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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 May, 2004, 08:24 GMT 09:24 UK
Nintendo goes back to the future
Nintendo needs to come up with fresh ideas for games rather than relying on old favourites, argues Daniel Etherington of BBC Collective in his weekly games column.

The Nintendo DS
Nintendo's dual screen handheld fuel innovative games
In many ways, 2003 was the year of the Nintendo GameCube. Even though PlayStation 2 continued its tiresome dominance, and Xbox had not started to push through, the key console titles of the year were Metroid Prime and The Wind Waker.

Viewtiful Joe followed them up as a lively, innovative experience, while over on the GameBoy Advance, Advance Wars 2 rounded off the package of top-notch, platform-specific titles.

So what has become of Nintendo so far in 2004? Every week, a new announcement seems to talk about titles that are simply retooled reissues.

Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes was a big release, for example, but it was little more than a pretty remake of a three-year-old game.

Although superb cross-platform games like The Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time have found a home on GameCube, we have not had an in-house title that comes close to Prime, Wind Waker or even Mario Sunshine.

Brand new

The frenzied activities around E3 included a preview of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.

If the game builds on the superb foundation Retro Studios built with the first game, but successfully blends in new ploys and adds a four-player mode, it may well be another masterpiece.

Nintendo has always relied on the solidity of its brand icons, but they were balanced by innovation

But is that enough to keep Nintendo an exciting brand?

Now, before all you Nintendophiles jump down my throat, let us bear in mind that those of us keen on the brand's franchises, characters and games may garner endless enjoyment from what is offered by a new Mario Kart, or a link-up of Links.

But it may not be enough to keep the company at the forefront of the console market. Or, indeed, even in the console market.

Nintendo has always relied on the solidity of its brand icons, but they were balanced by innovation. Today, frankly, nostalgia seems to have tipped the balance.

The DS may have a lot of potential, but some of Nintendo's plans smack of a company staring wistfully into the past. I cannot be the only one who finds that a bit depressing.

More than gimmicks

I am not advocating that Nintendo needs to dedicate all its energies to creating all-new games.

Sony's PSP
Sony is getting into handheld gaming with the PSP
But if it is to survive in the fight against Microsoft and Sony, it needs to look more specifically beyond its established fan base.

The Sony PSP versus Nintendo DS battle looks set to be very interesting. Nintendo's extraordinary back catalogue will serve the DS well, but it will not be enough.

Some promising info is trickling through. Sega, for example, is working on a DS game temporarily entitled Project Rub, which uses the handheld's touchscreen for control.

It sounds intriguing, but games like this need to get beyond the gimmick factor.

Sony's EyeToy has proved it is possible. So fingers crossed that Nintendo finds the balance between familiarity and freshness.

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