Published May 15, 2008Nintendo Reunions Make the Most of Mario With a flying kung-fu kick, Pikachu yes, adorable lil yellow Pikachu delivers a vicious smackdown to the lithesome Zelda, knocking the oft-kidnapped princess savagely across the dusty Mushroom Kingdom before finishing her off with a lighting bolt to the face and a ferocious skull bash. Over on the other end of the side-scrolling screen, Metroids armour-clad badass Samus Aran lines up her arm cannon to blast away at the pink puffball Kirby as the soundtrack swells to a piano-based version of Koji Kondos Super Mario theme when, all of a sudden, a Nintendog bursts out of nowhere and starts pawing the screen.
Aw I know, it sounds like a fan boy fever dream and, well, it is. But it is also Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the Wiis recent world-beater and Nintendos fastest-selling game ever after moving 1.4 million copies in a single week.
Then Nintendo had the balls to do battle with Grand Theft Auto IV, releasing new entries in their perennially popular franchises Mario Kart (bundled with a cool "Wii Wheel for steering) and Pokemon, selling 1.25 million each despite GTA IVs Guinness World Record-breaking launch week.
Gaming may be all about the next level, the next sequel, the next generation, but industry leader Nintendo which dominates all-time best-selling games lists, with the Mario franchise at about 200 million has gotten there by remaining rooted in its pixilated past. This is best embodied by the nostalgia overload of the Super Smash series (Brawls predecessor Melee was GameCubes best seller), which operates as a celebration of gaming culture in general and Nintendo in particular.
"Nintendo was one of the very first consoles to be successful and there are people, like myself and a lot of us, who have been around for all the systems so we built a fan base, says Nintendo Canadas Matt Ryan, who describes the game as no less than a "compendium of Nintendo history. It is indeed overstuffed with the minutia of Nintendoland, including a "Chronicle timeline of every Nintendo game ever made (even for the long-forgotten Game & Watch). They are the raw materials for Super Smashs mash-up of Nintendos most storied settings, iconic characters and beloved musical scores. With 35 playable characters to chose from, Brawl also boasts the arcane likes of Kid Icaruss Pit, Mother 3s Lucas, and Pikmins Captain Olimar. Plus, theres a (somewhat repetitive) single-player multi-character crossover saga. The whole thing is set to rearrangements of classic game theme songs and made dense with countless Nintendo-referencing collectibles, trophies and stickers. Nearly every Nintendo-made game is represented even R.O.B., the 1985 robot toy, and Mike Tysons Punchout and the "Masterpieces section includes trial levels from first-gen games like Kirby's Adventure, Ice Climber and Starfox 64.
Its not like the Playstations and Xboxes dont have memorable heroes, villains, environments and music Kratos, Master Chief and Liberty City are all pop-cultural touchstones. But perhaps because these mature-rated titles were first experienced by older gamers, they dont share the same emotional resonance. Theyre also more closely associated with their developers (David Jaffe, Bungie and Rockstar, respectively) than Sony or Microsoft. The Nintendo Entertainment System, launched in 1985, was the first game machine for the first generation of gamers to not put down the control pad. As Ryan says, "This is a gift for those who have been dedicated to Nintendo for a long while, and these lifers will get the most out of Super Smash though it also serves as a newbie-schooling reminder of where the Wii came from.
While other companies have grown-up and moved on remember the PS1s Crash Bandicoot? Yeah, me neither Nintendo stuck by its original mascots like Mario, Samus and Link. WarioWare is rooted in self-referential humour alluding to Nintendos primitive low-bit eras while Super Paper Marios 2D vs. 3D aesthetic is essentially a riff on Nintendos evolution from side-scrollers. When downloading a game on Wiis Virtual Console, the downloading screen is Mario head-smashing bricks, complete with 1985 chiptune sounds. Even Mario Galaxy, for all its gravitational innovation, is still about the same mustachioed plumber, pink princess and green pipes.
Nintendo has spent decades creating a self-contained universe similar to those of Marvel and DC comics or Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms. Its characters, both famous and obscure, regularly make cameos in each others games, as do musical themes and even weapons, items and power-ups. Mario Kart Wii even won praise for including 16 "retro tracks from past entries. Its that familiarity with Nintendos stable that engenders such dedication from its fan base. But all is not Princess Peachy in Nintendoland. Nostalgia alone couldnt make the GameCube more than a distant third during the last-gen and they havent launched a new character in years. DS titles Brain Age and Nintendogs arent technically "games, 2001s Pikmin barely caught on and 2006s Chibi-Robo! was unable to break through despite being one of Nintendos best games ever.
"I guess I dont necessarily see my job as creating new characters as it is creating new experiences, said Mario/Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto, referencing Wii Sports, Wii Play and Wii Fit, in a 2007 interview. "For characters, we came up with the concept of the Miis and that allows people to come up with their own characters. But even he knows thats not the same thing and hinted Nintendo was working on some new intellectual property for release this year, which may be announced at this summers E3 conference. Its a testament to Nintendos classic line-up that it has proven so enduring, but the Wiis momentum should be leveraged to bring in fresh blood yeah, yeah, Nintendo games generally dont feature blood, but yknow what I mean.
Not that character recycling matters to the hardcore loyalists. Casual gamers consider Super Smash and Mario Kart cacophonic fighting/racing fun with cartoonish violence doled out by vaguely familiar game mascots. But for nostalgia-fuelled Nintendophiles, the backbone of the companys success, fan service like this is manna from mushroom heaven. Wii franchise updates have been admittedly awesome and they are where younger gamers future nostalgia will sprout from but Nintendo needs to stop circling the Mario Kart track and create new characters, even if only to add to the inevitable next iteration of Super Smash.