I’m here to tell you that James was giddy like a little kid on Christmas when we saw the Wreck-It Ralph trailer we caught a few weeks ago in the theaters. He was so worked up about it (and I was so not clear on what he was talking about) that I suggested he write a blog post. Here it is!
As a kid growing up in the 80s, my video game life revolved around arcades for my birthday parties (being a January baby meant no pool parties) and a seemingly never-ending supply of NES and SNES games. I grew up with classic heroes like Mario, Sonic, and Mega Man, and grew to love and loathe their antagonists, Bowser, Dr. Eggman, and Dr. Wily. I grew up with (and broke many a controller playing) the original Street Fighter II and it’s ridiculously difficult final boss, M. Bison.
So I was pretty excited about the trailer for Wreck-It Ralph which preceded Brave, and I kinda nerded out a little seeing M. Bison, Zangief, Dr. Eggman, and Clyde (the dumb orange ghost from Pac-Man) at the Bad-Anon session. I don’t think Wreck-It-Ralph is going to be an animated tour-de-force like Tangled or most of Pixar’s library but I do have some hope that it will be entertaining after seeing the trailer.
Now, Disney has a decent-looking film, with a great voice cast, that brought back wave after wave of video game nostalgia for me (and most gamers my age, I bet), and it references great video game characters from the 80s and 90s. Of course they’re going to make a video game out of it. But here’s the really dumb thing: they’re only releasing it on Nintendo consoles?
Disney has a long and somewhat complicated history with video games. For every enjoyable title they released (I’m looking at you, Ducktales and Chip n Dale Rescue Rangers on NES), they put out three times as many stinkers. Despite that, they still had the good sense to release their games on either multiple platforms or at least the most dominant platform.
Here, they decided to release a video game tie-in to a video game-themed movie that clearly means to evoke the classic 8-bit and 16-bit era on a trio of consoles that is heavily dominated by kids too young to appreciate the time period, characters, and style.
That, to me, is simply boneheaded.
The Wreck-It-Ralph games will only be released on the Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, and Nintendo 3DS. The Nintendo Wii, according to a 2008 report, is the least-used of the three major consoles (compared to Sony’s Playstation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360) and the average age for its users is 6-11 years. Compare that to the other two major consoles, whose average age is 12-17 for the Xbox 360 and 25-34 for the Playstation 3, and which are both dominated by power users.
Similarly, 80% of Nintendo DS owners are 8-16 years of age, according to a 2007 report in The New York Times. Anecdotally, you shouldn’t need the Times to tell you that only little kiddies play with DS and 3DS systems. All you need is a pair of eyes and a functioning brain to process the images they send.
So why is Disney planning to release a game about nostalgic video game characters to an audience who will have little frame of reference, if any, to the source material? Sure, Super Mario is still around (and I guess you could say that Sonic is too) but their time of dominance is clearly over.
Another disturbing fact is the languishing sales of Nintendo consoles, which have dropped precipitously from record highs a few years ago to a firmly third place finish among the Big Three in the console wars. According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Nintendo lost almost half a billion (yes, billion with a “b”) dollars in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2012, due mainly to declining Wii sales and competition in the mobile games market from Apple devices and Facebook games.
Even more aggravating for hardcore gamers are the lost opportunities for those, like me, who would love the retro-style of the Ralph game but don’t own a Wii or DS due to the lack of mature, AAA titles such as Gears of War, Halo, and Uncharted on Microsoft’s and Sony’s systems. Gamespot’s preview of Wreck-It Ralph indicates that it will be a “classic, arcade-style side scroller” with co-op play. Sounds like a perfect match for Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade and Sony’s Playstation Store, download-only virtual storefronts teeming with smaller, shorter arcade-style games costing less than premium titles and (usually) delivering high on the old “big things/small packages” adage.
At first glance, it sure looks like Disney is making a big mistake with Wreck-It Ralph’s video game tie-in, which Nintendo is certainly poised to cash in on. Ultimately, only time will tell whether the film and/or the game are worth the price of admission, but if the game is even halfway decent then Disney may wind up regretting their decision to back Nintendo rather than seek greater riches with the big boys.