By the time this article is published, the Nintendo Switch will be out.
It’s hard to imagine any news eclipsing that little gem. And as we read this, thousands, or even millions of people are rushing out to try go grab a copy, even if the reviews were rather lukewarm (the Breath of the Wild is really, really good, apparently). The excitement is rather baffling, if you think about it: in addition to a poor track record, Nintendo has done quite a bit as of late to earn ire from both myself and the industry as a whole, with some of the features of the Switch seeming awful suspicious, their seedy YouTube practices, and the fact that they never miss a chance to be a jerk to their adoring fans.
For what it’s worth, I’ve started making a point to separate Nintendo into two separate entities: a company, and a game-maker. As a company, they’re horrible and severely anti-consumer, but as game-makers, they’re still one of the brightest, warmest spots of hope in our industry, one of the few triple-A developers who puts fun as a forethought, rather than all the ways they could monetize the joy out of their games.
As a company, I dislike Nintendo. As game-makers, I still adore them.
Part of that is history. I grew up with Nintendo, and while I’m not as stupid as to think Nintendo was ever my friend, as a kid I wasn’t quite so attuned with the industry (or reality, for that matter), and Nintendo, for what it lacked in games, made up for in raw heart. When I was a kid, my household was strictly Nintendo: we had a Nintendo 64, a Nintendo Gamecube, and a Wii. If we wanted to play the Playstation, we had to pop over to our neighbors' house, who had a PS2 and a healthy selection of non-sports games we could sample. It wasn’t until I was older and tired of the Wii’s questionable functionality that I decided to splurge on a PS3.
A decision I don’t regret, but since that split, I haven’t really revisited Nintendo, at least not as a home console. The Wii started collecting dust, I never got the Wii U, and while I did eventually get a 3DS, it was mostly because I had to sell most of my games when I decided to move out of mom’s house.
My affection for Nintendo might be because of my distance from them, not in spite of it. The last major Nintendo console game I got my hands on was The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which I borrowed from a friend and binged over a winter holiday. I never played the latest Metroid game, or Pikmin 3, any of the latest Kirby games (although Kirby 64 has a special place in my heart), god knows I haven’t touched Donkey Kong since Rare and Nintendo split ways, I haven’t hopped as Mario in a coon's age, and I was lucky enough to avoid the catastrophe of Star Fox Zero, despite initially being excited for it from a distance.
Granted, my relationship with them from the mobile side of things has remained pretty strong. I actually started using my 3DS when they released Fire Emblem: Fates, and I still play Pokemon Moon on the subway to and from work.
But if we’re talking about Nintendo’s most mainstream work, yeah, I’ve got some breathing room between myself and them. That’s not looking to change anytime soon, as excited as I am for the Switch (at this point, more excited to see if it works than I am to actually play it), I didn’t pre-order it, so I’m not likely to get my hands on it anytime soon, given that Nintendo is undoubtedly going to create artificial scarcity again. But I’m open to changing my attitude towards the Big N, more or less. Well, okay, “open” might be the wrong word, but much like my relationship with my dad, it’s something I wish was better, were it not for my fear of being hurt and their habit of repeatedly switching between ‘your friendly triple-A developer friend’ and ‘your cruel, merciless creator of all-caps TRADEMARKED material’.
They’re a really bi-polar company, you know? I called them like my dad in the above paragraph, but the more I think about it, the more I realize their relationship isn’t unlike that of an affectionate if strict father. They go through great pains to convey themselves as a friendly, open, fun-focused company who always puts the player first, and if you didn’t probe them further, that’s exactly what they’d be. Their games are complete, typically lack for the heavy DLC and microtransactions you see come standard in triple-A games, they’re all really focused, typically friendly for the family, and they’re one of the best (if not consistently so) developers for both couch co-op gaming and single-player. They seem like they really care, you know?
But there’s something that bothers me. When developers actually care, they’ll show it in more personal, more intimate ways. When someone sent thousands of saved bottle caps to Bethesda as “payment” for Fallout 4, they actually accepted it and gave the guy a copy. Blizzard immortalized one of their youngest fans by giving him (and his dog) his very own quest in World of Warcraft. A fan who died was immortalized in Total War 2, his digital likeness placed in the game. MechWarrior’s Online released Sarah’s Jenner, in honor of a young fan who passed away, which helped raise money for charity.
Nintendo doesn’t do that.
Sure, Nintendo gives to charity on occasion, and will sometimes donate goods or products to a fundraiser. I’m not saying they’re heartless or anything like that. But I’m saying individual fans might as well not exist in Nintendo’s eyes. They won’t recognize or acknowledge players, be they sick or dedicated unless they’re making fan-games or videos that have Nintendo gameplay on display. And the kind of attention that warrants is far from hardy praise.
We’re in a very one-sided relationship with Nintendo, and it’s not healthy. Yes, it was sad when their president, a long-time advocate for fun in games, passed away. But other heavies in the industry have died, and haven’t warranted nearly as much grief and outreach from fans and gamers across the industry. And while his words certainly aligned Nintendo with the “fun first” line of thinking, the actions of the company under his watchful eye was far less generous.
And Nintendo didn’t really acknowledge the fans who were in morning or the many heartfelt tributes that was directed at Iwata. I get the impression they simply didn’t care.
It’s not easy to acknowledge when something or someone you love is seriously messed up. Look no further than the mess with PewDiePie and his fan’s frankly exasperating reaction to get a good example. And Nintendo, the bastion of my earliest gaming memories, the purveyors of fun and escape from the drudgery of my lonely childhood, is seriously messed up. I would never say they get away with the crap they pull, because they don’t, people call them out on it all the time. But perhaps it’s because we don’t take them seriously, or perhaps because we consider them so far removed from the rest of the industry that we think to measure them by their own standards, or perhaps it really is because of nostalgic rose-tinted glasses, however, you decide to explain it: we give them way more leeway than we give any other company that pulls these kinds of things.
Which might be why they keep doing it.
With the release of the Switch, things are going to be changing for Nintendo. For a long time now, they’ve been sitting and drowning in the background while Sony, Microsoft, and mothereffin’ Blizzard have had the spotlight in the gaming world. The Switch is a push from Nintendo to once again find its place in the spotlight and relevance it once enjoyed in the Nintendo 64, Gamecube, and Wii days. But the spotlight they’ve been so long absent from might reveal some aspects about Nintendo that no one is comfortable looking at. Nintendo, like it or not, does some ugly, greedy, entirely self-centered things.
And if we don’t point them out and shame them for it, then it’s not just going to get worse on Nintendo’s end, that particular infection is going to spread.
Granted, it’ll take some time. We can enjoy the honeymoon phase where people either adore the Switch or they loathe it (I very much doubt we’ll be seeing much moderation on either end of the spectrum, all things considered), but as the games roll out and Nintendo starts showing off its less palatable habits, we need to step up and make them sorry for it, something we don’t do nearly enough at present. Because Nintendo, gosh darn it, reminds me of EA from years passed: a company with a thick crust of grime and ugliness, with a heart of gold waiting somewhere in the middle.
Nintendo has the opposite problem: it’s a big ol’ pile of crap, with a nice golden shell. But I know, and every Nintendo fan knows, that they could be better.
We just need to give them a reason to want to.