I look back on the Wii era with fondness, though I'm not sure if that sentiment gets shared when taking into account all the other consoles. There are many reasons why the Wii did it for me. And so many that could have deterred me from trusting Nintendo ever again. Some sources of hindered trust: Twilight Princess. Initially, Wii Sports. Mario Party 8. An onslaught of poor third party offerings. What seemed to me like the lack of a sense of exploration in Super Mario Galaxy. Where was the quiet yet mysteriously inviting atmosphere of the Mushroom Kingdom hub in Super Mario 64? And although I never played Metroid: Other M, what was awful was to see a once untarnished IP receive substantial criticism, keeping in mind Nintendo thought they were going to hit the jackpot with the game. 

There is no single reason these games "failed." In terms of weak third party offerings, I cite Red Steel. Castlevania: Judgement. Epic Mickey. Some seriously questionable amount of shovelware. And not unusually, no online functionality when other versions of a game got it. 

Now, for the good stuff: WiiWare. Tales of Monkey Island. A Boy and his Blob. Mario Kart Wii. Wario Land: Shake It! Playing Wii Sports with a family member. Making Miis with a family member. Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Shaun White Snowboarding. Bit.trip Runner. Donkey Kong Country Returns. Endless Ocean: Blue World. And the countless critically acclaimed, or popular IP I never had the chance to start and/or finish: GoldenEye 007. Xenoblade Chronicles. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10. Dead Space: Extraction. The Last Story. Grand Slam Tennis. Muramasa

By the time the Wii era passed, the console had come full circle. Everything you could hope to get was made available at one point or another. But did the system lack some large, open-world designs that made some of the stuff on older consoles compelling? We had Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. But did we get Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, Diddy Kong Racing, or Donkey Kong 64-type experiences? Unless there is some cognitive dissonance at work, I'm pretty sure that the hub in Banjo-Tooie was larger than most of the game hubs made by Nintendo in future generations, excepting the Zelda games. 


My first point, about the good stuff. Everything in that list was conceived under a really simple premise: take something familiar and update it. Either the game mechanics or visual stylings, or both, contributed to the game's success. Now, I want to follow this up with a quote by Miyamoto [translated from Japanese]: "What we have created are not an art but products. For us, the most important are the customers and not games themselves. I always tell staff to call Nintendo games products, not an art."

The term product is quite a different one from art. It stresses the importance of function over anything else. But semantics get interesting when we evaluate the source of Nintendo's greatest accomplishments. Who says that it is not 'art' that gave Nintendo its initial mainstream breakthrough? Why must Nintendo games be thought of as products? We don't know that Nintendo games and IP work because they are interesting, functional, fun products, rather than the result of cultural influence and inspiration, or even a combination of both.


We don't know that Nintendo games are functional, interesting and fun because the technical prowess of the developer(s) made them that way. Technical prowess alone does not account for stories about space bounty hunters and/or surprising gendered embodiment-- or the humor/delirium in designing game concepts around an Italian plumber. Two 'non-technical' influences-- a jazz singer's name, and European mythology/history-- birthed The Legend of Zelda

To me, the Wii philosophy exemplifies Miyamoto's function-over-form approach. But I make the case that the Nintendo 64 more quintessentially reveals Nintendo: it's all about the parity between art(form) and function. We are thus given the pendulum in Tick Tock Clock. The endless oscillation between form and function in the making of great games. 


We may certainly notice a shift in the play style of the Zelda games. The importance of function is extremely clear in both Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. Twilight Princess functioned as Zelda, according to a specific perception of Zelda. Skyward Sword functioned as Zelda in the diversity and originality of what was brought to the game. But the older games (Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask) have nothing, next to little to do with the modern ones. 

The most crucial example of swaying the pendulum towards artform remains Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. What was left to raise was not so much an aesthetic, because assets were recycled from Ocarina of Time, but a full, metaphysical world. One where everything has a meaning and leads to something else, but that meaning may be completely arbitrary. And before it, a strong example was Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, where everything in the game was connected to its story premise, but the story premise broke the fourth wall with the gamer ("it is all just a dream," just as our reality might be "all but a dream"). 


The meta aspect of these games is what is meant by 'games as art'. As far as Nintendo is concerned, their philosophy is best remembered as this near-seamlessness between art (the metaphysics of the game) and function (the 'product' aspect of the game).