Monday, April 25, 2011

Project Cafe: Our First Look into Nintendo's Future

Nintendo’s announcement of the new system coming out next year was quite a surprise. Even though the Nintendo Wii has run out of its mainstream appeal and has exhausted all its potential (Although one can argue otherwise), it’s a big surprise that Nintendo would wipe out any reason to purchase a Wii with a successor coming so unexpectedly, so soon, and right after the release of the 3DS. What is even more surprising is that after years of promoting a new type of gaming (Motion controls, simpler graphics, a more family friendly atmosphere), they seem to have returned back to the basics by delivering a regular controller again but with an HD-type screen attached. But confusing the scenario further is that its backwards-compatible, making it still sensitive to motion controls. So what the heck is going on?

Nintendo’s “Apple Strategy” that I mentioned in an earlier blog is running in full effect, as they plan on taking the first step into the next generation of gaming. So why is this a very risky move by Nintendo? Because no gaming system in history that came out first in its generation went on to become the winner. Check out the recent winners of recent gaming wars: Nintendo Wii (it has far too big a lead to lose, ever) came out last, the Playstation 2 came out second (Sega Dreamcast came out too EARLY), the original Playstation came out second (Sega SATURN came out too early), and the Super Nintendo came out after the Sega Genesis. So if Project Café wants to succeed, it better deliver the goods, and better be infinitely more advanced than the current gaming systems now. Otherwise, it can pull off a Dreamcast—a decent system whose launch didn’t provide enough momentum to compete with the eventual competitors.

One would think that Nintendo’s knowledge of the industry would prevent them from trying to launch a system first. Haven't they learned from Sega? My guess is that after years of playing catch-up, they decided to try to set the trends in gaming, and run them until the competition catches up, and then move to the next chapter. This happened with the Nintendo DS and its touch-screen technology, quickly moving to the 3DS when Apple started throwing endless games in its hardware lineup. And now it has happened with the Nintendo Wii, with the Kinect making a strong push. They realized that Microsoft has nearly toppled them at their own game, so now Nintendo is running with 3-D gaming and now a niche that will be revealed this summer. It sounds like the next Nintendo system will have the ability to download software into the controller, leading to more gameplay long after the television is turned off. Funny thing, Project Cafe's projected controller reminds me of the Sega Dreamcast's controller.

The announcement came quickly and abruptly, in the middle of April, nowhere close to any launches or any major events. This means one thing: this is a pure momentum attempt. The Wii is dying (we can blame that on Nintendo and its sudden betrayal of the machine), and the 3DS hasn’t launched as well as they hoped. We can probably trace the quick launch and weak opening success of the 3DS to the fact that it was rushed—once again to stay a step ahead of the market. Nintendo’s running of the torch is a way to get the mainstream to back them up, which helped lead to their victory in this current generation. There has been only one loser during all this: the hardcore crowd.

The hardcore crowd has been so disgusted by Nintendo, I can nearly guarantee you that it has crippled the sales of the once mighty franchises of Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong. Those three franchises did not sell as well as they did in previous generations, when there were less gamers. The culture of gaming has shunned Nintendo, treated them like sellouts. This might be why Project Café is resembling more like an XBox and less like a Wii. The mainstream allows your system to flourish, but the hardcore is what keeps your system lasting a nice long shelf life--long after the mainstream forgets about you.

Look at the Nintendo Game Boy, which ran from 1989 to around 1998 with the same minimal colors because of its fanbase. You can’t depend on that same type of crowd to save you. Wii hardware and software has dropped significantly, and all the fans of the SNES and N64 have packed their bags and moved elsewhere. Yes the Wii has a lot of excellent hardcore games, but the slumping sales of the once-heavy-hitters (3-D Pokemon, Zelda, Kirby, Mario Sports, Punch-Out) proved that the diehard audience of the 90s had dwindled. Can Project Café end this trend?

The beauty of Nintendo is that unlike the competitors, they can thrive by themselves with minimal third-party games. They have the in-house production crew, which has been responsible for some of the better games released in the past 10 years. Then they have Retro Studios, Game Freak, Camelot, Intelligent Systems, and much more at the helm. Project Café can bring gamers what they’ve always wanted: HD versions of Zelda, Mario, Smash Brothers, Pokemon, Golden Sun, Kirby, Donkey Kong, and much much more. Unlike the Wii, the potential for bringing the hardcore crowd back into the spotlight is phenomenal, as Nintendo is already making great strides with online play, so push this along with HD –gaming (which should have been done a while back) and we have a system that will bring us to the subculture awesomeness of the N64 days.

Bottom Line: Project Café is the first announcement of a next-generation system coming out, and for the first time in 13 years we have a company detailing their next generation gaming machine leagues before anyone else even ponders their next ambitious project. Whether this will go the route of the memorable disaster Sega Dreamcast or the history-making XBox 360 is anyone’s guess. It all depends on how much more advanced the Café is when compared to what we are seeing nowadays with HD gaming, excellent technology, and some of the stiffest competition ever seen in any type of entertainment business. Seriously, the gaming wars have taken a turn for the worse, leading to better games, and stronger attempts to one-up each other.

As for me, I am definitely giving the system doubt until I can see some HD variations of Nintendo classics that have been utterly pushed aside and inexplicably shunned in recent years (F-Zero and Star Fox being the outstanding examples). What we gamers basically want is not a motion-control-mandatory game; we gamers want HD-next-gen-high-presentation versions of our beloved Nintendo classics.

It wasn’t about just the graphics, it was about the effort required to truly send our franchises to the next level of gaming. They failed to do this with Zelda, Metroid, Kirby, Pokemon (especially), the Mario Party franchise, Wario, and the Mario sports games. In this past generation, only the Super Mario franchise really got the high-value presentation touch with the incredible Super Mario Galaxy duo (And nobody dare bring up Metroid: Other M). Nintendo used to be the frontrunners in the way games are made and presented (Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time being them at their ahead-of-the-curve peak). Its time to take that crown back.

Okay, this article is running just a bit too long, but just do me a favor: Imagine Kirby, Mario, Zelda, Smash Bros., Mario Kart, Kid Icarus, Star Fox, F-Zero, Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, Golden Sun, Pokemon, Mario Tennis, Mario Golf, Earthbound, Pikmin, Pilotwings, Paper Mario, Punch-Out, Donkey Kong, and Wario all in an HD system with hardware specifications much stronger than the Playstation 3. Just might be the perfect system.


Until then, guess what, the eighth generation of gaming will begin in 2012.

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