So I remember going to the The Summer of Sonic convention a few years ago. If memory serves correctly, that also started out as an unofficial event… before Sega got in on the act and (benevolently) went out of their way to have key personnel associated with Sonic (such as Yuji Naka and Takashi Iizuka etc) be flown in to the UK at staggering costs to themselves. Of course, the difference between Sega and Nintendo (plus its associative subsidiaries) is that Sega actually encouraged and promoted the event, as opposed to Nintendo / Pokemon Company who’ve just gone out of their way to oppose (and shut down) a fan-related convention in the USA which would have made little to no money – irrespective of any foreseeable licensing agreements that Ramar Larkin Jones could have arranged. In other words: Sega did, and continue to do, what Nintendon’t.
This isn’t the first time that Nintendo have acted out of sync with modern gaming conventions, as Angry Joe from Youtube will testify. But then again, when the company has a 10 year history of offloading crappy, outdated hardware onto a market that still defends its overpriced products and dated business strategies, one does wonder as to how gamer-friendly Nintendo actually are in an age when pretty much every other company is at pains to encourage community sharing whilst forgoing the overt notion of seeking profits as being the main priority.
There are some Nintendo fans who think that Resident Evil: Revelations 2 on PS4 looks incredibly dated on modern day systems, but at least that game was a budget release and can be picked up for around £15-20. As opposed to Super Mario Maker which costs roughly twice as much at around £35-40 and has gameplay mechanics (and graphics) that remind one of playing Nintendo’s SNES in the 90’s.
With so many eminent journalists giving Nintendo a free pass on the basis that its money-making ventures saved the games industry in the 80’s, people seem to forget that it is their same draconian stance on gaming that has finally seen the company topple from its respected perch so as to now not even be included in mainstream gaming conversations. This year, and aside from first party exclusives, the Wii U’s release calendar has the following retail releases coming out for it – Shovel Knight, Just Dance, Rodea the Sky Soldier. That’s just 3 games. Let that sink in for a second… THREE games! At a time when Nintendo has repeatedly emphasised its commitment to getting third party support for its ailing console.
Now compare the Wii U’s situation with that of the PS4 and XBox – both of which will see games like Transformers: Devastation, Fallout 4, Call of Duty, Star Wars: Battlefront, Need for Speed, Rainbow Six, Just Cause 3 be released on them – and this is without even taking into consideration the money-making potential of in-house blockbuster franchises such as Uncharted and Halo which will be released exclusively for Sony’s and MS’s host platforms.
Having backed itself into a corner where the mainstream industry pays scant attention to what many now regard as being a “has-been”, Nintendo could still parlay its mounting third-part weaknesses into a glaring strength. If most people who have purchased Nintendo consoles over the last few years have done so on the understanding that they just want to play the first-party exclusives, then Nintendo could still come out on top by making the NX as being a Nintendo-centric playing device – one that gets all the latest Nintendo releases, whilst also benefiting from the company’s enviable back-catalogue. Nintendo have certainly made strategic moves to ensure that this is its core strategy going forward, and with its partnership with DeNa, together with a focus a single user accounts, it looks like the company is ready to give the fans what they want.
And whilst there is still considerable time until Nintendo unveils its NX, common consensus suggests that most gamers would be perfectly happy with a console that mimics the physical characteristics of the Wii U Gamepad (which is really just an over-sized Vita), yet has the necessary features to connect to a TV – in other words: an over-sized tablet with physical buttons and a HD output port. And with Android tablet manufacturers proving that the latest technology needn’t cost a lot, maybe Nintendo can once again come to re-occupy the low-cost gaming space that earned them mega success with the 100 million selling Wii. Of course, with Nintendo needlessly insisting on “innovation” at the expense of a back to basics approach, the NX’s success could still be far from assured.
If the Wii’s inability to sustain a reasonable longtail (together with the absolute failure of the Wii U) proved anything, it’s that a hardware manufacturer can’t hope to win the long-term respect and admiration of gamers if its hardware strategy is tied to the notion of compulsory gimmicks that only act to increase hardware costs whilst lowering technical performance. Microsoft tried this early on with its Kinect-saddled XBone before gamers realised that they were paying just as much (if not more) in comparison to the PS4 which offered more power and a control interface that the market didn’t wholeheartedly want. All people wanted was a control pad, and it took a while before current XBox head Phil Spencer ditched the XBox One’s launch strategy by making the accessory optional. Indeed, all people want from the NX is “No Gimmick – Just give me a Game cube controller, or somthing like it so I can play some actual games man!”. In other words, why can’t Nintendo just give people what they want?
If the enduring popularity of certain franchises (such as 2D Mario Bros) proves anything is that people don’t necessarily want something different. They just want more of the same, hence why Nintendo often get accused of making the same games again and again. And if something isn’t broken, then why fix it? Both Microsoft and Sony have made steps to incorporate only incremental changes to their tried and tested control pads over multiple console generations, so why does Nintendo always insist on throwing out the baby with the bath water after every subsequent hardware generation? Good ideas last, hence why we have had multiple Nintendo IP that all follow their own respective gameplay formula over multiple years. But if Nintendo enforce a new way of controlling games (by making the market adopt waggle controls via the Wii Remote), then how effective is this new control mechanic if the Wii’s key selling feature is relegated as being an after-thought in subsequent hardware generations (such as the Wii U)? And if the Wii Remote is now being overlooked, does that not mean that the waggle feature was a short-term gimmick and not at all the forward thinking enduring gameplay innovation that Nintendo and its fans were touting?
If Nintendo is to ever win the respect of gaming audiences again, it needs to appropriate a back to basics mentality – where power is emphasised as having more importance in the console’s development than short-term gimmicks. And if Nintendo are to ever have third party support again, then the cancellation of Project CARS on Wii U clearly showed as to what happens when a company favours the straddling of its consoles with gimmicks in order to make the hardware under-powered in comparison to the competition. Not only does the game miss out on key features, but as was the case with Project CARS and Wii U, the console itself missed out on key releases due to lack of hardware parity. And who wants to artificially help bolster the lifespan of a console that releases “dead out of the water”? Oh yeah, that’s right, Nintendo fans…
Nintendo fans have often claimed that power means nothing and that gameplay is all important. However, with Shigeru Miyamoto openly admitting that having more power (via the Wii U) has enabled Nintendo’s developers to craft more ambitious experiences that are in line with their own ambitions, surely this implies that technical power is an important consideration when crafting experiences, and that the two often go hand in hand. Indeed, if one were to look at just Final Fantasy VII on PS1 as an example, that game would have been inconceivable on the SNES. In fact, many franchises have often benefited from the extra power afforded by the latest technology – such as Mario 64 when Mario transitioned from SNES to N64, Resident Evil 4 which brought the survival horror franchise in line with modern expectations after the series had become stale on PS1, Half Life 2 which was a generation leap above anything that FPS pioneers iD had been able to achieve previously on the iD Tech engines, Grand Theft Auto 5 which is vastly enhanced in terms of scope and ambition than what the original top-down GTA games offered, and of course Mario Kart 8 which is the best incarnation of the fan favourite racer and offers 60 fps HD graphics as well as online multiplayer. And what about relatively new franchises whose existence and success are reliant upon the existence of powerful hardware (such as Gravity Rush, Uncharted, Halo, Assassin’s Creed etc), how would they have fared on less powerful hardware (such as Nintendo’s NES platform)?
In short, having more power allows for more gameplay opportunities, and for a developer to realise the vision and potential for their game, it is imperative that they have powerful hardware at their disposal. In this respect therefore, it would be of great benefit for Nintendo’s software designers to work with a console that eschews gimmicks in favour of power so as to come up with forward thinking gameplay scenarios. Of course, none of this matters as before his passing, Satoru Iwata openly refuted the notion of expanding upon existing hardware as being dull, which is why he aimed for the NX to surprise and innovate. To some, and especially after Apple’s immense success with its iterative iPhone line, this strategy once again typifies Nintendo’s gimmick-laden approach towards console development where the company is going against modern gaming conventions, thereby alienating fans so as to once again snatch defeat in the jaws of victory. And whilst Nintendo’s dogged persistence to reinvent the (hardware) wheel suggests that the company is trying to find new relevance in a market where PS4 and XBone owners are the new high-end casuals, objectively speaking, the company’s focus on hardware belies the startling fact that many of Nintendo’s key software offerings are still firmly rooted in the past and now no longer offer mass appeal for gaming audiences. With an over-reliance upon tried and tested stock franchises that expand little upon what has gone on before, is it really any wonder that gamers now suffer from franchise fatigue and complain that the latest Mario and Zelda games are dull? And in what is quite clearly a case of mis-placed priorities, Nintendo is choosing to focus on what ultimately doesn’t matter. Because if it’s all about the games, then surely Nintendo would be best served by expanding upon “existing hardware” (ie x86), offering technical parity with competitors, and ensuring that the NX has extensive third party support that captures the zeitgeist – like GTA5 which has sold 54 million copies and has effortlessly eclipsed the sales of every single game on the Wii U combined. In light of this startling revelation, just how much truth lies behind the dogma that Nintendo still makes the best games and that these hold popular appeal?
If Nintendo is going to constrain its development teams’ potential by releasing underpowered hardware, then all we’ll see are more instances where Nintendo’s developers have no choice but to release cookie-cutter updates to existing software templates. Not only would this perpetuate the widespread belief that Nintendo is increasingly irrelevant as a hardware manufacturer, but it would also amplify the perception that its software designers have finally run out of ideas. And with Nintendo now no longer being a Top 100 brand name, some would argue that the company’s standing within gaming circles has now become irrevocably damaged. Indeed, with news stories showcasing Nintendo’s poor performance and inability to grasp hardware and software trends as being an all too predictable sight nowadays, is it any wonder that the company has lost its once trailblazing lustre, with its games now no longer resonating with gaming audiences despite their immense critical appraisal in certain circles?
As the spotlight begins to shift towards Nintendo’s forthcoming NX, many (Nintendo fans) now hope that the Wii U’s successor is able to right many of the company’s previous wrongs. But with so little industry support and company momentum going forward into Christmas and 2016, the NX’s fate is far from assured. Success breeds success, and Nintendo’s lack of success in recent years is certainly going to be a deciding factor in determining buyer confidence when the NX pits itself against the deeply entrenched pantheon of consoles by industry titans Microsoft and Sony next year.