I’ve been a videogame fan for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories involved going past an arcade in a shopping mall and hearing the unique electronic noises wafting out of it. I would get excited about visiting a relative’s house because I would get the chance to play their Atari 2600. My very first home console was the infamous Atari 5200. I even played a few simple games on my father’s archaic IBM PC. And of course, I enjoyed playing arcade games any chance I got. But playing the NES for the first time at a neighbor’s apartment in 1987 began something that has lasted for more than 25 years so far.
I am a Nintendo fan.
There’s just no getting around it at this point. Nintendo has been a part of my life for nearly three decades. Something about them just clicks with me, even today.
Is it nostalgia? Sentimentalism? Blind fanboyism? I can think of a number of reasons why Nintendo still appeals to me after all these years, but when it comes down to it, it’s not about loyalty. I’m not married to Nintendo, and if I didn’t like what they were doing, I could find my kicks elsewhere. Yet, they somehow continue to earn my fandom.
But let’s start at the beginning.
That eight-year-old boy playing the original Super Mario Bros for the first time probably didn’t realize the impact that moment was having at the time. Videogames always seemed magical and exciting, but I was stepping into a whole new world. Something about the best games on the NES felt wondrous, mysterious. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s sometimes referred to as “Nintendo Magic.” The now-defunct Next Generation magazine once called it a “dreamy ‘wow’ factor.” Whatever it was, it did a lot to shape my tastes and expectations as a videogame fan going forward.
Does Nintendo still have that magic today? Personally, I think so, even if it doesn’t stand out as much among the current gaming landscape as it did back then. But for a game developer and publisher, Nintendo still holds a lot of the same values. Heck, a lot of the same people are still working there.
I think some of that magic rubbed off onto third-parties, as well. Japanese companies like Capcom, Konami and Squaresoft really defined themselves on the NES. Some of them were great arcade developers before that, but the NES was arguably the first home console in which many games were specifically tailored for the home experience rather than just being a platform for arcade ports, and it revolutionized the way games were designed.
This was the beginning of the golden era of Japanese game development. A lot of groundbreaking innovations in game design happened because of Japanese craftsmanship, and legendary franchises like Mega Man, Castlevania and Final Fantasy were born out of it. Most of the best games at that time came from Japan, and I still appreciate Japanese games today.
Unfortunately, many of those companies I grew up with seem to have lost their identity. Capcom, Konami, Square Enix, and even Sega bare only the vaguest resemblance to the companies I used to know and love. Many of them are trying to appeal more to the Western market, or even farming out their franchises to Western developers who reboot them into something barely recognizable. Some of them are devoting themselves to the cell phone market, or catering to “moe” fetishes.
It’s understandable, I suppose. The game industry is a lot different now than it was then with the pendulum having swung westward. Japanese society has also changed, with many players finding it more convenient (and discrete) to play on their cell phones. Some developers lament the fact that they can’t make the kinds of games they used to, which, perhaps, is why many of them have gone indie. But publishers are simply doing what they think they need to do to survive.
Nintendo, however, is probably the only major Japanese publisher that still maintains a classical sensibility. They still make their own platforms, their games still feel like Nintendo games, and they avoid cell phones like the plague. A lot of analysts and players alike think Nintendo is being overly stubborn not to embrace the current trends in the gaming industry. I won’t argue that Nintendo is a stubborn company and that they’re very slow to change, but frankly, I think they also have more integrity.
I often see gamers get frustrated when a company like Sega or Capcom focuses on mobile platforms, or abuses shady practices like free-to-play pricing and on-disc DLC, or tries to retrofit classic franchises into a trendy genre. But then why isn’t the opposite more appreciated? Why doesn’t Nintendo get more respect for continuing to do things the way many of us want to see other Japanese companies go back to doing things? Last year, Sega Nerds‘ Chris Powell published an editorial saying that Sega needed to be more like Nintendo, because, he argued, Nintendo still maintains a strong identity while Sega is flailing about. Who wouldn’t want to see the old Sega, Capcom or Konami come back?
That’s not to say Nintendo hasn’t changed at all. They’ve gone through their own metamorphosis and are distinctly different than they were 20 years ago. I’m also not saying they’ve never made mistakes or done aggravating things. But at the core, they’re still Nintendo, and they do things the Nintendo way. It’s not just a brand; the name means something. I can’t say the same for every company.
There are still other great Japanese developers around today with a classical approach to games, but many of them are indie studios, like Platinum Games and Nihon Falcom. Perhaps it’s telling that Platinum seemed to enjoy its recent relationship with Nintendo. They’re probably on the same page when it comes to development philosophy.
I still enjoy that flavor of Japanese game design, and Nintendo is one company that still consistently provides it. Plus, it’s all centralized on their own platforms. Even today, Nintendo represents what cemented my love for gaming way back then. The magic still enchants me.
So, that’s one reason I love Nintendo. As I’ve grown, I’ve been through many phases as a gamer. My tastes have changed, my attitudes have changed, and it wasn’t all positive. Next time, I’ll dare to explore a darker side of my Nintendo fandom.