I have been trying to figure out the “new” Nintendo ever since the Wii launch, and a game like Warioland Shake It! both enlightens and confounds me. It is perhaps the best picture of what Nintendo can do (as opposed to what they may want to do) with their traditions, yet I cannot find a reviewer that sees it the same way as me. While in all likelihood this is a clue that I am going off on a wild tangent, I cannot help but feel that Shake It! is a sign of a community that at times has an ass backwards opinion of Nintendo, or in some cases is having a hard time adjusting.
I am going to put it bluntly – Shake It! is a kid’s game, a description which I do not use pejoratively. As a few critics have rightfully pointed out, Shake It! plays much like Warioland 4 with a few simple motion controls and with smaller, simpler levels. The difficulty in actually completing any given stage is almost nonexistent, and completing all the extra challenges leads to so little reward that it is hard to even consider it rewarding. The 2d graphics, while indeed gorgeous, are also highly reminiscent of the colorful cast of a certain Nintendo character’s anime.
What I am getting at here is that Shake It! feels like an intentional shift for Nintendo. Fans have often praised the company for appealing to a general audience, eschewing edginess for friendly visuals and a fair difficulty. I have never been enamored with that argument, but in any case, Wario Land doesn’t concern itself so much with the adults. Forgive me if this is a stretch, but this is a character I can enjoy on my own. These are things I can see myself watching with my niece on Saturday morning. There is a big difference between charming cartoon characters, and the deliberately safe, rounded style of today’s kid flavored anime.
The same shift is apparent in the platforming itself. Perhaps it feels like a watered down Wario Land 4 because it wants to offer the same kind of game to a younger, less skilled audience. Perhaps it also feels that way because we are all seasoned, 20-30 somethings who cut our teeth on classic Nintendo platformers that, in hindsight, could be soul crushing in their difficulty. To us, going back for those bonus treasures is a waste of time, but the eight year old me would have done so with glee, for the sense of completion (and because I wouldn’t be getting a new game any time soon).
Sorry folks, but Shake It! was not made for us, and for the audience it was actually intended for, I think it is rather excellent. It animates like a cartoon, has a gradual learning curve, and repackages classic platforming tropes for a generation that hasn’t seen them a dozen times. While it wasn’t that fun on my own, I’d give this to a kid in a heartbeat, and I would have great fun introducing them to the same kind of game I grew up with.
That is the end of the review proper. Now, for all you old Nintendo fans, sit down, because we need to talk. I’m not really sure if our view of the company is healthy. For instance, I have heard some argue that even if it is aimed at children, Shake It! should be harder. After all, we grew up with Mario 3 (and even the Lost Levels, eventually) and we came out okay. Yes, we did come out okay, but do you know if others bailed out of the hobby in frustration?
I watched my younger cousins grow up with the N64. They were more than happy with Kirby and the Crystal Shards. If I sat them down with Contra, I think it would have made them cry. It is a different playground from the one we ran on, and the easier challenge is sure to attract more people. The old, traditionalist Nintendo is trying to be more inclusive than exclusive (unlike almost everyone else in the industry), and yet we criticize them for adapting.
On the other hand, there are some who feel that the game is a “soulless” repackaging of old ideas. As I alluded to before, perhaps it feels soulless because we are used to it. I can see some clever ideas in Shake It! I also know that the solutions to these ideas are ingrained into my muscle memory. We are looking at the game with all the right experience and none of the right perspective. Not to mention that even if they occasionally manage to change, this is still old, traditionalist Nintendo. It is possible, even natural, for the old guard to be slower at innovation than younger competitors. Meanwhile they are sitting on a pile of classic ideas that not everyone has experienced. It makes perfect business sense to reintroduce them to an audience at least as large as the “hardcore”. We just don’t want to admit that the idea of Nintendo as Supreme Innovator is outdated and clouded by nostalgia. When they choose not to adapt, we still criticize.
Finally, the concept of “appealing to everyone” needs to be toned down. It is indeed true for many a Nintendo game, but it is not a universal truth, nor is it always a good thing. Sometimes it gives you Mario Galaxy, which almost anyone can beat, but later challenges players like us to try the Purple Coin stages. Other times it gives you Twilight Princess, which is focus-group tested dreck based on some strange idea of what Zelda is supposed to be, that tries to please all and appeals to no one. Then we have something like Shake It!, where we apply this rule when it simply doesn’t belong.
Nintendo is a business; it isn’t our childhood friend, or our benefactor. They will either adapt or not depending on what they feel is best. But since the market itself is always changing, so too must our perspective of Nintendo. Instead, our view right now is rigid, based less on facts then on memories. That will only lead to trouble. I consider myself a Nintendo fan because I believe they are capable of always making something entertaining for some group of fans, even if that group isn’t me.
If Shake It! becomes the template for future platformers, I may not like any of them, but I will still follow them, and hopefully play them with someone very special to me. I think this is far more important than ensuring that “Core gamers” get their Zelda fix, even if it means dragging the series through the mud. It isn’t enough to just look at Nintendo or any other game company. You have to think a bit too. Failure to do so means that in fifteen years, depending on how they fare, we will look like fanboys for either Apple, or on the other end, Disney. I’d rather avoid both if I can.