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Top 5 Things Nintendo Need To Do To Make Me Care About NX

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I’d been a SEGA kid in my formative years as a gamer thanks to an ill-advised decision from my parents to buy me a Mega Drive (that’s a Genesis, for you in the colonies) rather than a SNES. Like any true SEGA gamer, I used to convince myself that I had the best machine. Mario? Pfft. He was just a fat plumber fighting an angry turtle. Sonic was the man (figuratively). He was radical and gnarly and other embarrassing nineties words. He had kick ass shoes, and he was super fast, and he had to fight a crazy moustachio’d scientist to save the animals. And we were all about nature in the early nineties. That’s where Captain Planet and Earth Song came from. Sonic the Hedgehog rocked my socks.

Except Sonic the Hedgehog was, for lack of a better word, shit, and I’d been kidding myself the whole time. I realised this sad fact the first time I played Super Mario World on my friend’s SNES. Mario might have just been a fat plumber, and he might have just been battling a fire spewing turtle throwing a tantrum over the girl he liked, but those games were great. So great, in fact, that they hold up today better than practically anything else of the time, and even games of later years, too. Try playing Resident Evil or Metal Gear Solid or practically any early 3D game now and they control like Bambi’s mum on roller skates (after the hunter shot her). Super Mario World though? A generation older and it still controls like a dream. Nostalgia and rose tinted glasses make Sonic the Hedgehog tolerable, but the early Mario games are playable today because they’re still, authentically, great games.

I was converted to the Super Nintendo and my love affair with the Japanese gaming giant began. Over the years I’ve owned every Nintendo console since the SNES, putting hundreds of hours into various Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and Paper Mario games, but I’ve loved each console less than the last. That seems to be a common trend given the sales of Nintendo home consoles have gotten steadily worse with each new release, barring the Wii. While my interest in Nintendo began to wane, my appreciation of series’ like Metal Gear Solid, Bioshock, Uncharted, Grand Theft Auto, and Persona meant that I was drawn to the PlayStation. The Wii might have sold an extraordinary number of units, but mine sat next to my TV untouched for most of the generation, and I’d wager that I wasn’t alone in that. I loved Super Mario Galaxy as much as the next man, but there were precious few must-play games on the system, with the majority of titles released being little more than shovelware designed to awkwardly implement the inaccurate motion controls to make a quick buck. Meanwhile, my PS3 was working overtime.

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Save your tears, Peach. I’ve been putting up with this shit for way too long.

The Wii U isn’t quite the straw that broke the camel’s back, but the camel is buckling at the knees, looking pensively at the NX. Instantly outdated with a comically bad UI and saddled with a gimmicky, costly, and utterly irrelevant tablet controller, the Wii U sits under my television as a constant reminder of why my future children probably won’t get an inheritance. If I was anything like a rational adult I would have traded the thing in months ago when I realised I’ve had more hours of enjoyment out of my George Foreman grill than I have my Wii U. But I’m not, so I haven’t. It just sits there in the entertainment centre looking at me, wishing I’d love it like I love the other Nintendo consoles. It’s the Randy Jackson in my proverbial Jackson 5. The A Good Day To Die Hard. The coffee flavoured Revel. The sixth season of 24. That Baldwin that went on Celebrity Big Brother who was famous mainly for being related to all of the better Baldwins.

That’s not to say that the Wii U has been a complete waste of time and money. Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8 have brought me hours of fun, 3D World in particular being one of my favourite games in recent memory. But the console itself is a joke, and after only a few years on the market, with its successor already announced, it’s obvious that Nintendo are in a holding pattern with the thing, just waiting for the acceptable time to abandon it in favour of the NX. The tepid reaction to the Wii U both critically and commercially calls into question just what Nintendo plan with their next console, and whether it’s going to be worth paying out for. Are they just going to release another one in a few years if it’s not selling? Is there any point investing in one with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One doing so many things right?

I’ve loved Nintendo, I’ve been frustrated by Nintendo, and occasionally, I’ve been thoroughly annoyed by Nintendo. While their ridiculous YouTube policies and outdated approach to online gaming really raise my ire, we still have enough good stuff in the bank from the SNES days for me to give them one more shot to win me back. There’s a lot of disenchanted Nintendo fans out there, and it’s the job of the company to give those people a reason to care again. For you kids out there with your Facebooks, me and Nintendo are currently in a complicated relationship. I’ve been seeing Sony on the side, and eyeing up Microsoft too. But the relationship is not dead in the water yet. There’s still hope. So here’s the top five things that the NX needs to do to get me excited about Nintendo again.

5. Give me a normal controller. Please.

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The banana controller. Still more likely than Nintendo giving us a good console in 2016.

The Gamecube was released in September 2001, and that was the last time a Nintendo console launched with a controller that wasn’t absolute pigswill. Nintendo basically acknowledged this when they released Smash Bros. for the Wii U and it was possible to buy the game with Gamecube controllers so that you could actually play it properly. You see, after the Gamecube, Nintendo seemingly decided that the standard gaming controller was an archaic idea, and what gamers wanted was “innovation”. Innovation, here, means waving your arms around like a drowning chimpanzee.

The Wii featured a motion controller that was neither accurate enough to properly use in anything other than daft mini games á la Wii Sports, or comfortable enough to use with games built for a standard control scheme. The best games on the system like Mario Galaxy, Paper Mario and Xenoblade Chronicles, shunned the motion controls almost entirely, and succeeded because they overcame the controller rather than embraced it. The ease of conveying to anyone, gamer or not, how to use motion controls meant that the Wii flew off the shelves, but once Gran and Grandad had played Wii Sports for fifteen minutes on Christmas morning the console got packed up in its box and put in the attic between a Furby and a Spirograph.

For those of us that bought the system because we wanted to play great Nintendo games, there were a few, most of which eschewed the motion controls in favour of a more traditional control scheme, but that control scheme was never implemented comfortably on the WiiMote. As if created only to disprove the theory that “things can only get better”, the Wii U launched in November 2012 with a controller that was even more ridiculous. The Wii U Gamepad is an ode to tablets, featuring a touch screen built into the traditional analogue sticks and buttons set-up of a controller. It’s unwieldy, has a ridiculously short battery life, and bears an uncanny resemblance to a Fisher-Price iPad. Hardly any games make use of the features in any meaningful way, and so after over a year of owning a Wii U, the only time I’ve been impressed with it was when I undercooked my chicken, gave myself food poisoning, and could play Mario on the toilet.

Innovation can be good, but innovation for innovation’s sake rarely is. Originality is an overrated concept. It’s not about getting there first, but about doing things best. It’s awesome that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but I’ll be a lot more excited when somebody builds a Starbucks up there so I can get a Pumpkin Spice Latte knowing I’ll only put on a sixth of the weight. Look at what’s been done, improve on it, make it better. That’s what Sony and Microsoft are doing, while Nintendo are alienating gamers like me by taking sidesteps rather than forward ones. If they could at least justify the gimmicks then it would be something you could get behind, but so few games use the screen on the Gamepad for anything other than displaying a map or inventory that it raises the question; if not even Nintendo can think of a reason for us to use it, why does it exist? Make the Pro controller the standard, and drop the gimmicks.

4. Choose what you want your console to be.

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Assassin’s Creed sucks, but it comes to something when Ubisoft can’t even be arsed to put the series on your system any more.

After Assassin’s Creed 3 was released on the Wii U, Ubisoft said that there’d be no more games in the series released for that console. Think about that. Ubisoft, the company that thinks it’s acceptable to release numerous full price Assassin’s Creed games every year, some of which are broken, and still have the audacity to put microtransactions in them, can’t be bothered to port games to the Wii U any more. They love money. And their shoehorning of tacked-on multiplayer and obnoxious hidden fees into their games are evidence of them not really caring how they get it. They’ve weighed up the pros and cons of making games for the Wii U and decided it isn’t financially viable.

There’s likely numerous reasons for this, but I think chief among them is that a lot of people who own Wii U consider it to be a secondary console that compliments their PS4 or Xbox One. I own one specifically because I want to play the big Nintendo games, but beyond that, I never touch it. Why? Why bother? If I can get a game on another, better system, with a better controller, better graphics, and where my friends are playing, I’m going to do that. Once we consider the Wii U as a secondary console, then that raises a problem which is probably contributing to the lackluster dreadful sales of the system; is it worth paying this much for a console that you’re only going to play a few games a year on?

There’s a couple of solutions to this issue, either of which are viable as far as I’m concerned. The first is that Nintendo aim for console parity with the PS4 and the Xbox One and lure back third party support. If the NX is built on a similar architecture, with a similar controller to the PS4 and the Xbox One, then the decision to port games to it becomes a lot easier, making the new Nintendo console one that can potentially contend to be more than a secondary system. The other option is to embrace their position as the “other” console, and strip the thing of gimmicks that drive the price up (like the Gamepad). If all you’re going to play is Mario and Zelda, then the decision to buy a console for that is a lot easier if it’s budget priced.

Nintendo have burned a lot of bridges with third party studios over the years thanks to a series of boneheaded hardware decisions going back to the N64. These decisions have cost them market share and fans, and the Wii U is doing nothing to change that, sitting in an uncomfortable middle ground where it can’t compete with the big boys to be the main console for many gamers, but it’s not priced cheaply enough to be something you only play a few games a year on. A smartly designed, gimmick free piece of hardware, whether aiming for the high end or the low, would surely be a more attractive proposition for unsure gamers, and one that I would heartily embrace.

3. Get with the times, man.

Whoever came up with this UI should be fired. Out of a cannon. Into the sea.

Whoever came up with this UI should be fired. Out of a cannon. Into the sea.

While the staunch Nintendo fans out there will champion the company as the great innovators of the industry, the reality is that in a lot of ways that really matter, Nintendo have been behind the times since the days of the N64. A series of bad decisions in regards to hardware have seen third party support fall away and the Nintendo fanbase dwindle, and if the NX is going to reverse the fortunes of the company, they need to learn from these mistakes, and more importantly, learn from the successes of their competitors.

Nothing about the Wii U makes sense. First up, the name is confusing. Why not just call it the Wii 2? Give it a name that makes it instantly apparent to people who don’t spend their days looking at gaming news online what this thing is. Second, they really need to sort out the online infrastructure of the system. Online gaming has become a massive part of the industry, and Nintendo are way behind in this regard. Third, come up with a sensible UI. Look at the difference between the PS4, Xbox One and Wii U dashboards. The PS4 looks like it was designed to be streamlined for speed and ease. The Xbox One was designed with more customization in mind, and parity with Windows 8/10. The Wii U dash looks like a puzzle you’d encounter in the Future Zone on The Crystal Maze. It’s a ridiculous, confusing mess. These things matter, and Nintendo really need to catch up.

Nothing about the Wii U says “cool” or “2016”, and for the NX to succeed, I think Nintendo need to get with the times. They need to be a little more slick, a little more streamlined, and a lot more ergonomic. Make things make sense. Make things easy. Stop creating barriers between gamers and your system that don’t need to be there. Kids shouldn’t have to explain the difference between a Wii and a Wii U to their parents when handing over their Christmas lists, and dad shouldn’t be having an aneurysm trying to work out how to use the Wii U on Christmas morning. If the NX is a little less out there, a lot more up to date, and Nintendo stop trying so hard to be different, the console might be more approachable to gamers unsure about whether or not to take the plunge.

2. One of the strongest cards Nintendo has is nostalgia. Play it.

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Nintendo’s back catalogue features numerous contenders for the best game of all time title.

Nintendo have an incredible back catalogue of games. While Sony are building a very impressive portfolio, and Microsoft still have a ways to go in that regard, it’s hard not to look at Nintendo’s history and see how impressive it is. From NES games that still hold up today, to the first tentative steps into 3D with N64, right through to high definition gaming with the Wii U, Nintendo could put together a comprehensive list of essential titles every gamer should play all on their own. I just wish they’d make better use of it.

The virtual console is, in theory, amazing, but in reality, it’s not quite as well implemented as it should be. There’s odd, glaring omissions from the line-up and a bizarre lack of parity between titles available on virtual console on the Wii U and the 3DS. If Nintendo were to really go to town on their virtual console and make it a place where gamers could pick up anything they’ve made since the NES days for an affordable price (seriously, lower those prices) then it could be a real game changer. But there’s also one more trick up their sleeves that could really make a difference.

Imagine if Nintendo were to give the NX system-wide achievements akin to the Xbox gamerscore, or the PlayStation trophies. And then imagine if they retrofitted achievements to their vast library of games on their virtual console. Many gamers (like me) don’t particularly care about trophies or achievements but there’s a lot out there that do. There’s entire websites dedicated to hunting trophies, with guides on how to pick up the platinum in games both popular and obscure. People legitimately bought the Hannah Montana game because it had an easy platinum trophy to obtain. And that’s Hannah Montana.

How many gamers would play through Ocarina of Time again to get 100% of the achievements? Mario Galaxy? Super Mario World? I really think that Nintendo are missing a great opportunity here to not only embrace their history, but to give people an incentive to go back to these classic games. The virtual console is a wonderful idea, and if third party studios continue to yield little in the way of worthwhile titles to pick up on their console, Nintendo could make up for that by playing the nostalgia card.

1. Get out of hardware and double down on games.

I'd give my left nut for this to be real.

I’d give my left nut for this to be real.

One thing that is true of every single Nintendo console, home or handheld, is that they’ve made great games for it. That tradition continues today with games like Mario Kart 8 still being as much fun as it’s ever been, Super Mario 3D World continuing to push the boundaries of what a 3D platformer game can be, Smash Bros. still flying the flag for local multiplayer as well as anything else on the market, and Splatoon proving that contrary to popular belief, Nintendo can and do make new franchises of merit. Nintendo have never had a problem with their games, but rather with the hardware they’re attached to.

The best case scenario for me, as a somewhat lapsed Nintendo fan, is that NX stands for Nintendo Cross, and they’re going third party, releasing their games on Sony and/or Microsoft consoles. And while Nintendo themselves consider the idea of going third party something that would damage their brand in the long term, I have to ask, would it really? What would the implications of going third party really be?

Let’s look at Mario Kart 8, for an example. The Wii U version of the classic kart racer has racked up over 5 million sales. That’s not troubling Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed in numbers. But when you consider that there’s less than 15 million Wii U consoles out there in the wild, it’s a lot more impressive. That’s an attach rate of nearly 50%. Imagine, if you will, that Nintendo were a third party developer and publisher, and Mario Kart 8 was on both PS4 and Xbox One, rather than being manacled to the tragically unpopular Wii U. That would give them access to somewhere in the region of 36 million PS4 users, and 19 million Xbox One owners. I’m no big city mathematician, but that says to me that they could peddle their wares to nearly 55 million gamers, rather than the 12 million or so they’re reaching now.

I understand the reluctance to give up on the independence that comes from making their own hardware to play games on, but Nintendo must look at the cold hard facts. Each of their consoles except the Wii has sold worse than the one that came before it, and the attach rate for games on the Wii implies that it was a fad, an anomaly, rather than something they’ll be able to replicate with a new console. Getting out of the hardware war and concentrating on games alone effectively removes all of the barriers between gamers and Nintendo titles. Paying a few hundred dollars for a console to play a handful of games you really want is a big ask, but if they’re on a system you own, then $50 for a new Mario game is a no brainer.

As someone who grew up loving Nintendo systems, and still to this day loves Nintendo games, it saddens me that powering up my Wii U feels like something I just can’t be bothered to do. If they took just one or two of these ideas on board for the NX then it would go some way to really building up a little good will with gamers feeling let down by the Wii and the Wii U. Or failing that, just make the full-on home console Pokémon RPG I’ve wanted for the last ten years. I’ll give you my money now.

John can generally be found wearing Cookie Monster pyjamas with a PlayStation controller in his hands, operating on a diet that consists largely of gin and pizza. His favourite things are Back to the Future, Persona 4 Golden, the soundtrack to Rocky IV, and imagining scenarios in which he's drinking space cocktails with Commander Shepard. You can follow John on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JohnDoesntDance

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