Friday, January 8, 2010

Nintendo Should Stop Innovating

by Daniel Bullard-Bates

Of all the Nintendo franchises, Zelda has always been my favorite. The blend of action, puzzle-solving, and exploration has a special place in my heart. I’ve played a Zelda game on every console since the Super Nintendo, but I haven’t touched either of the exceedingly well-reviewed games for the Nintendo DS. It’s not that the games don’t look fun to me. I’m just trying to avoid public embarrassment.

You see, one of the mechanics that The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks have in common is that they require the player to blow into the DS microphone to accomplish certain goals. As an avid home console gamer, I use my DS almost exclusively on the bus and metro, surrounded by people I don’t know. While I may be willing to embarrass myself by flailing around in my living room with friends and loved ones present, my tolerance for doing weird things on a crowded bus is much, much lower. What would people think? Maybe if I just did it once, someone would assume I was blowing some stray dust off of the screen. More sustained blowing, however, makes the blower look steadily more insane.

There was an attack in The World Ends with You that required shouting into the DS microphone. I have no idea how useful it was, because I never used it. I’ve seen people who shout on the bus. Those people are avoided and occasionally asked to leave. In one puzzle in Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, the solution required blowing into the DS microphone. I remember looking around, furtively, and then trying to quickly move my stylus across the microphone to mimic a blowing sound. It took a long time, but eventually worked. Of course the result was me furiously rubbing a tiny hole on my DS, which may be just as humiliating.

And Nintendo just can’t stop there. As if the microphone wasn’t enough, the DSi introduces a camera function. A few games have been announced which will allow the player to take pictures of their surroundings and use them in game. So now I’m meant to photograph strangers? This begs the question of whether I should do so openly, and hope that they take me as harmless, or be more secretive and risk looking more like a pervert. Either way, restraining orders seem likely.

A recent news post explains that Nintendo’s next generation of handhelds will use motion controls. It’s a little vague on the details: maybe you’ll flail the device itself around, threatening to strike innocent commuters, or perhaps the gesticulating will be done at the device, and it will register your movements with a camera, while others register your movements as dementia.

Slow down, Nintendo! Finding new ways to interact with video games is exciting, but the purpose of the device should be kept in mind. Handheld consoles are meant to be portable and playable in public. We already have wireless ear pieces to make us look crazy; there’s really no need to have us shouting, waving our arms around, taking photographs of people nearby, and then blowing desperately at our little screens. I’m all for pushing the boundaries of interactivity, but a modicum of common sense goes a long way. A handheld that’s too embarrassing to take out of your home loses a lot of its appeal.


  1. Yeah, I bought Leaf Trombone by Smule for my iPod touch, thinking a music game in which you blow into the mic would be fun (note: I don't have a DS). Before the first song ended, I was hyperventilating.

    Fortunately, most games like that provide an option to just press a 'breath' button. Why this isn't the case with DS games is baffling.

    As for motion controls, as long as it's just an accelerometer a la the iPhone, I don't see a problem unless they overuse it. Uh oh.

  2. I guess nintendo do this to prevent piracy of their games. It doesn't look anymore fun to blow in mic then a simple button to do that.

  3. Well, you don't always play on buses with a Handheld console...

  4. I don't really mind the whole blowing in the mic feature for the Legend of Zelda games on the DS personally. However there are a few times, and I have noticed more instances in the more recent Spirit Tracks title, where they actually ask you to speak into the microphone. I feel very uncomfortable with those parts and I'll usually try to quickly whisper a response or I'll just stop playing the game until I'm alone and hope that I don't have to do it again any time soon.

    I agree with Nate about the motion controls possibility for new handheld consoles. If it's just an accelerometer I think it could definitely be cool. Something like that reminds me of WarioWare Twisted for the Gameboy Advance. I would definitely be excited to see how Nintendo utilized that in their handheld games.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.