Nintendo needs to dump Sakamoto, Aonuma, and Miyamoto.
A lot of high-fives and cheers of anticipation filled the internet airwaves once news broke that Wada, the former head of Square-Enix, had been cut loose and would be replaced. People felt that a lot of his decisions had caused the company's quality to plummet. Earlier this morning, I read an dang good article (found here: http://www.notenoughshaders... that pointed out, in detail, why Satoru Iwata, Nintendo's president, needs to go. And it got me thinking. Why stop with Iwata? He's only part of the problem. Why not just clean house and get rid of them all?
Now, before I tackle a topic that will most certainly incite a lot of heated discussion, let me explain where I'm coming from: my argument comes from not only a gaming perspective but also a business perspective. Also, I live by the philosophy of "what have you done lately?". In business, you can't always rest on your laurels. As an example, I don't care that Warren Spector helped make Deus Ex. His recent Epic Mickey games have been junk. What I'm trying to say is that I'm going to cut deep into our nostalgia surrounding these people. I'm going to say things like "who cares if he designed Ocarina of Time?", and that might inspire rage in your heart, but at least read what I say after that to see if I justify myself.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, ready to dive it? Okay.
Nintendo needs to shake things up. There are a lot of smaller problems going on with Nintendo products such as their online lagging behind the other consoles, or their software support being a bit lacking. But the main problem comes from their developer royalty, the people who have been with Nintendo for a while and who are calling a lot of the shots behind the scenes. It's not just Iwata's fault that the company is in its current situation. There are three key people who need to be replaced if Nintendo wants to return to their former glory. And by "former glory", I'm not talking about the Wii, nor the N64, nor even the SNES. I'm talking about the NES, a console paradise for casual gamers and hardcore gamers alike.
First, let's examine Metroid. Metroid has a unique importance to Nintendo. The franchise doesn't sell tens of millions. However, Metroid has always been seen as a "hardcore" game. It's one of the few Nintendo franchises that hasn't lost its hardcore appeal. Yoshio Sakamoto is the current head of the Metroid franchise. At least, he's in charge of what is left of it after Other M swooped in and demolished all interest in the series. Sakamoto's problem is common amongst all of the developers I'm going to highlight in this blog: he thinks he's a genius. Okay, okay, so he helped make some of the Metroid games including the much-loved Super Metroid. So what? That doesn't mean you can do whatever you want with the franchise. When the series was dormant, Retro took over and made the excellent Metroid Prime series (which, by the way, had the highest sales for the series and which also returned the game to "cool" status).
Then, Sakamoto swoops in with Other M and pisses all over it. Not only did Other M retcon all of the storylines from Metroid Prime "just because", it also was a major step backwards in terms of what the series was known for. Gone was the exploration, the tense atmosphere, the back-and-forth puzzle-solving, and the incredibly tight level design. Instead, we got an anime soap opera where Samus was a crybaby and her boss (since when did Samus take orders?) was an idiot. Sakamoto was given free reign over the franchise because Iwata let him. Iwata didn't take a moment to think if Other M would be a bad idea for the franchise. Now, any gamer interest in the series that was built up over the recent years by the Prime series has been demolished by Sakamoto.
Iwata seems to be lenient with most of the top-end developers. Eiji Aonuma, the current head of the Zelda franchise, is another such game designer with his head too far up you-know-where. For goodness' sake, he said that he put trains in Spirit Tracks because his little kid likes trains! He's willing to listen to his kid. Why won't he listen to the market? The Legend of Zelda franchise has been in dire need of refreshment. Formerly, the series brought in new gamers. It was popular. It was seen as COOL. People KNEW when a new Zelda game was coming out. It had its own cartoon. Even the black sheep of the series, Zelda II on the NES, was in such high demand, it was sold out across America. Nowadays, Zelda doesn't sell out anywhere. Nowadays, most people don't know if or when a new Zelda title is released. Nowadays, Zelda is not cool and it only sells to the core fanbase. One of the issues is that Aonuma thinks he knows what is best for the franchise. In interviews, he has said that he hates the old-school gameplay of the first three Zelda games, they're too hard, and that he would rather focus on storyline and puzzle solving. Oh! So that's why the series has exchanged its freedom and excellent combat for the same old puzzles and fetch quests. Like Sakamoto, Aonuma thinks he knows what is best, even if the sales of the game prove otherwise.
Like I said above, Zelda was once COOL. It was once a unique game series, a series packed with so much quality, nothing could compare. And it wasn't because of the story or the NPCs. It was because of the excellent combat, the excellent (and brief) puzzles, and the excellent level design. Nowadays, there are plenty of 3rd-person action games. Aonuma is doing nothing to make Zelda stand out of the crowd. Instead, he indulges his own ideas and puts trains in Zelda and focuses on making cute NPCs. Tingle was HIS idea! Can anyone tell me that a man who thinks Tingle is a good idea should be in charge of Zelda? Speak up! Now's your chance! Nintendo needs to, at least, allow another studio to take over Zelda for a game or two. Retro would be an ideal fit, since they're two-for-two with their Metroid and Donkey Kong games all being excellent. Maybe a "New Legend of Zelda" game that goes back to the franchise roots is what we need. And Zelda fans, I don't want to hear your excuses. You folks ALWAYS flip-flop. I remember when Majora's Mask came out and everyone screamed "foul!". Then, Wind Waker came out and suddenly Majora's Mask was a work of art. Then, Twilight Princess came out and everyone suddenly fell in love with Wind Waker (which was vehemently hated when it first launched). And now the long-running hate for Twilight Princess is coming to an end because Mr. Skyward "Disappointing" Sword is on the market and didn't live up to anyone's expectations. You Zelda kids have a pattern of being completely irrational when it comes to what the franchise needs, so I'm not going to listen (even though Nintendo is stupid enough to listen). Whatever the solution is, Aonuma needs to step down (temporarily, if not permanently) from his role as Zelda's director.
And now, we come to Miyamoto. He has made so many great games, but he is also responsible for some of Nintendo's greatest failures. Ooof. This one is gonna be tough. Let me first point out that Miyamoto is already semi-retired from Nintendo. He's handed off the development for most of his franchises to other developers, including the main sidescrolling Mario games. Now he just works on side projects and slaps his stamp of approval on games. But he also was responsible for the 3DS's design. He was responsible for Wii Music. He was one of the main contributing designers for the WiiU. The problem with Miyamoto is that people think he can do no wrong, when in fact, he can. Let's consider a big one: why do franchises like Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed get yearly titles (which all sell very well, because people clearly want them) yet Super Mario Bros only gets a title every few years, even though the games quite obviously sell a lot more? Why? It's not development time or cost. The production value of sidescrolling Mario has always played second-fiddle to the 3D side of the franchise for years, leaving the sidescrolling games with doo-whop music and simple graphics instead of orchestras and brand-new worlds like the 3D games receive. It's not Marketing. 2D Mario can single-handedly drive hardware sales (as we've seen with both the 3DS and the WiiU, not to mention the Wii's record-breaking 2009 holiday sales when NSMB Wii launched). It's not even that crazy of an idea: the original NES got three sidescrolling Mario games. Why is it? Oh, it's because Miyamoto says he hates working on those sorts of games and he prefers 3D Mario. Um, okay. So, why is Nintendo listening to this guy, then? Miyamoto's problem is that he comes up with ideas and people automatically think they're good. I think we can all admit that glasses-free 3D was not all that necessary for the 3DS. It's cool. Yeah. I'll admit it. But it's a gimmick, and to focus the entire system on 3D was a massive mistake. Whose mistake was it? Miyamoto's mistake, the guy who let Yokoi Gunpei take the fall for the Virtual Boy many years ago and then suddenly comes out years later (prior to the 3DS's launch) and starts taking credit for the Virtual Boy concept. Way to go, Miyamoto! The 3DS hardware was largely directed by him, though no one is willing to point the finger at the man who is truly to blame.
The common problem between all three (four, if you count Iwata) of these Nintendo big-wigs is that they are self-indulgent. They're more than happy to invest their ideas and their gimmicks, but they're not pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into their games anymore, and Iwata isn't calling them out on their b.s. The 3DS was self indulgent. Nintendo thought they were going to usher in an era of portable glasses-free 3D media without taking a step back and realizing that compelling games are what sells hardware, not gimmicks. And let me point out that Wii Sports was a compelling game. Wii Sports was not self indulgent. It didn't have any Nintendo branding (like Nintendo Land) to rely on nostalgia for sales. It didn't have a storyline. It was aimed to expand the gaming market, and it worked. Wii Fit was not self indulgent. There was no prestige in making Wii Fit, and yet it sold tens of millions. Wii Music was, actually, very self indulgent. It was a toy, a gimmick to say "see? Look at me! Look at what my motion controls can do!". And yet, Miyamoto forgot to put a game into the game called Wii Music. It's chilling to see the 3DS's sales increase like clockwork the more Nintendo moves away from their 3D philosophy. It's no big surprise. The same thing happened to the DS. The WiiU's current struggles are the direct fault of these higher-ups in Nintendo, especially Iwata and Miyamoto. I don't care that you crammed "Wii" into the console's title. We all know it was meant to trick casuals into thinking it was like a Wii, but it isn't working. The WiiU is self-indulgent. It isn't Nintendo doing anything new. It isn't Nintendo trying to answer a need in the gaming market. It's Nintendo recycling their DS concept while saying "see? Look at us! We're so tech-savvy! We can make a tablet, too!" all while ignoring more important things like, oh, I don't know, games for your system?!? Do you know how someone secures 3rd party support, Nintendo? You write contracts and make deals. Obviously, Nintendo was fooled by all the developer lip-service from a few years back because the developers aren't showing up for the WiiU. Do you know how you get a lot of sales? You make games that a lot of people enjoy like Wii Sports, sidescrolling Mario, and Mario Kart. Instead, Nintendo is half-arsing their sidescrolling Mario franchise and diddling around with Pikmin and yet another Puzzelda (neither of which will drive WiiU sales, let me assure you). The people who are steering Nintendo's ship are not thinking clearly. They're thinking about their own interests and their own vanity projects. They are ignoring the games that have a proven track record of making money, and when they eventually DO make those games (likely due to stockholder pressure), they phone it in (like they've been doing with sidescrolling Mario and Mario Kart).
In closing, let me point out that I don't want us to forget the great things these developers have done in the past. They've made a lot of great games, and they've contributed a lot to the gaming industry. However, it's time for them to go and let new, eager blood come in and make things right at Nintendo once again.