September 20, 2011
Catherine's puzzling yet sexy trip through the male subconscious is in many ways the furthest thing from a Nintendo game possible. Heavy on plot and stacked with modern gaming sensibilities, it could easily be seen as the very antithesis to the Big N's 2010 retro throwback New Super Mario Bros Wii. But is it really all that different? Or is there a correlation between the old-school, D-pad-centric gameplay of both that's worth investigating?
IGN Nintendo wagers that just because she's a little mature for Mario, that doesn't mean Catherine can't teach the stout plumber a thing or two in the one area he needs help the most. No, not how to score with Peach (get your mind out of the gutter). We're talking about wooing a different sort -- jaded gamers who have already been there and done that, and now want something more.
With the Wii U set to lead the company into the modern era of gaming, it's time Nintendo nabbed a few pearls of wisdom from quite the unlikely source. Below are some simple strategies that helped Atlus to essentially repackage old-school gaming concepts into a successful modern game. Listen up, Nintendo -- we're talking to you.
Catherine's brilliant, white-knuckle puzzles at first seem wholly original, but that's not the case at all. Sure, there's some innovation there, but largely this is just a three-dimensional rehash of popular concepts from the falling-block puzzle genre's glorious past. Outside of requiring the player to move along the z-axis (forward and backward, in other words), the puzzle segments introduced little that can't be found in games like Mr. Driller and Nintendo's own Wario's Woods (a title that hit store shelves over 17 years ago).
Yet, for great reason, this game is lauded by many as one of the freshest games of this generation. So if it isn't the core experience of the game that's getting so much appreciation from hardcore gamers and the press alike, then what is it? What exactly does Catherine bring to the table that New Super Mario Bros. Wii didn't? Well, a whole lot actually, but we'll get to that in a bit.
Nintendo of all companies doesn't need to be told this, but the first thing hardcore gamers need to see in order to believe in a product is something old -- something comfortable like Catherine's falling blocks or Mario's head stomping, an easily recognizable reference point that shouts, "Hardcore, this game is for you." You may find it ridiculous to even make a suggestion like this to a company like Nintendo, but after the waggle-fest that was the majority of the Wii generation, let's take nothing for granted.
Although New Super Mario Bros. Wii brought lots of old-school concepts to the table, it also introduced plenty of new experiences as well. After all, you couldn't say you'd ever tobogganed or frozen enemies in a Mario game before that. So if it isn't original concepts that the hardcore is looking for, what is it? What is this sense of "new" that this game was almost universally deemed to be lacking and that Catherine is generally accepted to be chock-full of?
The answer is simple -- modern "enhancements" done right. While there was plenty of never-before-seen content in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, almost all of it could have been implemented in a Nintendo 64 title. Like it or not, for something to be deemed "new," it must do one of three things: legitimately innovate, push technology forward or, as is the case with Catherine, follow some hip gaming trend that didn't rise to prominence until the current generation.
Catherine utilizes the lovely bit of narrative gimmickry known as a morality system. This device has been around for a while, but the HD systems of this generation are littered with games that use it. Like Mass Effect's open-ended storylines, it creates the illusion that the player has freedom of choice. How legitimately these robotic storytelling devices replicate true freedom is beside the point -- gamers go crazy for this stuff no matter how many times they see it. Nintendo would be foolish not to take a look at what trends are popular these days and, like every other company out there, pick and choose the concepts that work and implement them.
The truth is, even though it doesn't hold any weight while you're pushing blocks, Catherine's morality meter is a thought-provoking edition to the overall experience. While it would be foolhardy for Nintendo to employ a morality meter in Mario, it would be wise for them to take a look at what's been going on in gaming for the last decade and take some notes. At the end of the day, what gamers really want from Nintendo is to know that it actually cares what they're interested in these days. Sure, the next "New" Super Mario Bros. title will sell well no matter what, but if Nintendo wants to earn back its positive reputation with gamers, it needs to give them what they're looking for, at least every now and then.
The Wii U needs to do with graphics what Nintendo has never done before -- that goes without saying. But how is the company that brought us the Miis going to pull something like that off? Catherine offers a compelling answer to this conundrum: simple yet refined HD graphics that spare a lot of expenses without looking that way.
Atlus's twisted tale is no Crytek game. But what it lacks in graphical prowess it makes up for in style and artistry. Neither Vincent's simple character model nor the falling blocks around him are pushing the PlayStation 3's capabilities, but that doesn't mean the developers skimped on the visuals. A game doesn't need a million dollar budget to be beautiful, but it also doesn't have to opt for a purposefully over-simplified look. There's a middle ground there, and Nintendo had best find it if it hopes to please the hardcore and still make gratuitous amounts of money.
Over the years, Nintendo games have grown increasingly tame in the difficulty department. The company that once gave us the grueling Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is now holding our hands throughout entire games, constantly afraid to frustrate the more casual members of its audience.
Catherine laughs in the face of this notion. It's one of the hardest games on the PlayStation 3, and yet it's gone on to become the best-selling game Atlus has ever made. If Nintendo cares at all about its street cred it needs to reconsider its stance on difficulty level. Or, at the very least, the company should begin to approach the concept of multiple modes with varying difficulty.
If Nintendo is afraid that gamers will get in over there heads and give up on a game after selecting a harder mode, they need look no further than Catherine for a quick fix to this problem. In the middle of Vincent's intimidating quest, the player can lower the difficulty level to something more manageable. If Nintendo were to standardize such a concept, as they have the Super Guide feature from New Super Mario Bros Wii, both gamers who want an easy way out and those seeking a challenge would always find themselves satisfied.