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This is the last line in my Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze review: “Sometimes its nice just to sit back and smile a bit. Take a respite from the grimy, ultra realistic and tragic world of modern gaming and enjoy a brightly colored fun adventure in a fantastical land.” I stand by that, it is nice to take a step back and sink into some good old fashion fun. But, I want more dark on my console. Thing is, I don’t need to tell you that anymore. Its becoming something of a cliche now, when you’re talking about Nintendo games a statement very similar to mine will crop up. Yes, the Big N do seem to be the last true vestige of old school charm in video games. It hardly feels worth bringing up anymore, yet it appears time and time again. The reason for this is obviously because Nintendo is under delivering on what the mass market would refer to as “mature” titles. I don’t think, this line of defense needs bringing up anymore, its been said, we understand. You know what I think needs more defending… Dark.
So why does the dark and the gritty attract ire from time to time? Well the reason, that I’d put my on money is, that despite all their posturing otherwise the majority of these titles are not mature. They’re adolescent, a misunderstanding of what maturity is meant to be. Swearing, blood and nudity are all elements that appear in adult titles, but merely showing copious amounts of them does not make you more grown up. The problem here is that the slew of all these games, trying to hard to be adult have turned the words “Dark”, “Gritty” and “Mature” into dirty words, a moniker meaning this game is patently immature. A shame, because Dark re-imaginings of properties can be fantastic. Consider Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, despite what a lot of people claim Batman has always been a wacky franchise, as a lot of super hero comics are, but Nolan’s imagining of the series was dark, was gritty and was one hundred percent Mature.
So I suppose the question becomes, what does Mature mean? Well it’s difficult to nail down precisely. The dictionary defines it simply as, an object becoming complete, growing to your final form as Frieza might say. This isn’t helpful in regards to art. Usually when we say a product is mature, we mean it’s a title that only adults can fully absorb. This is fine, but I think that we can define it further. Adults can watch Hostel or The Seventh Seal, but the vast majority of us would only consider one a mature film. I searched very hard to find a quote that would sum this up for me, great thinkers ranging from Albert Einstein to Kurt Vogenuntager, but none of them really encapsulated what I consider mature. That means, I needed to make my own sweeping statement that will contextualize all my future discussions on the topic. Here it goes: Maturity, in regards to art, is approaching the subject matter with tact. To illustrate this I’d like to exemplify two games, one I’d consider mature and the other much more infantile, these being: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (hereby called COD4) and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (hereby called MW2).
The theme of COD4, to me, was the inevitability of escalation. The concept that once a chain of events begins, it is very hard to halt them and how far reaching the consequences of our actions can be. The whole narrative is constant escalation punctuated heavily by the deaths of characters, particularly the player character Sergeant Johnston , whose dies shortly after a nuclear explosion. His death is an ionic scene in the franchise as you crawl helplessly on your stomach surrounded by death until you succumb to your own wounds. This is made all the more poignant when considering your actions in the flashback mission in Chernobyl, in which you effectively commence the chain of events leading to your avatar’s destruction. Fast forward to MW2 in which escalation is still constant, however this time around it escalates towards pure arcade excitement rather than towards any salient point. The story has become a highly romanticized military fantasy. There seems to be some attempt to portray moral greyness, but it all becomes secondary to the jet ski jumps and rapid helicopter escape sequences.
This isn’t a critical examination of the Call of Duty series, so I’ll conclude my comparison here. The important thing to understand is, dark can be mature, and mature can be great. Therefore dark can be great. We need to have both dark and light in games, COD4 and Donkey Kong Country are equally valid experiences worthy of your time, so why is Nintendo under delivering in the dark side? Well because Nintendo still identifies itself as a toy company in many ways. Way back when in the 80’s video game crash the NES came to power by this line of thought, differentiating itself from the PC market as a specialized device. The Wii also stormed to success with this mindset, what with its easy to comprehend control input and small price point compared to its powerful contemporaries. The other problem is Nintendo has such a poor relationship with third party developers. Ubisoft may toss in a Splinter Cell here and a Assassin’s Creed there, but by and large the big guns prefer to focus their efforts elsewhere.
I’d love to see darker titles on the Wii U.
Please don’t take what I’ve said out of context, I don’t want to see Gears Of Mario or Donkey Kong: Murder Mayhem, somethings don’t need to grow up. Rather, I want something new, something with a bit of meat to it, from Nintendo or third parties. It’s not like the big N have never gone dark before, Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was positively disturbed in places and do I even need to bring up Metroid? I wonder whats been stopping the company from delving into their darker side recently… I mean its not like that’s ever backfired on them or anythi –