Posted by: seanmalstrom | February 21, 2014

Wii U doesn’t have games, it has Formulas

When the Virtual Boy failed to sell, much of the blame has to be due to the games. The games were not of value for people to buy the machine to get to these games. In Virtual Boy’s case, the games lacked value because of the hardware. Every game was black and red. There was no multiplayer due to the Virtual Boy only having one person play at a time. The hardware does help define the experience of the games.

In the Wii U’s case, the Gamepad is not so extreme as the Virtual Boy to cause every game to have a bad experience. So why do consumers keep finding the Wii U games to be such a low value that they skip buying the hardware to get to the games? Since I was nuts about the Wii and cold about the Wii U and still don’t own one, I am qualified to point this out about the Wii consumer.

It can be argued that it is not that the Wii U’s games are ‘bad’, it is that the Wii U’s games are not games at all. They are Formulas. Point out any Wii U game, and I don’t see a game. I see a formula. When I look at NSMB U, I see a formula. With Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, I see a formula. Even with old games like Super Mario Brothers 2 Japan, the game feels more like a formula than a game.

I think one of the definitions of a game is that it presents a new rule-set. It doesn’t just recycle the same thing over and over in some formula.

One thing the Wii audience do not like is formulas. The Xbox 360 and PS3 seemed to have nothing but formulaic games on it. The Wii actually had new stuff. It is not so much that Wii Sports was *new*, it was that Wii Sports was not a formula. Wii Fit was not a formula. 3d Mario and Aonuma Zelda were heavily formulaic. However, 2d Mario’s return was welcomed because the series had so far avoided formulas.

Nintendo is running all their franchises into the ground by applying The Formula. “It’s a new 2d Mario game!” No, it isn’t. It is The Formula. “It’s a new Donkey Kong game!” No, it isn’t. It is The Formula. Some games start off interesting like Metroid Prime. Then, Nintendo applied The Formula and interest nosedived.

In order for Nintendo games to have value, they have to be respected. They aren’t going to be respected by applying The Formula. While I dislike Super Mario 64, I respect it since it wasn’t applying The Formula. Ocarina of Time wasn’t applying The Formula as Zelda games after did. Smash Brothers sales are going to be very disappointing because today everyone sees The Formula.

Take shmups which were as popular as platformers once were. While shmups have been largely replaced by FPS, they pretty got destroyed due to The Formula. Every Gradius game had The Formula. I think ‘franchise’ means something different to game companies than it does to consumers. Consumers see ‘franchise’ as meaning ‘a high level of quality’ and a general idea of what type of game they will get. The game company, however, sees ‘franchise’ as ‘Applying the Formula’. Where is Gradius and R-Type today? Both series are dead.

Treasure did something very interesting with the shmup. While many viewed the shmup as stuck in an archaic formula, Treasure was able to make it feel fresh with games such as Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun. While these games don’t sell mass, they do sell well over time. The games refuse to age. They will still be sold for money thirty years from now. “But Treasure also made Gradius V!” That goes well with my point. Gradius V had to apply The Formula. Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun did not.

Super Mario Brothers 2 Japan was such a disappointment because it felt like a formula. But look how Nintendo actually kept the series fresh.

Map screen? Toad houses? Roads? Skipping levels? Super Mario Brothers 3 destroyed the original Super Mario Brothers formula. “But you just kept running right until the end!” No, you didn’t. Sometimes you would climb to the top to finish a stage (think of the tower in World 5). Many stages were mazes where you had to go backward. You also held items in the game and could use them. No Classic Era Mario game did this (and the NSMB DS and Wii games didn’t either).

While Super Mario World didn’t differentiate itself from earlier Super Mario Brothers 3, putting the game in Dinosaur Land really helped. The big formula buster was Yoshi. Yoshi mixed the game up and made it feel fresh.

When I get a new 2d Mario, I don’t want ‘more levels’. What I want is a formula buster. NSMB DS was fresh because we hadn’t seen a 2d Mario use modern gaming technology. NSMB Wii busted the formula with the multiplayer.

NSMB 2 and NSMB U I just see formulas. There is nothing formula busting in those games.

I want something more like…

Regardless of whether this is a ‘proper’ 2d Mario, the game busted the formula. It is unique and different. When we say, “Make a game like X…” What we are really asking is not more of X game but a game that busted the formula like X did. It is the formula buster we want, not the game’s formula.

Why isn’t Nintendo making any games that are busting the formula? We can only blame the Board’s General Manager of Software. Who is he by the way? Does anyone remember?


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