Innovation vs. Innovation

I guess that my blog is pretty reflective of the fact that the bigger offerings in video games have come along just recently. Just in the past month or so, there’s been Metroid Prime 3, Halo 3, The Orange Box, Phantom Hourglass, and so on. And it really isn’t going to die down anytime soon with games such as Rock Band, Guitar Hero III, and Mario Galaxy coming up shortly. Any complaints about times throughout the earlier part of the year are certainly squashed as gamers find their wallets a lot lighter right about now.

Being somewhat of a Nintendo loyalist, my selections have been mainly limited to Metroid on the Wii and Zelda on the DS for the past while. Both are wonderful, and also pretty innovative. Metroid offers pretty much the best first person controls a console has ever see, and the touch-only controls for Zelda is punching the taste out of the mouth of the haters. But by playing through both of them at nearly the same time, I’ve come to a grim realization. These games, as unique as they are, are practically the same thing. And at the core of it, they are basically following the same formula.

1. Go to a new place
2. Find a cool new item or technique in that new place.
3. Hit the boss of that place three times with your new item or technique.
(Optional: Find other little power-ups scattered throughout.)

Granted, that’s simplifying it a little more than is necessary, but you get the point. And really, if you’ve played a game produced by Nintendo anytime in the past decade, you’ve gone through this formula. At its genesis, you can’t really criticize it. This formula is originated from the first Zelda on NES, and has been used as a template for just about every other Nintendo game since the age of N64. Think about it. Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, all of the Metroid games. They all do the same thing. They each have their own little variations of this formula just to shake things up a little, but it’s still all the same.

Quick! Use that thing that the space pirates conveniantly left for you in the room you just came from! And use it thrice!

And to be fair, video games as a genre of entertainment often falls to this. So many games can be simplified into mashing a certain sequence of buttons as carefully and quickly as you can. So many of them involve collecting items or leveling up. But then there are certain games that throw in one-time challenges your way. For example, Resident Evil 4 gives you unique “non-game” puzzles you have to solve to advance. Or perhaps instances where you have to shoot zombies from the back of a moving truck, a welcome change of pace. And honestly, each boss fight in that game is different, forcing you to use your noggin instead of that super duper kill button that you just acquired. While it hasn’t been my specific area of experience, I also understand that other games such as Metal Gear Solid or Gears of War offer similar differentiations in how goals are accomplished.


I can only assume this guy is a little smarter than the average bear.

If there’s one thing that Nintendo doesn’t do when developing its own games, its ape other developers for similar ideas. But that has both pros and cons. As with any venue of entertainment, video games often plagiarizes itself. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You look at what has already been done, implement what was successful, and improve upon it. Like I said earlier on this blog, without Resident Evil 4, there would be no Gears of War. Similarly, without something called Guitar Freaks, there’d be no Guitar Hero. (Seriously, look it up. It’s a total knock off.)

Nintendo seems to be in a constant state of bravado that it is constantly innovating, which is all fine and good. I love my DS stylus and Wiimote. But it would be nice if I could use these innovative toys to play some innovative games that challenge me to think as opposed to remembering how I handled this same challenge in the last go-round of the same franchise.


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