For those of us unfortunate enough to be alive in the '80s, we had to endure a lot of horrible things. Some of the worst fashions in recorded history, and bands like Billy Idol, Blondie, and Iron Maiden... So, how did people like myself endure such a decade? Simple - we were obsessed with Nintendo.
Since the 1980s, and Nintendo's vice grip on the minds of millions of impressionable children, no company has been able to duplicate it. You don't see "Playstation Cereal" (complete with Xs, circles, triangles, and squares -- part of this nutritious breakfast), or Xbox underwear, do you? No, you don't. Sure, you've got your standard garden variety merchandising with games that come out for modern systems. But, nothing can beat Captain N: The GameMaster, Super Mario Brothers: The Movie, or The Wizard (all of which deserve their own article).
At first, I thought: Well, the game market now-a-days is so much more competitive than it was in the '80s. Companies throwing record amounts of money into the industry. It's a multi-billion dollar industry now. It's so damn big, that Microsoft decided to buy their way in (and if Microsoft gets in, you know it's serious). So, with everyone being bombarded with ads for three different game companies (more if you count the N-Gages of the world), all of which are somewhat respectable, there's little time for much loyalty between systems; Don't believe me? Ask most PS2 fans about Halo 2...
< When Nintendo started out, they were pretty much alone. Sure, we had the Sega Master System and a few others, but who cared?! We could play Super Mario Brothers, Excitebike, Ninja Gaiden, and Bad Dudes! Even fairly late in the reasonable shelf-life of the console, we got new games like Battle Toads. While not every game was original, most were really cool, and some just down-right revolutionary.
Then the Sega Genesis was unleashed on us. 16-bit! Uh-oh. If anyone saw the pre-release commercials for the system, you had to admit, it looked really good when compared to the clunky 8-bit system that was in front of you. But, we were not swayed! Nintendo Power (then our Bible) assured us that the next generation of video gaming was upon us with the Super Famicom. We had faith. Blind faith based on three or four screen shots, but it was faith nonetheless. Those of us that did not waste our parents money on the Genesis were, in fact, rewarded when we got our Super Nintendo.
Super Nintendo was still revolutionary. Argue if you will, but games like F-Zero, Super Metroid, Super Mario World, and Pilot Wings. If they weren't original, they were amazing improvements over old games. Mode 7 (the cool rendering technology in games like F-Zero and Pilot Wings) was enough to make most of us faint. So far, Nintendo had lived up to all our expectations.
So, when did Nintendo actually lose it's place on the console "king of the hill" battle? Simple. After the Super Nintendo.
When the Super Nintendo was still around, Nintendo was still doing the single most important thing they could have done to keep their crown - they were innovating. Even a little bit after that, with things such as Killer Instinct (an truly amazing arcade game with a built-in trailer to the "Ultra 64" -- uh oh). What does Nintendo do with the innovation momentum they have... Uh, embarrassingly, they put out the Virtual Boy.
As a kid with every single issue of Nintendo Power up to that point, I was a little weirded out with the announcement of the Virtual Boy. I mean... It was all red? With like three games? And... It was red! But, like Nintendo, I was not thrown off by any of the logical reasons why the Virtual Boy would suck. I went directly to Blockbuster after school (well, my mom drove me), and rented one with all the games (all... three, i think). If this was even half as cool as Nintendo promised us it would be, I would immediately start bugging my mom for the money to buy one (which had to be turned into an art-form, since we didn't have a lot of money). So, I got home, took it out of the rather impressive plastic briefcase, and played it.
Playing the Virtual Boy, for those of you who never have, is like this: You look into these weird plastic-surrounded goggles that have this creepy suction-like effect on your eyes. Then, you play a game which is done entirely in red, and supposed to be in 3-D. But, it wasn't cool 3-D. It was like, half the stuff looks like it's close, the other half looks like it's just sorta close, with no real rhyme or reason to it all. Sometimes your eyes adjusted to it, so the game wouldn't be in 3-D, which really confused you. Then sometimes you would just get nauseous playing the damn games. So, even though Nintendo told me otherwise, for the first time in my life, Nintendo had failed me. I still loved Nintendo to death, but it was the first crack in the dam.
So, okay. Virtual Boy was just a joke, right? Playstation was coming out soon. But, it was being made by some no-named company, Sony. What did Sony know about video gaming? Nothing! Sega still had it's plans, but we really didn't care... Sony was doing really weird things like making their games CD-based. Hey, Sega tried that, and it sucked. Good thing, with the Ultra 64, Nintendo was sticking with cartridge games, right? Of course! It's Nintendo! Don't question them. At least... That's what I thought.
I made the biggest mistake of my Nintendo-obsessed career with buying a Playstation. I mean, Super Nintendo was running at the end of it's life-cycle, and I really needed some better games to help me pass the time. Most of my friends had already bought one, so I broke down and got the PSX.
Wow... It was just like what Nintendo did with the SNES. They took existing ideas to the next level, they brought over cool franchises and made they way cooler, they still had original ideas, and everything was beautiful. They did all of this even before Nintendo came out with the N64.
By the time the N64 came out, I didn't care. My subscription to Nintendo Power was up to renew, and I just let it expire. I looked at all the games that were slated for release. Mario 64 looked cool, and I even went to Toys-R-Us to play it for a few hours, but other than that, I just came back to my house, locked myself in my room, and played my Playstation. The post-release games for the N64 were, in this writer's humble opinion, much worse in comparison to the dazzling things they did with the Super Nintendo. It seemed like they fell into the Capcom Trap. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this, Capcom is a company who makes a living using only a handful of intellectual property (or I.P.) rights. In similar terms, they make sequel after sequel after sequel. Megaman after Megaman after Megaman. Street Fighter after... Well, you get the idea. The problem with this theory is that only Capcom has ever had any grand success with this business strategy. Nintendo, seeming hell-bent on polishing old titles, didn't understand this.
I'm not saying they did the assembly-line-sequel churning quite yet (hint: foreshadowing), but they failed to try out the good stuff they could have done. Fast forward much more, and we have the GameCube - another system I really didn't care about. But, that's not a fair thing to say, since I stopped playing most video games after the PSX. Hey Nintendo! Can you please release Mario Party 6? Oh, you're actually going to? Crap. I was just kidding. Can we have the new Mortal Kombat on the GameCube? We can? Cool, thanks. What do you mean it'll be released next year? I can just go buy two other versions of the game right now. Well, you get the point. While Nintendo seems to be stuck in many ruts, such as lack of much originality (in comparison to the Xbox and PS2), lack of caring about the future of gaming (online play, anyone?), and concentrating on the same damn titles they had back in the 80's (to this day, give me the original Zelda over any other title).
So, yeah. There it is in a nutshell.
My first caveat is that this is JUST MY OPINION. I know, paired with a Nintendo buff, we could go point-counterpoint for about three days and still get nowhere. I do have "one of those friends" who, as nifty as he can be some days, sleeps with his GameCube under his pillow, and will defend Nintendo tooth-and-nail. Every system has them. But, they're called "fan boys." They're not the addicts we once were. Nintendo didn't do everything completely wrong, but they failed to adapt. They failed to impress. They failed to be revolutionary, like they once were. I love Nintendo, but it's for who they were, not what they are today.