Sometimes bigger isn’t always better…
When size isn't important
Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?
Nicholas: There’s been a lot of discussions lately surrounding the release of new consoles. Two weekends ago I was at PAX Australia and there were demonstrations on the now-released PS4 Pro. Only a few weeks ago Microsoft released the Xbox One Slim and in a number of months we’ll see the even better Xbox One S. Amongst all this though there’s been another console released, and that’s what I’d like to touch on today.
Now the console that I’m referring to is significantly underpowered, but this didn’t stop it from selling like absolute hotcakes. As a matter of fact, it sold out in its first day and there won’t be another shipment until the start of December. Furthermore, the console that was released was actually released three decades ago!
For those who haven’t caught on, I am of course referring to Nintendo’s re-release of its original NES. While the console is significantly smaller than the original, it remains the same overall look and comes packed with 30 original games. So to kick things off this week I wanted to get your initial opinions on this. Firstly, did you manage to get your hands on one and what do you think of the general concept?
Andy: I’m not really sure where to start with my answer on this one, because I can already tell I am going to be talking out both sides of my mouth. First, I actually like the idea of a retro console like this. There are many people, including me, who grew up on those older games but no longer have the console or cartridges to play. So, to be able to play those again is something pretty cool to many gamers. On top of that you have today’s generation that has heard about a lot of those games but never really had the chance to play them before. So now, they too can live the golden age of gaming firsthand. I like that they keptt the same look, smaller yes, but the overall aesthetic is unchanged. Just adds more to those memories for many people.
Now to answer if I got my hands on one – no, I didn’t and to be honest I never tried and won’t be trying either. This is the part where I talk out the other side of my mouth. As much as I like the idea, and remember many of the games included in the package (I think 30 if I remember correctly) I personally don’t want to play it. Not because I didn’t like those games, because I did and have many fond memories playing them, but because nostalgia is a dangerous thing. Meaning that all those memories I have of those old games were shaped based on my experiences at the time. My fear of picking up any of those older games is they just wouldn’t measure up to my memories and would somehow tarnish those memories. I want to keep those memories pure and remember those games how I choose. It’s much like losing a grandparent, or an old dog. I don’t want to remember those final days when they just weren’t themselves. I want to remember them full of life and vibrant when we experienced many things together for the first time. On top of that, I’m just not sure when I would ever get around to playing them. As it is right now I have games on my Xbox One that I haven’t played yet, and I have games via backwards compatibility that I haven’t played either. Those are games I have yet to experience – or finish – at all. So adding more games to the mix, on a whole other console just doesn’t make the most sense time-wise for me.
That’s not to say my opinion is the correct one for everyone, because it’s not. It’s just the decisions I have made. I can fully understand the appeal of it to many gamers, and Sega is doing the same thing I think. It’s nice that the option is there for those who want to partake in it. For me, it’s something I’ll look at on the shelf (whenever it’s not sold out) and remember those good old days of gaming. I know you are a much bigger fan of those retro games than I am, you’ve even purchased some of those older games on the virtual console to play again (or sometimes for the first time). So, what’s your take on this little fad of mini retro consoles? The million dollar question, is it worth it?
Nicholas: I can completely understand where you’re coming from, and truth be told, I don’t think you’re alone in that predicament either. I know I told myself that I would buy less games for my Xbox One than the Xbox 360, and ensure that I’d finish them before buying new ones, but even I’m starting to see a pile of shame slowly start to grow – and that’s only with one main console. To answer your first question, I have been buying and playing through games on the Virtual Console and I think it’s a fantastic idea from Nintendo. The last game I bought a few months ago was Donkey Kong 64 and I haven’t played it for too long because the controls are inverted and you can’t change them, but before that I’d downloaded and played through the Donkey Kong Country games and finished them all. I had a blast.
It’s very interesting that you mention nostalgia and wanting to keep those gaming memories ‘pure’. For me, it’s wanting to revisit those memories because I enjoyed them so much. I know that Super Mario World and the DKC games still held up to what I loved almost two decades ago, but DK64 was far more frustrating than I would have hoped – and for nothing more than a ridiculous controller scheme (honestly, if you’re the kind of person who likes inverted Y-axis, lose my number). Despite that though, it hasn’t tarnished my childhood memories of the game, I just haven’t been able to re-experience what I did originally.
As far as my take on the mini-consoles goes, I think it’s great. Is there a downside if those 30 games that are included don’t cover all the ones you might have liked? Sure, but I think the appeal is more than just the games. There’s something about owning that console again and having it sit on your shelf, even if you only play it for a few hours every once in a while. I guess that’s what I’d like to put back to you – you’ve mentioned how the decision to buy one is blocked because you don’t want more games to play, but you’re somewhat of a collector – isn’t there a part of you that would want this just for it to sit as another piece of gaming memorabilia?
Further to the points above I wanted to touch on one of the main points of controversy with the mini-NES – it’s availability. I already mentioned in my first response that they sold out the day they launched, and this isn’t unusual for Nintendo’s products. What are your thoughts when a company like Nintendo knows the demand will be ridiculous, knows that people want it, but the units provided are never enough. Is it a smart move to push sales, or is there an element of gamer disrespect from them?
Andy: I don’t think it’s disrespect by any means. I think it’s the natural occurrence when you produce anything that has a high demand. Let’s also not forget that its electronic and therefore needs a little more quality control. If I was getting one I would much rather have a more strict quality control and fewer units on the shelves, than have low quality control, lots of units on the shelves and a higher return rate for defective units. On top of that I think this mini console has such a broad appeal it would be difficult to meet the demand. Think about it, everyone that grew up with the NES is a potential buyer of this, plus all the other gamers that never had the chance to play it. There’s no way Nintendo would be able to release say 10 million units in the first few weeks.
Let’s be completely honest here as well. It seems every holiday season there are a couple hot items that no matter what happens are hard to get a hold of. Hell I remember when I was younger those damn Tickle Me Elmo dolls damn near caused riots in the stores. We can’t treat this shortage of stock like it’s a one-time thing, or even a Nintendo thing. It’s that time of year, it’s a hot item, so naturally it will be hard to meet demand. It’s not like they can flip a switch and print thousands of copies of a game. I’m no tech expert by any means, but I can imagine there is a good amount of engineering that goes into one of these things regardless of how small it is.
Speaking of flipping a switch… we talked before about Nintendo’s odd strategy of not having anything of substance coming out this holiday season, to making a trailer for a console and then saying there’d no more information about it until next year. Yet, here we are again talking about Nintendo. Not only that, but for many gamers Nintendo is the hot button topic to talk about. Games from 20+ years ago are the hot thing over titles like Dishonored 2, Call of Duty, Watch Dogs 2 etc. How smart does Nintendo look now for essentially releasing old tech and old games… all while making gamers lose their mind? Game-wise they probably didn’t spend anything, and probably had minimal expense for the console, so the profits from this mini NES are almost entirely that, profits. Has Nintendo successfully navigated this holiday season and stayed relevant by releasing only a mini retro console and a new Pokémon game?
Nicholas: I understand what you’re saying regarding supply and demand, but there’s no denying that Nintendo has a knack of doing this time and time again. If we put aside the mini-NES as an example, let’s cast our minds back to when Amiibos first launched. Another example of Nintendo creating hype and demand (well, I’m not sure if they’re responsible or we brought that on ourselves) and then offering limited supply that fell well short. I can remember that when I was younger that games would sell out on launch, but nowadays those situations just don’t happen – except when it comes to Nintendo. Maybe I’m being too harsh but it never seems like it’s as prevalent with other companies in this industry.
As far as Nintendo’s strategy goes, like I said with the Wii and for most situations between then and now, there’s no denying one thing – they’re geniuses. Yes, it doesn’t seem like they’re always in the headlines and it doesn’t seem like they’ve always got the biggest and best, but when they swing they hit a home run every time. I don’t think any of this is unintentional or unexpected, they knew what they were doing from the get-go. Yes, there was a bit of a lull earlier this year when it seemed like we’d hear nothing from them until 2017, yet here we are. I think what we’re seeing now is a true representation of their marketing plan – where the likes of Microsoft and Sony want to dominate constantly, Nintendo makes a splash and then retreats, makes a splash and then retreats. When they splash it’s more than a drop in the ocean too. In some regards I like that because it lets me focus on my Xbox most of the time but I always know I can take a break and switch over to Nintendo every once in a while.
On that note, do you think what they’re doing is smart? We’ve spoken in the past how Nintendo isn’t necessarily running in the same race as the others, is this just not another example? I know you’ve held the opinion that Nintendo should be trying to win gamers over like yourself, but if this mini-NES is anything to go by, doesn’t it show that their existing market is providing dividends?
Andy: Let me touch on the first part of your response before I forget. Every single console launch that I can remember was met with limited supply. Xbox Ones and PS4s were hard to find, Wii’s and even the Wii U were difficult for a few weeks too (until people realized it was the black sheep of the family). Business-wise it makes sense to have a limited number sitting on store shelves. If people have to look for it, they will ask their friends and family who will then talk about it to others. It’s actually a really smart way to create natural word of mouth advertising. On top of that, the fewer sitting on store shelves the more successful the product will seem. You have to keep people talking about your product for as long as possible. So, if this is an artificial shortage, I really can’t fault them for it to be honest.
While I have talked above how cool it is to see these retro games again and – if I want – to revisit them, part of me is disappointed with Nintendo, and the pessimist in me can’t believe that people are saying Nintendo is brilliant and amazing. Before you come at me with pitchforks, tar and feathers let me explain. Name one other developer/publisher that could take an entire holiday season and only release retro/remastered games, and people would say it’s brilliant. Name a company that doesn’t have to release something new to be considered progressive, or on top of their game. I don’t think you can. You are 100% right when you talk about Nintendo’s business model of making a splash, retreating, making a splash and doing it all over again. Yet for the past several years Nintendo has done nothing but ride on the coattails of their previous successes because they know they will still make money. To many Nintendo fans I am going to commit sacrilege with my next sentence. Nintendo is just like Activision in that aspect.
Look at the past couple years of Nintendo releases and it’s a lot of shovel-ware, third-rate titles and a splattering a sequels that are not nearly as good as the games that proceeded them. But, they all sell to some degree because they have that Nintendo seal on them. If there is one thing about Nintendo fans it’s that they are very loyal and will support Nintendo until they die. While that support is nice, it also does a disservice to those very fans who have stuck with them over the years. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I want to play new stuff, new experiences and new stories. I’m not a big fan of remasters or straight up retro games. Sure, they are nice for a few minutes but I just don’t see those 20+ year old games holding my interest very long anymore.
At the right time retro games are fine in part. Yet, in my opinion, when they make up the bulk of your holiday I’m not really sure how that can be seen as a positive. While the short term looks good, selling thousands (if not millions) of the mini-NES consoles I’m just not sure how this benefits them in the long term. Are those fair statements? Is it fair to say that Nintendo is a lot like Activision now?
Nicholas: I completely get where you’re coming from when we speak about creating artificial shortage to drive hype and demand, but there’s one thing you said that made me pause. “If people have to look for it, they have to ask their friends and family who will talk about it to others … natural word of mouth advertising”. I wonder, is this really important anymore? I’m not referring to word of mouth, but more so that traditional conversation between family and friends. Nowadays everything is online, and if a product is cool then it’s going to be talked about. Would a company like Nintendo really need to cut supply short to boost demand?
So far I’ve chosen to not touch on that outlandish comment you just made, but let’s dive in. It would seem like Nintendo are getting away with essentially rehashing old content, but it always come back to what we’ve said before that Nintendo are somewhat different from their competition. Whereas giants like Microsoft/Sony/Ubisoft/Rockstar need to innovate to remain fresh, Nintendo has always been able to play to that nostalgia factor. It’s interesting though, when Nintendo announced Splatoon I couldn’t care less about it, it wasn’t important. But, when they announced a new Mario game my ears shot up again.
It seems like Nintendo get treated with double-standards. We love them for more of their classics, we love playing their old games again, but we still get mad when they bully us around with things like short-supplied Amiibos and mini-NES. We demand innovation from EA but are happy with (not even HD) remakes of Super Mario Bros. Why do you think this is the case? Is it simply our childhood memories giving them a pass? Why is there this innocence about them? Also, if you could have any console made again but smaller, what would you choose?
Andy: I think you hit the nail on the head and highlighted the thing that worries me most about Nintendo as a whole. “Nintendo has always been able to play to that nostalgia factor.” To me, that sums up Nintendo perfectly. Time after time they go back to the retro/nostalgia well and milk it again and again. I think that is where some of the frustration lays with many of the Nintendo fans. Nintendo promises a lot, they pump up the hype machine and then it seems to fall away. I mean how long ago was the next Zelda game announced? But, Nintendo has a way of always circling back to the classics and finding another way to sell us the same thing again, and again… and again.
My worry is that Nintendo can only go to that well so many times, and they only have so many games that people would consider classics. It almost seems to me that when Nintendo’s back is against the wall and they need a cash infusion into the company they come up with a way tore-sell the same games. While it certainly has worked for them, and based off of how hard it is to find a mini-NES it’s still working, one has to wonder just how many times they can go back to that well and continue to reap the rewards. I feel like I am being overly pessimistic here, but I’m just frustrated with all the re-releases of games that are flooding the market now. Would the mini NES be a re-re-re-release? I don’t even know anymore.
Your final question asks which console I would like to see made again, but in a smaller form. I think most people who have read past discussions won’t be surprised at my answer. The console I’d love to see get the retro mini treatment is… none of them. I played a lot of games as a kid and loved many of them, but my fear is they just won’t stand the test of time. What I found to be awesome and amazing may be painful and boring now. I have too many good memories from all those games to possibly ruin them. When I played those games back in the day, I was a completely different gamer than I am now. While I see the appeal many gamers will have towards these retro consoles and old school games, I just can’t get myself to take that plunge. That’s OK though, because I already have more than enough to play the way it is. And those new games aren’t going to stop coming out anytime soon.