Flatiron Hot! Gamer: What does Nintendo’s Future Hold?
Written by Max Shapiro and Edited by The Flatiron Hot! News Editorial Staff
First, I want to announce a new weekly column for the Flatiron Hot! News blog: Flatiron Hot! Gamer. Every Saturday for the next few weeks, I will put up an editorial that covers my personal gaming tastes (which, admittedly, is primarily Nintendo). So with that out the of way, let’s get to the topic at hand.
I’m not quite sure if I have the right to truly call myself a Nintendo fan yet. I’m only 15 years old, so I didn’t grow up with the NES, SNES, GameBoy, N64, or even the GameCube (though I would later play a handful of GameCube games through my Wii). The consoles I grew up with were the Nintendo DS and Wii, which I got when I was 7, and in the following years I would acquire a 3DS and Wii U. For the longest time I was only really a Mario fan. I played (and still play to this day) nearly every type of Mario game there is—Mario Galaxy, Mario Kart, Mario Party, you name it. But then, about three years ago, my cousin Eric introduced me to Super Smash Bros., which completely opened the door for me to learn about Nintendo’s franchises beyond Mario. Over the years, I began playing The Legend of Zelda, Kirby, and most recently Splatoon. I plan on getting into Pokémon later this year with the new generation, and hope to give Metroid, Star Fox, and Pikmin a try sometime in the future. But even though I certainly haven’t played every Nintendo game out there, believe me when I say I have considerable knowledge of the company, its franchises, and the position it’s currently in.
For a while, Nintendo basically functioned like its competing gaming companies. But in the mid-2000s, their business model changed drastically. They no longer cared about having the best graphics, or directly competing with adversaries Sony and Microsoft. Rather than trying to have the most powerful hardware with the best online features, Nintendo focused on creating unique experiences that could be found only on their consoles. It’s pretty clear that they went down this road because both the N64 and GameCube, both of which were largely conventional gaming consoles, were far outsold by the PS1 and PS2 respectively. Nintendo realized that in order for its hardware to succeed, it needed to be different. And this strategy paid off handsomely with the DS, Wii, and 3DS, as each of these went on to be great commercial successes. All three of them sported a different “gimmick” (I absolutely hate that word by the way, but I’ll get to that in a later article): the DS with its touchscreen, the Wii with its motion controls, and the 3DS with its glasses-free 3D screen. But it wasn’t just the unusual hardware that hooked consumers–it was the steady stream of high-quality games Nintendo pumped out for each of these systems. For Nintendo, the recipe for success was a unique console coupled with a lineup of the fantastic games they are known for creating.
But then came the Wii U, the first console from Nintendo that is truly considered to be a commercial failure (if you don’t count the Virtual Boy, but who does?). So the question is: What went wrong here? A lot of people will point towards the unconventional controller and shortage of power and online features compared to its competition as the main reasons for the console’s failure, but that’s not really true at all, because by that logic the Wii should have failed. Those things didn’t help when coupled with the real reasons, but still weren’t major factors in the grand scheme of things. Now let’s take a look at those real reasons:
1) Consumer confusion. Nintendo could not have possibly been more unclear when they revealed the Wii U back at E3 2011. The trailer they showed to reveal it (which you can see here if you’re curious) only showcased the GamePad controller. I remember watching that trailer for the first time and not knowing what to think: Was it a totally new console? An attachment to the Wii? Some kind of upgrade? And that’s the same thing many other people were thinking. Of course, upon doing further research I realized it was indeed a brand new console, but most everyday consumers didn’t do that. They simply thought it was a modified Wii and thought, “Well I’ve already got a Wii, so what do I need this thing for?” And the promotional campaign wasn’t any better. I only remember seeing one commercial for the Wii U when it was released (what I mean by that is only one type of commercial, not that I literally only saw one), and it was just as unclear as the E3 reveal. And its name didn’t help either. We don’t really know why it’s called the “Wii U” because that name tells us nothing about what console is. The Xbox One may not have the greatest name in the world either, but at least Microsoft clearly explained why it has that name: it’s an “all-in-one entertainment system.”
2) Its new idea just wasn’t that interesting. The GamePad had nowhere near the “WOW” factor the Wii Remote did. When people first saw the Wii, there was nothing like it. But iPads were around for nearly 3 years by the time the Wii U launched, so the whole tablet controller concept didn’t seem nearly as new or exciting. And the idea wasn’t even new within Nintendo. When you you think about it, the Wii U is little more than a giant DS. Now personally I like the GamePad just fine. It’s always felt comfortable to hold (but then again I do have really big hands), and a few games like Kirby and the Rainbow Curse and Super Mario Maker make some really great use of it. But to most people it just wasn’t interesting. Instead of going “WOW, THAT’S INCREDIBLE!” like they did with the Wii, people simply went, “Oh, I guess that’s kinda cool.” And “kinda cool” just wasn’t enough. I stated before that merely having a controller that’s different is not why the Wii U failed, and that’s true. The problem was that the “new” concept the controller introduced really wasn’t all that new.
3) A weak launch lineup. Now at this point in its lifespan, the Wii U has far more than a few truly great games. But it had a really slow start. The NES, SNES, and N64 respectively launched with Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64, games that absolutely blew up the world. The Wii really hit a sweet spot, with Wii Sports for the casual audience, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for the hardcore Ninty fans. But the Wii U? Aside from a bunch of ports of already-released games like Madden NFL and Call of Duty, the only noteworthy titles the Wii U launched with were Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U. They’re both enjoyable games, but certainly not enough to justify purchasing a $350 console. The 3DS actually had a similar problem when it launched, which led to rather slow sales at the beginning if its lifespan. But upon Nintendo slashing the price and releasing a slew of exciting new games, sales quickly began to pick up. But by the time the Wii U got to that point, it couldn’t change the tone that was already set.
4) And of all of these things tie together to the core reason for the Wii U’s lack of success: Nintendo simply got cocky. Look, I’m no business expert, but looking at how well the Wii did, it’s pretty logical to conclude that Nintendo assumed anything with the name “Wii” on it would sell gangbusters. They didn’t think it was really necessary to give the Wii U a grand reveal, a strong promotional campaign, or an exciting launch lineup. The Wii was clearly something that was very carefully thought out by Nintendo. But with the Wii U, it just didn’t seem like the effort was there. They thought because of its “Wii” branding the console would sell itself. Quite clearly, they were dead wrong.
Once it became clear that the Wii U was a flop, Nintendo began entering somewhat of a downward spiral. Now for a while, despite the Wii U’s woeful sales, the company continued releasing consistently great games like they always did. By early 2015 it actually seemed like the Wii U may have been picking up some actual momentum. And so many fans were under the impression that this momentum would continue into E3 2015 in June, which would be a huge blowout of exciting new games from Nintendo. But just the opposite happened: Nintendo’s E3 presentation that year was severely underwhelming. The games so many had hoped to be announced were nowhere to be seen, and certain games that were revealed actively infuriated fans (I’ll expand on that later). It was basically Nintendo backhandedly announcing that they have given up on the Wii U.
And after that point the quality of their games even began to falter. Don’t get me wrong, we still got a good amount of great games, but it also seemed like Nintendo was releasing more duds than ever, such as Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash and Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival for the Wii U, and Chibi Robo: Zip Lash for the 3DS. What’s worse is that it seems like Nintendo, at least as many fans perceive, has been butchering some of its beloved IPs by making installments that betray what they’re all about. It’s been nearly 6 years since Nintendo released a new Metroid game, and fans have been dying for a new one, especially after the generally negative fan reception to the latest title in the series, Metroid: Other M for the Wii. At E3 2015, Metroid Prime: Federation Force for the 3DS was announced—except it was a generic space shooter that in no way resembled a Metroid game, and the series’ iconic protagonist Samus was nowhere to be seen. It simply had the Metroid name slapped onto it. Then there’s Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival. Many fans were hoping for a new Animal Crossing, and they got one—except it was a shallow party game that was made for absolutely no further purpose than to sell Nintendo’s Amiibo figurines. Fans had also been asking for a new Star Fox sequel for a while, and fairly recently Star Fox Zero was released. However, many believed it to be a disappointing retread of Star Fox 64 instead of a true sequel, with controls that are unideal and incredibly frustrating. And finally, there’s Paper Mario: Color Splash for the Wii U. Countless fans were incredibly vocal about their extreme dislike of Paper Mario: Sticker Star for the 3DS. Many hoped the next Paper Mario sequel would be a return to form for the series. But when Color Splash was announced, fans realized it was extremely similar to Sticker Star in nearly every single way, once again leaving them disappointed. People were particularly enraged by Federation Force and Color Splash, evidenced by the online petitions that were created to get those games cancelled. And to make matters worse, the one new game we know about that’s actually got fans excited, being The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the Wii U, has been delayed twice—originally planned to release in 2015, it was pushed into 2016, then again later on into 2017.
In the midst of all this, Nintendo actually announced that they’re working on a new console, presumably to replace the failed Wii U. We know nothing about it, other than the fact that it has been codenamed “NX.” Many were looking to 2016 for Nintendo’s big comeback. They thought that the NX, alongside a ton of big new games for it, would have a grand unveiling at E3 2016 and be released by the end of the year. But in April, Nintendo shocked, confused, and angered its fans by announcing that not only is the NX not coming out until March 2017, but it wouldn’t be shown at E3 at all. In addition, they announced that the then-unrevealed new Legend of Zelda for Wii U would be the one and only big game they showcase at E3, and that it would also release on the NX (which is likely why the game was delayed).
So where does that leave us now? With the Wii U basically dead in the water and the 3DS, though a success overall, approaching the sunset of its lifespan, we’re currently in the midst of a massive game drought from Nintendo. With the exception of the 3DS title Pokémon Sun and Moon, Nintendo really doesn’t have any remotely exciting games coming out for the rest of 2016. It has been confirmed that the NX and its games will be revealed at some point in the coming months, but we still have no idea when that is.
But why I am I telling you all this? The reason is that I’ve watched all these things cause Nintendo’s reputation to sink like a rock. Not too long ago, it seemed like Nintendo could do no wrong. But currently, it is widely seen by gamers as the incompetent company that always disappoints its fans, the laughing stock of the entire gaming industry. On Nintendo-related videos and editorials, you’ll find endless comments like these: “Nintendo is dead,” “Nintendo has fallen from grace,” “I’ve lost all faith in Nintendo,” “Nintendo: killing its franchises one by one.” It’s truly sad to see this company that used to be so universally beloved now have a relentless swarm of doom and gloom constantly surrounding it.
But here’s the good news: I think Nintendo has a bright future ahead of it. Some people are being pretty pessimistic about the NX, but I have confidence that the company has learned from its mistakes and will deliver on this console. And better yet, they’re expanding beyond just video games: mobile apps (two of which are already released), attractions in Universal Studios, and movies based on their franchises have all been confirmed to be in the works. I’m just anxious to get to that point so we can finally see Nintendo shed that negative stigma they continue to be stuck with.
Nintendo hasn’t lost their magic. They just haven’t used it in a while. Actually, even that’s not true—they are using it, and were’e going to see it again soon.