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If there’s one thing to take away from Nintendo’s recent announcement of EarthBound finally coming to Virtual Console, it’s that miracles do actually happen. But if there’s a second thing to take away, it’s that Nintendo is finally re-embracing the core gamers that made it a household name to begin with.
Despite Nintendo’s lip service to the contrary, core gamers have not been Nintendo’s focus for the last several years. Sure, there were plenty of games for enthusiasts to sink their teeth into, but the reality is that they--we--were an afterthought. Nintendo wanted fledgling gamers. Nintendo wanted lapsed gamers. Nintendo wanted your parents, and the elderly, and your friends who had never played a game before. They were an untapped audience, and Nintendo focused most of its efforts on bringing them into the fold with brain-training games, exercise games, puppy games, and the like. Not that those were bad games, or that new players are a bad thing--I’m all for more people enjoying this fantastic hobby of ours--but the result is that Nintendo was focusing less and less on the gamers that were already committed to the Nintendo way of life.
That plan worked for a while, and the Wii founds its way into every nursing home around the world, but unfortunately for the Big N, the “expanded audience” moved on, be it to casual smartphone games or to other consoles that had all the waggle-tastic gameplay of Wii but with far better graphics. Oh, Nintendo tried to hold onto those players by convincing them that the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U had must-have gimmicks that would be attractive to anybody, core gamer or not, but the fact of the matter is that the desire for stereoscopic 3D had peaked before the 3DS even hit store shelves, and the Wii U’s tablet-like GamePad just wasn’t the broadly appealing revolution that the Wii Remote was. Whether they like it or not, Nintendo’s current systems are ones that resonate primarily with core gamers.
So how does EarthBound tie into this? To me, it’s part of Nintendo’s acknowledgment that Wii U is indeed a core-gamer system. They may want everybody under the sun to own a Wii U, but perhaps they’re admitting that that isn’t realistic at this time; right now they need to focus not on gimmicks for short-term gain, but to appeal to the hardcore fans that will stick with them through thick and thin.
Even the most die-hard Nintendo fans haven’t had much actual software to hang their red, M-emblazoned hats on over the past few months, but that looks set to change in the near future. After all, it doesn’t get much more hardcore than EarthBound (or a Link to the Past sequel, for that matter). Nintendo, it seems, is finally ready to listen to its most enthusiastic users, and by doing so it could position its hardware not as the end-all-be-all-everything-for-everybody machines of its competitors, but as an alternative that offers gaming fun in its purest form.
Now, I don’t expect Nintendo to give up on the expanded audience entirely--nor do I think they should--but if its recent announcements are any indication, it’s ready to pay a lot more attention to the needs of core gamers, and that’s a reassuring thought. Then again, maybe I’m reading too much into this and Nintendo just got sick of the constant whining and begging and complaining when it came to EarthBound; either way, I’m just glad it’s coming back.
Now that we've won that battle, we can start complaining about Mother 3 again.
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