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Nintendo’s Perplexing Platforming Problem

/ Apr 28th, 2014 No Comments

Nintendo NX Portable Console

Mario, Yoshi and Donkey Kong have all had high profile platformers in the last six months–think about that for a second. Little bro Luigi’s gone solo with New Super Luigi Bros U and even Sonic is a seemingly “guest starring” Nintendo name now. To say that Nintendo has an abundance of side scrollers and platformers flying off their release schedule would be an understatement.

It’s a format the brand is known for and has always been strong and confident with. But this is 2014–a good two decades away from the peak of side-scrolling saturation. The brand’s fiercest rivals were never a part of the limiting 8 to 16-bit eras that so well accommodated platform games and consequently never entertained the format to nearly the same degree Nintendo does. They’ve even sailed away from Nintendo’s patent N64 era Z-target 3D sandboxes into open-world territories while continuing to outclass with more impressively realistic presentation and catch up to Nintendo’s Wii-era ingenuity with the headsets, motion and voice recognition of PS4 and Xbox One. In light of Nintendo’s financial hemorrhaging and underperforming Wii U console, could Nintendo be smothering itself within its own rather regressive comfort zone?
 

New Super Mario Bros. U

Nintendo’s platformers are great but is quantity affecting quality.

The 3DS may have a broader range due to a far older and larger library, but the Wii U’s diminutive 300 or so back-catalog has arguably suffered as a result of Nintendo’s platformer pandering. Sure, it isn’t exclusively a first-party problem but Nintendo has opened the floodgates and invited absolutely everyone in off the street simply by leading by example.

Everyone from Rayman, Pac-man, Scrooge McDuck and even Lego denziens are springing around Wii U software but for every polished third-party platformer, there will be at least four shoddy movie tie-ins or low-grade character licensed cash grabs to sink the quality boat, a major hangover from the Wii era that won’t seem to fade away.
 

Rayman Legends

Games like Rayman Legends are out-Nintendoing Nintendo.

It’s hard to believe these are the kind of games Nintendo needs to be attracting if they plan to broaden their market and have their flag bearing home console taken seriously enough for new buyers or attract the more high profile developers to the Wii U.

And then there’s the indie games. Nintendo has done well to bring in independent developers and that’s one avenue where the company may be endeavoring much further than the competition. Aside from the limited resources that goes with striking out alone, indie developers are also a sentimental bunch used to working in smaller groups producing games that understandably feel more personal. It is more than a coincidence then to see so many retro nostalgic platformers flooding onto the eShop. There’s actually a dedicated Platformer section on the EU eShop as of this writing that looks fit to burst. Let’s not forget that these are titles Nintendo signed on for, so it’s also their responsibility to bring more of these types of games to market.

Dillion’s Rolling Western, Gunman Clive, Hydroventure: Spin Cycle, Mutant Mudds, Shovel Knight, SteamWorld Dig, 10001 Spikes, Mighty Switch Force and older ports like Bit Trip Saga, Shantae, VVVVVV and Cave Story should be familiar names to anyone who’s gone on the eShop.
 

SteamWorld Dig

Indies like SteamWorld Dig are also catching on to Nintendo’s formula.

In one way it’s a remarkably ballsy move putting unknowns up against Yoshi’s New Egg and Donkey Kong Contry Returns 3D on their home turf (not to mention the huge Virtual Console line up and Mega Drive 3D classics). But in another way, putting out a sidescroller now seems like an unnecessarily misguided donation to the platform pile.

[adsense250itp]In a still stuttering time for indies it would surely make more sense to introduce games set apart thematically from the bulk of the competition, especially when that competition is famous for making the best platfomers ever made and is putting out a Mario 3D Land-grade masterpiece every two months. If another 8-bit style platformer bleeps into life on the eShop, the whole thing will likely implode into tiny cubes.

This is a great time for fans of platformers, that much is clear. However, it seems that Nintendo is really putting one thing on the menu, multiple times. The Pikmins, Mario Karts, Animal Crossings, Bayonetta 2s and Smash Bros of the world may be big enough to distract us away from Nintendo’s platforming pre-occupation, but unless there’s more being done outside the sidescrolling stage, it seems unlikely Nintendo will advance to the level of its system selling peers.

 

Olly Jones
Olly Jones is a contributor to the editorial team at Gaming Illustrated. As an artist, Olly has created artwork to publicize games for Capcom, Ubisoft, Arc System Works and Grasshopper Manufacture.
Olly Jones

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