Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ode to Nintendo Wi-Fi

Okay, it's not actually an ode, but I liked the sound of the title, so sue me!

Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection launched alongside Mario Kart DS on November 14th, 2005, and I can't think of a more perfect time for it to enter my life. I had only just turned fourteen, and like every other young teenager, I was a na├»ve little man bearing a toxic, skewed perspective. My childhood dreams of becoming a fiction writer were destroyed in the face of Kingdom Hearts fanfiction and obsessing over my treasured Dragon Ball manga volumes, of which I treated as holier than the Bible itself. My brother's fatal drug addiction was revealed only the month before, and I took it as another sign of the world as I knew it heading to ruin. November 14th was also, if I recall correctly, the very night where I thought I first fell in love.


In a context most beneficial to the blog, however, it was the very first online gaming experience on a Nintendo console (in this case, the DS). Nintendo Wi-Fi's grand opening was painfully barebones and antiquated even for 2005 standards: you had to input sixteen-digit "Friend Codes" to register your buddies, it lacked voice chat and various matchmaking options, and it often neglected starring features of certain games (in the case of Mario Kart DS, there was no Battle Mode, it was limited to half the courses, and only four players could participate in each group). It was complete ass, but I didn't really take note of that: I was still blinded by my Nintendo fanboyism, however subdued it was in a time of depression, and craved anything as an escape. 

I still remember those late nights, huddled on the back of the bed as I delved into the latest avenue of Nintendo. I delved endlessly into the matchmaking realm of Mario Kart DS, almost constantly losing but still persistent in finding opponents. When I wasn't challenging a player who'd likely kicked my ass, I'd sit there and listen to this while looking out into the starry night from my window. It's the theme of the game's Wi-Fi Menu, and it remains the chillest piece ever composed for Nintendo's online. Maybe I'll talk more about it some time.


My friends and I regularly visited each other's towns in Animal Crossing: Wild World.  We'd laugh at Dizzy the elephant's karate outfit all the while communicating with in-game keyboards, a now-nostalgic ring indicating the arrival of every new message. We laughed at each other's house interiors, initiate "Owl Time," and talk about girls of our dreams. We were just teenage fools in love, hanging out with the likes of baby bears and cats while pouring on each other with our silver water cans.


When everyone was busy lambasting Super Smash Bros. Brawl's online, we ignored the complaints and hopped for six years straight. The lack of a built-in voice chat was no deterrent; we merely took Sakurai's advice and made use of Skype. Throughout that period we found new secrets and crafted new in-jokes almost every time: the way King Dedede comically opened his mouth as he slowly cradled the Cracker Launcher, the near-seductive swimming position of R.O.B., and the graceful beauty that was Running Ivysaur. We'd fall into hysterical laughter as browsed through endless troves of nonsensical Brawl/Sakurai criticism ("Sakurai is a poor marketer!"), character lists (Ice Hockey team!) and all the people with grudge/stalker problems  the wonder people we'd come across on GameFAQS.. Sometimes we'd play this lovely video over our mics, too. And this one. And this one. And definitely this one.

I played Star Fox Command online, with its awfully homogenized Fox-only online mode. I played Diddy Kong Racing DS online, regularly dueling on the Fire Mountain stage. I struggled to reach the top ranks of Mario Kart Wii. I even endured the online shitfest that was The Conduit. You thought Brawl's online was bad? Daily hackers and the immortal glitch known as "Spinning Gun" constantly hampered that game's multiplayer, and I don't know even if me and my friends intentionally hogging the ASE Ball made up for that (yes, we were such monsters, I know).

 

But I can still look back on it and laugh.

I guess the point of this post is just to say man, I'm just glad Nintendo Wi-Fi was there. Call me an apologist, but for all the raging at Friend Codes and whatnot, I still got what I wanted in the end: playing with my distant friends anytime I wanted. I could Brawl with my friends nearly every weekend, and I'd hardly have to endure any of the infamous lag (seriously, it was far worse in Jump Ultimate Stars). I'd only have to punch in sixteen digits with someone just to play Mario Kart or Animal Crossing or whatever, and I'd be set and ready for battle/racing/screwing around. That's all I ever wanted.

Now that it's gone, what do I have left? The 3DS is doing fine with the Nintendo Network, but can you believe that it's been around a year and a half since the Wii U launched and there hasn't been a single Nintendo-published retail game that has online play? I could literally just sit here and elaborate at length for hours as to how badly they fucked up that console, but that's just in a league of its own. I'm getting old, you know? I won't be in college forever, and it's not like I can just invite my childhood friends over whenever I want to now. Everyone's busy, moving on with their jobs and falling in love for real. Me? I think the life of a hermit sounds mighty fine, but I still enjoy my friends.

So why the fuck can't I play Nintendo Land online? Can I really believe Miyamoto when he says Pikmin 3 and New Super Mario Bros. U can't be played over the network? Even the 3DS isn't exempt from this: you're telling me Star Fox Command could make do with a barebones online, yet you guys can't be bothered to do the same for a fully reconstructed multiplayer mode in the Star Fox 64 remake? It's the same excuse from Nintendo over and over: "We want to emphasize couch multiplayer with the Wii U." "We want to embrace togetherness with the GamePad." But do I and everyone else have to wait nearly two years because of their bumbling incompetence? This perspective as self-centered and short-sighted as the directive of the GamePad itself, and I've grown rather tired having to "please understand." Sorry, Mr. Iwata.

Options, Nintendo. That's how things work. I'll continue to play ball with Mario Kart and Smash Bros., but it just isn't the same anymore.



See you on the flipside, Wi-Fi.

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No Biweekly Music Wednesday! tonight; it'll be back next week.

2 comments:

  1. Jump Ultimate Stars would have more lag considering you would be connecting to servers in Japan from the East Coast and playing against people much farther from you if you weren't playing against friends who happened to import it. Plus I'm pretty sure our matches on Brawl would be a lot slower when I was on because I'm in California. :|

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    1. It was a common complaint regarding the game's online (along with "gem farmers," who'd mess up the online world through gang attacks/wasting time just to grab the in-game gems) from American players who typically played with each other.

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