Flatiron Hot! Gamer: What does Nintendo’s Future Hold?
Written by Max Shapiro and Edited by The Flatiron Hot! News Editorial Staff
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, both of which I got when I was 7, and in the following years I would get myself a 3DS and Wii U. For the longest time I was only really a Mario fan. I played (and still play) 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 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 aquired considerable knowledge of the company, its franchises, and the position it’s currently in.
For many years, Nintendo functioned in a similar manner to its competitors. But in the mid-2000s, their business model changed drastically. They no longer cared about having cutting-edge graphics, or directly competing with fellow gaming companies 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 hardware. It’s pretty clear that they went down this road because both the N64 and GameCube, both of which being totally conventional gaming consoles, were far outsold by the PlayStation 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 kind of hate that word by the way, but I’ll get to that in a later piece): the DS with its touchscreen, the Wii with its motion controls, and the 3DS with its glasses-free 3D capability. But it wasn’t just the unusual hardware that hooked consumers—it was the steady stream of high-quality games the company pumped out for each of these systems. For Nintendo, the recipe for success was a one-of-a-kind console coupled with a strong lineup of the fantastic games they are known for creating.
But then came the Wii U, the company’s first flat-out commercial failure (well, 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 as well as the shortage of graphical power and online features compared to its competition as the main reasons for the its 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 the main 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 so many others were thinking. Upon doing further research, I of course realized it was indeed a brand new thing, 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 its promotional campaign wasn’t any better. I only remember them running one kind of commercial for the Wii U when it was released, and it was just as unclear as the E3 reveal. And the name didn’t help either. To this day we don’t really know why it’s called the “Wii U” because that name tells us nothing about what console is. “Xbox One” may not be greatest name in the world either, but at least Microsoft clearly explained the meaning behind it: 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 had been 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 select few games like Kirby and the Rainbow Curse and Super Mario Maker make some pretty great use of it. But to most people it just wasn’t an eye-catcher. 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. Now to clarify I stated before that the idea itself of having an unusual controller is not why the Wii U failed, and that’s true. But unusual does not always equal good. The problem was that the “new” concept the GamePad introduced really wasn’t all that new.
3) A weak launch lineup. Now at this point in its lifespan, the Wii U has more than a few truly great games. However, it had a really slow start. To get some perspective, he 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 fans. But the Wii U? Aside from a bunch of ports of already-released games like the latest Madden NFL and Call of Duty installments, the only noteworthy titles the Wii U launched with were Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U. They’re both enjoyable for sure, but certainly not enough to justify a $350 purchase. 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, the tone that was already set and couldn’t be changed.
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. Clearly, they were dead wrong.
Once it became clear that the Wii U was a flop, Nintendo began entering something 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 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. 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 essentially Nintendo backhandedly telling us all that they had given up on the Wii U.
And after that point the quality of their games began to falter. Don’t get me wrong, we still got a good handful of solid titles, but it also seemed like they were 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 their beloved IPs with installments that betray what they’re all about. It’s been nearly 6 years since a new Metroid game has released, and people 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 almost no way resembled Metroid, and the series’ 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. Many 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 were unintuitive and 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. They hoped the next Paper Mario sequel would be a return to form for the series. But when Color Splash was announced, fans realized how similar to Sticker Star it was 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 into 2017 later on. And as if none of that was enough, the company’s beloved president Satoru Iwata passed away from cancer in July of 2015.
Now 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 the company’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 Breath of the Wild 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 the gaming company’s reputation to sink like a rock. Not too long ago, it seemed like Nintendo could do no wrong. But currently, they’re widely viewed by the gaming community as the incompetent company that always disappoints its fans, the laughing stock of the entire gaming industry. In comment sections, 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 new console. And better yet, they’re expanding beyond just video games: mobile apps (two of which have been already released), attractions in Universal Studios, and even 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 this 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.