The Curious Case of Wreck-It Ralph

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.

duck tales video game

chip & dale rescue rangers

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.

4 thoughts on “The Curious Case of Wreck-It Ralph

  1. #PREACH!!!

    All of the above = so true. And “Boneheaded” doesn’t even begin to sum up this move (DisneyFAIL!)

    I have a feeling this film will be a bit of a sleeper hit, and perhaps not with the kids, but that older generation that actually PLAYED these characters. We were a Nintendo family once I was a young teen, (Super Mario 3 for the WIN!), but got to play Atari and Sega at friends and relatives houses. Heck, I remember playing Frogger!

    For a film about video games, it would surely seem the ONLY reasonable option to release this as a Multi Platform title. But no. So, smooth move Disney and good luck with that. -Q

  2. I completely agree even though I do own a Wii (because if I owned anything else that is all I would be doing.) I am really looking forward to the film though. The trailer definitely brought back some memories. 🙂

  3. Hi, James!

    Great article. I’m looking forward to Wreck-it Ralph, and agree Disney should release the game on non-Nintendo platforms as well…

    But, I gotta tell ya, I’m an older dude who still loves Nintendo. Why? I’m an adult who doesn’t like violent, bloody games. At all. Not my thing. The best Nintendo games are masterpieces of challenging, family-oriented entertainment, and Shigeru Miyamoto is the Walt Disney of the video game world. And, of course, right now I’m playing Kingdom Hearts 3D on my 3DS, so I’m kind of in Disneytendo Heaven.

    Disney and Nintendo both, for me, provide excursions to a world of great storytelling (well, okay, with Nintendo it’s more about charm and style) that, at their best, have a timeless appeal for all ages. Mario, Mario Kart and Pokemon sales still shoot through the roof with every release, and not all those purchasers are kids.

    So ends my fanboy rant, and here’s the part where I agree with your assessment of the public’s current perception of Nintendo game machines. As you pointed out, Nintendo’s biggest challenge today is in adapting to a handheld market that’s been revolutionized by iPhone and Android.

    Releasing Wreck-it Ralph only for Nintendo does seem a bad move. It kind of worked for Epic Mickey, though; it’ll be interesting to see how the sequel fares on multiple platforms this fall. But please don’t be so quick to dismiss Nintendo as not being one of the “Big Boys.” People used to say the same thing about Walt Disney Studios. Anything can happen–to any game company, movie studio or publisher. All it takes is one brilliant product to change everything. 🙂

  4. Rich,
    Thanks for reading and giving some feedback. I appreciate hearing from another old-school gamer. I totally get where you’re coming from as far as not being into the violent, bloody games. I’ll admit, I love them and think they’re a great addition to the overall world of video games. That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten our humble roots in overweight plumbers who jump on the heads of turtles. The wonderful thing about video games is that there really is something for everyone, except in this case, where the product a likely majority of gamers would really enjoy is only available on a specific company’s platform. Business is business, and for the same reason that Halo is Xbox-exclusive and Uncharted is Playstation-exclusive, Disney felt it made financial sense to get in bed with Nintendo. I don’t agree, and I think it deprives a large group of interested people from a game which, let’s face it, probably isn’t going to be a “Game of the Year” winner but might be a fun little diversion.
    Thanks again for reading, and if you wind up playing the Ralph game on one of your Nintendo devices, please drop me a line and let me know what you think.

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