Nintendo gets a bit of a reputation as having a younger demographic in mind, which isn’t quite fair. I do think, for the most part, that it has a family-friendly image and a family-friendly appeal. Which is a good thing, because families usually have adults in them. It’s impressive that Nintendo games tend to work on so many levels, but just how exactly is it that the company manages to achieve this?
For starters, the characters are simple on the surface. They’re visually interesting, often cute even when evil, and their exaggerated traits absolutely exude personality in a way that is similar to the art direction of games like Overwatch. Beyond that, though, they are frequently thrown into deep narratives that reveal their multifaceted characters and histories. Link doesn’t even talk, but most of us have a pretty good idea of who he is and what he’s been through. Bowser, Mario’s nemesis, has a surprisingly rich background. Donkey Kong’s family is rife territory for drama, and a television show was even created that fit these characters perfectly.
This isn’t just about story, though. The gameplay is accessible, but offers a range of difficulties. Mario games can be immediately understood. Their challenges are fair. Even if grasping the full nuance of the game is slightly out of reach, Nintendo sometimes implements options that are akin to invincibility, so kids can play along. Hell, some Mario games even notice if you’re performing badly and give you an item to help you out when you need that little boost.
The portability is also something that cannot be understated. Pokemon is an absolute force of a game and, for most of its history, it has found its home on Nintendo’s handheld consoles. Coupled with a television show and a card game, they draw kids into the game and the core “rock, paper, scissors,” mechanics seem to be taught through all three of those mediums. The show is, in some ways, a tutorial, but the game offers complexity beyond that so adults and kids alike can level up their Pokemon from the comfort of a car’s passenger seat. For some, the time in a passenger seat or in the backseat of an Uber might be the only way they find time to game in their adult life.
Then, we look at the Nintendo Switch which is both a console and a handheld. This means fans can engage with their favorite characters on the go without compromise. The benefit of this portability can’t be understated. In fact, after I write this article, I’m going to grab my Switch from my bag and wait for my ride home.
Not all companies can make this claim and I am glad that gamers don’t tend to infantilize Nintendo products. Part of this could be legacy, of course; its characters are pop culture icons and you can still feel like an adult while sporting a Link tattoo. I am, of course, not saying that mature games are any worse than Nintendo games but I think it would be nice if more companies were able to expand their demographic and produce games with such a wide appeal. Kids deserve great games and adults deserve fun games that aren’t wholly terrifying or depressing.