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 1: Charm
N Factor, Part 2: Respect
N Factor, Part 3: Agelessness
N Factor, Part 4: Immersion
N Factor, Part 5: Creativity
N Factor, Part 6: Unity
N Factor, Part 7: Polish
N Factor, Part 8: Timelessness
N Factor, Part 9: Fun
N Factor, Part 10: Vision
Over the course of the N Factor series we’ve established and explored many of the attributes that draw people to Nintendo’s games. We’ve looked at how Nintendo uses its beloved characters to charm audiences of all ages, and how it leverages artistic strength and creativity to immerse players in countless imaginative worlds. We’ve also examined Nintendo’s ability to consistently produce highly polished games that have the innate quality of bringing gamers together on both small and massive scales. Amazingly, after all that, we have yet to touch on what is perhaps Nintendo’s most obvious and intrinsic characteristic of all: Fun.
Video games don’t have to be fun; over the years the medium has evolved into a conduit for emotional storytelling, poignant social commentary, and deep characterizations. These are all completely valid targets in game creation, and some of my favorite games and series absolutely lean into this more serious territory. That said, the thing that first drew me to video games when I was young is sheer entertainment value, the sense of uncompromising joy that comes from playing a game that just feels right. So even though video games now seek to affect and engage us in more ways than ever, good old fashioned fun has always been, and remains, one of my highest priorities. Here’s a personal memory that should shed some light on what I mean…
It was 1996– summertime– and the long school-free days allowed me more time than usual to drool over Nintendo Power and daydream about the future of my favorite hobby. I had exhausted my stack of SNES and Genesis games and, along with some of my closest junior high buddies, was ready to embrace the next dimension (literally) of gaming: Nintendo 64. We were still working on breaking the habit of calling it the Ultra 64, fantasizing over the stills of Mario and Pilotwings in 3D, when it was announced that Toys”R”Us would be hosting a multi-day demonstration of the new system and showcasing the game we were all dying to get our hands on: Super Mario 64.
I had a paper route at the time, and was proud to show off my paid-in-full pre-order slips for both the system and Mario 64 to anyone that feigned interest. Even though I would soon have unlimited access to my own console at home, the idea of getting to play the N64, even a couple weeks early, had me floored. I honestly can’t remember a time when I’ve been more excited to get my hands on a new game than the day my mom drove me to Toys”R”Us to see a side of Mario (many, actually) that no one had ever seen before. I knew this game was going to change everything, and I hadn’t even played it yet.
The first time I played Super Mario 64, I was overjoyed. Despite the impossible pedestal I had placed it on, and the unfair expectations I had constructed in my mind over the Summer, it was still light years beyond what I had anticipated. I begged to go back and play again the following day, and the next, and the next… (Thanks, Mom!) By the time the tour was over, I had spent many, many hours over the course of a few days both playing and spectating, and since these were simply retail systems with copies of the game plugged into them, I had witnessed a wide selection of the game’s brilliant worlds. Across the five or six demo stations, a variety of save files at various stages of the game became established. The regulars, like me, planned out which stations we would line up at in advance, hoping to chart some new territory or replay a particular level that we really loved– in 15 minute increments. As ridiculous as it may sound, this crowd-sourced effort was truly exciting to be a part of, sort of a rudimentary form of Twitch plays Mario decades before we had any idea what that meant.
So how did the game hold up when I finally brought it home? Let’s just put it this way: Nintendo 64 launched in the United States with only two games– Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64– but it really only needed one. Not only was every moment I spent with Mario 64 pure, cathartic fun, but it seemed to go on forever. The structure was brilliant: a huge castle full of secret rooms, hallways, courtyards and cellars that served as a gateway to the many, imaginative environments of the Mushroom Kingdom. There was always more to find, and with each new area Mario discovered came a whole new set of activities and challenges for him to take on. I’ll never forget the first time I got the feathered hat, glided down Peach’s Slide, or ascended to the top of Tick Tock Clock. All with the biggest, goofiest grin possible plastered across my face.
I made this statement in my review of Super Mario Maker, and I’ll say it again here: Mario is the purest form of fun in video games. It’s a series that was designed, and has been fine tuned over the years, to share its unlimited supply of joy with anyone who picks up a controller and plays it. Pretty much every proper entry in the series exhibits this mastery of vibrant visuals, precision control, and rewarding feedback, but for me, Super Mario 64 showcases these elements like no other game ever has. And hey, as I’ve just shared, I’ve known Nintendo to obliterate my lofty expectations before, so there’s no reason to believe the people behind the games can’t do it again.Leave a Comment