It feels safe to say that Nintendo has a legacy that will endure beyond our lifetimes. After all, this is the company that resurrected an industry on the brink of collapse, created multiple internationally beloved icons, and developed some of the best selling game systems of all time. However, for every great thing Nintendo has done, there have been many more mistakes and failures which would spell doom for any other company. Despite being opposed to streaming, nearly ignoring Joy-Con drift, and lacking a decent online service, Nintendo somehow still gets away with everything.
I love Nintendo as much as the next person, frequently relaxing by playing on my Switch, yet I find myself pondering whether or not Nintendo deserves as much praise as they have gotten. Granted Nintendo is responsible for some outstanding game experiences that to this day still affect players in profound ways. Even I myself am not entirely immune to Nintendo nostalgia; I remember sinking hours into Pokémon FireRed on my Game Boy Advance and passing the controller while playing Super Mario 64 at my friend’s house.
I believe that such nostalgia plays a significant role in how Nintendo is treated by the gaming public these days. The more prominent gaming influencers and journalists today would probably tell you that they were inspired to work in games media by Nintendo games such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario World, and the Pokémon series. These games not only have a profound effect on how we regard the past, but also how it affects us now.
The Legend of Zelda series is a perfect example of this. With each new release, you hear the same conversations about how the newest game is “the best one yet” or “truly innovative”, all because fans grew up with the older titles. Breath of the Wild was declared one of the greatest games ever made, even if some folks felt the world was empty and the narrative was formulaic to a fault.
Breath of the Wild is not the only title affected by this cushion of nostalgia driven rhetoric. Other major releases like Super Mario Odyssey and the Super Smash Bros games also get such favorable treatment. This is not to say that any of these works are bad; indeed, they tend to be developed with great care and attention to detail. Rather, I am saying that these titles have critical flaws which are at best ignored by fans and at worst ignored by Nintendo themselves.
This issue doesn’t just stop at the game side of things, either. Nintendo’s business practices continue to exhibit a familiar breed of arrogance and misjudgment of the surrounding culture. Consider their decision to cancel a Super Smash Bros Melee tournament that led in turn to a shutdown of a Splatoon tournament stream, or their limited distribution of games like Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light.
Time and again, I see articles written and podcasts recorded about Nintendo’s anti-consumer practices, yet it seems to fall on deaf ears. As someone who is both a fan and a consumer, it is quite frustrating to witness. I have thankfully not run into this issue myself but thousands of other people have, leading to lawsuits in North America and across Europe.
All the while Nintendo has been extremely quiet on the issue of Joy-Con drift, a problem plaguing the Switch since its launch in 2017. Though the company will fix your Joy-Con free of charge, this leaves you without a console for a few weeks and with the added risk of all your save data being wiped clean. On top of that, Nintendo’s eventual introduction of the option to upload save data to the cloud only works with specific games. Much to our surprise, Pokémon Sword, Shield, and the Let’s Go games do not support the cloud save feature.
This can cause major issues when sending in a Switch system for repair as Pokémon titles are some of the best selling games on the console. Furthermore, many families may not be aware that cloud saving is even an option. This has potential to not only cause confusion on the parents’ end, but also lead to frustration and disillusionment with Nintendo as a whole.
Though I could go on at length about Joy-Con drift like many others have, I shall instead cap it off on this last point. It seems that Nintendo is more prepared to pay out the lawsuits instead of fixing the issue. The Switch has sold over 70 million units so it may be more feasible for Nintendo to pay for damages rather than announce a formal recall of their product.
Super Smash Bros fans are a passionate group of the gaming community, naturally being displeased with the current pandemic that ensured many were not able to participate in any form of competitions. Not helping the situation, Super Smash Bros Ultimate’s online suite has always been poor and may never get fixed, while Melee did not have any form of online play until someone made an online mod to allow fans to once again compete.
Unfortunately Nintendo dashed all hopes of that by a planned tournament, as the organizers The Big House decided to use an emulated copy of the game that allowed online play. This caused Nintendo’s legal team to send The Big House a cease and desist letter, thus shutting down the tournament in the process. Fans of Splatoon 2 rallied with the Super Smash Bros community by naming teams after the #FreeMelee movement.
This would appear to have angered Nintendo as a representative stated that “[d]ue to unexpected execution challenges, we had to forgo a livestream for this tournament’s finale”. The statement as a whole was met with heavy skepticism by fans and critics alike, with fans pushing forward to create their own live stream for the finals. It was a great moment for the community but left Nintendo facing quite a bit of backlash, perhaps unwilling to learn from previous mistakes.
Speaking of past errors, one need only look at the stretch of years from 2013 to 2018 when Nintendo threatened to claim YouTube content creators’ videos across the board for “violating copyright” unless they were signed up with the Nintendo Creators Program (NCP). The NCP saw Nintendo claim as much as 40% of revenue made from the videos using Nintendo IPs. This was seen as an improvement of sorts, given that Nintendo’s previous approach would involve claiming all revenue from videos and leaving content creators unclear how to proceed.
This whole affair led many YouTube video producers to stop covering Nintendo entirely for a time, as they were unsure of how to create and monetize entertaining content for others to enjoy. It took years of backlash and constant Twitter arguments for Nintendo to finally decide to play nice with fans, allowing them to use their content under new guidelines. Said guidelines fell in line with what Sony and Microsoft were already doing, coming as a relief to the more Nintendo focused content creators.
We can look back at the NCP and see it as a win for the fans after five long years of uncertainty, but in the long run it was but a flash in the pan. Nintendo remains notorious for shutting down fan projects and emulation of less accessible older titles. The latter is a particular source of concern for game historians, as many of these games are being lost to time due to poor organization and preservation of game code years ago.
With Nintendo being a company well over 100 years old, wouldn’t they understand how important it is to protect a legacy and teach others about the history of an industry? History is as important to games as it is to any artistic field, not only for learning about our favorite works but also how to better preserve said works and create a future record of the medium’s progress.
Nintendo has done a lot of good, and without question Satoru Iwata and Shigeru Miyamoto are among the greatest minds to ever grace our industry. Both were passionate men, but as time goes on it feels more like Nintendo’s higher ups are fueled by greed while the fans are driven by entitlement. Until we strike a healthy balance between love and critical thinking, Nintendo will continue to stagnate and grow worse rather than improve and evolve.