Let’s stop thinking of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as that moment when Nintendo remembered its gamer base and rediscovered its own monuments. If it’s our job to write history, we better make sure we get it right. Let’s get a little macabre, and name the moment differently. Nintendo did not resurface with the release of a new Zelda: Nintendo came alive again when Satoru Iwata died.
I still remember the interview from 2004 where Iwata convinced me never to buy a first party Nintendo game again. He said that “Games have come to a dead end.” In other words, those who love the original Metroid and Zelda, who grew up when Nintendo was the hallmark of hardcore and the foster home for such masterpieces as Mega Man and Castlevania and Ghosts n’ Goblins … those people are obsolete. This is when Nintendo shifted to focus on the average player, and started prioritizing novelty in hardware over the effectiveness of game design. Even as my non-gamer aunts and uncles were buying Wii Fit boards, I knew what Iwata was saying: I was obsolete.
I saw the GameCube fail and I watched as the CEO of Nintendo responded to its failure not with strength, not with assurance, but with an abandonment of principle. The Wii represents an abandonment of the gamer base. It is the fulfillment of the promise Nintendo made when they closed their partnership with Rare and stopped caring about games. The hardware-centricity poisoned the Wii for me, but it sold beautifully to whom it was intended: people who watch Deal or No Deal unironically, or who know from experience how yoga pants feel on a hot day. If the Wii represents all that change, the Wii U represents only that change becoming the norm.
I could be wrong about Iwata’s power (though I’m not wrong about his statements and the effects of his policy). His death may not be the reason Nintendo has picked up its rotting Stalfos and gotten it together, and I couldn’t credit myself as enough of an historian to say so for sure. But the nostalgia rush is uncannily consistent with the loss of the man who said hardcore gamers are obsolete.
In any case, he’s gone. And Nintendo is on a high to recollect all the people it left on doorsteps ten years ago, to feed them, and bring them back into its home. Outcries are being fulfilled on a miraculously specific level. New innovative 3D Mario? Old-school expansive Zelda? 2D Metroid? Check, check, check. What’s next? A 2D console Castlevania? An amazing 3D Mega Man? A good 3D Soni … never mind.
The Switch has even gone back to cartridges of all things. The message is: “Love us again!” What should our response be?
Mine is a special kind of contempt. The years I would’ve been playing these amazing games with my friends are gone: Nintendo spent them commissioning third party hacks to make mini game collections for my parents’ friends. Now my friends have moved away and I have a bit less time for games that aren’t conveniently on my computer where I work. I refused to buy Nintendo on principle, but now that Nintendo is apologizing for slighting me all those years ago, I have to continue refusing on necessity.
You know how revolutionaries can’t really enjoy the new world they’ve made, because they know what it cost? I fought a mini revolution against myself, to give up the Nintendo that I used to know for Sony and finally for Steam. I’m thrilled that a new generation of gamers will get to grow up with the Switch as their first console, and play Bomberman and Metroid and get nostalgic for games that deserve the hype. But I can’t really enjoy it for myself.
Consider this. All our desires are being met so specifically. Beautiful new Metroids, the best Zelda ever. Think about what this means. It means that Nintendo has known all along what we wanted, and just refused to base its creative design around the desires of fans. Maybe in Iwata’s vacuum, probably in response to bad sales for the Wii U, Nintendo is giving in to what we want. Good games aren’t its initiative: they are its last resort. If the Wii U had sold well, I bet Nintendo would still be on its previous course, Iwata or no Iwata.
What’s my point? I sound vengeful, but really I’m just wary. My point is to beware an industry that promises good things for the wrong reasons. It’s like the man Nintendo cheated on didn’t pan out, so she’s back and we’re ready to forgive her. But I don’t need her Metroid anymore. When she left I was forced to find Axiom Verge and I’m perfectly happy. Mario gave way to Spelunky. It’s the same for everything I loved about Nintendo. Her best features are old hat.
And who knows: maybe those innovations on Steam were made from our desperation to revitalize Nintendo’s old-school for ourselves. Maybe the Wii is the reason that we have all these amazing retro experiences ready at our keyboards. When gamers became an oppressed working class, they developed their own language, their own industry, and surpassed the master. I think that Nintendo is finally making games worth playing because it’s scared of the fans it turned into rebels. I just don’t think we need them anymore.