Pundits may be be keen to emplore us never to ‘count Nintendo out’, but that’s becoming more and more of a hard sell as time goes on. Indeed, the company seem increasingly aloof and out of touch with the industry they helped create, and you have to wonder just what goes on at their high level meetings, given the chronic lack of urgency which now pervades everything they do.
You see, they’re simply playing a half-arsed game of catch-up right now. The kinds of experiences they’re promising over the next year or two are either Nintendo-ised re-imaginings of other games or easy wins, such as Super Mario Maker. Yes, open world Zelda sounds great, but large, non-linear environments are no longer anything to write home about; just (metaphorically) dropping Link and Princess Zelda into Skyrim will simply not be good enough. And Yoshi’s Wooley World? Please.
I’ve long been of the opinion that the Wii didn’t sell so phenomenally based on its merits as a product, but rather because it was in the right place at the right time, and at the right price point. When you think about it, Nintendo’s home console track record since the SNES has been patchy; the N64 played second fiddle to the Playstation all its life and the GameCube also failed to set the world alight. The Wii U, which has failed spectacularly in the eyes of anyone but Nintendo’s most ardent apologists, is now limping to the finish line with an unprecedented lack of third party support, and lifetime sales comparable to those of SEGA’s ill-fated Dreamcast.
Nintendo also made an enormous error by announcing new hardware prematurely, thereby giving the Wii U a terminal diagnosis straight from the horse’s mouth. What we’ve seen this year are the beleaguered console’s last rites; parting gifts for the faithful. Some could even end up straddling the Wii U and its successor, a la Twilight Princess. The Wii U’s basic pack may still be worth picking up as a second console, but the woefully overpriced premium bundles remain poor value for money, especially now that they might as well have a ‘best before: TBC’ sticker slapped on them.
All that said, the company have done a terrific job of defying the odds with the 3DS, keeping the dual threats of Android and iOS at bay with varied and appealing first party games and some great indie titles. Whether Nintendo’s mobile business is sustainable for yet another go-round, though, is another matter entirely. Their recent noises in terms of moving into the mainstream mobile space suggest that this fact isn’t lost on them.
I like Nintendo; I think you’d struggle to find a gamer that doesn’t. But they really have sleepwalked through the past few years, and no company can exist on goodwill alone forever.