Leave Luck to Heaven

While it would seem a logical progression for me to post some sort of dissertation on the mammoth game that is Master of Orion 3 at this point in time , I will refrain from any such action for I feel I lack any qualification currently to utter anything about the game. I use the word game quite liberally in this regard as I am sure that Quicksilver has not shipped a piece of interactive-software per se but in fact an application you would expect any galactic overlord to be using while sitting on their stellar throne.

Instead I will make the focus of this post a subject for which I feel a great amount of apprehension about discussing — those of you privy to knowledge of a more trivial nature may already have surmised the topic from the enigma that is the title of this post. Yes — I am going to discuss the Nintendo situation.

It would seem that every man and his proverbial dog has been writing about Nintendo of late. Most of the commentary has had a somewhat negative vibe about it. From those questionable gaming industry analysts advising that Nintendo would be better off just publishing software to jabs from the lads over at Penny Arcade, it would seem that the company has being drawing its fair share of the critics eye — as has very often been the case it recent years. Unfortunately this discourse may convey the same negative feel I describe, not because I think the company is bad and going down the tubes — those of you who know me are acutely aware of what a staunch ally I am of the Japanese gaming giant — but because there have just been a few alarming occurrences concerning the company lately which has made me somewhat disgruntled. Most of this angst is solely aimed at the puzzling behaviour of the Australian arm of Nintendo’s worldwide operations.

I do not know what it is about Nintendo of Australia but they seem intent in rubbing every Australian Nintendo fan’s face in the dirt. It is not hard to see that the Gamecube in Australia is not faring too well in the sales department and its not for want of excellent hardware. I will say this now: the Gamecube is a fantastic piece of hardware. The only minor issue I have with it is to do with the regression of technology associated with the location and cardinality of the memory card slots. Nintendo pioneered the controller memory card slot idea, which was in turn aped by both Sega’s Dreamcast and Microsoft’s Xbox. You may hear me extol the virtues of this idea at some other time. Certainly there is nothing wrong with the quality of the software coming from Nintendo either, which as usual, is nothing short of outstanding. Well if the hardware and software are both fine, what is the problem exactly?

Quite frankly I think the majority of Nintendo’s woes in Australia stem from the total and utter lack of commercial promotion of its products within the country. I have not seen one TV or newspaper ad, not to mention the absolute dearth of advertising actually occurring within mainstream gaming media such as magazines like Hyper. So Nintendo of Australia is seemingly content to not win any additional customers outside of its sycophantic cadre of loyal fans that they have already. Unfortunately recent behaviour from them is actually testing the patience of these loyal few who are actually the lifeblood of the company in this country.

Firstly is the insane amount of time we Australian Nintendo loyalists must endure just to get our hands on Nintendo games. We had to wait over six months from the US Gamecube release before we could even lay our hands on the hardware. Now we have to wait months for PAL versions of Nintendo blockbusters — it has been almost four months since the release of the apparently outstanding Metroid Prime in the US and we still have another month remaining before we can engage in the privilege of paying $100 for it. This situation is so maddening you may understand my annoyance at seeing this poll at Nintendo of Australia’s website:

Why are you so excited about Gamecube for 2003?

  1. Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
  2. Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
  3. Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
  4. …or…The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Now while I am sure Nintendo’s intent with this poll was to emphasise just what a massive event this game is sure to be, I was left quite disturbed by it. Indeed, my initial reaction was that some smart arse had hacked their web page and deviously tried to highlight to Nintendo that they seemed to be relying on one title to carry their entire business. After the realisation of the motivation behind it, my brain was massaged enough to try and think what they could possibly put in there for the other three options if they had decided to give us a genuine choice. They could fill one slot with Metroid Prime I suppose, except for the fact that it was the biggest game of 2002 — effectively old news for our overseas brethren. A similar reasoning could be applied to Animal Crossing. I have heard so much about this game and am constantly taunted by it. I have lucid dreams of caressing the controls of my Gamecube while its splendid title screen is made known to me via the electron gun of my TV — and yet I will not see it released here at all because of nefariously sounding “localisation issues”. I guess I should be content that the wording of the poll is some semblance of an assurance that Zelda will be released here at some time this year. I will not hold my breath however — I died a long time ago attempting that for Metroid Prime.

Another slap in the face has arrived concerning the very afore mentioned game. In Japan and the United States, Nintendo is running a special pre-order campaign for Wind Waker whereby customers pre-ordering the game will receive a special game disc bearing a Gamecube version of the Nintendo 64 tour-de-force that was Ocarina of Time, along with a version of the highly under-rated masterpiece Majora’s Mask. Note that people in these two great countries do not have to expend any currency for this disc — this makes it a fantastic offer in my mind’s eye. Lately I have heard whisperings that in PAL territories, specifically Europe, this extra disc will be released at the same time as the Wind Waker under the guise of a “special edition” package retailing for 60 Euros. This almost seems fine, even considering that both products will be released at the same time, excepting the situation involving the 60 Euros — which is approximately 110 Australian Dollars. Perhaps I am doing too much of the premature assuming but I will not be impressed if I have to pay for something that the NTSC regions received for a scant nothing. Call me fickle — I really do enjoy it.

One final vent on the topic of the otherwise excellent Gameboy Advance SP. For whatever reason this device, unlike its ancestors, lacks a headphone jack. For those of you unfamiliar with the Gameboy hardware, the headphone jack represents the only way to revel in the delight of Gameboy audio:

  • without pissing off those not so sonically robust in your immediate vicinity
  • in glorious stereophonic sound.

I consider these to be fairly important capabilities of a hand-held console and I like to imagine that there was simply no room left in the exquisitely crafted device for a place to insert your headphones. Nintendo very rightly designed a device to allow for the use of headphones — an adapter — and then absurdly decided to charge extra for it. Even worse for us beleaguered Australians — we will not be able to venture into a store on the 28th of March and come out with a GBA SP and a headphone adapter. We will have to ring Nintendo’s metered phone line and humbly request an adapter. Is it just me or is this just totally ludicrous?

While I have divulged all of these feelings towards Nintendo of Australia let me say that I do feel that there are also circumstances outside of Nintendo’s control conspiring to lower their market share. In particular I refer to Microsoft’s wanton economic vandalism in what amounts to the dumping of their monstrosity of a console onto the market for half of the price that it costs them to manufacture. Nintendo had the ability to produce an elegant console which is still competitive with the arguably more powerful Xbox but for considerably less cost — for this they are repaid by competition which subsidies their bland, soul-less, unimaginative PC derivative of a console through funds they have acquired through monopolistic behaviour in a different market. This annoys me far more than anything else I have discussed earlier, do not be deceived.

Perhaps the most poignant sign of Nintendo’s position at the moment was illustrated in an ad I saw recently for the Nintendo Gamer publication. It featured a screen shot from the Hoth level of Factor 5‘s outstanding Rogue Leader title which demanded that you “Support the rebel alliance”. The magazines catch-line at the bottom was that they delivered “All of the news from Nintendo’s front lines”. This simple but profound advertisement highlights Nintendo’s precarious position in this console war which I have no doubt they will survive, perhaps with a few victories under their belt, perhaps with a bloodied nose. But Nintendo, you have to make sure you have things in order behind your front lines, in your rank-and-file, if you want true security and to ensure a position from which you can assault from in the future. Please pull Nintendo of Australia into line — they sure as hell are not fighting very effectively at the moment.

In fact they seem to be relying solely on luck — but isn’t that heaven’s business?