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November 28, 2014

The Smash Diaries (Day 5)

So I decided to check the Smash Bros. wiki to see if there were any nuances I missed in the new game -- you know, to try and make some of those intangibles more tangible.  I already knew about the Tekken-style rage effect built in (get hit a lot, do more damage), but the wiki suggests that not only is there increased knockback, but also the inability to act out of hitstun.  It seems like a minor thing -- and it is, because not every player even knows what hitstun is -- but that nuance does mean something in the long run, especially for those who care immensely about the under-the-hood mechanics.   Among other things.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that whether you’re aware of the changes or not (or if I am, in all fairness), Smash 4 feels more…well, I don’t want to use this word exactly, but since I can’t think of a better fit, let’s go ahead and use “legit”.  I don’t know if this game will replace Melee as the EVO standard, if it’ll be able to exist simultaneously, or if it’ll just be cast aside by the old guard.  But I think it’s at least capable of making it there, and being welcomed by the fighting game community. 

Which brings me to the point of the day: Nintendo’s master plan.  Or my vision of it, at least.

I’m one of those strange and terrible people who thinks that the original Wii was a pretty good idea (and good system overall).  I thought as much since the outset, because I believed in the core concept behind it: Nintendo’s bigwigs realized early that raw graphical power alone would stop being enough to justify the merit of a game.  So they opted to make something new -- forge a new path, and bring plenty of newcomers along with them via new ways to play.  The end result?  By the end of its lifespan, the Wii had some amazing-ass games -- some dependent on the Wii Remote, others not -- and sold like the gangbusters of gangbusters to people who wouldn’t know a Sonic Boom from Sonic the Hedgehog. 

It wasn’t the perfect console, granted -- let’s not forget that E3 conference that declared Animal Crossing a game for hardcore players, and unleashed the wrath of Wii Music -- but I still look back on it fondly.  The PS3 and 360 may have ended up being some prophetic “last bastion” for hardcore gamers, but I don’t think I need to go into detail about how badly the two of those -- or their successors, more appropriately -- began to fall.

But on the subject of successors, there’s still the Wii U.  Plenty of people have sworn it off at this stage, which is unfortunate but ultimately understandable.  The Wii U didn’t start off strong, just as the Wii didn’t; now the former can’t shake the stigma of “having no games” while the latter can’t shake the stigma of “being full of shovelware and waggle controls”.  (So I guess the naysayers are just going to pretend that the PS4 and Xbone are bursting at the seams with high quality titles.)  Each new piece of hardware from each company offers up a chance at redemption, and taking a bold step forward.  Nobody’s done that so far.  No, not even the Wii U.

Not explicitly, at least.

See, I’ve been thinking about “what Nintendo needs to do next” since the first rumblings of its new console.  And really, the answer seemed pretty clear.  They roped in new players by the state-load, showing them what a video game could be (and of course, how fun it could be).  The natural evolution of that was to make games that would engross them, not just entertain them -- something that would give Grandma Player a reason to take hold of the pad.  To evolve the player, you evolve the game -- add more depth.  More challenge.  More points for consideration.  Simply put, you turn the casual players into hardcore ones.  Make loyal customers out of them, but with the intent of showing them brave new worlds.

Did that happen?  Current evidence suggests HELL NO.  Given that Nintendo -- by its own admission -- failed to make a compelling argument for the Wii U, there’s a reason why it’s in a bad spot.  And I still have doubts that people know that there’s a difference between it and the regular Wii; I remember having to explain the difference to people on more than one occasion.  If “the plan” worked as intended, then maybe gaming and gamers at large would be in a better place.  Now it just feels like everyone (Nintendo well among them) is just scrambling to find an answer to “how do we stay afloat?”  Considering how many developers and studios have bitten it in the past few years, this is some serious business.

So in general?  The eighth console generation has gotten off to a bad start.  Chalk it up to all of its vices, shortsightedness, worst habits, and general panic piling up all at once, but it’s been a rough-ass year for everyone with even a shred of good taste.  I won’t say that it would have been preventable if Nintendo acted like some sort of radiant savior to the industry; really, I’m working under the theory that things would be a hell of a lot better if there wasn’t such a huge gap between the big releases and the small ones -- between the lurching, monolithic triple-A titles and the smattering of indie games that have to struggle just to get noticed.  But that’s a topic for another day…because last I checked?  This post was supposed to be about Smash Bros.

The Wii U could have been the bridge between two camps of gamers, but right now I’d bet it’s struggling to cater to either -- to casual gamers that have moved on to the mobile world, and to hardcore loyalists who’ve since moved on to “better” games, or “real” games, or whatever.  Still, maybe it’s okay if it doesn’t become the revolution that the Wii tried to be.  Famed or not, the console’s still putting out GREAT titles; Smash 4 is the latest on that list, but it won’t be the last.

So it’s gotten me thinking. Maybe Smash 4 is emblematic of Nintendo.  Maybe the company’s not out to earn millions of sales again, or bragging rights at expos so it can boast about some perceived victory in the console wars.  It’s true that it needs to put out something or risk losing everything, but maybe on some level, it’s still trying to follow through on “the plan”, even if nobody’s buying in.  Maybe it’s trying to make its games better, and accessible for both gamer camps, and catering to both tastes by offering up its underperforming platform.  It’s a thankless job, to be sure, and it’s certainly not one that earns a lot of favor, but maybe it doesn’t have to provide immediate fame and fortune. 

Maybe it just has to do what it thinks is right, simply because it’s the right thing to do.  They just have to build it, and others will come.  Someday, hopefully.  But until then?  Until players in droves come to see the console for themselves?  It’ll be there.  Always welcoming.  Always ready.  Always eager to offer up a ton of fun.

…Seriously, wasn’t this post supposed to be about Smash Bros.

Ah, whatever.  I’ll just get back to it next week.

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