Remember the good old days?
Longtime fans of Nintendo will often reference the past fondly, maybe even going so far as to say that the company has since lost its way.
Look, I get it. We named this brand “Two Button Crew” out of our nostalgia for Nintendo’s first game console and its simple controls.
But before we continue focusing our infatuation with what has been, I’d like to pose a question: What if the Golden Age is actually now? Have you stopped to wonder if we could be experiencing Nintendo’s best efforts currently?
I think so. Allow me to prove it by examining each era individually, and by the end, you might just agree!
A strong case can be made for Nintendo’s debut home console. It made arcade-worthy experiences accessible in the home; revolutionary at the time. The hardware and controllers were simple and intuitive, and developers used the limitations of the day in creative ways. The resulting game library was expansive, full of memorable games that were easy to pick up, but difficult to conquer. We owe the NES generation for nearly all of the franchises we continue to enjoy.
The Super Nintendo period was one of refinement and perfection. Just as the console received a “Super” upgrade, so did each of Nintendo’s tentpole series. The Holy Trinity of Super Mario World, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Super Metroid is a trifecta of “Best Game Ever” contenders. Titles like these succeeded by taking the formulae of previous games and maturing and enhancing them.
How we played video games was forever changed. Dimensionality increased by 50% with the introduction of polygonal 3D, and with the help of the analog stick, we were invited into Nintendo’s imaginative worlds with an all-new plane of immersion.
Another innovation must be credited to the 64: Group gaming. Yes, multiplayer modes existed previously, but this console fully realized the idea by including four controller ports and bringing people together with games like Mario Kart 64, Super Smash Bros., and the Mario Party series.
This era was all about modernization. Nintendo’s competitors were beginning to steal the spotlight with their specs, and the Big N didn’t want to fall behind. However, they still wanted to provide the affordable alternative, so the resulting console suffered a bit of a hardware identity crisis. The upgrade from N64 was similar to the one seen between NES and SNES, where the approach remained largely the same but games improved alongside technology.
Nintendo was not afraid to experiment with software on GameCube, bringing us fresh experiences like Luigi’s Mansion, Pikmin, and Animal Crossing. Many classics from this era like Super Smash Bros. Melee, Metroid Prime, and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door are viewed as best-in-series games, and are begging to be played to this day.
Nintendo’s brand awareness exploded. A video game console with two letter i’s became a household name overnight, and Nintendo wasn’t ready. Production of the motion-controlled units couldn’t keep up with demand, and the company had to reevaluate their target audience on the fly. Development and marketing efforts were split between catering to core Nintendo fans and the newly-tapped blue ocean markets. It was great to see Nintendo topping the charts, but some of the decisions came across as tone-deaf to longtime Nintendo fans, like their focus on casual experiences during gaming press conferences.
Certainly, some strong titles were released during this era like Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and Excite Truck (don’t look at me like that!), but the console was crippled by its outdated, low-res graphics and weak online support.
The misbegotten console. In a clear attempt to capitalize on Wii’s success, the branding stayed along with attempts to appeal to the casual crowd. What Nintendo did not anticipate was how sharply those users would pivot to mobile gaming. By the time Nintendo shifted their focus back to their faithful followers to deliver core titles like Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Super Mario 3D World, and Star Fox Zero, it was too late. Slow sales lead to a lack of 3rd Party and Indie games, leaving fans to wait for 1st Party releases while Nintendo delievered the best games on its more successful 3DS handheld.
Wii U’s GamePad controller was useful for (spatially-limited) off-TV gaming, but its other implementations often got in the way of fun by splitting players’ attention across two screens. Solid software attempts weren’t enough to save Nintendo from the lack of buzz around their system. This console generation firmly knocked Nintendo off their pedestal and left them hungry.
At present day, Nintendo has launched their new console/handheld hybrid and are following it up with a stream of top-notch software. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild paired with the sleek hardware made an enticing match. Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe brought the best experiences from Wii U to where more gamers could enjoy them. A level of hype surrounds Switch that hasn’t been seen since the Wii days over a decade ago, only this time… Nintendo fans are the ones generating the noise. Nintendo appears to be pulling out all the stops to support Switch with mainline entries in their top IP, from Super Mario Odyssey this holiday to Metroid Prime 4 and a Pokemon RPG in the future. If this is how the first few years look, imagine what we’ll be talking about in half a decade.
Indies love the platform… 3rd Parties are coming into the fold… Nintendo hit a real home run with this one, having crafted a console this a joy to play, feel, dock, and reconfigure.
I declare the Golden Age of Gaming… NOW!
We’re living it today, The momentum that Nintendo has entered into this console generation with is insane.
Many people “got it” the instant they watched the reveal trailer. Some critics doubted it at launch, but in the time since, the console has earned its way into the hearts of many unsuspecting fans.
And I believe it’s here to stay. We will likely see more iterative updates for Switch hardware, in line with what Nintendo has always fone with their handhelds. Joy-Con XL, anyone? Switch VR Headset?
Grab yourself some games and enjoy them with friends! Nintendo’s going all in on Switch, so do the same.
Enjoy the Golden Age of Gaming.
Embrace the good new days.