If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (… there are how many FGC entries at this point? What? When did that happen?), you know that I cut Nintendo a lot of slack. I don’t think you’ll ever find me saying an unkind word about a Zelda game, and even games that may cause crippling hand damage are lauded as revolutionary. When Nintendo is ready to release a new system, I pen a decade’s worth of articles that start with “In the lead up to the Nintendo NX…” as if Nintendo is the cornerstone on which the gaming world pivots.
But… that’s because I do think Nintendo is the foundation of all gaming.
I’m not delusional, I know Nintendo is not the industry leader it once was. I know that I’m an old man ranting at Cloud Strife, and Nintendo hasn’t been Nintendo since Sony destroyed the company’s monopolistic dominance by courting all the third parties that had previously made the Super Nintendo and Nintendo so great. And, yes, thanks to my own myopic views, I’m also entirely basing this on the fact that we haven’t seen a numbered Final Fantasy game on a Nintendo system since the 90’s… but it fits. The harbingers, the big “gotta have ‘em” games are on the “standard” Xbox and Playstation platforms, while Nintendo is left with quirky spin-off titles and whatever can be tailored to the latest Nintendo system’s gimmick. Other than that, all Nintendo has to offer is, basically, Nintendo games. Even when the Wii was the undisputed top of the heap, the best it could hope for was the likes of No More Heroes or ports of games that had been popular on the previous console generation. Grand Theft Auto: Wii was never meant to be.
But there’s a flipside to that coin, and that’s that Nintendo seems to be the only company capable of succeeding with those “gimmicks”. The Playstation 4 does, effectively, the exact same thing as the Playstation 1: play videogames with this standard lil’ controller that could practically be traced back to the Atari. The Nintendo Wii, meanwhile, featured ridiculous motion controls and a controller form factor that was much closer to a standard TV remote. The (unfortunately named) WiiU included a tablet that allowed for remote play and some excellent inventory management options. And the new
NX Switch takes that a step forward with a portable system that can transform into something more akin to a console (and we’ll figure out how to properly implement that touch screen in that setup later). All of these systems are wild diversions from the traditional controller/game setup of previous systems, and, when other companies attempted to emulate those innovations, nothing came of it. The Kinect was probably the most successful of the lot, but that only seemed to only be truly supported for a year (remember when it was going to be a mandatory part of the Xbone? I own an Xbone, but I’m pretty sure I don’t own a single game that even includes a Kinect feature). The Playstation Move failed even harder, and is currently only remembered by the six malcontents that can afford virtual reality headsets (not that I’m jealous of their ability to play the latest Psychonauts jaunt or anything). And remember that one E3 where everyone was showcasing tablet/console cross functionality? Did that ever go anywhere? I don’t think I played Watch_Dogs…
The Nintendo 3DS is a Nintendo success story. I don’t believe it has been as profitable as the Nintendo DS, but I believe that’s only because the Nintendo DS cheated, and was able to coast a solid six months on an advertising slogan that went something like “Who wants puppies!?” You can’t be expected to compete with puppies. Regardless, the 3DS has been an efficacious Nintendo platform, which makes it difficult to recall that it was a risky innovation at its inception. The Nintendo DS introduced the idea of a touch screen and “dual screens” to everyone that couldn’t remember Game & Watch, and then the 3DS innovated with a 3-D display. While, again, this seems rudimentary to people that have survived the last six years of 3DS portable dominance, at the announcement of the 3DS, the idea of this scary new “3-D technology” was met with a lot of skepticism. In a time when 3-D was primarily being pushed in an effort to get the general public back to movie theatres and away from the chilling of Netflix, this was seen as Nintendo’s last gasp at relevance, and a stunt that would be quickly buried beneath a mountain of smart phones and idevices (… come to think of it, people think that any time Nintendo releases a console. Or announces a console. Or coughs).
And, I will admit, I was skeptical of the Nintendo 3DS, but that’s mainly because I hate 3-D. I have poor depth perception, so 3-D is less a feature and more of a threat. And that’s why I so rarely leave my basement. As someone who didn’t exactly love (see? Can’t hate Nintendo) the previous Zelda DS offerings that shoehorned in stylus controls when a perfectly good crosspad was right there, I was downright fearful of the 3DS, and the possibility that I’d have to use my poor, depth-impaired eyeballs to sink Donkey Kong into a pit infinitely. I fear change generally, but I’m downright terrified when a Nintendo system I know I’m going to buy day one might potentially lead to a decade of games I hate in franchises I love.
I have firstest world problems.
Luckily, Super Mario 3D Land proved I had nothing to fear. After an (apparently overpriced) launch that primarily featured a number of ports of craky N64 games, Super Mario 3D Land was released in 3DS’s first Fall. This was appropriate on a couple of levels, as it hit that famous Christmas software sweet spot, and the whole game was vaguely fall themed (or at least falling-leaves-themed). And SM3DL was touted as the first “real” 3-D Mario adventure! It wasn’t enough for Mario to dabble in the 3rd Dimension back on the N64, now there are going to be narrow jumps and “challenge stages” that are all about Mario in a 3-D. That worked in Super Mario Sunshine, right? You all loved the bits without the jetpack… right?
Despite any reservations, though, Super Mario 3D Land is really good. It’s not just a good Mario game, it is, somehow decades after the “invention” of Mario, a really good fusion Mario game. Super Mario 3D Land deftly combines the obstacle course sensibilities of the 2-D Marios with the perspective and movement of the 3-D Marios… and it’s amazing. In a weird way, this is what I expected Mario 64 to be back in ’96, but Nintendo wisely conserved that concept until 3-D Marioing was perfected. Mario 64 stages are principally based on locations that could, potentially, be real (you can’t fall off Bob-omb Battlefield… well, without trying really hard), and that generally persisted through the 3-D Marios. Even Mario Galaxy, a more “obstacle course” Mario game, seemed to rely on slightly realistic planetoids, and not just the “this is a Mario level” of the 2-D games. Or did someone really believe Super Mario Bros. 3’s Piranha Plant Kingdom could have a prime real estate market? But Super Mario 3D Land adroitly weaves together these two concepts with aplomb, and subtlety makes the argument that this couldn’t be done outside of the 3DS, because all of these precise jumps couldn’t be made in faux 3-D, only real 3-D. It’s a complete lie, of course, as Super Mario 3D World did much the same on the WiiU three years later, but the comforting lie did much to assuage fears regarding the 3DS.
And that’s why I give Nintendo a lot of leeway. That’s why I think they’re industry leaders. Nintendo makes mistakes and publishes the occasional game that is not only bad, but generally mind-numbing (…), and even sometimes Nintendo systems are merely just kind of there, and completely fail to capture the same zeitgeist as their greater forbearers. But, despite all of that, Nintendo still knows how to make a damn fine Mario game, and “prove” a system with that same Mario game. One way or another, Nintendo knows videogames, and how to make games that will be entertaining for everybody.
Nintendo, to me, is videogames, and games like Super Mario 3D Land prove that.
FGC #255 Super Mario 3D Land
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen…. Nothing? ROB? Everything okay? Um… huh… looks like ROB only goes up to 255. Damn unreliable thirty year old technology! Alright, while I reset my robot, I’ll figure out something to play for Monday. Uh, please look forward to it!