Thursday, January 30, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

This has been an important time for Nintendo.

Nintendo’s tremendous nose dive in sales forecasts – particularly for the Wii U – didn’t come at a surprise, though it was no less catastrophic. Radical changes had to be in order for Nintendo; and though the multi-billion dollar company as many says, “could weather the complete failure for the Wii U”, such ludicrous statements manage to be nothing more than standard Nintendo apologist affair. Saying “Its ok, Nintendo will be fine” solves nothing, and Nintendo doesn’t seem to think so either.

The Wii U isn’t in a good position. Relying on the success of a small handful of franchises isn’t enough to revive their drowning system. Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8, arguably Nintendo’s two most popular franchises among the hardcore and wider audiences, can only do so much on their own. One could argue that third part support is stamped with a countdown as well. Nintendo sort of has the PS3 and Xbox 360 to thank for the third party offerings (stripped down as many of them may be). Publishers might not take it as a major inconvenience spreading titles like Call of Duty and Assassins Creed across last gen’s and Nintendo’s hardware, but two-three years from now once the focus is nearly entirely on the PS4 and Xbox One, what reason do publishers have to extend their resources in developing Wii U versions? It didn’t work well for the Wii, and doesn’t seem to be doing so hot on the Wii U either.

The words “Nintendo isn’t relevant as a hardware manufacturer”, courtesy of Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin, stings because of the fear of truth. I discussed the potential Nintendo has as a console manufacturer as being the only native second screen experience, however – and I have to be honest with myself – the few examples in validating the Gamepad are inexcusable for a system’s that’s been out for more than a year.

"We have managed to offer several of such software titles for occasions when many people gather in one place to play, but we have not been able to offer a decisive software title that enriches the user's gameplay experience when playing alone with the Gamepad," Iwata says.

This admittance precedes Iwata’s announced plans to legitimize the Gamepad as gateway to unique experiences to Nintendo’s platform and help consumers understand that this is indeed a NEW system. The validation of the Gamepad’s existence, in theory, would communicate its message better to consumers with hopeful sales following. But not only would the sales attract the attention of the third party, it would also pave the way and set an example of how the hardware can be utilized, something that didn’t transpire all the time with the Wii.

To help this is the revival of the Virtual Console, a splendid concept that has waned across Nintendo’s two home consoles. Nintendo looks to help do this with the inclusion of DS software. How this obvious direction hasn’t been explored yet is beyond me, given that the Wii U is a consolized vision of the Nintendo DS. But unlike the image the Wii U has made for itself thus far, the DS used its second screen in some glorious ways. While we might not be able to experience games by holding them like a book, a game like The World Ends With You makes perfect sense on the platform.

In efforts to wield the strength of their dense number of franchises, Nintendo is also looking to license their game characters to new partners. While this doesn’t specify that this will entirely be related to games, ideas like Lego (enter Nintendo franchise here) would be a fascinating way to see how Nintendo characters can be captured in a different light. Sure, Metroid Other M sucked, but Hyrule Warriors and Fire Emblem x Shin Megami Tensei could bring us the spirit of Nintendo from different minds.

And then there’s the mobile narrative.

I have to give it to those folks, they won that bet, but not quite in the “Super Mario on iOS” kind of way. Nintendo’s looking into the mobile space to, in essence, bring consumers to their proprietary hardware. Sony and Microsoft have found ways to connect gamers to their home platforms through smart phones, and Nintendo simply cannot afford to resist this culture.

I would like to think that this encompasses their “quality of life” initiative, hypothetically taking concepts such as Brain Age and Wii Fit with the consumer, however their idea of “non-wearable hardware” is a bit cloudy and nebulous (technically phones aren’t wearable I guess?)

While this has been one of the biggest culture shifts in the company’s history, Nintendo has managed to pull off these moves in decidedly idiosyncratic Nintendo ways. Legitimizing the Gamepad is exciting. DS Virtual Console games are exciting. Outsourced Nintendo licensing is exciting. A quality of life initiative is exciting. Nintendo building itself into a company beyond two platforms and building within those two platforms themselves represents the type of evolution the company needs.

Let’s just hope that they don’t fuck it up. 

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