The recent information leaked regarding Nintendo NX has awakened the dormant hornet’s nest “we gamers” can’t resist tossing rocks at now and again; the idea that system-specs equal better gaming. We’ve all been conditioned from the beginning that graphical fidelity is the means to qualify a purchase of the latest three-figure, plastic toy box. It’s been an advertising tactic that sales guys have used since video game ads became a thing.
If I’ve personally learned anything about gaming in the past 30-odd years, it’s that graphic power does not directly mean a game is better.
We only have to look at the glut of adoration for the elder statesmen of gaming as a first example. This very site has as much love for the old stuff as the new. Several of the contributors here have come up with some excellent pieces about classic gaming.
However beyond all of that, there was a splash that arrived when the NES Mini was announced. Nintendo played the nostalgia strings like the Japanese virtuoso it is, creating a system that celebrates its past. It will come loaded up with some of the system’s best games, and Nintendo managed to make it snuggly and cute like some sort of nerdy kitten. And just like a kitten, it was astonishingly effective in its distraction power.
That’s a pretty easy example. So let’s look at games that have come out pretty recently which made some of the biggest impacts. Shovel Knight; Hyper Light Drifter; Super Meat Boy; Cave Story; FTL: Faster Than Light; Stardew Valley; These aren’t just games that were made with simple means because the engines were cheap. These are titles that embraced the limitations of video gaming’s classic mediums and made new classics. They brought new ideas to our hobby while giving an upwards nod to the way things were.
Let’s even go beyond the old 2D-spritework. Games on the “under-powered” systems, or of significantly less impressive spec, are probably some of my favorites. Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura remain the high point of PC RPG gaming to me. I found Splatoon’s colorful and clean style FPS-shooter accessible and fun. The Monster Hunter series is archaic as far as graphics are concerned, but hit so many addictive gaming notes for me. The same thing can be said for any of the Animal Crossing titles. EverQuest is still running. Heck, how many people do you know have a monster PC rig and use it to play World of Warcraft?
We’ve tried so hard and come so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter if your game isn’t fun or plain doesn’t work. Everyone was losing their minds over the coming of Skyrim, and rightfully so. It’s the grand-daddy of PC RPGs for many, and even better, the way people would test their system’s power for the time. However as pretty as the game looked and as awesome as the graphics were, it was unfinished mess when it released. Modders had to fix the game on the PC, and everyone else (console players) had to wait for an official patch that would make their dragons stop flying around backwards.
I promise, I’m not bagging on these games. I may not be able to afford today’s standard of a monster-truck gaming-PC, but I sure can remember the days when I tried playing Morrowind on my Gateway, watching my character look over his shoulder at me in disgust as the foliage slowly loaded in. I’m also not saying that we should avoid pushing the envelope. What I’m saying, is that we can’t correlate graphical power with more fun; that’s not how gaming works. At least, that’s not HOW it should work. Graphics aren’t gameplay; gameplay is gameplay.
The Nintendo NX is what it is for reasons that are not entirely known to any of us yet. It’s completely plausible that Nintendo is trying to create a slimmer form that doesn’t feel like you’re wielding a controller the size of a steak hoagie. Or maybe they want something that appeals to a market that doesn’t care for games running on a 4K television.
We’re nowhere near informed enough.
Whatever that reason may be, we shouldn’t care if the games graphics are good. We’ve got a Pokemon mobile game, which barely qualifies as a game for most enthusiasts, that has taken over the world’s psyche. We have a game like Overwatch that barely looks at the envelope graphics-wise, let alone pushes it, and it’s making huge bank for Blizzard.
Fun should always trump graphics power, in my opinion. While a good-looking game will get some initial attention, we don’t need to have the uncanny valley blinking at us with its weird, not-quite-human eyes. Substance can hold hands with simple style, especially if that substance is robust. I’m always going to look at how a game feels before I care about how a game looks anyway. I’d hope that the rest of the gaming community would be able to as well.
This is all a really long way of saying, “Give me Breath of the Wild already,” if I’m honest.