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How Smash Bros can Revive Wii U (if Nintendo is Smart Enough)

 

Here’s How Smash Bros Could Revive the Wii U
(But only if Nintendo is smart enough)

 

There is absolutely no doubt that Smash Bros is one of Nintendo’s strongest and most popular IPs.  Hell, the only IP they have that is stronger is Mario Kart—and this was demonstrated on the Wii by way of selling more units (pack-in or not) than Nintendo sold N64 consoles.  But Smash Bros can be more than a great fighting game.  It can be a subtle, powerful marketing tool for Nintendo.

 

Nintendo has fairly recently taken a huge gamble—they’ve thrown a boatload of money into the coffers of Platinum games.  So much so that if Nintendo were to acquire Platinum, I would not be remotely surprised.  But there is one thing Nintendo needs to do to further strengthen their bond with Platinum and guarantee a strong future—they need to include Platinum characters in Smash Bros.  And by “Platinum characters,” I primarily mean “Bayonetta.”

 

 


A Nintendo game.

The Risk

 

Bayonetta fully embraces the Mature rating—well almost.  She’s never visibly nude onscreen as it’s always hidden (and why, when they’ve already got the Mature rating, why not just include nudity for a character that’s pretty much there anyway?), but Bayonetta is massively sexualized.  To the point that when my girlfriend watched me play the opening ten minutes of the first game, she referred to it as probably the filthiest game she’d ever seen.  Bayonetta spends ample time splaying her legs to the player and contorting into a ridiculous variety of poses and shapes.  The might just as well have called it “Cirque Du Soleil: The Sort of Naked Witch Lady Chronicles.”

 

The risk here is obvious.  Nintendo could damage their image.  But here we must ask the following question: Why would Nintendo even bother to fund and publish Bayonetta 2 if they’re only going to half-ass the whole endeavor?  They took up this challenge, they ought to follow through on it in the most logical manner—by throwing their full weight and support behind the title.  Nintendo stepped up, said, “hey, we can handle a game like this.”  So they’ve already taken the risk.  And let’s face it, it’s not like Nintendo has never featured sexy characters before.  Have you seen Kirby?  I mean Samus.  Zero Suit Samus.  Crap.

 

 


Kirby's naked.

Why it’s Not a Such a Big Risk

 

Smash Bros contains the following female characters:  Peach, Zelda/Sheik,  Samus/Zero Suit Samus, female Wii Fit U trainer, and very likely to be announced, female Animal Crossing Villager, and maybe Jigglypuff if that thing has any gender at all.  Bayonetta would obviously need to be toned down a bit (Smash a Teen-rated game after all), but it wouldn’t have to be such a huge stretch.  Zero Suit Samus has long been a highly sexualized character (on the internet at any rate), and is now one of two characters in the game that, outside of a texture, is basically a nude female anyway.  A silhouette of Zero Suit Samus or the Wii Fit trainer will look like nothing more than nude women.  Bayonetta has way more clothing.  I have a hard time seeing Bayonetta as somehow “worse” for Smash Bros than Samus in a shape-defining skin-tight outfit or the Wii Fit trainer running around in only Yoga pants and a sports bra.  Granted, I am not afraid of the human body like so many uppity types, but then, our backwards society has somehow taught itself to think a human nipple is more damaging to a child or corporate image than people being violently cut in half in PG-rated Star Wars films or sex jokes hidden in Spongebob cartoons…

 

We can also scratch the idea that “well, it’s a Mature game character.”  We can do this because Metal Gear Solid’s Snake was in the previous game.  Snake kills actual people in his games.  With a wide array of weapons and attacks.  Bayonetta kills fantasy monsters with her hair while wiggling her hips.  Which one of these would actually be more harmful to the image of Nintendo?  Bayonetta lives in a similar kind of heavily fantasy-prone world of so many other Nintendo characters.

 

Let’s not overlook characters like Marth, Roy, and Ike.  Fire Emblem titles may be Teen rated, but they are violent and mature in their themes and settings. Also, in 2014 (unless delayed), that franchise is getting a crossover with a distinctly Mature franchise—Shin Megami Tensei.  And without offering too much of a spoiler, the ending of my SMTIV game was extraordinarily bleak.  Besides the crossover with Shin Megami Tensei, Fire Emblem games themselves are steeped in constant violence, permanent character death, and the last game even included a suicide. 

 

With all of this in mind, how exactly would Bayonetta be a risky character to add?

 

 


Marketing.

The Reward

 

Marketing.  Pure and simple.  Nintendo fans are notoriously closed-minded (you can figure out if you are by looking at the collection of any one Nintendo system you have—is it more than 50% Mario-led Nintendo games? If it is, you might be a FANBOY.), and are the number one cause of 3rd party abandonment on Nintendo platforms because they’ll buy the worst game imaginable so long as it has Mario or Link or Pikachu on the cover over the highest quality 3rd party offering.  Their fanboyism is strict enough to disallow them from often even trying games that Nintendo makes that are not “stereotypically Nintendo.”  Making them more open minded is no easy task, but I think Smash Bros can do it.  The Nintendo faithful are going to buy it because it’s Smash Bros.  If Nintendo starts including a wider range of characters (rather than adding even more Mario-themed characters), they can reach these players and inspire them to see what else is out there.

 

This has got to be all too clear.  I’m nothing special, and if I can understand this, it should be obvious to everyone.  If Nintendo wants their stoic, narrow-taste fanbase to finally accept and play something other than only Mario and Zelda and Pokemon games, they should give them a “free” taste of new games, characters, and game worlds through Smash Bros.  Use the game they’re all going to buy anyway.

Beyond this, Nintendo would widely improve their image and standing among the jaded mass gamer audience that is all too willing to turn their back on anything Nintendo does.  Many were upset that it was Nintendo that saved Bayonetta.  If Nintendo puts full effort into supporting, promoting, and backing Bayonetta 2, they will have the ability to change minds and reach out to those jaded gamers.  The odds of them changing minds improve with increased effort on Nintendo’s part.

 

The other reward to this is that Nintendo is the arguably the most female-friendly game company, and that this will further improve that status (whereas the all-too-common stereotype of the Xbox gamer is of a foul-mouthed, racist, sexist 13 year old playing Call of Duty).  While they do all-too-often resort to “save the princess” storylines out of laziness, they have still fleshed out Samus, Zelda, and Peach as generally tough, often (not Zelda) playable characters.  One puzzle on the 3DS Mii Plaza celebrates many of their (mostly Mario-related) female characters, and before they ruined Samus in Other M, she was one of the most visible (ironic, no?), strong, and independent females in all of gaming—going back nearly 30 years.  Frankly, including Bayonetta among Zelda, Peach, Samus, and Fit Trainer would only further improve this status as a company that caters to female gamers without pathetically pandering to them with brain-dead dress-up and Barbie-style games.  They have long recognized that girls and women play video games, and that generally they just want the same kind of game as any guy plays, just with the option with play as a female character.  Bayonetta is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if cosplayers have indicated anything, she’s damn near as popular as Chun-Li or Cammy.

 

 

Evidence to Why This Will Work

 

Kid Icarus and Earthbound. 

 

In Smash Bros, Nintendo first included Ness as a secret playable character in the original title on the N64—which, by the way, was a game Nintendo essentially believed to be a foolish waste.  Ness caught on and by Smash Bros Melee, he had become a very popular, uniquely complex character to use.  By Brawl, Ness received a doppelganger in the harder-hitting Lucas.  Ness’s increasing popularity via Smash Bros revived a demand for the Mother/Earthbound series among the Nintendo fans.  For once, many wanted something other than 6 unnecessary Mario games per year.  Fans practically begged for the game to be revived in some way. 

 

Then, finally, Earthbound was released on the Wii U Virtual Console, and was instantly a solid seller.  Nintendo had, largely by accident, revived a fan love of Earthbound over a decade through Smash Bros.  Earthbound was selling strong enough that it was number two in the eShop, surrounded by two titles that were “popular” because they were only thirty cents.  Otherwise known as no *** they’re popular, they cost nothing.


Then there’s Kid Icarus.  A franchise dormant since its last release in 1991 on the Game Boy.  Pit made a fairly triumphant return to relevance in Super Smash Bros Brawl on the Wii.  Not only did Pit come back, but he was a notably unique and varied character.  Maybe not as instantly popular as the horror of Meta Knight, but close enough.  Suddenly, a new generation of otherwise closed-minded Nintendo fanboys (and some Nintendo fans who did know) were aware of another Nintendo franchise that doesn’t star Mario like 80% of the rest of Nintendo’s strangely increasingly limited catalog.  Pit had become relevant again—and his inclusion in the fourth iteration of Smash Bros was one of the first things known about the game (personally, after Smash Bros, I think a second Kid Icarus game should be developed for the 3DS to give the platform a continuing IP).

 

Pit’s revival is arguably related to his inclusion in Smash Bros, though this is admittedly not a completely factual correlation.  Kid Icarus Uprising also had the benefit of being largely developed by the same people who made Smash Bros, and launched roughly at the one year anniversary of the 3DS (which may have worked against it since the 3DS was still considered a “poor” gaming product at the time by most in gaming media for some reason).  While it didn’t tear up sales charts the way Zelda or Pokemon games do, the title managed to be a strong contender and has managed over a million in sales.  Not too shabby for a franchise that was asleep for over two decades. 

 

Again, I’m not saying factually that Kid Icarus: Uprising owes all of its success to Pit’s inclusion in Smash Bros, only that the demand for a new Kid Icarus game may have stemmed in no small part from there.  Kid Icarus Uprising is an incredible ride, and a title unlike any other out there (maybe Sin & Punishment on Wii).  Hand cramps aside, the game is a showpiece for the power and abilities of the 3DS, and one of the most defining moments on the system.

 

 
The face that slayed the Ancients.

The Next Step

 

The next step here should be obvious.  Nintendo should subtly use Smash Bros as a brilliant cross-marketing tool.  Bayonetta should be in the game as a playable fighter.  She doesn’t need to be spending the entire time spread eagle to the player, but it’s not as if she has a limited variety of entertaining attacks and stances—any number of which would fit perfectly in a game where Princess Peach does the splits while standing for one of her basic attacks.

 

But let’s not stop there.  Nintendo has a wealth of franchises that are being woefully underused, forgotten, and under-appreciated these days.  Nintendo owns Eternal Darkness, Xenoblade Chronicles, Sin & Punishment, Dillon’s Rolling Western, Star Tropics, Doshin the Giant, Mach Rider (another female character), Geist, Sakura Samurai, Custom Robo, Punch-Out, and last I checked—Fatal Frame.

 

At least one character from each of these games would benefit them hugely.  My personal bid has long been for Alexandra Roivas and Pious Augustus from Eternal Darkness to be playable fighters (maybe even with opposite ancient alignments if both are picked).  That both Shulk and Fiora from Xenoblade Chronicles must appear in the game.  And lately, that Dillon could be a great counter to Sonic and Jigglypuff in the “spinning animal thing” category.  Essentially, the next step is to continue what they have been doing by including Mega Man, Fit Trainer, Villager, and Sonic—adding a wider range of brand new characters, but to step it up and add Bayonetta, Alexandra Roivas, and Shulk—characters from larger, darker, and more mature games.

 

 

 
See? This pose might work.

Closure

 

The benefits here are huge compared to the risks.  What is Nintendo’s biggest problem with communicating to non-Nintendo gamers/fans/fanboys?  They think Nintendo is a kiddie company.  They think Nintendo is lame, pathetic, and only interested in making Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon games.  There are gamers out there who still have no idea that Nintendo owns things like Eternal Darkness (I’ve personally seen people assume that Silicon Knights or even Microsoft own this one) or Xenoblade Chronicles.  Gamers were (and I personally find this appalling) offended when Nintendo was the company to save Bayonetta 2. 

 

So what is one easy way that could Nintendo strengthen their image among the wider gamer audience?  With Smash Bros.  They aren’t going to impress everyone by funding and publishing one Bayonetta game and stopping at that.  We’ll all be impressed if Nintendo follows through their Bayonetta backing as strongly and completely as possible.  Release the first game on the eShop, then go full-throttle by including her in Smash Bros with one or two massive Bayonetta-themed arenas, and maybe hint that a third game may be “in the works” just to test the response. 

 

Sure, it won’t convince everyone, but it doesn’t need to convince the entirety of that indescribable amorphous blob defining “everyone.” However, I have no doubt it would perk up as much attention from the full gamer audience as when they revealed that, “oh, by the way, Solid Snake is in Brawl.” 

 

There would be more interest.  Momentum—if they choose to keep it going.  If Nintendo is ballsy/smart enough to include Bayonetta, who could be next?  Well, the obvious choice would be… Wonder Red from The Wonderful 101 and the player character from Shin Megami Tensei IV.  Why?  Because Nintendo funded and published Wonderful 101 and because of the importance of the upcoming Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem crossover.  I know for me, personally, I’d have renewed confidence in the company to see favorites from Eternal Darkness and Xenoblade Chronicles appear.  I would even forgive HD or 3D re-releases of these two games if it meant that Nintendo as a whole had its own renewed confidence in these franchises and finally cared about more than just churning out more damn Mario games—sadly, Nintendo clearly had previously had no confidence in Xenoblade, to the point of almost actively ensuring the game’s failure. 

 

The problem here is that it requires Nintendo to adopt slightly more risky and drastic thinking and behavior.  You know, the exact kind of thinking they expect in 3rd party developers when they talk about the Wii Remote, the GamePad, or the 3DS in general.  That’s right, this cruel little paragraph speaks to the idea that Nintendo needs to put their money where their mouth is and to lead by example, and that it cannot be done by Mario alone.  If they want 3rd party developers on their side, then they need to lead the way in their support of riskier ventures (Bayonetta is a good start) rather than constantly playing it safe by tossing to market half a dozen uninspired Mario games and one good one each and every year.  If Nintendo wants to inspire their increasingly closed-minded fanbase to start supporting a broader range of titles and to take risks in their purchases and tastes, then Nintendo needs to inspire this themselves.  What better way to inspire their fans to buy more than just Mario than to give them more than just Mario?  What better way to appeal to the wider gamer audience than by embracing a wider range of gaming experiences?  What better way to inspire 3rd party creativity, confidence, and risk taking than by taking those risks first?

 

This is on Nintendo.  Are they going to ensure that Bayonetta and the Wii U can be successes?  They essentially said, “we’re big enough, and confident enough to support and fund and publish Bayonetta 2.  We have the confidence that we can appeal to general gamers every bit as much as Microsoft or Sony, as well as the traditional ‘everyone and family’ crowd we always appealed to in the past.”  Are they going to follow through to their most obvious options and do everything in their power to make Bayonetta a success?  Or will Nintendo get scared, flee from Bayonetta, buy Platinum to make up for their failure in supporting them, and just have them make more unnecessary games with Mario in them?  Or will they allow Bayonetta to languish the way they did Eternal Darkness, F-Zero GX, Xenoblade Chronicles, and Geist, thus burning another bridge with another developer? 

 

I’m not the biggest fan of Bayonetta.  But I recognize that it’s a brand that could bode well for Nintendo, but they can’t treat it any less than they do the average Mario game to see that success come to fruition.  They cannot be cowardly towards it the way they were Eternal Darkness or Xenoblade Chronicles.  They cannot lamely turn against it the way they did F-Zero GX, Fatal Frame, or Geist after they were out. 

 

In a previous blog, I explained why Nintendo fanboys are the biggest problem Nintendo has.  In this, I’m explaining how they could smartly start to combat that problem without burning anyone in the process. I’m curious if such obvious solutions will ever dawn on them.

 

 

 

 

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