While, from a business point of view, Nintendo’s recent strategy of giving select GameCube games a second wind as Wii titles with remote-centric controls makes absolute sense (a new, millions strong install base of Wii owners who never owned a GameCube—or any game system, for that matter—are probably hungry for any type of good game that doesn’t involve throwing darts or brushing hair), I can’t help but feel like this also may simply be a knee-jerk reaction to the “core” demographic that are complaining about the lugubrious state of first party titles.
I’m bringing this up because I’m extremely worried that Nintendo has just given up on any sort of originality or frequency for their games developed in-house, and are instead focusing their corporate energy in designing (or, as in the case of the new Wii Play Control titles, half-hearted re-packaging) software that directly applies their new futuristic and sterile aesthetic. If you’ve ever seen any of those “world of tomorrow” reels and exhibits from the 50′s and 60′s, then you know what I’m talking about: The family of the future, enjoying sanitary autonomous meals being served from spotless machines. Safe, reliable and clean create an environment that exudes the comforts of home without the inherent danger. Kids, remember to finish your Veggpak, or you won’t get any Yogurt Pump!
While Nintendo has seemed to nudge us in that direction with things like the Apple influenced DS Lite and the benignly communal atmosphere of Wii Sports (2006), I feel like Mario Kart Wii (2008) has proven to be the ultimate perpetrator/offender in this regard. Let’s look at the box art:
To me, this box is the absolute epitome of Nintendo shedding their old “electronic toy” image. Everything that characterizes the classic, colorful, rubber-burning weapon-throwing appeal of the previous games has been erased. And I mean that literally. THE ENTIRE KART OF MARIO KART has been removed (save for some vague shadows on the ground), leaving only strange floating aberrations of Mario and Luigi holding their pristine white wheel controllers against an equally stark background that evokes the prison in THX1138 (1971) more than the Mushroom Kingdom. The future is here, and there’s no need to worry about crashing your kart or getting hurt. Just make sure to wrap your controller in silicon, so No One Gets Hurt!
But this sanitizing doesn’t stop with the box art. The title screen of the game matches the box art exactly—has this ever happened in a video game? Likewise, the in-game menu and option screens look and sound more like the touch screen at an airline ticketing kiosk than a rollicking mascot-filled chaotic kart racer that defines the very genre that Mario Kart itself defined. I know that there are perfectly cogent arguments for the actual gameplay, the tracks and online play, and trust me, I’m not trying to downplay the true meat and bones of Mario Kart games. But it would be very naive to not admit that first impressions are very important, and for a tried and true Nintendo fan myself, I felt the pangs of skepticism travel up my spine as soon as I saw the box.
Showing characters of a video game actually holding their own means of interaction is a little disturbing to me as well. I was going to write that it’s sort of like a puppet holding up its own strings and pointing out the artifice of it all, but I think it’s instead more akin to a puppet holding their strings steady and sliding the entire stage underneath their feet around to make themselves dance—they’re not only bringing to light their lack of control over their own world, but they’re undermining the entire construct of that world as well. I don’t know what wall/s that’s breaking, but it’s at least a few. Mario and Luigi are not only fictional totems of a fictional universe but, as Mario Kart Wii implies, they are aware of that in some devastating way, and they’re letting us know that they know by using their own controllers to play themselves. Is Mario actually controlling himself in Mario Kart, or is he the one responsible for Luigi’s gasp of horror as they edge their anti-karts over a phantom cliff that no one will ever be aware of, not even themselves? Are they driving each other’s souls perhaps?
I suppose I shouldn’t be too critical of a game’s box art. At least Mario Kart Wii HAS art. I snapped a few blurry cell-phone pictures while browsing one of the local game purveyors, and came across this:
The game we’re looking for is Puzzler Collection (2008), published by Zoo Games:
Hopefully you can make out when I saw, but if not, I’ll break it down for you: A third party Wii title WITHOUT A LABEL ON THE SPINE. If you were to line your games up on the shelf, it would be a mystery game, a flaming grab bag if you’ll indulge me. I know that the Seal of Quality has been a tad lax lately, but I mean, Nintendo! *wags finger* Are there no standards for disc packaging now as well? Can I publish a game with no original content and NO LABEL and get away with it, as long as it adheres to your neutered corporate vision of family entertainment?
May I interest you in some Yogurt Pump? With hot fudge dust?
Posted by Kurt Shulenberger on February 2nd, 2009 :: Posts :: Tags : Box Art, Gamecube, Mario, Mario Kart, Nintendo, Wii