mostly because it’s not like Fortune Street is being billed as a competitor to Skyrim or Skyward Sword or something like that. If you love Monopoly and the concept of trading property and stocks, then yeah, you’ll absolutely love Fortune Street. If you’re looking for an engrossing single-layer experience, then you’re just being stupid.
And speaking of Dragon Quest, the DS got the remake of Dragon Quest VI, wrapping up a string of really great remakes from the Super Famicom era. I just recently acquired the title for my birthday but haven’t had a chance to plow through it yet, though it’s high on my list since it’s a gorgeous game that shows how to do sprite work on the DS, all while being a solid RPG, as the pedigree would suggest.
Launching the 3DS
Nintendo’s only big stumble this year has been the launch of the 3DS. Billed as a revolution to the handheld market with 3D capabilities and graphical power that competes with the GameCube, Nintendo decided to go with a $250 asking price, a move that, combined with a pitiful launch library, resulted in abysmal sales to the point that every gaming journalist was quick to ask, “Is this the end for Nintendo?!”
Well, no, it wasn’t. After listening to customer complaints and realizing bold action was required, the price was slashed to $170, which is when I grabbed it. However, those who bought the system before the official price drop day were given a bonus in the form of the Ambassador Program, essentially giving early adopters 10 free NES games and 10 free Game Boy Advance games. The NES games were pretty standard with Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid standing out as some of the better titles, but it was the GBA list that made me most happy with titles like Wario Land 4, Fire Emblem, and F-Zero: Maximum Velocity.
Ocarina of Time’s remake is perfect in essentially every way, and Star Fox 64 3D is a near-identical recreation of the N64 original with the added bonus of the 3D graphics. Between those two, Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7, I’d say the 3DS has a pretty strong launch year library with a perfectly accessible price point and tons of great games expected in 2012, such as Kid Icarus: Uprising, Paper Mario 3D, Luigi’s Mansion 2, and Animal Crossing 3DS. I’m happy, so why aren’t so many others?
Why I’m Still a Nintendo Fan
It all comes down to one simple program: Club Nintendo. In a time when just about every single game company is struggling to find a way to cut out the used games market and force gamers to buy new, Nintendo is the only company that’s thus far doing it right, all thanks to a simple concept. With most games, I’m punished for purchasing used. With titles on Nintendo systems, I’m rewarded for buying new. See the difference? Subtle, but effective.
Let me explain a bit better. If I were to purchase Battlefield 3 for either the Xbox 360 or PS3 used, I’d be unable to access the multiplayer features without buying a pass that unlocks them, whereas if I bought it new I wouldn’t have to worry about features being absent. Inversely, when I buy Mario Kart 7 this week, I will get a code that can be entered at my Club Nintendo account for coins, which can then be saved up and redeemed for items such as Wiimote holders, decorative fans, Game & Watch games, Mario-themed washcloths, amazing poster sets, or most recently, select games appearing on the Virtual Console and eShop marketplaces. At this moment I can snag the original Super Mario Kart on the Virtual Console for a cool 100 coins, or roughly two Wii games worth of coins (a poster set is 400 by the way, of which I have three).
I can’t stress enough how effective this simple tactic is to encourage me to purchase my Nintendo games new every single time. If there were a similar rewards system for Sony or Microsoft or individual companies, I’d be hard-pressed to buy used ever again because I love incentive programs. To my knowledge, only Nintendo has figured out this reward over punishment concept. Funny how that works.
Besides just loving Club Nintendo, I’ve found that I love my 3DS. I haven’t had an issue with the battery because I do a lot of my gaming in small bursts in bed, at the gym, or just hanging out. Sure, on a long trip I’d be frustrated, but I’m not enduring any long trips with my 3DS (and can’t due to motion sickness). I’m having fun with my system, and already I’ve bought two (soon to be three) killer games for the system, quickly beating my DS’s first year lifespan. That actually makes it more useful to me than my DS thus far.
Looking Ahead to 2012
Nintendo’s lineup for next year on the 3DS looks promising, as I’ve already mentioned, but their Wii showing is nearly nonexistent. Rhythm Heaven is lovely and Xenoblade Chronicles will come out to underwhelming sales (prove me wrong, you know it’ll have a terrible launch), but beyond that what is there to look forward to?
Oh right, the Wii U, Nintendo’s next console. The controller looks pretty crazy and the system is supposed to be Nintendo’s first HD console, but beyond that we don’t know anything else besides a launch window of possibly right around E3. As usual, I’m cautiously optimistic, so we’ll have to wait and see if another risky console gamble pays off.
And that’s it for Nintendo. There’s a lot to love here, but it’s Nintendo, so sometimes it isn’t obvious right away why they’re still in business. But enough from me, what are your thoughts? Did Nintendo have a good year? Or are they indeed doomed? Go ahead and leave a message while I go snag Mario Kart 7 really quick.