The Nintendo Touch

6 06 2010

The creative minds at Nintendo certainly have a way of doing things, don’t they?

I don’t mean to write this to sound all pro-Nintendo, and I don’t want to take a ride down the Nintendo Fun Slide (though it would be fun…). Mario Galaxy 2 was the highest rated game of all time for a few days, finally dethroning Ocarina of Time after its 12 year rule, and it got me thinking about this. Whatever it is that causes Nintendo to make such great games, it doesn’t look like it’ll stop any time soon.

It’s no secret that to pretty much everyone, Nintendo is synonymous with video games, and likely always will be. Despite their current direction and the gaming population’s views on this, the video game industry owes a lot to the big N. When the video game market crashed in 1983, who pulled it from the ashes and brought it back to the world? And let’s not forget that Mario is easily one of the most known figures of the entire world.

What is it about Nintendo, and more specifically, Nintendo games that just seem to make gamers and critics alike go gaga?

Ladies and gentlement: your highest ranked video games of all time. OF ALL TIME!

According to GameRankings, five of the top 10 highest ranked vidja games are Nintendo games. True, Metroid Prime is from Retro Studios, but Nintendo had a large part and even if you twist my arm and say to not count that, that’s still four out of 10, beating Rockstar two to one. What is about these games, namely Mario and Legend of Zelda, that entrance us so? Clearly, Nintendo must have… The Touch. The power. Yeah.

But let’s look beyond that. The top three ranked games of all time are also two of gaming’s greatest and longest running series. Ask any serious gamer about Legend of Zelda and Mario and they’ll instantly think of memories, memories of playing Mario or Zelda for the first time and just knowing that this was something special. When Legend of Zelda came out in 1987, there was nothing really like it at the time. It was a huge epic adventure and really showed the world that games can do something special. I don’t think I even need to talk about the impact the original Super Mario Bros. has had on the world; everyone knows that story.

Now I know there are contrarians and cynics out there who will laugh and scoff at the Zelda and Mario series for their general lack of innovation. That’s true, and it can’t be avoided. Zelda has followed generally the same formula for the past 23 years and Mario is the same. In both games (for the most part), the princess is captured and the hero must go through several levels/worlds in order to defeat the baddie (Gannon and Bowser) to save her. Look at Ocarina of Time, the highest ranked game of all time. To many, it’s one of the best games of all time, and the best Zelda. Whether or not I think that is irrelevant (I tend to disagree) but the point is, its power is undeniable. Sure, it follows the exact same formula, but it was the series first foray into the third dimension, which was a huge step. It didn’t come out at the launch of the Nintendo 64 and it wasn’t the first game of its kind to step into the third dimension, but it damn sure pulled it off well. I think everyone who played it when it came out can remember the first time you exit the treehouse as young Link and see the world expand before you in all dimensions and just think to yourself, “Holy shit.”

Many people tend to look at formulas as a bad thing, and generally they are. For the most part, they’re a show of laziness, relying on what worked in the past in lieu of innovating. Well, a simple glance at numbers two and three will show you that even the most tired of formulas can blow socks off with just a little innovation. The Mario Galaxy games boldly took the Mario series to the final frontier, and they pulled it off with that touch we come to know and love from Nintendo. Camera control was spot on, controls were tight, worlds were colorful, music was fantastic… It was Mario. What made the games so memorable was their, basically, insanity.

These two games had more originality in one level than many games have in their entire… game. When you see that sort of thing, you just know it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be frantic, and it’s going to be Mario. Say what you will about Nintendo’s casual-friendly leanings lately, especially on the Wii, but they know what they’re doing when it comes to their two biggest cash cows. Oh, and speaking of following a formula and refusing to evolve, let’s not forget Pokemon. In the 13 years since it came out, the main RPG’s still follow the same general ideas and the same general gameplay. Sound familiar?

So OK, you say, Nintendo knows their stuff. But what if I’m tired of the same ol, same ol? It’s no doubt that to many of us, the Nintendo Touch is largely stemming from nostalgia. When I was a kid, I never owned a NES or a SNES, I had a Genesis. I only got to play Mario Bros. and the like at friends’ houses and I don’t remember ever playing Ocarina of Time when it came out, despite owning a 64. That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate what they did and the memories they hold in other peoples’ minds. Maybe we score these Nintendo games so highly because deep down we just can’t let go of what they did for the industry as a whole and what they did when we were young to build such fond memories.

Whatever the case may be, think about it. What are the worst reviewed Mario and Zelda games in recent years, not counting spin offs? New Super Mario Bros. Wii and The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures.  NSMBW sits comfortably at an 87 while FSA rests at an 86.  Those are the two lowest rated “main” games in the series, not counting re-releases. An 86/100 is a fantastic score that many games would love to achieve, and when you consider that this is the worst, you know it’s something special. People may be tired of the formulas, they may be tired of the same gimmicks, but even the most jaded critic has to admit that the games do exactly what they aim to, and that’s to have fun.

One of the greatest things Nintendo does with their games is focus on fun. I talked about how a game can be when the developer focuses on fun in my Just Cause 2 entry, and Nintendo has pretty much always stuck with that. No matter what they do, no one will ever take Mario seriously. One look at the guy, his nemesis and his world and you know it’s not meant for that, so they do like they did with Galaxy and just focus on the fun factor. Zelda is a bit different, with games like Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, and Majora’s Mask especially are relatively serious and even dark. Twilight Princess is easily the most mature Zelda game, in terms of setting, theme, characters and so on. Even then, this focus never comes at the expense of anything in the game itself. Controls are always solid, music is always good, gameplay is always fun, and everything just works.

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is that makes these Nintendo games so great. Whatever the case is, when a new Mario game comes out, like Galaxy 2, I instantly revert back to my younger days, playing Mario as a lad and just knowing that this would be a big memory, something I’d remember long into my adult years. Nintendo seems to have the key to everyone’s nostalgic heart and can crank out a formula better than just about anyone and guarantee a positive return.

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