It reoccurred to me recently that Nintendo really doesn't make games in the same way as most other current developers. I mean, if you look at it historically, we started with arcade games, which usually made the most of a single mechanic. A limited amount of content, but high replay value. Then the shift to home consoles sort of broadened the scope of a video game. Now we could have adventures (even on the 2600!). Which first meant bigger worlds in which to ply that limited set of mechanics. But soon that definition evolved to include games in which the mechanics expanded and changed over time, resulting in a more varied (but perhaps less pure) experience. In it's early history, Nintendo was a key component of this evolution from arcade games (Donkey Kong, Balloon Fight) to expanded arcade-styled games (Super Mario Bros.) to more realized worlds with more varied mechanics (The Legend of Zelda, Metroid). Over time, Nintendo has further refined its ideal of video game design. Basically, a gameplay-driven experience, in which creative level design and/or new abilities keep the experience fresh over the course of the game. We love that shit, right?
But most established developers don't make that type of game anymore. The current vogue seems to favor one set of gameplay mechanics throughout an entire game (or even series), modulated largely by change in setting or narrative. Rather than bring new actors on the stage, they change the set design. I think this explains why Nintendo fans' tastes are often so different than those of the mainstream. Why some of us feel alienated in gaming discussions. To an extent, we're playing apples, and they're playing oranges.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Independent devs mostly prioritize gameplay, albeit with a more limited scope. So, two questions:
1) Do you agree or disagree with the analysis above? 2) If you agree, which other developers still make "Nintendo-style" games?
That cuts both ways though, there's no reason Nintendo shouldn't be able to start upping their game when it comes to narratives or even just fix minor presentation issues that they have with a lot of their games.
At least Nintendo's games are actually excellent at what they strive to do (and many of them have quite good narratives for what they are going for, Pikmin 3 comes to mind). Games that strive for excellent cinematic narratives fail far more often than not.
There are plenty. I'll give you one example though:
Mario Galaxy. It plays great. The premise is still Bowser kidnaps Peach, Mario has to go save her. He does. That's it. Nothing changes, no motivations are ever shown, and you have to save her by going to these distinct worlds that aren't connected to one another or the plot in any way. I think the one thing they tried to do was include a storybook-esque Rosalina side story. I see no reason why we couldn't have a game that plays as well as Super Mario Galaxy but has a sense of greater purpose and adventure like say Super Mario RPG or even one of the Paper Mario games.
Do you really think anyone played through Mario Galaxy and decided 'what this really needs is a deep story'?
The issue with your 'cuts both ways' comment is that it actually doesn't. Games are games. That should be the primary concern. As a gamer, I feel a good game with iffy story is generally a more desirable situation than a iffy game with a good story.
I don't have an issue with them putting more story in if it can be skipped and ignored entirely. It was really obnoxious in subsequent playthroughs of Sunshine. I'm personally good with the "princess kidnapped, go jump on stuff" setup though. Story is pretty low on my reason for playing games, though it would be higher if they were done well more often.
That ties in to other presentation issues. The beginning of Skyward Sword for example cannot be skipped and is incredibly tedious to get through. A good game story will deliver its narrative in a way that is unobtrusive and makes the player feel like their time isn't being wasted. It isn't just about the quality of the actual story being told.
I find it kind of weird that you say that considering you brought up Valve last page who were one of the pioneers of that style with the original Half-Life. But they work narrative in to their games well. Portal/Portal 2 are pure gameplay yet contain some of the best humor in games and environments that reflect the progression of the story.
It's not black and white. System Shock basically invented it and it's one of my favorite games ever. Half-Life famously does it as well, and the first scene where you take the train is the wrong way to do it, but that's forgivable given that they were blazing trails. Portal works because you can just play while listening to GLaDOS and when you're watching things it's quick.
Many games do it very poorly and in those cases, it's worse than just your standard skippable cutscene. Skyrim you have to sit and watch poorly animated characters talking. Call of Duty you see huge explosions and such around you but you're stuck in a straight line. Bioshock Infinite has lots of tedious moments where you watch its terrible story play out. That's what I take issue with. They shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water but if you're going to include that style of narrative, you need to do it right.
I was pointing out that Nintendo is far from the only developer that has a problem with obtrusive narrative (and else than the last two console Zeldas I don't think they're really guilty of this). And other developers lean on their narrative a lot more than Nintendo tends to so it's often a bigger sin with their games. Just another reason why erring on the side of gameplay is wise even if it is certainly possible to deliver in both.
I disagree with the idea of it being better not to try rather than try and fail. The way to improve and create new gold standards is to push in to uncharted territory. Beyond that though, even if something doesn't perfectly mesh there's no need for it to be completely thrown away. It's how games get better. You mentioned Skyrim and being locked in to dialog with NPCs, that was improved on from Oblivion which had the characters you were speaking to stand stiff as a rail and talk to you. In Skyrim they continue doing whatever they were doing previously which is an improvement. Now in Fallout 4 the dialog will apparently not even be something you get locked in to at all, you just choose your response and it plays. It's that kind of zeroing in that will make presentation of game stories get better and better.
Something else I think you are overlooking is the potential power of games as means to tell a story. You transpose yourself a lot more readily to the protagonist of a game as you experience the world from their perspective. Game narratives could have the potential to completely adapt to the player and have them as an active participant in a story rather than someone observing. This says nothing about the holy grail of storytelling in games where gameplay meshes perfectly with the story and results in your own unforgettable moments in games. This is hard to realize currently but I feel like the closest is something like ordering a beloved soldier in XCOM to perform a mission critical task that results in their permanent death. Stuff like that is unique, it's a type of connection that will be unique to each player and it makes you question your own self. I don't even think that is the beginning for where games can and will eventually take us.
It's for those reasons that I think experimenting with game storytelling is absolutely valuable and it saddens me that Nintendo, one of the biggest and best game makers out there, who have been the disruptors before in many different ways simply err on the side of gameplay.
Does it sadden you that The Beatles didn't pave much ground for hip hop? That Pixar hasn't made a good documentary yet? There's more than enough developers focusing on how to tell stories in their video games. And again, I don't think Nintendo actually neglects narrative in most cases, it's just not top priority and usually winds up more understated which I happen to appreciate.
It's the same thing with cutting edge graphics. There was a huge focus on that from big budget developers last generation but people freaked out that Nintendo was focusing on motion controls, something that no one else was doing.
No one's saying Heavy Rain and LA Noir shouldn't exist (or Her Story I guess for a more recent example) or that Bethesda shouldn't try to improve on storytelling in a genre where it is critical, but I think there's a fair sentiment that narrative has taken the forefront at the expense of gameplay for many studios and it would be nice to see the resources gets shifted back to an extent.
Nintendo isn't one creative output though. Pixar might not make a documentary but Disney who owns Pixar definitely has. As for the rest of your post, it's buying in to that whole one at the expense of the other thing I disagree with.
So it doesn't take money and effort to make a good narrative or make good gameplay? Developers don't have unlimited resources and they have to make decisions. Sure, talent can sometimes overcome that but in general tradeoffs have to be made. That's just reality.
Why even have a story at all if it is so token it can be dropped? Can you honestly tell me that you remember the plot to Skyward Sword? That that didn't take resources? You aren't saving anything by having a bad story and if your story is so trivial it might as well not exist...well then it probably shouldn't exist.