Why Nintendo lost me as a customer
Since I was a kid, gaming has always been synonymous with Nintendo. Here was a company that for me had awesome graphics, huge libraries of games and timeless franchises. However this relationship unfortunately ended with the Game Cube and while the Wii has been a runaway succes it got me thinking why did they lose me as a customer?
My first gaming system was a Commodore 64, a system that looked enough like it might be educational to fool my parents, however for me it was purely for games. While I spent many hours with Treasure Island Dizzy (one life and no saving!!), bubble bobble and Rick Dangerous, my first experience with what i believed to be 'true' gaming was the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
I would accompany my parents on trips to Makro and immediately split from them and head to the gaming isle where they had a Nintendo wall with NES systems running Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt. These Instant gaming machines let you slip in to a simple, colourful and oh so rewarding world with Princess's in need of rescue and excitable plumbers only to happy to oblige. My friend who owned one of these wondrous devices would taunt me with demos of more Princess's in need of rescuing, this time from an Elf type character loaded in seconds as if by magic from a golden cartridge. Alas I never owned a NES, however I more than made up for it with the amount of hours I spent on my friends system.
Which brings me to my first Nintendo console the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), 16bits of sheer joy, with audio and visual capabilities that put Sega's Mega Drive to shame, it was cutting edge and had a back catalogue of gaming franchises ready for 'Super' adoption.
Instant classics like Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart, Super Bomberman, The Legend of Zelda: A link to the past, Secret of Mana and Street Fighter II to name but a few kept me gaming for years. The SNES was top of the pile at the time, the visuals were clearly superior to the Mega Drive when comparing the same game on both consoles (Street Fighter II springs to mind) and they also pioneered 3D gaming with the Super FX Chip imbedded in certain games like Starfox/Starwing. By todays standards these graphics may seem tame but at the time it had me staring in wonder. For me this was THE console, the joy of which has yet to be replicated and to this day i still crack open Super Mario World with Richie to complete all 96 levels in a day. All be it on a tv so huge that the mushrooms are the size of your fist!
Next up was the Nintendo 64, 'Project Reality' as it was dubbed for its breathtaking graphics and supercomputer rivalling performance which was technically far in advance of the new kid on the block The Playstation(PS), from their ex partner Sony.
Now I never bought in to the PS, it seemed to represent the Megadrive of the 90's, it had titles like Madden and Fifa, when Nintendo had immersive classics like Ocrarina of Time, Mario 64, DonkeyKong64 and The amazing GoldenEye. Now I know the Playstation was a gamechanger and there were many many great titles, however for me i was sold on the Mario exclusives and the technical prowess.
To this day Orcarina of Time's visuals astound me and the game play and interactions were far beyond their time and the deathmatch multiplayer of GoldenEye was a precursor to Halo and Call of Duty, before console internet gaming really existed.
This console also had arguably the best controller around.
With expensive cartridge prices (£50 - £60, expensive in todays market) and poor support of 3rd party developers, Nintendo lost its market lead and when the Game Cube was released in 2002, faced with the Playstation 2 and the new player from Microsoft, The Xbox, things didn't improve.
Again, i bought a gamecube, however for the first time started to lose the faith with Nintendo.
While i was kept relatively happy with the Mario and Zelda outings, I started to look at other types of games like GTA and Call of Duty, suddenly the Game Cube seemed to be aimed at a younger audience.
There also seemed to be a lack of innovation, while the PS2 essentially championed DVD as a format and the Xbox revolutionised the concept of online gaming, the Game Cube's big selling point was its small size and range of different colours.
The Gamecube also had limitations around the Optical media, the 'mini DVD' format meant it couldn't play DVD's (something that was important at the time) and many games were either multi-disk games or had features removed from the PS2/XB versions.
Which patient readers, brings me to Nintendo's latest offering, the Wii...
Now despite the Game Cube being my least favourite Nintendo console, i still loved it and as a result was still very excited about the Wii.
When i got over the name (doesn't seem so silly on reflection does it?) and first poured over the specs and read about the 'revolutionary controller i was slightly sceptical.
With the might of the triple Core Xbox 360 and the ridiculous hyped potential of the PS3's Cell Processor, the hardware of the Wii didn't seem so 'next generation'
With approx 1.5 times the power of its predecessor, the graphics of the Wii seemed to have little or no gain over the Game Cube.
The next worry for me was resolution...
This thing has a maximum output of 480i/p (576i PAL), thats standard definition, no HD love here people. Does that matter though?? Well in my opinion absolutely!
HD brings far more detail to gaming, more room on the screen for a detailed HUD, better draw distances and represents exactly where the AV market was at launch and is today. The Wii was the only 'next gen' consol to shun HD.
Even if you take to one side the extra detail and real estate that higher resolution gives you and argue that SD is just fine, what about the huge trend of consumers buying HD TV's?
Most peoples first reaction to HDTVs is disappointment, primarily as initially there were few HD sources available. This means the HDTV has to scale the source input up to 1080p or 720p (768p if you want to get technical on most 'HD Ready' sets)
Now the problem with this is that depending on the quality of your set, the image scaling can greatly differ, affecting the final image quality. That £200 bargain you picked up while you were buying milk doesn't do such a good job at IP conversion and scaling as sets at the higher end of the market.
Even if you put that to one side, and declare resolution isn't everything, maybe you have a top end HDTV, don't notice the digital fragments left by the poor scaling or maybe you still have a CRT SD set and are quite happy with 480 lines, there is also the quality of the connection.
The 360 and PS3 shipped initially with HD connections in the form of Component and HDMI respectively. The Wii, however shipped with composite output as standard, a very low end analogue output that sends an interlaced signal (think flicker).
Now even with an SD source there are benefits to using a higher quality connection. With component the light and colour are sent separately resulting in higher quality and more accurate video reproduction. Component is also capable of progressive scan, giving a smoother higher quality image with less 'jaggies' and since all flat panels are progressive, this takes out the need for the tv set to convert the signal from interlaced to progressive. Nintendo do offer a a component cable as an optional accessory, however that seems a modest compromise at best.
But maybe it looks fine??
Well in my opinion, far from it. When my flatmate hooked up the Wii to my 720p Sony set i was very disappointed. The colours appeared washed out and the graphics of Zelda seemed very much last generation. Despite pouring over all the advanced scaling settings my Sony had to offer, I just couldn't get the result i was looking for.
So what about the real 'Revolution', the motion controls...
Yes Wii Sports brought some genuine fun briefly to my living room, it was fun to play bowling, tennis and boxing with the motion controller, it even briefly made me think about the endless possibilities of gaming interaction, however this fascination was quickly relegated to a game suitable for drunken groups of friends. Watching my cousin destroy me at the boxing by simply 'waggling' the controller and not at all simulating the act, also made me realise the limitations of this 'revolution'
For me the controller was fun, but a novelty; for real games I had no desire to flap about like a crazy person fighting an invisible wasp. Even my beloved Zelda couldn't lure me in.
While this console has sold insanely well, i feel it is a sign that Nintendo has moved on from the core gamer and sold it's soul to the mediocrity of the masses. Unfortunately, for every 1 customer like me Nintendo have lost, there are most likely 10 casual/geriatric/drunk idiots out there flailing about in their living room, ready to offer it a dusty spot under their T.V.