The changing faces of the big three

"Famicom" is an abbreviation of "Family computer", and with that naming convention came Nintendo's outward manifesto for more than the first two decades of its life as a games company. Under pre-Iwata president Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo put across a staunchly innocent image, pushing family values and overall pleasantness to the fore.

In fact, it went so far as to become an official content policy for licensees wanting to put out games on any on Nintendo's machines. Graphic violence, nudity, blood, drugs, politics and religion were outlawed, and while it meant that the company probably threw crap parties, for a good while it was a situation that suited most gamers just fine.

Ironically, it suited Sega down to the ground too, as Ninty's clean living approach gave its biggest rival a very obvious angle to exploit with its own marketing during the '90s. Nintendo was the puritan, Sega was the cool, chain-smoking biker kid. Mario was fat, friendly and safe, Sonic was cool, edgey and badass (ignoring the fact that he was a primary coloured rodent traditionally known for getting run over a lot).

Regardless, in the more innocent early ages of gaming when everything was shiny, new and still largely only adopted by "the kids", Nintendo's image was just fine. Yamauchi and US boss Howard Lincoln presented a fairly sensible yet enthusiastic front at industry shows, backed up by some guy called Miyamoto who popped up from time to time to show off the new games he was working on. Nintendo's ads were the traditional mix of '80s "cool" and bizarro weirdness that typified the period.

Come the mid '90s, Nintendo was hitting a snag. While its games continued to be the finest, freshest and most inventive in the industry, the kids were growing up (a bit) and becoming ever more tempted by Sega's dark world of rebellious vice. It all came to a head with the infamously censored SNES version of Mortal Kombat, which bombed in sales compared to Sega's bloody Mega Drive version. It was a major coup for Sega, and fanboys on both sides were so wrapped up in how much Nintendo's traditional values had held it back that barely anyone seemed to notice that the game was a piece of crap. This is where we finally started to see a shift in Nintendo's presentation of itself. Gore was allowed in MKII, but the real statement of intent came with Killer Instinct.

Not only was Rare's arcade game the most gleefully violent fighter to date, reveling in blood and boobs for gratuitously comic effect throughout, it was actually the game that Nintendo chose as the first glimpse of its next-gen N64 technology. Well, in theory anyway. We all know how that turned out.

But from then on, the floodgates were open. Nintendo formats were as accessible to mature content as any other, and from the late SNES period onwards we got the likes of Doom, Duke Nukem, Resident Evil 2, Turok, Shadowman, and by the time of the Gamecube, Nintendo was actually courting companies like Silicone Knights and Capcom for properties like Eternal Darkness and Resi 4.

For all of that though, Nintendo was still rigidly old-school in a number of ways, refusing to pick up the multimedia technology, optical storage, hard-drives or online connectivity of Sony and Microsoft. Yamauchi repeatedly explained to the press that he wanted Nintendo to remain purely a games company, and Lincoln concurred, stating that "Nintendo is a gaming company. It is not a consumer electronics company, and it is not a computer company. We design with games in mind, and not anything else." Ironic how things have changed, no?

It's 2004. Nintendo is now seen as an anachronistic old dinosaur, so mired in Yamauchi's traditional values and policies that it has half-drowned in the modern age of gaming. Where its rivals have showboated their maturity and coolness at every opportunity, Nintendo has stayed quiet, pleasant, modest and understated. Many expect it to slip away unnoticed before long.

At E3, all of that changed. A man carved from a 10 ft slab of meat burst onto Nintendo's press conference stage, seemingly ready to punch half of the audience into unconsciousness and use their rendered bodies as clubs to knock out the other half. Apparently, he was quite into both kicking asses and taking names.

Lincoln was gone, as was Yamauchi, and we now had the younger, more dynamic team of Reggie Fils Aime and Satoru Iwata. This new Nintendo was more than happy to talk about how great it was, how much better it was going to be, and how much forward-thinking it was compared to its competitors. Yeah, forward-thinking. It couldn't have been more different.

Box-exterior-located ideas came thick and fast, led by the multi-use innovation of the DS, a device that was billed as being good for everything from 3D gaming to PDA applications. This Nintendo was about a true evolution of gaming technology, and it promised to shake up traditional console gaming in a way no-one had ever seen before with its next home machine. And when the nature of that console was revealed a year later, Nintendo of course used it to emphasise just how progressive it was, not only from its old self, but also from everyone else in the industry.

With the Wii still selling by the planetload regardless of a dearth of actual games, Nintendo's E3 2008 show took a whole new focus. Nintendo was now a lifestyle business, selling an ideal rather than a product, and it was making too much money out of that aspirational image to waste time on the traditional games of old. Thus, game announcements were replaced by endless photos of old people waggling Wiimotes and the badass "We're going to own gaming" spirit of '04 gave way to an insipid and fairly abstract desire to make people smile. Presumably people who REALLY like digital cookery books.

It says it all that Nintendo's traditional red logo has now been officially replaced with a grey one. This current iteration of the company is all about a vague spirit of togetherness, expressed through a slightly disturbing fervour for its Wii-led utopia, but without any real tangible reason for it. It's all about oneness, sharing and family interaction, but not about cool or fun. Reggie is more restrained, Cammie Dunaway simpers away with saccharine enthusiasm about how much her son wubs dat mommy works at Nintendo, and Miyamoto is just wheeled out as an embarrassed-looking dancing monkey reminder of the games he made for the SNES.

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  • Mackster-901 - March 9, 2009 4:37 p.m.

    ur all fukin stupid i admit ps3 controlers brake easily and they cost 2 much but u get alot more stuff 4 da ps3 than the 360 and its jus a betta console
  • LinkSceptile333 - March 9, 2009 3:33 a.m.

    The only game I still play on the Wii is Super Smash Bros. Brawl (I've been a tourneyfag since Melee), but it is true that Nintendo isn't strong. But each console has their fault and I believe Nintendo will make a come back. And LOL at fanboys like Dawgsfan117. I fail to see how a video game console can have a sexual preference.
  • hairy truman - March 9, 2009 1:46 a.m.

    oooohhh, nintendo... i loved you so much. im quite ashamed to say now that i play COD WaW more than mario kart... i still wanna be a nintendo fanboy, because the nintendo64 pretty much changed my life, but it is sooooo hard. if i didnt get a n64 for my 6th birthday, i would probably be doing something constructive right now *shivers*. i feel like nintendo kinda abandoned me... nintendo changed(theres no doubt about that), for the worse, i painfully say
  • jtslugmaster10 - March 9, 2009 1:28 a.m.

    i also think that microsoft or apple should have been added as well for pc surely they must have changed or went a different direction in gaming especially since they have been around the longest
  • ReaperOfDarkness - March 8, 2009 9:41 p.m.

    Maybe somebody should merge these companies. Hardware specs of the ps3 without the elitist crap and outrageous price. Innovation of the wii and controller without the bucketloads of "family" crap fests and shovelware. Good licenses and good games overall of the 360 without microsofts license based fascism. Seems to me each of these 3 companies screwed up or headed in a wrong direction. The wii went ina good direction and then crashed into a wall of terrible games and "casual" BS. Sony doesnt seem to understand that a 600 dollar console makes it out of reach for many people no matter how good it is. They apparently havent learned their lesson that the most expensive top of the line product frequently loses out to the slightly lower quality product set at a reasonable price. Microsoft seems to have started to wake up from their previous mistakes at least and are turning around (hopefully). Only time will tell how this is going to turn around. My bet is that the wii is going to sharply decline as all the fans leave feeling abandoned by nintendo and everyone else will be distracted by the next fad and the hype of the wii disappears. Sony needs to realize that catering only to those with large amounts of disposable income in this type of business is frequently a losing strategy. Hardcore only means only hardcore players will buy your product and they dont provide enough business to keep you afloat in electronics.
  • sprog - March 8, 2009 8:38 p.m.

    Ah i love the smell of a fanboy bitchslapfest in the evening. I'm one of the lucky ones who own all three and for me it's 360 for general gaming, PS3 for blu ray, LBP and MGS and wii to get the missus to shut the f up. I'll never forgive sony for making me pay again for a pad that rumbles. Good article btw.
  • rogue9494 - March 8, 2009 5:27 p.m.

    I definitely think the 360 controller is way better than the ps3 controller. its a piece of junk
  • Metallica - March 8, 2009 1:57 p.m.

    Ah, Sony... Tsk, tsk, tsk...
  • noogy18 - March 8, 2009 1:48 p.m.

    Those pics of J. Allard made me lol. Nice article.
  • jackrabbitslims - March 8, 2009 11:42 a.m.

    @ phoenix_wings: you know they have begun to replace the older motherboards that were the cause of overheating (which leads to the RROD) so that won't be much of a problem now. well, for people that didn't buy at launch anyway. If you bought at launch, u=fool. I always wait a year, see if there is any bugs that need to be worked out (ps2 i-phone etc.) As for Nintendo, they dug themselves a hole using shovel-ware. I can't help but feel like they encouraged badly made games being made, maybe that's just me...
  • Gene - March 8, 2009 9:48 a.m.

    @Comatose92 Good lists there, but just two bones to pick: one, the number of brilliant Xbox exclusives was far lower than 100 (it probably had the fewest strong exclusives of all the consoles owing to the games being on the PC/Dreamcast), and the Cube, I think, was a stronger console for games (I love Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life and Paper Mario 2, for example - both exclusive). And the Wii does have a few other good games: SSX Blur is fantastic, and I urge anyone with a Wii to buy it, and on WiiWare there's LostWinds and World of Goo, which are both stunning. Other than that, though, I'm completely in agreement with you.
  • DawgsFan117 - March 8, 2009 7:32 a.m.

    Look the Wii is gay and im pretty sure we can all agree on that unless u ask a seven year olf or a seventy year old. However I own both a PS3 and an Xbox 360 and honestly I like the 360 better for many reasons. The controller has a much better feel to it because of the weight(I always feel like im gonna crush the PS3 controller). Also I dont mind paying for xboxlive because its easier to use than the playstation network. They both have good exclusives and I play abunch of em for both systems but if its a multi platform release Im goin for the 36o version.
  • DJ_Funktris - March 7, 2009 10:50 p.m.

    Playstation 2? Its one of the greatest ever!
  • EvilInkarnate - March 7, 2009 10:26 p.m.

    That thing about Reggie from Nintendo was great!! However, sales have the Wii widely considered to be in the number 1 spot. I have a Wii. Wanted one so bad. Got one. I play Wii Sports and Mario Galaxy. I haven't played either of those in months. This would be longer, but I gotta go dust off my Wii.
  • hdbngr15 - March 7, 2009 8:26 p.m.

    Platypus96, youve sorta got the right idea. if nintendo started to follow through with the older wii games, it would be epic. hopefully madworld can change my mind though
  • Awesomeitude1523 - March 7, 2009 7:27 p.m.

    @ sage62: Yes none of the consoles is perfect. I agree there. But the PS3 actually has a decent line up of exclusives: LBP, MGS 4, UNcharted, ratchet and clank,Gran Turismo, KZ2, Resistance series, and upcoming God of War. But it does have some fundamental flaws. @Levy: Yes the Ps3 controllers are light, but thats one of very few flaws Yeah sorry bout the double post
  • sage62 - March 7, 2009 7:03 p.m.

    All the consoles have flaws and fanboyels can suck it. 360 is the most game heavy and has online well worth the membership which is like 7 bucks, but is the most likely to break, which is unfortunate, other then that it's in the middle of the two extremes, wii and ps3. Ps3 is more powerful, but has a general lack of good exclusives that make the most of it, combine that with mediocre online and you get a console well capable of beating the 360 but with fundamental flaws holding t back. Then the wii has been brought down by all the shovel ware, the motion controls would Be a good pay off for graphcs and stuff, if they couod do it right, most games just come off as gimmicky with few exceptions
  • Mackster-901 - March 7, 2009 6:54 p.m.

    Foolish mortals gaze upon the future and weep this is so tru, nothing can compare 2 da ps3 x-box jus has da same old things were as ps3 has the most up-2-date technolegy
  • Platypus96 - March 7, 2009 11:38 a.m.

    Wii FTW! Am the only person that thinks that? *Hides in corner*
  • phoenix_wings - March 7, 2009 7:56 a.m.

    Yeahhh, everyone that I know that has a 360 has had theirs RROD on them. Explain to me why Microsoft is FTW. Of course you can go anywhere on Craigslist or Kijiji to find the "I'll fix your RROD for $30!" ads. You guys are right about Sony's elitism, they got pretty comfortable in being able to sell The PSOne and the PS2 so well, they were kind of slacking. Like the guy that you punch in the stomach, and it really hurt him but you can see he's trying to play it off as nothing--that must have been what PSP sales were like to Sony. That kid turns around and says "Oh yeah? Well get a load ot THIS!" and he decks you in the face so hard, but he breaks his hand. Sure the PS3 has got a lot of wow-factor, but they only hurt themselves in the end by charging SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR IT. Still glad I have one though ^-^

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