All my life, the ‘best consoles’ have never been just about ‘the latest and most innovative video games’. When you look back at consoles in the past, the library is more complicated than that.
I think the best console strategy is a continuous tripod throughout the console’s life. This tripod is of three parts:
1) One third of the console games are brand new innovative games.
2) One third of the console games are sequels to prior games from past generations or previous years.
3) One third of the console games are older games from prior generations or ports from other systems.
When I look at the most satisfying console experience, I get something like this tripod. Of course, backwards compatibility helps with number 3, but that isn’t enough. Consider…
The NES wasn’t just about Super Mario Brothers, Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, and other ‘new innovative games’. The NES had many, many sequels which weren’t really about anything new. No one complains there were six Mega Man games on the NES. To differentiate sequel and ‘new and innovative games’, I mean sequel as in a game made to satisfy an established userbase, a game selling to a warm market. Super C sold to Contra fans, obviously. People who bought Lolo 3 were fans of Lolo 1 and 2. It is very refreshing to have part of the game library to be an update on something you know and love. You don’t want everything to be ‘new and innovative’ because that would be too much risk for the consumer.
Commonly forgotten on the NES were the classic games on it. The NES received all the classic arcade ports such as Pac-Man, Gyruss, and others. This was a big deal as the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man was really shitty. Commodore 64 games were ported to the NES. Spy Vs. Spy, Archon, and M.U.L.E. were ‘years old games’ by the time they were ported to the NES, but it is cool that they were there. While these products offer the least surprise, they make it up with reliance on their quality. You know Pac-Man is going to be a good game. But you aren’t going to be surprised by Pac-Man.
Apply the tripod to the other more popular consoles, and you’ll find it is true. There were some very innovative games on the SNES. But there were many sequels. And there were the classics such as Super Mario All-Stars. No one complained about that game. No one.
The PlayStation is a good example of the tripod. Not only did it have very new types of games on it, it had many sequels (hello Final Fantasy 7). PlayStation also had many classic games ported to it. Not only were some 8-bit and 16-bit games ported over, so were many computer games. You could play the original Diablo on the PlayStation.
I think one of the reasons why the Wii took off so fast was just how well positioned the tripod was at the start. Motion controls, indicated by Wii Sports, hinted at many innovative games to come. The sequels also got people happy. Twilight Princess was a fun game to launch with the Wii. But then there was the classic games such as those on the Virtual Console. I am a huge Virtual Console fanatic. I like the old, and the present, and the new. I believe a console should represent all three.
I think the best approach for Nintendo is to go the tripod, to go the three pronged attack. Games have a different surprise / reliability rating with them. Nintendo arrogantly thinks they are ‘above’ this since they think everyone sees their games as ‘quality’ (they don’t) so they can keep focusing on ‘surprise’ and ‘innovation’. We love surprise and innovation, but we don’t want EVERY GAME to be ‘surprise!’ and ‘innovation!’ Do you only watch brand new movies or new TV shows? No. Sometimes you watch sequels to those shows even though you know you won’t be surprised. And it is sometimes good to watch a classic. Why do console companies treat games differently?
Nintendo has this weird belief that the Virtual Console will ‘cannibalize’ their new game retail sales. That is silly. The games on the Virtual Console perform a different job than the new games. Sequels provide a job different to the classic and brand new games as well.
What is so frustrating about Nintendo’s software output in these modern game times is how Nintendo abandons this tripod. Most of the time, they just keep making sequels yet they think they are making ‘surprise!’ and ‘innovation!’. Nintendo’s first party library feels too lopsided. This is why people keep pushing for things like the Virtual Console or for new IPs.
When Nintendo is at its best, it is doing the tripod game output. They are introducing some brand new games, some sequels, and then re-releasing their classic games. It is really disappointing Nintendo sees consumers as nothing more than ‘surprise!’ addicts because we are not. Imagine trying to live life only eating brand new ice cream. Sometimes, it is nice to go back to classic Vanilla. It is also fun to try out improvements on popular flavors.