Nintendo’s impact on the games industry is hard to understate. The very mechanics and concepts that made Nintendo’s games popular at the time they were released are still seen in games today. In fact, I firmly believe that many developers today still haven’t grasped the extent to which Nintendo’s games have influenced the industry.
When we think of Nintendo, we think of characters – of Mario, Link (for the umpteenth time, his name is Link, not Zelda), Bowser and as an afterthought, Luigi. The characters are memorable, but it’s the games that transformed our expectations. Super Mario Bros. defines side-scrolling, The Legend of Zelda defines RPGs and Mario Kart redefined the arcade racer.
Games have evolved since then, yes, but even Dark Souls III takes after Super Mario 64. Sure, you’re fighting Goombas, Bob-ombs and The Whomp King vs Knights, Demons and The Nameless King in Dark Souls III. But the fundamentals of exploration, puzzle solving and progress are the same.
This was Nintendo at its best. They defined genres, they created something new and they did it for the joy of it. Nintendo’s consoles weren’t just another console, they were the console to own and that was because of the promise of great games and a great experience.
The Nintendo Wii, released in late 2006, was the complete opposite of competing consoles at the time. The PS3 and Xbox 360 were busy competing for teraflops and graphics (both battles were won by Sony) while Nintendo went with a small, seemingly underpowered console with a novel means of interaction.
Nintendo knew what they wanted to do, built a console and a controller to match their vision and then tailored their games around that platform. It was brilliant.
The Wii went on to sell over a 100 million units worldwide and even outsold the Xbox 360 by 50 percent in the US. It was the fastest selling console of its generation.
By the time the seventh generation consoles started to show their age though, people started to notice that the Wii, despite its success, was having fewer and fewer third-party titles. Big-name developers like EA and Square Enix chalked it up to the lack of “proper” controller support. Others complained of the lack of online features, lack of HD playback and many other such issues.
The times were changing, the smartphone was coming of age (this was around 2010) and the Wii, while still excellent, didn’t quite seem up to scratch.
Nintendo decided that it was time for a change and announced the Wii U. It was the most disappointing console I’d ever seen. Sony and Microsoft, while arguably not as innovative, at least had something to harp about, Nintendo simply released a console that looked like a glorified tablet with thumb sticks.
Nintendo was offering a console that still didn’t have the graphical prowess of the Xbox 360 and PS3, but used a similar control scheme and expected gamers to play the same type of games. While Nintendo offered backwards compatibility, they didn’t offer enough first-party titles to justify the console. Worse still, the defining feature of the console, its controller, would only last about 3-4 hours on a single charge.
Why would anyone buy a Wii to play Mass Effect and FIFA when they could do so on an Xbox 360 or PS3?
The problems didn’t end there. Essential features were missing at launch, the software was a mess and there didn’t seem to be any clear direction with the design. This was a console with no purpose than to pander to the masses, and badly at that.
IGN reports that in a recent shareholders meeting, Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima revealed that they were expecting to sell a 100 million units of the Wii U (they've only sold 12 million units so far).
How in the world did Nintendo expect to do that?
Come on, Nintendo. You’re better than that.