I’ve been a StarFox fan for a long time. When I say a long time I mean I’ve owned every console StarFox game going all the way back to 1993 with the original SNES version. And for the record, I’ve enjoyed every one of them. Yes, that includes StarFox Adventures (2002) for the Gamecube. The only one I have yet to purchase and play is the latest StarFox Zero for the Wii U. The only reason I haven’t purchased it yet is because I’m waiting for Black Friday and hoping for a price drop. Yes, I know it’s gotten bad reception because of shoddy gameplay, but I’m going to buy it anyway. I also realize that this is extremely hypocritical of me. I have written many a post about how we as gamers and consumers need to stop supporting bad games so that the industry changes its development and pricing practices. But you have to understand that this particular franchise is very dear to my heart. StarFox 64 is the first game I can remember beating without help. The franchise will always be special to me and that’s why from the very first announcement of StarFox Zero I was sure I would eventually buy it. One of my tweets from a long while back expresses my feelings on the subject best.
Even though I had decided I was absolutely going to purchase the game, that does not mean that I am incapable of judging it objectively. I played the demo upon release and yes the controls are bad. I am going to buy it even still but I have no problem admitting that I’m cringing at the idea of trying to get through the harder missions with the control scheme I experienced in the demo. If ever a hard patch was needed, this game is it. On the other hand, I also tried the demo for StarFox Guard and that game is phenomenal. That demo solidified my choice to get a physical copy because it comes with Guard at no extra cost. It’s so addictive that it almost feels like I’m buying Guard and getting a copy of Zero included with it in case I want a break from shooting robots. In all honesty though, it wasn’t the gameplay that I was most unhappy with at the end of the StarFox Zero demo. It was actually the cutscenes.
Who is Nintendo’s audience? This is an interesting question because there are multiple answers given by different groups and all of them are arguably right and wrong at the same time. The question itself is hard to define because there’s more than one way to read it. Are we talking about the intended audience as chosen by Nintendo? The appropriate audience based on the content Nintendo produces? Or the audience that should be targeted based on what would be the most profitable? All of these are valid ways of looking at that initial question and all of them are considered the correct answer depending on who’s talking.
Nintendo would probably say their target audience is families. By which I mean homes with younger children and parents who want to be able to enjoy their games with them. All of the content they currently produce seems to be aged appropriately for young children but because of the classic IP’s used parents often participate out of nostalgia. That’s how I’ve viewed the last generation of Nintendo games. And honestly that’s pretty sad because there have been some really great child inappropriate games on past Nintendo consoles, like MadWorld (2009) for the Wii. That’s still one of the most brutal and vulgar games I’ve ever played on any platform. And that was a Nintendo exclusive. But today they have given up on purely adult content.
Looking at the content Nintendo produces in a vacuum, I believe most people would agree that they make content for children. Based solely on age appropriateness, Nintendo games today are for young to adolescent children. Specifically I’m talking about console games. They never seem to make anything that older people would normally find interesting or challenging any more. Even their newer stuff like the upcoming Paper Mario: Color Splash looks extremely childish in nature because of the removal of the RPG elements and addition of childish gimmicks like squeezing lemons to blind enemies and smashing them with fortune cats. Their games always look childish and the content continues to be sophomoric and unoriginal. It’s the same linear story every time with the same characters and ending. They make games for kids and that’s why so many people have stopped buying their consoles or purchase them begrudgingly knowing that they are really just trying to play a few key titles in a sea of childish content.
While I too am of the belief that modern Nintendo makes childish games, I don’t believe that’s the audience they should be marketing to. Nor do I believe they should be targeting adult males from 18 to 40 like Microsoft and SONY have been doing for the last two or three generations. I believe that Nintendo should be specifically targeting its most profitable audience. And I believe that audience is loyal fans who’ve been playing Nintendo games for multiple generations. Currently Nintendo markets to new gamers. Young children who are really too young to be playing HALO, Gears of War, and Hitman. Nintendo gets them while they’re young and then when they get older they move on to XBOX and PlayStation but usually end up also buying Nintendo products for one or two specific franchises. That’s not the right way to do it. Instead they should be directly targeting those aging, but long time Nintendo fans. People like me who grew up playing NES, SNES, N64, and Gamecube. People who have a long standing relationship with Nintendo and who stand to bring in the most profits if kept happy. Nintendo has the ability and constant opportunities to do this, but they rarely take them other than with HD remakes. Therein lays the problem.
When I played the demo for StarFox Zero, I was very unhappy because the cutscenes were so childish. This is a world where it would be extremely appropriate to tell a dark, Star Wars style story. We have a main character whose father died in battle fighting an evil fascist overlord who wants to control the universe. This main character constantly works to live up to his dead father’s expectations but is unsure of himself because the only guidance he has is from an aging surrogate father figure, an arrogant ace pilot, and a socially inept scientist. This is a great setup in a world of space battles, robot armies, villainous underlings, and science fiction technology. I’m not saying they had to make a game that was rated mature and couldn’t be viewed by kids at all. But they didn’t have to make children the target audience either.
The opening cutscene is so cheesy. It literally has Fox, Falco, and Slippy rolling around on the floor like little kids while Peppy is yelling about how they all need to grow up and stop acting like children. Why would a scene like this be happening on a spaceship where all three have already graduated space pilot academy training, supposedly been through multiple battles (assumed based on their piloting skills), and one of them has lost one or possibly both of his parents tragically since his mother is never mentioned. And all throughout the demo plot Slippy is playing tricks, Falco is trying too hard to make puns, and General Pepper is trying to be serious while at the same time being stuffed into a trash can. This is not age appropriate behavior for this type of content. This is not age appropriate content for the people who grew playing StarFox and will most appreciate it today. This game was created incorrectly by not targeting the most profitable audience for the franchise. This could have and should have been a dark, sci-fi story reminiscent of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. That was clearly an inspiration for the franchise. And remember that StarFox 64, though very limited in plot development because of the time it was made, was not a childish story. It had a much more adult style and feel to it. This game, which true StarFox fans have been waiting about 10 years for, should have done that but better. And Nintendo continues to practice this immature writing style with basically all of its franchises. Is Donkey Kong ever gonna care about more than just bananas and crystal coconuts? Is Mario ever gonna tie the know with Peach? Is Link ever gonna . . . No, I’ll let you fill in the black for that one yourself.
Nintendo has an opportunity that they continually ignore. They have existing franchises that people, myself included, somehow still aren’t tired of and can make those games more age appropriate for the people who continually buy them. This would ultimately lead Nintendo to stop being seen as the children’s game developer and would even bring customers from the other two consoles because they would get the more mature, but not vulgar, content they want while getting to play exclusive franchises that many of them already liked as children. There’s really no way to lose in that scenario if they would just take their loyal customers seriously. Rather than making adults begrudgingly buy children’s level content because it happens to have names like Zelda and Metroid, they should just make games that the adults who want to buy their games actually want to play. And again, this doesn’t mean that the content has to be inappropriate for children. It just means that the content has to grow up a little so that adults don’t have to feel like children when playing their games. Grow up Nintendo. It’s time to sever the umbilical cord and finally become a man’s console.