Childhood Companions: Nintendo Flagship Franchises and Me

I bought the New Nintendo 3DS XL (what a monster of a name) in July, and that marked my return to the hardware developer I grew up with after years spent almost solely in the company of Sony.

That’s actually not entirely true, because I did own Nintendo DS, but I barely used it – I played Phantom Hourglass, the sequel to Wind Waker, and a couple other games, but it really mostly just gathered dust. I’ve also been a PC gamer on the side, sometimes even moreso than a console fanboy, but that’s not relevant to the issue.

My first console was the NES, and I got the SNES briefly afterwards. I also had the GameBoy Color and a bit later the GameBoy Advance, but the latter also ended up being mostly neglected – frankly, I can’t even remember a single game I might have played on it, except Pokémon Sapphire. After the first couple consoles, however, I got the Sony Playstation, which was the real deal at that time. Ever since, I sort of considered myself primarily a fan of Sony, instead of Nintendo. I’ve owned every Sony console except for the PlayStation 4, which I’ll probably get at some point.

With my purchase of the New Nintendo 3DS XL, I wanted to go back and get reacquainted with the franchises and characters I grew up with as I played the NES and SNES as a kid. Because frankly, even though I also have owned every Nintendo console except the N64, Wii and WiiU, I never really dove back into the worlds of Mario or Zelda, like I used to when I was all about Nintendo back in the day.

So I kinda went on a binge with the 3DS, and bought a ton of games on the Nintendo eShop – as I said, I craved to find out what I had missed all those years not playing these games. Ever since the SNES days, I hadn’t played any Mario games except Sunshine, any Zelda games except Wind Waker (yeah, missed out on Ocarina and Majora’s Mask), any Donkey Kong games at all, any Kirby games except Mouse Attack… So basically, I had just abruptly grown apart from my childhood companions.

Positive Surprises

Being so far removed from these franchises, I didn’t really know what to expect. I felt the urge to try all of Nintendo’s key series and get to know them again. I’m happy to say there were some games that really surprised me in the best possible way.

First, I’ll have to mention Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D. This is a port of the Wii game of the same name (sans the 3D. Duh.), and one of the games I really had no prior information about. The three Donkey Kong Country games on the SNES developed by Rare were some of my favorite games growing up, and I had simply assumed that everything that came after was terrible. For the most part, I still think so. However, DKCR3D (…) positively blew me away.

It’s not nearly as good as the SNES games, but this game is seriously difficult, there’s a ton of things to do and collect, and the basic gameplay is surprisingly similar to what I was used to. Some changes, like health points (a whopping two of them per character) and having Diddy as practically a powerup rather than a tag team buddy, were to be expected – I’m not sure if these things have been added before this game; as I said, I haven’t played any Donkey Kong games since DKC3.

Another game that I felt very positively about (although it wasn’t necessarily a surprise) was The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. I don’t know much about Zelda games, and by no means am I any kind of veteran of the series; I played the first two on the NES very sparingly, I beat the Oracle of Seasons (which is a spectacular game), I played the Wind Waker which I didn’t like that much, and finally I beat the Phantom Hourglass, which I actually thought was better than Wind Waker itself.

But even with so little experience, I knew Zelda games are good. They tend to be the ones that utilize the current console’s unique features with the best ingenuity and efficiency, and they always surprise you in some way during the course of the game. A Link Between Worlds was no exception – it was precisely what I expected, in a good sense. That’s what I mean by it not exactly being a surprise.

Aside from those two games, I really must make a special note of Pokémon X. After playing Pokémon Pearl on the DS I was actually very convinced I would not buy another Pokémon game – possibly ever. Pearl was, in my opinion, such a terrible entry in the series, in that it seemed to add very few to no new features of any consequence, it didn’t improve gameplay, and the only difference to previous titles seemed to be pointless and irritating mini-games (I’m not sure if they were added earlier, but Pearl was the first game I encountered them in).

But I did decide to give GameFreak one more chance to sell me on Satoshi Tajiri’s brainchild. I bought Pokémon X, mostly expecting to use it as the reason to say, “I knew it – it’s total garbage”. But it did win me back; I loved the 3D models, I loved the reinvented Pokémon relationship mini-game… I loved pretty much every new feature in this game. It looked pretty and it was fun to play. This is the game they should have made years ago; of course, that spawns the question, why didn’t they? Nonetheless, I was impressed by Pokémon X, and it gave me some faith for the future of this series as well.

Disappointments

Sadly, I was not as impressed with all of the games I played. Most prominently, I must note that the Mario series seems to have lost me entirely. I loved Sunshine, but Super Mario 3D Land – even though apparently loved by everyone else in the universe – failed to make the sale. I tried and tried, and actually played very long, but I just didn’t like that game. It was bland, boring and unimaginative. That to me was the biggest disappointment.

I decided to give Mario another chance, and bought New Super Mario Bros. 2 as well. I figured I’d like the more classic style of gameplay better. And I did, but not enough to make a real difference. I shortly got bored of this game as well, and even though I was really stoked about the Koopalings making their appearance, that didn’t make the game much more exciting for me. Mario had officially failed to win me back.

Kirby Superstar, or Kirby’s Fun Pak as it was known here, was one of my most cherished childhood gaming experiences, and it made me fall in love with Kirby. Since I switched sides to Sony back in the 90’s, I lost touch with Kirby, and didn’t meet him again until the DS game Mouse Attack. With that experience in mind, I actually didn’t even buy a Kirby game on my 3DS, because I had already identified the problem that plagued all the games of this series, even my beloved Superstar: these games are really for kids. They’re way too easy and without challenge to really provide any real gaming experience.

Sorry guys - I have new friends now.

Sorry guys – I have new friends now.

As a whole, I was really happy to get back in touch with some of these characters I used to be so crazy about, and I was even happier to realize they weren’t all bad games – there were some really good ones there, too.

However, I had already missed so much, and while I didn’t regret buying the 3DS and still don’t, it mostly felt like a high-school reunion, where I had fun and I was glad I went, but it was just that one evening, and now it’s time to move on with my life.

A bit later, I ended up buying the PlayStation Vita, and although it’s sort of sad to admit it, it felt so much more familiar to me, considering its library of games. Granted, the Vita is very poorly supported and seems like it’s not worth owning, but I still enjoy it, and I have a bunch of games that I’m already very infatuated with.

I’d like to think there’s still a Nintendo fanboy in me, but it’s a shy, quiet little kid, who sits in the shadow of the all-too serious, cynical PlayStation fan.


Thanks for taking the time to read my blog! Please do visit again next Sunday for my ponderings on video game franchises, franchise fatigue, reboots and spiritual successors.

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One thought on “Childhood Companions: Nintendo Flagship Franchises and Me

  1. Great post, I feel the same. Nintendo make games for kids, it is always good to come back for the nostalgia sake, but Sony is far more important now. Even the Vita feels better than the 3DS.

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