Over the holidays last year, I had lunch with some of the guys I game with. As we ate, our conversation drifted to the topic of video games, as it is often does. We’ve been gaming together for almost four years now, so we’ve had a lot of “interesting” gaming sessions, ranging from some serious Mario Kart Double Dash matches to almost coming to fisticuffs over a game of Turok: Evolution, of all games. (We had banned the use of the Dark Matter Cube but someone couldn’t help himself and used the cheapest weapon ever to win a death match. It wasn’t a pretty sight.) For the most part, though, we’ve had some great gaming sessions. No matter how competitive we are, Nintendo games in particular seem to bring out a heated, but relatively friendly, competition. No punches thrown, just some serious trash talking.
We moslty talked about Super Mario Strikers, a game none of us owned but all had played. We all gushed about how fun it was and how easy it seemed to play. It’s nothing more than a simple street-style game of soccer with a Mario flair but it’s downright fun. What was it about such a simple game that made it so appealing?
Later that week, I took my Gamecube to work for some lunchtime gaming. We hooked it up to the projector in our conference room and threw down, Nintendo style. We started off with a little Pac-Man Vs. which is the best use of the GBA-GC link I’ve played. Take the simplicity of Pac-Man and then add in multiplayer and you’ve got a sweet party game. We then moved onto some Mario Kart: DD and finished up with Mario Power Tennis. Two of us had played most of these games and the other two hadn’t. It didn’t matter. All of them were easy to pick up and play. Our Mario Tennis matches took a few minutes to get everyone up to speed, but after a little while we were volleying, smashing and saving like pros. It was good, serious fun.
All of these games had something in common – they were either published or developed (or both) by Nintendo. They all have fantastic mutliplayer modes. They’re simple and easy to learn but complex enough to have an element of strategy and discovery. To put it simply, Nintendo just makes fun games. More specifically, Nintendo makes fun party games.
Even their actual “Mario Party” games are great, even though not everyone agrees. Just look at the reviews for the past few Mario Party games. The argument could be made that this particular franchise is getting long in the tooth. But I think that misses the point. The reviewers may give Mario Party 7 a low score and justify it by saying “it’s more of the same” but that doesn’t capture the whole picture. The reviewers have probably been playing Mario Party since it was an N64 game. Most casual gamers have not. So they don’t care if one of the mini games in MP7 is derivative of a game from MP4. It doesn’t matter. It’s fun, no matter how you play it.
So what is it about Nintendo’s games that make them fun? I think Matt at Press the Buttons was on to something when he was trying to explain why he was describing the Game Boy version of Mario Tennis. “So it’s like Pong,” was the common reply when describing a video game version of Tennis. Is Pong fun? Thirty years ago it certainly was. So is the actual game of tennis. A digital version of a fun game – it’s a no brainer.
But that’s discounting the Nintendo/Mario angle. They’ve distilled the basic mechanics of a particular game and make it accessible through simple controls. Sometimes it seems like you can’t be “bad” at Nintendo games. Other people may be better than you, but sucess is usually easy to come by. Are the games artificially easy for the sake of enjoyment? I don’t think anyone who’s played a Super Mario game would agree with that they’re “easy.” Fun? Yes. Easy? Not everytime.
Is it nostalgia? I definitely think that plays a big part in my enjoyment. Most “older” gamers (come on, I’m only thirty!) grew up with Mario and Luigi. So this is like playing with old friends. The familiarity with the characters, their idiosyncrasies and nuances are what we look for everytime we boot up a Nintendo game.
We’re seeing this all over again with the Nintendo DS. Nintendo makes great games that are fun to play for the casual gamers as well as the serious gamer. Will it happen with the Revolution? Will the simple game play continue? Is it a new shift in gaming overall?
I sure hope so.