Posted by: seanmalstrom | February 16, 2014

Email: Can Nintendo even do ‘edge’ anymore?

Hey Malstrom,

I absolutely believe in your concepts of good vanquishing evil being a draw in video games. It’s part of what draws me into worlds, and I’ve noticed it’s part of what can turn me off of them. I got sucked into the Mass Effect universe recently because I played my Commander Shepard as the hero the galaxy needed, a man who upheld justice, gave everyone a second chance, and wasn’t afraid to keep fighting evil no matter if it was borg-like space robots, human supremacists or corrupt politicians. By the same token, I finished playing my first GTA story-mode with a negative and depressed feeling because I spent a few dozen hours breaking the law and doing graphic and horrible things to people just to “get ahead.”

I think the reason you see less and less edge in Nintendo is because they went the route of trying to be the Disney of video games, or the modern “safe” Disney where you can take your family to a movie and not be worried that you’ll be offended by the movie teaching your children anything you don’t believe in (so much so that people have to look for things to be offended about). In Mario 3, an evil dragon used corrupted black magic, zombies (Dry Bones) and a well-equipped military to conquer a peaceful land and steal your girlfriend, and you have to journey across the land and finally face him in what’s basically Hell, an underground pit of fire and brimstone. Fast forward to now, the last world is usually just ash-filled skies and natural volcanoes. Modern Bowser has almost turned into an Eggman-style enemy who just repeatedly parodies himself. The only remotely “evil” thing is Bowser’s skin getting melted off and his bones being reanimated as a Dry Bones, but that usually gets undone by a post-game cutscene showing he’s really all right. They made Twilight Princess into a dark Zelda and it garnered a T For Teen rating. Wind Waker Zelda is E for Everyone. Skyward Sword is E for Everyone. It fits their “Disney” approach. Retro made Metroid Prime, a bunch of T games, but when it didn’t become the next Halo, the got Retro making Donkey Kong Country games, more E for Everyone games, whereas they farmed out Metroid to an outside developer versed in Mature games (Team Ninja) to see if they could make something out of their T for Teen game that still had some name brand with a certain segment of gamers but wouldn’t be accepted as an E-rated game. Metroid Prime 3 and Twilight Princess were games that came out around the same time, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence once Nintendo found its place as a family-friendly console maker with Wii that we saw the return to E-rating Zelda and an abandonment of Metroid. The only T Rating game that has any legs anymore is Smash Bros, and it feels like a lot of the T Rating is just ass-covering because there’s swords and guns in an otherwise cartoony game.

That’s not to say that gameplay edge still can’t exist, because I got moments of extreme satisfaction doing some difficult things in games like Galaxy 2 and Donkey Kong Country Returns, but I think the era of Nintendo having more “edge” than not is over.

I don’t mean ratings.

Look at Duck Hunt for example:

Above: People forget that the best selling First Person Shooter was made by Nintendo!

This game is so full of win. But Nintendo wouldn’t make a game like it today (outside of a cameo to appease the nostalgia). Cartoon and music aside, this game is about KILLING DUCKS. Even worse, the DOG LAUGHS AT YOU if you miss. There is NO WAY Nintendo would have the dog laugh at the gamer today. That would be ‘mean’ and might be ‘offensive’.

I bet the people who worked on Duck Hunt also had experience with actual firearms. This is an easy bet because Nintendo used to have a shooting range business before they got into video games.

My gut feeling, and it is not one people want to hear, is that people who make games today are lesser men than the ones who came before. Today, we have game makers who spent their lives in a digital cocoon of playing video games and living in Computer Land. This can’t compare to those who had real life experiences before the rise of computers and video games.

When the games had ‘edge’, they had so much more intensity. I remember when looking at games in game magazines that it was this ‘intensity’ that mattered. Today, what do you hear? You hear stuff like…

“Artstyle.”

“Gameplay.”

“Cinematics.”

“Story.”

“Etcetera…”

All this stuff is being promoted above the intensity. It may seem strange to see gameplay listed, but I’m beginning to think some games have too much gameplay. It is not that they are too complicated, it is that they get too convoluted. I don’t need this much gameplay. Chess has very complex gameplay. Yet, these games go beyond that. Every game must be a FPS + RPG + Online Arena + MMORPG + Platformer.

Think of the arcade games. They had ‘edge’. I don’t mean hard gameplay. I mean, the game was an experience of intensity.

The attract mode of Mortal Kombat 2 is a good example of it. However, people will think I’m referring to ‘dark themes’ or ‘violence’.

Here is the intro to Ninja Gaiden 1 for the NES. Hmm, people will stil lthink I’m referring to ‘dark themes’ or ‘violence’.

Now we’re talking! Mega Man 2! The game had no violence or dark themes, yet it definitely had an ‘edge’.

R-Type has an edge to it.

This ‘edge’ is like a zen-like feeling you have as a gamer when playing. It is extremely addictive and makes you want to keep replaying. I know when it is not present. It isn’t present when you think ‘art style’ or ‘story’ or ‘graphics’ or ‘gameplay’. When I was playing those games above, I wasn’t thinking about any of those things. I was just OWNED by the game. The game POSSESSED me.

Shakespeare said of music (from Much Ado About Nothing): “How strange it is that sheep guts may hail souls from men’s bodies.” As bizarre as it sounds, when you are in that ‘zen’ moment, it feels like your soul is on fire. You’re not just playing a game.

Starcraft has the ‘edge’ and Starcraft 2 doesn’t. I can’t exactly pinpoint why. When I play Starcraft 2, all I think about are ‘gameplay’, ‘story’, ‘graphics’ or ‘art style’. When I play Starcraft 1, none of those words pop in my head. I just get ABSORBED by the game.

I remember when I first played Warcraft 2. Good Lord. That game had such a great edge.

I remember something Shigeru Miyamoto once said about early video games, about how they were trying to make video games the new rock-and-roll. And that has to be a big part of it. Rock and roll! Not so much the music, but how all of it integrates.

For as much talk Nintendo gives on hardware and software integration, there has been no talk on game asset integration. When I play a game today, everything feels like a sum of parts. When you eat a dish, you should not be able to taste the ingredient. The idea of the dish is to transform those ingredients into something completely new. When I play a Nintendo game today, I just think ‘art style’, ‘gameplay’, ‘story’, ‘controls’, and so on. There is no integrated experience. There is no intensity. There is no ‘edge’.

Metroid Prime had the ‘edge’. Metroid: Other M did not.

Ocarina of Time had it. Wind Waker did not.

Chrono Trigger has it. I can’t watch that and not cheer in heroic excitement.

Super Metroid had it.

Hell, even Mystic Quest has it, and the game is terrible. Yet, and yet, I feel like the game is a guilty pleasure.

Have you noticed all those games that used a movie IP or TV show IP or Star Wars IP? What they were essentially doing was using those IP’s ‘edge’.

Rogue Squadron’s edge is coming from the Star Wars IP. Instead of creating its own asset integration, it is borrowing someone else’s.

Have you noticed that the ‘edge’ in some games can be found in their inspirations? With Super Mario Brothers, it has that Alice in Wonderland feel. Metroid has that Alien movie feel. Wing Commander has that WWII dogfighter / Star Wars feel. World of Warcraft had that Lord of the Rings feel. Now that I remember, Starcraft 1 was inspired by the movie Starship Troopers.

When I play a Zelda game today, I think Aonuma and the Zelda team need to stop bringing content from home. I really, really wish Zelda would be inspired by a fantasy book or movie. The game has no edge to it anymore.

Back during the 16-bit War, Sega was cleaning Nintendo’s clock for one really good reason: their games had ‘edge’. Nintendo’s games were beginning to be what they are today. They are like Kirby. Pink, squishy, cute, and edge-less. Super Mario World really lacks the ‘edge’ you see in the earlier Mario games. Sega’s competition made Nintendo do an about-face. Their games suddenly got an ‘edge’ again. Holy shit, look at Star Fox.

The game has talking animals. And yet, it is full of ‘edge’. If I show this game to a gamer today, they probably wouldn’t believe Nintendo made it.

I’m noticing when a game company has an older franchise, the games lose their edge. This might be due to a conservative nature when making the game to not step on ‘anyone’s toes’. I’m seeing the problem break out big with Blizzard currently. It’s been big with Sega for a long while (when was the last time Sonic was cool?). For Nintendo it is a constant thing. It’s obvious that the ‘edge’ is not the game developers’ instinctual direction.

Pretend there is a man and a woman. The woman is attracted to the man because he has an ‘edge’ to him. Maybe he rides a motorcycle and wears a leather jacket. Maybe he is ripped muscle man. Maybe he is suit wearing business shark. They get married and make babies. The man then begins to relax. He gets ‘puffy’ (which would be the opposite of ‘edge’). The woman loses attraction to him and increasingly becomes frustrated. Eventually, the woman leaves the man for another guy who has the ‘edge’.

While that example shows up in real life all the time, I think it is precisely what occurs with Nintendo gamers. We’re attracted to a game because of its ‘edge’. We might stick with the sequels for a little while. But we become less attracted to the game, become very frustrated, and eventually leave Nintendo.

NSMB games have no edge. I perceive them as nothing but platformer gameplay. Zelda lost its edge with Wind Waker. Metroid lost its edge with Other M.

When we complain about ‘Japanese style’, what we’re really doing is expressing our frustration at the lack of ‘edge’ in the game. We HATE HATE HATE cute, puffiness with no edge. Are there any adults that actually like Kirby?

When Nintendo used the ‘You’re now playing with POWER’ line, they obviously weren’t meaning hardware power. If you replace the word power with passion, it fits very well. “Now you’re playing with PASSION.” Those old school games really drew our passion and actually still do so today. That guy, The Angry Video Game Nerd, is selling his ‘passion’ for the games including the games that suck. In fact, I actually prefer a game that SUCKS ASS instead of a game that is merely boring. Superman 64 got more entertainment value for being so absurdly bad than being a mediocre forgettable game that bored everyone.

When I play a NSMB game, I don’t feel any passion. Not compared to the earlier Mario games. I believe the reason why is because the developers, themselves, were passion-less when making the game. They didn’t want to make it, and that passion-less is communicated to the gamer. With something like Mega Man 2, which was made by Capcom employees in their spare time, that game draws out a ton of passion because it was made with passion. It’s like when you go to an orchestra, and you see musicians swaying and moving with the music, you get into it too. (Oh wait, who am I kidding? Gamers don’t go to orchestras. Disregard.) It’s like when you view a youtube commentator, and you get into it because he or she is really into it.

Why do we have so many game developers talking business models, speaking of franchises, and other business lingo? Their job isn’t to be business gurus. It’s like it is sucking the passion out of them. They are passionate about business models today, not games, passionate about making ‘franchises’, but not passionate about making a universe.

I even have the sense that Wii Sports and Wii Fit were passion projects. Hell, even the Wii itself. But the Wii U feels passion-less as if it were assembled to do nothing but ‘check those boxes’ of some corporate requirement list. Even passionate hatred is a good sign. The passionate hatred people had for Wii Sports was matched by the love people had for the game. Notice that people had passionate hatred for the little Wii, but there is no passionate hatred for the Wii U.

Even with games I dislike, such as Dark Souls, I am appreciative that people are so passionate about it. I want to see gamers passionate, not just hardcore gamer hype-drugged drones marching to manipulative marketing to buy the latest AAA game. The E3 2004 Twilight Princess trailer response is the response I want gamers to have to every game that comes out. Instead, it is like every game is boring these days, and we keep playing them zombie-like in hopes we stumble across something passionate.


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