It's a strange strange world we live in.
And it got even stranger when Nintendo and Sega announced that Mario and Sonic would be joining each other for a Wii exclusive game this year; Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. At 28 I'm old enough to remember how impossible this may have once sounded. It was during the 1990s when Sega's plucky young blue streak raced on to the scene to challenge Nintendo's rather untrendy Italian dungarees-wearing plumber. I remember "Sega does what Nintendon't". I remember 'blast processing'.
I remember Sega eventually fading away.
Despite blast processing.
Despite doing what Nintendon't.
As Sega drifted from being a market leader with previously successful consoles into a humbled third-party, a funny thing happened. Dreamcast, which was long beaten into submission by Sony's superior tech, brand name and marketing, suddenly became a classic, almost holy system. Personally, I thought it was a great format with a worthy batch of titles, but these days you can throw a pin anywhere on the gigantic message board of the internet and watch gamers rave about Dreamcast as if it were a veritable saint of gaming. Slightly similar with the Sega Saturn, which died a premature and rather unfair death (but Segata Sanshiro lives on in our hearts). Where were all these plaudits when the machines were actually out? The people who could have actually helped save them when it mattered? Instead of using them now as tearful laments of a bygone age?
There's a curious sense of nostalgic martyrdom within gaming. A false decrying of history where something can sometimes only be truly appreciated by the hardcore masses if it's long gone… and thus outside the current agenda of contemporary console wars that frustratingly sidetracks most discussions. And Sega is a classic example of how fickle we are. Because we, as a gaming audience, mostly looked down upon the company during the Sony days and now gaze back on its glory like it never put a foot wrong – which it did. Dozens of times. But that doesn’t stop us from clamouring for the developer to get back into console creating. It's a stifling hypocrisy.
All of which is highlighted by Sega's decision to join Nintendo in the unveiling of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games.
Before this, it was "Sega doesn’t like money", "Sega's on the stupid pills", "Sega wants to run itself out of business" and other laments. I openly admit; I was among that crowd. The company has made some astoundingly naive decisions at times and missed out on some glorious opportunities.
But this move, along with making a sequel to NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams, is an utterly brilliant pronouncement. Although, given some of the fan reaction, you wouldn’t think so. Now it's "Sega's sold out." "It's on Wii, it's going to be crap (wish it was something else)." "SonicTeam, LOLZ".
The hardcore response has been surprisingly myopic, among both gamers and even some journalists. For some, both NiGHTS and Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games barely warrants a "meh". Especially the latter game, which has been declared as a write-off already. Amazing, since there's not even been a single screenshot shown for it yet.
There's varying reasons behind this, some are quite well-founded (e.g. Sega being a rather inconsistent developer - but this has always been the case, despite what those rose tints may tell you), but others are purely out of spite. Because it's on Wii. Because it's not a platform game. Because of something to do with the stupid format wars. Whatever.
But the real spur as to why I think such reaction is short-sighted is because I heard this little puff of apathy (as ironic a term that may be) before, barely 8 months ago. And you know what game that was for?
Yes, the main piece of software that's keeping Wii sold out across the globe right now. It's been called "a glorified tech demo", "a shallow example of gaming" along with other many disparaging comments. Yet this title is Wii's most wide-reaching and reliable killer-app.
Which I guess, is partly the reason some are so willing to play down Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games' significance; because by all rights, it's destined to be a stupidly large seller. When it hits this Christmas, there's a chance it could even end up being a seasonal number one across a couple territories.
The ingredients are all there. Take a large dose of Wii Sports. Add even larger doses of two of gaming's most popular and well known mascots. Throw in online functionality. Outlandish, visually explosive moves. An official Olympics licence, recognisable across the world. A modest dash of Wii's popularity. Sprinkle liberally with Shigeru Miyamoto. Anyone willing to guess the end result?
I mean, come on. Does anyone think this won't sell by the ton? Really? Because, you know, I heard Wii Sports and Wii Play wouldn’t sell either. And while Wii Sports may only be on retail separately in Japan, I doubt anyone would state it wouldn’t have sold in other territories given the chance to prove itself, as Wii Play (controller or not) has, multiple times.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games is a mainstream biggie. It's colossal. And people are scared of that. Even moans of "not more mini-games" come off as petty because we've had sports games like this for years and no one ever flinched. I bet if they announced a semi-sequel to Epyx Summer and Winter Games the hardcore crowd (those old enough to remember it) would be throwing parties. But because it's on Wii it's suddenly bad, and deemed a batch of mini-games.
Worse has been the suddenly re-emergent cries of "kiddie" in a desperate attempt to disparage the game in any way possible. Please. If you're that worried about what other people think about your hobby or if what you're playing is seen as childish, then maybe gaming really isn’t for you. It's a bit like worrying about what others think about how your girl/boyfriend looks – if you truly love them you don’t care what others think. You just happily get on with your own life, safe in your own maturity.
Oh, but "Mario's whoring himself out" we cry! As if the character is somehow real and will find himself cheapened and on the streets, hustling for crack money and prostitutes. No. Nintendo is a business and will use its fictional character however it sees fit – and I can think of many worse ways to sell out the plumber than to put him with another character that would constitute as a dream match-up for many. The Mario platformers won't be harmed by this. Mario Galaxy won't suddenly become a worse game. The character -who some have erroneously deemed irrelevant anyway- will not die as long as the core examples he stars in remain high quality.
It's funny because we want it all. Mario is a supposedly sacred cow that shouldn’t be touched… until you put him in another game that becomes a smash hit among both hardcore and casuals. I don’t hear anyone protesting at a new Mario Kart game (a franchise which noted one of the first major departures for the character away from platforming). Or a new Smash Bros. title. And the Mario sports titles have been very well received. A few missteps are a small price to pay for what's generally been a well-rounded batch of quality games.
Of course, some will never be satisfied. Not until Nintendo stops putting these games out, ceases making easy money and slowly fades away. Then we can look back on the company wistfully, hoping it will make a glorious return to the market. Do anything, Nintendo! Please! Make money! Just come back! Just like Sega did from making all that cash from putting Virtual Fighter 5 on Xbox 360, and Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games and NiGHTS on Wii, and… oh.
I'm glad Sega decided to take the money on the table. Because it's so often ignored such chances in the past. And now that Sega has decided to do as much as it can to make as much money as it can, it seems we can go back to hating it as a company again because it's no longer the struggling underdog who we can safely rally around and offer nostalgic support. It's the company that makes multi-format games, to stay alive. It's the company that brings back dream titles for the hardcore and mainstream, which will set it up for commercial success this Holiday season and secure even more stability for its future.
It's the company that reflects our erratic and contradictory sense of loyalty.
Sure, Sega is inconsistent. But so are we. Perhaps more so. And if put in a similar position (which most of us probably have at school, work, life…), we'd be crying out for second, third and fourth chances too. Will Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, NiGHTS et al be any good? We'll find out in due course. After all, no one can create bad games forever; if that were the case, the industry would consist of about four developers in total, as a large majority of companies out there have had horrible streaks. But we can't blame them for being persistent. For having the desire to succeed.
And if Sega sees Wii and coupling Sonic with Mario as a winning horse, we shouldn’t begrudge it for wanting to do well. Not to say we should buy the games if they're poor, but a little pre-launch positivity, especially for games we know so relatively little about yet gamers have spent years clamouring for, would make a nice change from the norm.
Or maybe we really just want to reach a point where we’re wishing Sega was dead so we can go back to our self-pitying laments once again. Strange? Well, stranger things have happened…
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digg_title = 'Why Mario And Sonic at the Olympic Games Is A Big Deal For Wii';
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