Discover what makes Nintendo so special in today’s gaming world through Nintendo Inquirer’s N Factor series!
“What do you love about Nintendo? The more I ask myself that question, the more complex my answer gets. I decided to use the term “N factor” to describe my feelings, because while it’s near impossible to define, Nintendo’s best games all have some undeniable and exclusive allure about them. They’re the result of finely tuned ideas and ideals that collectively personify the company behind them.”
The N Factor series:
- N Factor, Part 7: Polish
This is the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality.
After the North American video game market collapsed in 1983 due to a glut of low quality and tasteless games, consumers were extremely wary of all things Atari, Colecovision and especially the new brand on the scene, Nintendo. Well aware of this consumer apprehension, Nintendo’s brass came up with the Seal of Quality to assure its would-be audience that any game released for the Nintendo Entertainment System would be different. And that, on Nintendo’s watch, history wouldn’t be allowed to repeat itself. Nintendo’s President at the time, Hiroshi Yamauchi, personally approved every game that was internally or externally developed for the NES, and had a strong reputation as an incredibly shrewd and decisive leader.
While much of the potency of the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality would eventually be lost, the spirit in which it was conceived is still very much present in many of Nintendo’s first party games. On the box of virtually every Mario, Zelda and Metroid game that Nintendo has ever released, the Seal represents an enduring mission to create high quality, functional and entertaining games. This mission has lived on through every Nintendo console, and shows itself strong in dozens of first party offerings over the years. Thankfully, the ailing Wii U is absolutely no exception. Let’s take a look at one of the most deserved uses of the Seal in recent memory, and an uncontested highlight in the Wii U’s library: Mario Kart 8.
All aspects of Nintendo’s quality assurance can be effectively summed up in a single word: Polish. This sheen that most Nintendo games boast is in direct opposition to the current trends of the industry. Some developers chase graphical fidelity, some smooth performance, and others put most of their budget behind a fun gameplay experience. Nintendo is one of the few developers that consistently demands that all of these elements are not only present, but exceed the already lofty expectations of fans and critics alike. It’s clear, when examining each element of Mario Kart 8, that Nintendo was unwilling to compromise here on any of its stringent requirements.
Most noticeable among these is the visuals. Pitted against the best and prettiest of the far more powerful Xbox One and PlayStation 4 libraries, Mario Kart 8 more than holds its own. The vividly colored and finely detailed tracks, HD karts and racers are some of the sweetest eye candy this console generation has seen. It’s not just the saccharine nature of Mario Kart 8’s presentation that makes it so alluring, either; every track feels alive thanks to the amazingly detailed and dynamic environments that envelop them– many feel more like a themed amusement park ride than they do a racetrack. The racers and vehicles help bring the aesthetic to life, too, with their lively taunts and colorful animations. Try as I might to come up with a more cohesively beautiful contemporary game from Nintendo or its competitors, it hasn’t happened yet.
There are plenty of gorgeous games out there– we all know that– but impressive visuals all too often come at the expense of solid performance. Some of my favorite recent games– I’ll use Bloodborne, for example– have had their captivating aesthetic marred by unfortunate technical issues. Low framerate and absurdly long load times can completely undermine an otherwise wonderful presentation. These issues are almost never a part of the conversation when it comes to Nintendo games. I can’t recall a first party Wii U game that suffers from performance issues, as Nintendo gracefully works within its own framework to crank out titles that run well, consistently, from the day you bring them home. The industry at large has been given license, by its consumers, to ship games that overpromise, underperform, and sometimes are just flat out broken. Nintendo’s refusal to conform to these subpar standards is perpetually heartening, and I would love to see other developers learn from Nintendo’s example.
So Mario Kart 8 looks fantastic and runs like butter, but we’re still only two thirds of the way there. This long-running franchise has been held up as an example of some of the best-in-class entertainment in nearly every console generation. As the eighth entry in the franchise, there’s some real potential for stale gameplay here: How many good ideas can you really add to a kart racer? At least one more, apparently. The zero gravity segments, lovingly cribbed from F-Zero, along with the many other subtle additions to the Mario Kart formula over the years lead to, hands down, that most definitive Mario Kart game to date. Virtually every idea that has worked over the past 23 years (like underwater and flying segments) is present and accounted for; while most of the duds (like backseat drivers) have been trimmed– sorry, Double Dashers! The result is the most enjoyable Mario Kart yet.
I absolutely cannot wrap up without talking about Mario Kart 8’s soundtrack. Alongside selections from Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8’s music incorporated a completely unexpected jazz fusion. A team of brilliant composers took these series’ highly recognizable tunes in a completely new direction, and the result is one of the most upbeat, playful and downright catchy soundtracks I’ve heard in years. Take a minute to watch these guys jam: