Why Mario Kart 8 Proves Everyone is Wrong about Nintendo - Including Nintendo
Nintendo's bleeding cash--they're done for.
Nintendo just makes the same game over and over again.
Nintendo's so behind the times they can't even figure out online.
Nintendo should make games only.
These are the things you hear over and over again in message boards, in comments, and even in the headlines of articles about games. And it makes sense. For most adult gamers, Nintendo is the reason we started gaming, and when we were young, a new Nintendo game or system was rare, a real reason to get excited. People feel strongly about the company.
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But somewhere along the way, Nintendo became "Big N." Mario is ubiquitous, and new titles starring him and his mustache have become a pattern rather than a celebration. The company has already stated it's working on new hardware. It seems like they've lost their direction. And even though every moment of their latest title, Mario Kart 8, feels like a celebration, once you step back it's hard not to see it as just another part of the pattern.
Anyone who's taken a look around the web has seen the positive reviews of MK8. It's hands-down Nintendo's best-looking game in years, and with the possible exception of Wind Waker, maybe even Nintendo's best-looking game ever. From the controls to the upbeat music to the character animations and backgrounds, the game has the painstaking polish gamers expect from a Nintendo title. Whether you're racing locally with friends or online, everything is fast, smooth, and exciting. People who haven't bought a Wii U will say they want one after they've played MK8 (I've seen it happen).
Yet right there we have the major problems Nintendo is facing: people aren't buying the Wii U, and people aren't excited about it without playing it first. MK8 probably should have been a launch title. Racing games are about refinement--taking the elements that fans like best and paring them down to the core while adding just enough to keep things interesting. Games like that offer a great chance to show off a new system's new abilities, and the Mario Kart series has a ready and enthusiastic fan base that could have moved system units in the early days.
So how does the game prove everyone wrong?
First of all, it shows that Nintendo still knows how to make games that get people excited. If I can be a little more bold, MK8 shows that new, slightly-updated variations of old IPs are not inherently bad. Secondly, it's a great example of how Nintendo's commitment to perfection is probably the greatest argument for keeping their software on their own hardware. Also, MK8 online is fast, easy to use, and lots of fun (caveat: I have yet to test linking up with friends, however).
But to turn things back around on Big N, MK8 is perhaps proof that hardware innovation doesn't always mean hardware reimagining. Just as the 3D abilities of the 3DS failed to be that system's selling point, the touch-screen controller for the Wii U barely serves a function in MK8. Perhaps the Wii was just a lucky fluke that came in right as more casual and non-traditional gamers were feeling more and more alienated by increasingly-complex systems with overwhelming visuals.
Maybe even the Wii sold on what Nintendo has always been good at: simple, fun games that bring people together. The top three best-selling titles for that system are Wii Sports, Mario Kart Wii, and Wii Sports Resort with the first Wii Sports selling more than the second two games in this list combined. More than anything, Mario Kart 8 (which is already the Wii U's fastest-selling title), should prove to everyone that when Nintendo focuses on what made it's top Wii titles so good, it can be a top contender in the industry.
Perhaps Nintendo itself should start to notice this, too.
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AkihabaraNews contributor Greg Flynn is a Yokohama-based gaming, photography, and why-did-you-walk-so-far-across-Tokyo enthusiast. His interests range from chiptunes to chocolate chip cookies to inexpertly lobbing darts now and then.