Nintendo — a name we’ve all heard before, one synonymous with gaming. Even if you’ve never played a Nintendo title before, or owned any of its consoles, you’re likely familiar with its creations. Even people who’ve never played a single game in their lives likely know Mario’s face when they see it, or know where Pikachu comes from. The company and its achievements permeate the entire gaming community, not least because it’s one of the most successful gaming companies to have ever existed.
Now, admittedly, Nintendo has its faults. Even a die-hard fan like me can’t deny that, and plenty of fair criticisms have been levelled at the company over the years, from the morally repugnant decision to stamp out the production and sale of custom Joy-Con shells, to the even more morally repugnant decision to altogether ignore the drifting issues that trouble the Joy-Cons themselves. The cancelling of fan projects and tournaments is also a slap in the face to people who have consistently supported the company over the years. It’s no secret that Nintendo protects its intellectual property with ice-cold ferocity.
While Nintendo’s recent build-up of controversies may have something to do with Satoru Iwata’s passing back in 2015, even during his time with the company, decisions were being made that put money above the fans. Iwata was undoubtedly a fan favourite and he did many positive things — like taking a 50% pay cut to prevent his employees losing their jobs — but one man does not a company make. Nintendo, like any other multi-billion dollar corporation, is in it for the money. It always has been.
And certainly, people have a right to be mad about those things. They have a right to close their wallets to the company for good and walk away, barely looking back as they go. But, with all due respect, I simply can’t, and won’t. I see the poor choices that Nintendo have been making in recent years, but my immediate reaction is to just…shrug.
Sure, the company is flawed, but there’s a reason Nintendo remains one of the biggest gaming companies on the scene, even decades after the 1983 release of its very first console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). From the off, it’s been responsible for developing and publishing some of the most famous gaming franchises including Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Pokémon, Kirby, Donkey Kong and Metroid. These franchises stay fresh and popular because every new instalment innovates on the old to create something new. After all, who thought Luigi would ever get his own spin-off game about winning a haunted mansion?
The same goes for every console Nintendo brings out. From humble beginnings with the NES, SNES, Nintendo 64 and Game Boy consoles, the company continued on to reinvent the wheel. The Nintendo DS was the first of its kind, featuring two screens, one of them touch sensitive. The Wii was also revolutionary, with motion controls and a host of games that made full use of that new feature. Its latest release, the Nintendo Switch, isn’t without its issues, but again, the ability to go between portability and home use, with detachable motion-sensor controllers, is a unique take on gaming that hasn’t been seen or done before.
Without a doubt, Nintendo has had its fair share of consoles that have tanked, like the Wii U, and those that have been just plain gimmicky, like the Nintendo DSi. Even my personal favourite console, the GameCube, lost the company money. But the point is that Nintendo strives for more than just a better aesthetic with every new console it releases. There’s genuine love there for creating something new, something exciting, something fun. Because, really, fun is the whole point of gaming — not hyper-realistic graphics or a thinner, shinier console. Plain, old fun.
And fun always abounds in Nintendo’s titles. As a lifelong fan, my childhood brims with happy memories of the games I played and experienced. Some of the first include watching my uncle play Star Fox 64 on the Nintendo 64, cheering on my brother as he battled his way through Kanto in Pokémon Red, and teaming up with my cousins to beat Super Mario Bros. on the NES (we never did manage to beat it, even with all five of us working together). On my eighth birthday I received my very own, and very first, Nintendo console — the painfully underrated GameCube — and life changed forever.
I call the GameCube underrated because, despite an incredible line-up of games, it turned out to be a commercial failure compared to the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. The console itself was one of Nintendo’s major blunders, but it’s a blunder I’m still thankful for two decades after its release. After all, say what you want about the Cube, but without it we wouldn’t have gems like Super Mario Sunshine, Luigi’s Mansion, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door and Mario Kart: Double Dash.
Not long after I received a GameCube, I was given a Game Boy Advance SP, another console with a number of great games — a few of my favourites included Pokémon Sapphire, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Golden Sun and Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town. These two consoles — one for fun at home, the other for portable fun while I lived out of a backpack at my dad’s house — are the backbone to many memories of my middle childhood, that awkward phase between 8 and 12 where neither teenagers nor adults seem to get you. Certainly, I had friends at school during this time — I wasn’t that much of a loner. But sleepovers were rare and treasured things. In between each one, I had to make do with what I had.
Gaming transported me to worlds far and wide as well as any book or movie. The characters in my games were friends in their own right. Their journeys were my journeys. When Link ventured across the Great Sea to find his sister in The Wind Waker, so did I. I moved into Luigi’s haunted mansion and vacationed with Mario. Not only that, but their hardships were my hardships. I ached when Midna left Link at the end of Twilight Princess, and felt the keen stab of failure each time I lost a Pokémon battle. I connected with these games and the characters in them on the deepest of levels, the way I connected with the real people I held dear.
And, during the stretches of my middle childhood where I faced my own, very real hardships, these connections were invaluable. The aftermath of divorce and living out of two different homes was often scary and difficult to adapt to. Moving up to secondary school was like being thrown head-first into a shark tank, with not even an armband to see me through. It was only made worse by all the awkward embarrassment of puberty arriving like a slap in the face — no warning, no explanation, no way of avoiding it. Throughout the rollercoaster of these years, gaming, specifically Nintendo titles, remained a fixed, permanent anchor in my life that I could count on never to change.
Even now that I’m much older and far removed from that painfully awkward 8-year-old, these games still bring me that same comfort. No matter how many brilliant instalments in their franchises are released, the likes of Mario and Link remain untouched by the passing of time. Boot up Super Mario Sunshine or The Wind Wakerand they’re there, welcoming you back like old friends that never care how long it’s been. I still go back to them now, sometimes for that old sense of familiarity, but sometimes, just for the hell of it. It’s cathartic, sure, helping Luigi clear out his mansion of ghosts and ghouls, or heading for the Elite Four to become the very best for the thousandth time. But sometimes, it’s just fun.
And again, that’s the point. The kind of fun I had with Nintendo’s games and consoles was never something I experienced with my brother’s PlayStation 2, and we never even owned an Xbox. There are some fond memories of trying to defeat the Crash Bandicoot games, and Croc: Legend of the Gobbos was one I especially enjoyed, but the fun within these memories came from playing as a duo with my brother, rather than from sheer love of the games themselves. There’s a very particular kind of sentimental joy that remains exclusive to Nintendo, its games and its platforms.
So, for all its faults, I just can’t stay mad at Nintendo. I can’t even be mad in the first place. I understand that my love for Nintendo’s characters shouldn’t absolve the company itself of its many morally questionable choices, but without that company, we wouldn’t have those characters. I simply can’t remain objective on this, no matter how hard I try. I see all of the criticisms levelled at the company, and yet, my opinion never falters.
Really, I doubt it ever will. A big part of my childhood was moulded by the games I played, by the characters I met and the lessons I learnt along each and every journey. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Nintendo, and that 8-year-old version of me wouldn’t have been half as happy.
So, from one former awkward-and-sometimes-lonely kid, to one of the biggest gaming companies in the world — thank you.