Nintendo games used to have an ‘edge’. The ‘edge’ is that moment of concentrated coolness. I think it is done by displaying evil in the video game. In escape fantasy, you only feel like a hero when you defeat evil. When an entertainment product fails to depict evil, it is difficult to depict heroism. I sense that Miyamoto and others are shying away from displaying any sort of evil within their games. They won’t even show the evil bad guy dying anymore! Donkey Kong died at the end of Donkey Kong. No one had a problem with it. Bowser kept falling to the lava in the NES Mario games. No one had a problem with it. Yet, Miyamoto thinks that Bowser MUST be shown to be dragged out of the lava by his Koopa henchmen at the end of NSMB Wii. Miyamoto thinks kids are fragile. The kids who grew up with Nintendo should tell him that they had no problem watching the bad guy get it at the end.
When I think of the great ‘Nintendo experiences’, I don’t think of getting new hardware or new games. I think of the moments when the game had an ‘edge’. You are totally absorbed in the game. Yet, these moments you just can never forget. These moments made the game ‘epic’.
NES Metroid is probably 100% ‘edge’. The game is just wicked. It was wicked back when it was released, today it seems extremely hard to today’s gamer. The moment that stands out the most is Tourian with the scary Metroids and the battle at the end. Everything feels so evil! It is great! There is nothing ‘cute’ in the final battle with Mother Brain. With those cheerio rings, constantly getting thrown into the lava, the final battle with Mother Brain has a great edge that is extremely memorable.
Super Mario Brothers is not the ‘happy cutesy land’ throughout the entire game. Evil is presented. The castle stages all have an ‘edge’ to them. The ‘edgiest’ place would have to be World 8 with the INSANE jumps you have to make. The entire land felt ‘evil’. It’s not that the game was ‘hard’ so much as it felt you were in an evil land.
Legend of Zelda has an edge throughout it. Sure, the game is cartoony. But you feel like you are in evil when you go inside a dungeon. The music helps.
Zelda 2 remains popular among gamers because it is the Zelda with the most consistent ‘edge’ running throughout it. This isn’t ‘difficulty’, it just feels like you are in the presence of evil. You feel like a mythical crusader slaying something in a fallen world.
And the music! Even the MANUAL with its glorious illustrations have that edge.
Look at Super Mario Brothers 3. That game may be so beloved precisely because of the ‘edge’ in the game. World 8 is just fire and brimstone with armies of tanks, a naval fleet, demonic hands coming at you, those very memorable white wasteleand levels, and Bowser’s evil castle with statues that shoot lasers.
What is so fantastic with Super Mario Brothers 3 is how the ‘edge’ in the game increases the tension with each world. World 7 seems sinister as does World 6. This tension seems absent in today’s Nintendo’s games. The games have no edge which is why they feel ‘kiddie’ or ‘lame’ or ‘casual’.
Look at other franchises during that time.
Games like Final Fantasy had an ‘edge’ to them. You could really sense the evil. In later games, this became less apparent. Golbez had an ‘edge’. Kefka had an ‘edge’. Then the series becomes ridiculous which I can’t really talk about since I haven’t played the later ones (and have no desire to).
Dragon Warrior had an ‘edge’ especially as you moved up to the harder enemies and lands. Dragon Lord’s castle felt EVIL. Games weren’t shy about depicting evil. You had a much better player experience because you were defeating something evil. Today, it feels like beating a game is just eliminating an obstacle.
The name change of Dragon Quest to Dragon Warrior might have been necessary then. It’s not talked about much, but box art was extremely important back in the 1980s. You want a picture that had an ‘edge’. You didn’t want Disney on your cartridge unless it was a Disney game.
The ‘most famous’ third party games of that period all had a huge edge to them. Ninja Gaiden, Double Dragon, Contra, and even Gradius had an ‘edge’. At the end of Life Force, it feels like I am at the Heart of Evil. It feels really cool!
Around 3:20 as the stage slows, you hear those godawful sounds and think, “OMG! OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG!” Even though this is the easiest final boss I’ve ever seen in a shooter, it still feels evil. The game has that ‘edge’ that goes straight to the end. And remember, this is a SPACE SHOOTER. Would Gradius have been popular without the Moa Heads? The Moa Heads gave the game its ‘edge’.
Since I will be accused of waxing nostalgic of 8-bit era, let’s look at other eras.
Even Super Mario Kart had an ‘edge’.
Special Cup seemed sinister especially that Rainbow Road. Nintendo keeps imagining Rainbow Road today as some sort of rollercoaster ride but Rainbow Road seems like an evil place. Another good example are Bowser’s Castle stages. They seemed like they had an ‘edge’. The Ghost Houses are another example They balanced out the Grass Maps and Donut Plains tracks. If Super Mario Kart only had Grass and Donut Plains, the game would become ‘teh lameness’. Even though the tracks weren’t bad, from a gameplay standpoint, in Double Dash, they lacked maps with ‘edge’ so everything felt ‘teh lameness’. Nintendo forgot that the Mario franchise incorporates sinister and evil landscapes. They keep trying to imagine Mushroom World as a saccharine place.
Link to the Past has an excellent example: the Dark World.
Nintendo may see Link to the Past’s success in having a mirrored world or the gameplay dynamics of such. However, I see it as if the game ended when you got the Master Sword, the game would have been ‘teh lameness’. Instead, you get sucked into the Dark World. The Dark Wold should be renamed to the ‘Edge’ World. Since the Dark World was to depict the evil in Ganondorf’s heart, the land felt appropriate. It contrasted nicely to Hyrule. The people in the Dark World weren’t angels. They were thieves and corrupted beings. EVIL was actually represented in a Nintendo game! Alas! Can you believe it, reader?
Look at Ocarina of Time:
What do you see when you become Adult Link? You see evil in the world. The game has an ‘edge’.
Take a look at this boss.
Nintendo even uses the word ‘evil’! The reason why the game has an ‘edge’ is because Nintendo wasn’t shying away from depictions of evil. Hyrule isn’t Candyland.
While I crap over Wind Waker, there are only two moments I thought the game had any entertainment value. The first was the intro which depicted evil with the flooding of the world.
The second part was the final battle with the water draining in. The rest of the game was complete and utter garbage. NOTHING felt evil in the game. There was no edge.
One reason why I think Dark Souls might be popular is because the game maintains a consistent ‘edge’. Evil is constantly shown off and defeated by YOU, the hero.
The ‘edge’ is not difficulty, ‘dark’ art-style, but makes you, being the hero, think you are fighting a nemesis instead of a digitally made obstacle course.
Look at NSMB Wii for example. We keep hearing criticism about the art style, the music, and all that. But I wonder if it all comes down to the lack of ‘edge’. Ice World in Super Mario Brothers 3 felt sinister. Ice World in NSMB has dancing Christmas trees and feels the opposite of having an ‘edge’. How can I be the hero if I don’t defeat evil!? The NSMB games has everything feeling like CandyLand until you get to World 8, lava everywhere, and then its game over. WTF? The only CandyLand should be World 1. From there on, there needs to be an ‘edge’ and gradual increasing of the tension. Without it, I don’t feel like I’m progressing. It also removes repeated playthroughs because you are just playing a sum of obstacle courses instead of having an adventure to defeat evil.
When is Nintendo going to bring back its edge?