Tuesday, December 24, 2013



Something's been bugging me about Nintendo games lately.

I kind of touched on it when I was talking about New Super Mario Brothers 2.  Lately, it feels like Nintendo's games have something... missing.  I don't know how to describe it except that there's a kind of... flatness to them.

It's weird because, on a purely intellectual level, I think a lot of their most recent games are pretty great. And really, what I'm worried about might have more to do with the fact that I'm a 34-year-old nerd who's spent a quarter of a century oversaturating his brain with Nintendo stuff.  But...  Well, let's take a look.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

This game is awesome.  It's one of those rare Zelda games that I actually love.  So... what's the matter?

I dunno.  I just remember playing Zelda games as a kid and getting lost for days.  The worlds were so huge and so undirected.  I'd take wrong turns and end up poking at things I'd never expected to find.  I'd spend days at a time trying to attack a single dungeon, trying to figure out the puzzles that had me stumped even when I was away from the game.

A Link Between Worlds is a much more accessible experience.  All of the "access items" -- the ones that clear obstacles blocking your path -- are available almost from the start, leaving very few areas of the overworld out of your reach.  I've been clearing dungeon after dungeon, usually in just one sitting.  The overworld of Lorule is helpfully demarcated into accessible regions, slicing it up into what amounts to discrete "levels".

The fighting and puzzling is as good as ever.  But the world as a whole doesn't seem like it has that same sense of depth, like it's a giant puzzle box that you work out piece by piece.

Isn't that a weird complaint for me to make though?  Isn't my biggest gripe against Zelda always how inaccessible it is, how undirected, how it's possible to stick with it for hours on end without accomplishing anything?  I should be grateful for the change.  In fact I am.  But there's also a part of me that feels like it's just not the same.

Mario Party: Island Tour

I stopped following the proper Mario Party series with Mario Party 5.  And why not?  Five entries in the series, and they were all basically the same game.  The only thing that really differentiated one from the next were the side amusements.  In fact, it got to the point where I preferred the sideshows to the long, predictable party game.

Well, it seems like in the time since I left it, Mario Party has indeed changed.  The star-chasing board game that used to be the centerpiece is gone.  Now the games seem to be about the sorts of things that used to be relegated to the sideshows.  The 3DS entry, Island Tour, has a number of games that basically amount to a standard "race to the finish" style board game.  There's quite a bit of variety, too, with different games requiring different levels of skill, luck, and minigame prowess.  It's pretty cool.

But... gosh.  Isn't it a little weird not to be running around in a circle, collecting coins, buying stars?  No Battle Games?  No 2-vs-2 or 1-vs-3 games?  What happened to those 50-turn games that took eight hours to finish?  It's just a simple race to the finish now?

Not that the Mario Party games were ever designed to be especially deep or strategic -- they're just a framing excuse to play all of these little mini-games.  But... doesn't this linear race feel a little bare?

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Gosh, I love the new Animal Crossing!  I think it's great!  So many more places to go, so many more things to do.  Customizing your town with public works.  Customizing your house, putting new designs on your furniture.

So what's wrong?

I don't know!  It's just... weird.  Little things.

Like the fact that Blathers doesn't personally give you a story about the items you donate anymore.  Or like how the villagers don't seem to have as much to talk about.  Sure, they've got chores for you, and information about events, but... it doesn't seem like they're likely to talk to you about random unrelated stuff anymore.  The thing that interested me most about Animal Crossing, especially when it first came out, was that it was this little world that had a life and personality that went beyond you and your interactions with it.  But it seems like, more and more, the characters are sort of flattening out into the sorts of NPCs that populate any RPG -- they're just there to dispense a piece of information, initiate a side quest, or make a transaction.

While I love the fact that there are more interactions than ever before -- more things to actually do -- it seems like it's come at the expense of making the village animals seem more lively.

And So On

I'm not really sure if this feeling is worth complaining about, but I can't shake it either.  The impression I get is that Nintendo is trying to combat the rising costs of game development by making games that aren't quite as... nuanced?  Refined?  Complicated?  I'm not sure exactly which ingredient I think is missing.  It might be something as simple as the fact that Nintendo is changing internally, and different project leads are going to have different priorities.  Shigeru Miyamoto can't run everything, after all.

And like I said, I don't think it makes the games bad.  I love all three of these games!  But it is what it is.  Something's happening here, I've noticed it, and I figured I'd put it on the blog to get it out of my head for a bit.


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