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A&E >  Entertainment

Game On: Gaming company gets away with all sorts of nonsense

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 10, 2020

2018’s “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is the latest release in the mashup fighting game franchise, but the series’ diehard competitive community sticks with the fast-paced “Super Smash Bros. Melee” released in 2001.  (Courtesy)
2018’s “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is the latest release in the mashup fighting game franchise, but the series’ diehard competitive community sticks with the fast-paced “Super Smash Bros. Melee” released in 2001. (Courtesy)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

For a company with legions of fans, it seems like every other day Nintendo finds new ways to anger them. In the past two weeks, the company has been responsible for the shutdown of two video game tournaments in the interest of protecting its copyrights.

In late November, Nintendo sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Big House for organizing the “Super Smash Bros. Melee” tournament using a modding tool called “Slippi,” which enabled the game to be played online – the only way to hold the competition as long as COVID-19 restrictions are in place.

Just over a week later, Nintendo canceled the final rounds of a “Splatoon 2” tournament citing “unexpected executional challenges.” That event allowed groups to register under any name, so many teams chose to register with monikers referencing the “Super Smash Bros. Melee” controversy with names such as “Melee Nation” and “Melee Lights” instead of the usual “Bocut Nation” and “Southern Lights.”

The cancellation could’ve been a fluke, but the timing and circumstances are somewhat uncanny. Nintendo is within its rights to take action, and the company’s legacy is priceless thanks in part to an insistence that its products meet a very high standard.

In the eyes of Nintendo, safeguarding its intellectual properties against all outside influence is key to maintaining that standard – nine times out of 10, when you see that “official Nintendo seal of quality” sticker, you know it’s an excellent product.

Because of this, Nintendo could be called the Disney of the video game world. It owns many of the most prominent intellectual properties in its respective mediums and is hellbent on protecting them.

Nintendo is best known for “Super Mario,” “The Legend of Zelda,” “Donkey Kong” and “Pokémon,” with plenty of other successful franchises such as “Animal Crossing,” “Metroid” and “Starfox.”

Because of its handful of A-tier game franchises, Nintendo gets away with all sorts of nonsense. It has been able to brush off hardware flops like the GameCube and Wii U with little trouble compared to previous competitors such as Atari and Sega, who were both forced to discontinue their hardware operations after similar missteps.

Once the undeniable champion of backwards compatibility, in recent years Nintendo has taken to consistently rereleasing its older titles, often asking for $10-$15 or more apiece for digital copies of games most retro gamers already own for previous consoles.

That attitude lines up with the shutdown of the “Super Smash Bros. Melee” tournament. An official for Nintendo specifically said the issue with the online event was “requiring use of illegally copied versions of the game in conjunction with a mod.”

While this is a legally sound complaint, the chances of even one participant of the Big House tournament not owning a legitimate copy of the game are slim to none – how else would they even practice?

Furthermore, “Super Smash Bros. Melee” was released in 2001 – three console generations ago – and has not been rereleased. It never featured online capabilities, so the Big House organizers were forced to use the Slippi mod.

The event would’ve also featured competitive play of the newest iteration of the “Smash Bros.” franchise, which would’ve been played unmodified. But evidently, all of that wasn’t good enough for Nintendo.

Of course, other game companies are using Nintendo’s corporate faux pas as an opportunity to diss them. Despite losing the console war, Sega’s social media profiles have been spotted commenting on “Sonic the Hedgehog” fan mods with comments like “Digital Millennium Copyright Act time – just kidding, keep making great stuff.”

Nintendo’s behavior is penny wise and dollar short. There are numerous cases of its fans creating games like “Mario Royale,” “Breath of the NES” and other tributes before being shut down with cease-and-desist orders.

Sega gave the greenlight to “Sonic Mania” and “Streets of Rage 4” in 2017 and 2020, respectively, which both came about from the efforts of a few dedicated fans trying their hand at game development. Sega is a struggling company, but even the likes of gaming industry leaders like Sony and Microsoft have carved out avenues for fan creations to flourish untouched.

There is a world of difference between sketchy retailers selling pirated copies of games and fans producing non-commercial mods and original games to share online, but based on history it’s all the same in the eyes of Nintendo.

It’s clear many Nintendo fans are feeling fed up with the lack of support from the company they’ve idolized for decades. There was a time when Nintendo could reliably bank on new generations of children to replace their aging fans, but today’s kids seem more interested in the likes of “Fortnite,” “Roblox” and “Minecraft” than “Super Mario.”

Fans have been petitioning for better treatment for years to no avail – in recent weeks, I’ve witnessed murmurs online of boycotting or even pirating Nintendo games. I’ll never condone pirating, but I can respect Nintendo enthusiasts boycotting to effectively vote with their wallets.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com

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