Gamers worldwide acknowledge the pivotal part that Nintendo has played in our industry, helping to nurture it from obscurity into a multi-billion-dollar entertainment sector. It is sad, then, that over the past few years, a company which has played such an instrumental role in the growth of gaming, has itself been fading into obscurity.
It is tough when exactly to pinpoint this fall from grace; It is often argued it happened around the time of the GameCube, which, while loved by many, lacked many of the features expected by consumers of the time, and shuddered in the shadow of the PlayStation 2.
Other still argue that it was late into the Wii’s life, when the platform became synonymous with shovel-ware and the abysmal software attach rates on the console become apparent, that the console and game creator lost its way.
Almost everybody agrees, though, that by the launch of the Wii U, the company was in trouble. While both Sony and Microsoft have spent the past few years cosying up to easily-tempted developers with the promise of a financially lucrative exclusivity deal, Nintendo has kept itself shut away and isolated from the rest of the gaming world. To their credit, they have spent this time making incredible games, and have recently began creating interesting new IPs such as Splatoon and Arms, but from the poor Wii U sales, it is clearly not enough.
I was seemingly born too late to have experienced Nintendo in its prime: I grew up alongside the PlayStation consoles and in general tended to lean towards Sony, and mostly only experienced contemporary Nintendo while playing the odd game of Wii Sports or Mario Kart on a friend’s console.
I unfortunately missed the NES and SNES era of Nintendo, and so I often find myself at a loss when listening to older gaming personalities such as Colin Moriarty wax lyrical about the glory days of the Nintendo Entertainment System. I find some solace in the fact that I regularly played Pokémon on a green Gameboy Color that had been handed down to me by my older brothers.
Looking back, it was the many days I spent playing Pokémon Gen 1 and Gen 2 (Crystal was my favourite) and replaying the first third of The Legend of Zelda: A Link in Time (My young mind was too stupid to make it past Key Cavern) that instilled in me the kind of respect for a more ancient Nintendo that I believe Colin Moriarty to hold.
This respect for the company and their products partly led me to invest in a new 3ds last year, the cost of which was split between two of my friends and I. We now share custody of our little toy, and I have been making the most of my few months with it playing Pokémon HeartGold, and I hope to buy both 3D Zelda remasters once the price drops to a more reasonable level (Come on CEX – £30 for a second hand, 5 year old game is ridiculous).
I have always been fascinated by the promise of 3D and so the idea of the Nintendo 3DS, while ugly and toy-like, did appeal to me. I mostly only bought it as I was getting hit hard with some Pokémon nostalgia and the low cost of entry (I recall it being about €60 each) had me easily convinced.
The actual portable is easy enough to use and I have so far enjoyed my time using it, but I am constantly cognisant of how greatly the concept exceeds the product, which seems to be a staple of a modern Nintendo. The Wii U is a great example of this; Nintendo spotted a growing touch screen tablet game market and attempted to capitalise on it with quirky new ways to play and an ability to stream gameplay directly to the tablet. An ingenious idea if executed well, but the product was downright clunky and I remember thinking that I would never pay the price for such an underwhelming product.
As an enthusiastic consumer, I get the urge to own most consoles/games when they are first announced, but it is very telling that I have never felt any urge to buy any modern Nintendo product upon announcement. It was for that very reason that I find it purely bizarre that I desperately want to own the Nintendo Switch.
The concept is amazing and, unlike the Wii U, the product so far seems to have lived up to the high expectations of effortless transitions between the television and portable modes. I am not a massive fan of motion controls but the extra ways to play, as long as they aren’t the prime focus like on Wii and Wii U, are much appreciated.
Add to this that the Switch is probably the first Nintendo hardware to ever look like a proper console and not a toy, and here I am, sweating at the keyboard calculating ways I could justify purchasing it. Even the disaster of a press conference did little to turn me off the Switch.
I’ll admit that I am certainly not the target demographic of the device. As a student living in university accommodation, I do not normally have access to a TV and so I don’t gel well with the “home console first, portable second” marketing that I’ve seen Nintendo send out.
If I was to buy a Nintendo Switch, I would use it solely as a portable, charging it when I need to but never connecting it to a bigger screen. Listening to a recent Podcast Beyond episode, I found I am not alone; my opinion was shared by Andrew Goldfarb, and presumably many more.
Still, Nintendo would rather I don’t use it like that, as clearly the experience is primarily tailored for a big screen; I would have a permanently underclocked console, and only a 720p screen. The truth is the Switch, even when stunted by a lack of TV, is in my mind preferable to the two identical powerhouses offered by Sony and Microsoft. But that has always been the personality quirk that allowed Nintendo to thrive in its earlier years and then survive in a three-console market; They have within their DNA a fearlessness to stick with their vision and offer innovative and different experiences. Sometimes this fails, like the Wii U, but sometimes this leads to the Wii, one of the best-selling consoles ever.
The PS4 and Xbox One, undeniably much more similar than their previous-gen counterparts, make Nintendo stand out even more. Standing out is both a blessing and a curse. The Wii U certainly stood out, but in the worst of ways. It was often the laughing stock of the gaming community when compared to its same gen counterparts. This can be blamed on the lack of third party support, which was certainly part of its failure (And luckily it seems Nintendo is more aware of the importance of third party this time), but it was the generally bad optics of an ugly console with confusingly complicated play styles and muddled messaging.
Nintendo has so far somewhat alleviated most of those issues with the announcement of the Switch. I hope Nintendo can continue to learn from its mistakes in the coming months, and I hope that Nintendo’s dedication to being different will help my next console stand out in the best of ways.