Monday, February 3, 2014

Dear Nintendo, Fix Virtual Console

at 5:53 PM
Dear Clara,

I'm a longtime fan of yours. I know everyone says that, but I actually mean it. The Legend of Zelda is the greatest video game series running and one of the greatest cultural touchstones of my generation. Metroid is not that impressive a series. Super Mario Bros. is such a genius game that I don't think most truly realize how far ahead of its time it really was. It invented the medium we know today. And for a while you sponsored some truly daring and bombastic endeavors, from EarthBound to the work of Rare to Ogre Battle 64 (which few remember was published by you guys!) to Sin & Punishment.

I know you've been having a hard time recently and everyone is giving you a doubly hard time Monday-morning-quarterbacking these recent business announcements. I know that this "letter-to-Nintendo" format isn't even original and very little solid financial advice is ever received in a friendly letter. But I just wanted to make one wish directly from my heart to yours. This isn't a business suggestion, it's not "what I think would make Nintendo fans happiest" or "what I think would resurrect Nintendo's market share". It's a personal request. It's the #1 thing you could do to set my heart atwitter (TM), to rekindle my love, to make me feel like a child taking those first steps into Link to the Past's Hyrule again.

Fix Virtual Console. But don't just fix it, showcase it. Make it a headline feature. Make everyone talk about it. Make Virtual Console into Main Console. Your greatest advantage as a company are those decades of archives - Nintendo is gaming history. And sometimes the biggest step forward requires a long, thorough survey behind. The medium right now is plowing forward as if the fact that technology is advancing implies the minds using it are too. You know differently. You know there were innovators and geniuses working in the '80s and '90s, and you have the opportunity to remind everyone. The opportunity to remind the world that it's not just a bunch of machines and gadgets that push our medium forward, but human passion and creativity. I think that opportunity lies in Virtual Console.

I don't want to talk about what Virtual Console was or what it has become. I want to talk about what it could be - what I think it truly is and always has been at its core, but is not being used as. Virtual Console is a place where old games can be released as if they were brand new. There is no restriction on which old games these could be or how old they are - they could be classics or complete unknowns, because here's the thing - you're releasing them anew! This is an entirely second chance for these games, an entirely new audience and competitive environment, an entirely new marketing approach - all factors in your control! There's no reason to look at something obscure like StarTropics and say "no one played this the first time around, so they won't be interested in a re-release", because you - Nintendo - have the power to re-market the game, to showcase everything that makes it unique and interesting, and to tell everyone why they need to have played it. Forget that it even came out before - pretend this is it's very first release! Show previews - how about digging up some old Nintendo Power articles? Interview the developers! Give us a demo! Find some contemporary game designers who have been influenced by these old games and get them to talk about why they're important! Come up with special features to highlight different styles, series, or creators - how about Beat-'em-up Month or a category for Games to Play with Friends? If you show us that you love these games, we'll be a lot more inclined to.

What you can't do is drop old games unceremoniously into a bin with nothing more than a few screenshots and a label. What that tells me is that you don't care. And if you don't care, why should I? At best, I might be inclined to look up the game on the Internet, and I'm going to find what people thought of the game back in the day, or, worse, that no one remembers it. And that's not treating old games like they're new. That's not giving them a second chance and allowing the ideas to speak for themselves - that's condemning them to a fate they've already suffered.

Just as important in demonstrating your love of games as treating them like new is bringing back as many as possible. It's not enough to return to Mario and Zelda and Donkey Kong over and over again. I know you love those games - I do too - and I agree that every generation of gamer should be brought up with them the same way every budding music fan should be introduced to Bob Dylan and Fugazi. But Virtual Console should be more than baby's first video game steps. It's not just an introduction - it can be a living, breathing, reanimated organism! We're talking about a celebration of the entire history of the medium. I don't mean to sound too harsh here, but Mario and Zelda simply aren't enough to speak for our entire history. That paints too broad a picture. We need the Double Dragons and the Rocket Knights and the Turricans and the Phantasy Stars (less so the Earthworm Jims) - the more detailed you get, the better. And this isn't just about giving a history lesson. These games were unique in their own right at the time and are to this day, and if you cultivate a love for old games, if you properly present each one with care, every release will be an event. Virtual Console should be a parallel game console with its own library that expands just as does that of the Wii U, the 3DS, and other contemporary platforms.

Every old game can become a classic. There are so many great games sitting out there on a shelf, completely forgotten - games that I and all your fans haven't played. Use these games. Make them new again. I want to play them - I want to be excited by them - I want to love them. If you show that same passion, your fans will as well.


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