By James Sweeting
Nintendo has been having a hard time of late. It’s home console has struggled to gain momentum and looks anemic when compared to the unparalleled success of the Wii. What hasn’t helped is that large swathes of the press (gaming and non-gaming) have been using every opportunity possible to jab at the once dominant beast that is Nintendo.
Whilst things have not been going well concerning the Wii U, Nintendo’s handheld has been going from strength to strength despite its initially rocky start. Before the launch of the 3DS there were many who were already calling for Nintendo to abandon the handheld market because it was deemed pointless to try and compete against the ever growing uptake of smartphones. Nintendo ignored this “advice” and has constantly reiterated that a mobile at present does not offer the same gaming experience as a dedicated handheld with specially created software designed to utilise the hardware as effectively as possible.
This rationale has paid off. though I am not naive enough to claim that smart phones have had no impact on the sale of handhelds. This is mostly from those who do not sit down for hours at a time and dedicate their full attention to a game, rather it is those who just want a quick fix to amuse them in between other mundane tasks. Whilst it is unfortunate that these people will not be buying Nintendo (or Sony) hardware, these type of people are not the big spenders on software. Nintendo was smart to exploit the opportunity that presented itself during the days of the DS and the release of Brain Training. Nintendo made a lot of money out of these consumers, but these people provide no loyalty and will flock to whatever the “big thing” is at any moment.
The Wii was another example of this, although because of its success with a particular segment of the audience it developed an identity crisis. The majority of people bought it for Wii Sports and then purchased little or no additional software, because the one they actually wanted was already included. Another successful piece of software was Wii Play, but this was mostly because it was packaged with an additional Wii remote at only a slightly increased price over the Wii remote by itself. The exception to this was the undeniable success of Mario Kart Wii.
Mario Kart Wii was a perfectly acceptable Mario Kart game, with the pull of motion controls and the Wii Wheel being a highly desirable feature for many consumers. Even though Nintendo supported an array of different control inputs, including the much loved GameCube controller, the game managed to alienate many from the Mario Kart and wider Nintendo fanbase. This is not a call that Nintendo should only make decisions that will just please the fanbase, as that can lead to complacency, and a hypocritical audience that will quickly turn around asking for something new. It’s a difficult balance to achieve, and it has been the pursuit of this balance which has been partly responsible for the problems faced by the Wii U.
When the Wii U was first announced it was an attempt by Nintendo to try and regain some of the “hardcore” audience that it had been losing during the lifespan of the Wii. At first they had managed to get the major publishers on board to bring across core titles such as Call Of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and the Batman: Arkham games. Yet simply porting these games was not sufficient enough to get people to transition over, especially as they might already own some of the titles. What was needed was for Nintendo to bring some strong first party titles to build up the console base, but this was something they failed to deliver. It has only been in the past year where strong titles such as Pikmin 3, Super Mario 3D World, and most recently Mario Kart 8 have been released.
Super Mario 3D World was a critical success and did help to move more consoles, but it wasn’t enough. Mario Kart 8 on the other hand managed to sell 1.2 million copies in just one weekend, and in the UK 80% of those sales were part of a console bundle. This clearly demonstrates what Satoru Iwata argued recently that one game can turn things around. Although this does not mean the Wii U is out of the woods just yet, but MK8 has given the Wii U the momentum it needs to keep it going until the next big release, that being Super Smash Bros.
These days there is more than just what games are available for a console to take into consideration. For years people have criticised Nintendo for its backward and almost non-existent online strategy (something which even the most ardent Nintendo fan would struggle to defend), and whilst the 3DS had an extremely basic provision in place, and the Wii U’s being only slightly better, in one year both systems have improved substantially.
Both consoles have received numerous system updates which have varied in substance, but the most notable was at the end of 2013 when the Nintendo Network introduced on the Wii U came to the 3DS, finally merging the two systems into one unified account. Although this is nothing like the connectivity that exists between Sony’s consoles, it was a dramatic shift for Nintendo and gives users hope for the future. Just this week, shortly after the release of MK8, the Wii U received an update to 5.0.0 which changes how the system can boot up and now offers a quick start for games. Whilst this might not seem like much it now makes it noticeably quicker to launch games and other applications than even the other consoles.
It is important to remain rational about Nintendo’s current situation, there are still hard times ahead, but the important thing to note that Nintendo is no longer resting on its laurels. It is starting to experiment with the Wii U and utilise the internet in a unique way that is appropriate for the company without trying to copy someone else and shoehorning it in. Meanwhile with certain news outlets continually seeming to go out of their way for click bait titles prophesying Nintendo’s doom it is crucial to highlight where Nintendo is going right. Nintendo isn’t going away yet.