Literally as I write this, I’m periodically checking Google and Twitter for sudden news, leaks, reports or diagrams. It has got that bad. But why? After E3’s solitary showing of Zelda and each explicit and subsequent refusal to reveal at events or directs, Nintendo’s mythical next platform, codenamed NX, has social media and the video game industry on the edge of their digital and physical seats. An announcement. Any day now. I wait. We wait. I call it ‘The seven stages of my Nintendo grief’. In my clambering for morsels of concrete information, I realised something- as a thirty something and an old school Nintendo fan, is this thing actually going to be for me?
Stage 1-shock/ disbelief. The only universal fact and widely common knowledge is a somewhat ironic question- just how Nintendo has kept this thing so secret for so long is close to a miracle in the modern era. But is it a mistake? If the rumors are true (and as far as I’m concerned, the writing has been on the wall for some time), then this device will consolidate game experiences and will be played at home or on the go. The amount of retro and Wii games ported to the 3DS is evidence that, from a game making standpoint at least, synchronizing resources is paramount. From the dual development of smash brothers to such recent examples as super Mario maker and Yoshis Woolly World- two staples of the Wii U library- are getting portable ports. It makes sense, but not without a mis step along the way. The release of the original 3DS was as intriguing as it was clumsy.
Versions of AAA console darlings like street fighter 4 and metal gear solid 3 couldn’t hide an ‘unreasonable’ price point, a finicky main gimmick and what was generally considered to be a rushed and expensive product- so much so that an ambassador program was offered to early adopters after a significant price cut to shift units. The original DS had a similar problem and revision. The issue is that from the OG 3ds, the XL, the 2DS, the NEW 3DS and finally the New 3DS XL, Nintendo a have now got a final product to market which should have been released in its current state, right from the get go. The revisions were reactionary, the 3D awkward and other features missing altogether.
When the NX IS revealed, I have a hard time believing it is going to be anything less than what I hoped the Wii u would have been originally capable of. Dreadful marketing decisions aside, the Wii U and potentially NX has great, as yet still untapped potential. Games like Okami would have been a perfect fit on Wii U. Ustwo, makers of the immensely popular Monument valley, had a Wii U dev Kit but didn’t consider it a viable option. Even recent steam game Epistory, which relies on movement as well as text input using a QWERTY keyboard would be right at home. the wonderful 101 and Zombi U were early indicators of what was possible. At this late stage in the life cycle, super Mario maker- what is a crown jewel in the Wii U’s library is getting ported, and I can’t help but feel sad for Star Fox Zero. A game that could have justified the game pads existence was released in the winter of the consoles life with great ideas but clumsy and rushed execution. Games like the first Assassins Creed or Uncharted were released early enough in their respected generation to be given a second chance to hone their concepts and mechanics, which both turned out to be genre defining titles.
What worries me is that a beloved franchise like Star Fox was shoehorned into a mission statement three years too late and will likely not see a return to form. A game like Fast Racing NEO was an f zero in all but name. If Nintendo isn’t prepared to peruse these franchises that core Nintendo fans love, let someone else have a go and keep them rooted to what made them great in the first place. So, will the ‘new way to play’ shock audiences? It shouldn’t, because after numerous portable revisions and even a glance at the competition, the NX should be the ultimate refinement and result of trial and error (also massive success) over the last decade or so.
Stage 2- Denial.
Old school Nintendo fans are kidding themselves if they think the NX will be much more than a Pokemon and animal crossing machine… That’s what their demographic is now, and it is impossible to deny. Regardless of ownership (Nintendo’s stock rocketed until Wall Street realised they didn’t actually own the game) Pokemon GO has been a phenomenon not seen for a long time, and the concept and sustainability Is a perfect fit for Nintendo going forward. A
Fully fledged Pokemon game that has the allure of GO, while also allowing for online community or a meaty single player story with new console graphics? It makes too much business sense not to. The surprise announcement of Super Mario Run at Apples most recent keynote in September is overwhelming evidence that not only is Nintendo finally and fully embracing the mobile space as a viable gaming platform, it shows now that ANYTHING is possible. Where there was once a barrier between smartphones and Nintendo, there is now an embrace which few would have actually believed would happen. How much it distracts or disrupts ‘core’ Nintendo games, especially on the NX, remains to be seen. Fire emblem and Animal Crossing, along with Super Mario Run are coming, and their potential success, on mobile at least, can surely not be denied.
Stage 3- bargaining. Nintendo’s release schedule, at least in Japan, got more and more intriguing as the year has gone on. Ridiculously yet strategically late to the party, the 2DS (celebrating its 3rd birthday next week) launched in February of this year to coincide with the Virtual Console releases of the original Pokemon games. A new range of colours and decors will line up ahead of Sun & Moons November drop. After huge success of GO, sun and Moon could well be the last games on the DS family. One last push before a new system and, by all accounts, unified experience, assuming that the NX isn’t backwards compatible. So far, so predictable. The last hurrah for a console with a checkered history and beloved following. Except, by all accounts, it isn’t. According to Nintendo CEO Tatsumi Kimishima, the NX isn’t ‘replacing’ the Wii U or the DS family, more like ‘co-existing’. A vague sense of deja-vu. The plot thickened when, out of the blue, the NES Classic was announced. 30 games, a plug and play mini version of the original NES that has brought back as much ready eyed nostalgia as it has troubling questions. Mirroring the announcement of Super Mario Run, the official Nintendo stamp on any new product- software or hardware, is almost worth it’s weight in gold, and the amount of options for emulation, combined with the volume of clones and knock offs on various digital marketplaces has obviously been ringing in corporate ears. If hardware sales are declining, a ‘stocking filler’ or a officially branded app are shrude moves going into a holiday season where a new console would have fit. So is this Nintendo keeping their side of a bargain? The mainstream consumer landscape might be in its comfort zone, but the cutting edge tech such as PSVR is still on the horizon. Nintendo will look for the impulse buy, family experience to fill the gap before the real deal arrives. So when this thing does arrive, will lapsed Nintendo fans put their money where their mouths have been. What does this system and these games need to do to seal the deal? What games do nintendo have to bring to the table to not only entice fans back, but also entice new audiences. Nintendo ‘keeping their side of the bargain’ has already put a lot of pressure on Breath of the wild, and the rumored portable nature of the device doesn’t appear to provide a demographic what they want as they get older and migrate towards online multiplayer, cinematic graphics and mature narratives.
Stage 4- Guilt is a strange word to use when referring to a company which sells products, but when the products they make influenced and inspired a generation of children who grew up and grew out of video games in one way, shape or form, it’s difficult to stand by and see the memories descend into derivity. Words like loyalty and disappointment similarly bounce around my head when I think of Nintendo at the moment. Is the NX another attempt at replicating the Wii’s success? If it is, will it appeal to the generational demographic now playing Call Of Duty or FIFA. I’ve never had buyers remorse for buying a Nintendo console, but guilt is a word I think of when considering selling. Nintendo doesn’t have the aura of a giant faceless corporate business suit like Sony or Microsoft. Those products are for business minded, professional consumers. Nintendo has always felt like an apron wearing, polite and smiling old couple who welcome you with fond memories. Would I feel guilty if I vote with my wallet again? The reassuring thing is that regardless of my decision, Nintendo are nonchalantly smart enough at the moment to do what is needed and not only survive, but to nurture a new generation of fans.
This quote from Paul Tassi, December last year sums it up pretty well.
‘When Shigeru Miyamoto announces a new game, I’m happier than I’ll ever be hearing about the next Call of Duty or Halo. When Satoru Iwata died, I felt like I lost someone close, even though I’d never met the man. Nintendo has always felt like family, though in recent years, less like a brother or sister, and more like an aging grandparent who for the life of them, just can’t seem to get with the times.’
It feels like the industry porogative that used to be on fun is now on technology. Nintendo will always do their own thing, because they have earned the right to.
Fittingly, the overwhelming need for Nintendo synchronize demographics and technology is very in keeping with the Japanese philosophy of maintains the ‘wa’. A harmony or balance that Nintendo rightfully has the authority to dictate. Without hyperbole, the NES resurrected the industry, even to the point that skeptical western retailers were reluctant and audiences had to (in hindsight, ironically) be patient.
Stage 5- Anger.
Talk to any die hard Nintendo fan, and the chances are they will cut quite a forlorned figure. The consensus maybe that of anger, but digging a little deeper will expose wounds of frustration.
Hearing the whimsical, jaunty tune from the legend of Zelda: the wind waker’s Outset Island puts a grin on my face that only Nintendo games and Disney films can. The character is so expressive, the mechanics so fluid. Yet what is somewhat surprising to recall is the Zelda GameCube demo- generating giddy excitement of a ‘realistic’, ‘mature’ sequel to 1998s Ocarina of time and 2000s odd Majoras Mask, only to be replaced by outrage, anger and almost betrayal when the wind waker was fully revealed as a colorful, playable cartoon.
Whether it’s the companies questionable marketing decisions, reluctance to consistently and fully welcome third parties for the best part of two decades (what’s even more frustrating is that there have been spikes of brilliance, with Resident Evil 4 exclusively on GameCube being a highlight). Bayonetta 2 is the most recent example of Nintendo playing devils advocate. If it weren’t for them, the game would cease to exist, but consumers anger with Nintendo’s flakey relationship with outside devs runs deeper.
After the casual, underpowered and standard definition nature of the Wii, my demographic moved on. The anger continued with the Wii U, fittingly even before the public knew what he console looked like. Many assumed it was merely a peripheral for the Wii. An uninspired launch line up of year old ports and shallow compendiums did little to justify the upgrade, or the incentive to jump back in. Zelda is a microcosm of Nintendo banking on the big franchises, asking and expecting the die hard fans to be patient in a space which is advancing technologically at break neck speed. The Wii U is scratching 14 million units sold worldwide after nearly four years. Not only does this highlight how much of an anomaly the Wii’s success was (close to ). It might make the NX the final hardware Nintendo bothers to make. As mentioned, the smartphone apps of Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing make far more economic sense given the current trends in technology. As impressive as the PlayStation vita is as a piece of hardware, it has severely suffered because of the volume of ‘Swiss army media’ devices on the market. Nintendo have the handheld market sewn up because it’s demographic and price point line up. Lining up the home console and handheld market with the NX will only succeed in bringing back scorned Nintendo fans.
Stage 6- Reflection.
Now would be as good a time as any to reflect on the good times and the bad. For Nintendo can’t be accused of resting on their laurels from an innovation stand point, the real issue comes from looking back on the last 30 years of Mario and Zelda games and seeing spikes of brilliance and wonder with more recent worrying cruising and repetition. The jump from super Mario brothers to super Mario world was as logical as it was seminal. It has been argued that the industry won’t see another quantum shift in gaming like Mario 64, and yet the miserable failure of the virtual boy to phenomenal success of the Wii, the tables will turn with time. The release of the Wii U was reactionary to a rapidly advancing trend and as a result never fulfilled its true potential. As much as the vita as well as the Wii u were trying to recapture their respected lightning in bottles, PSVR and the NX are trying to ride a wave of balance and demand. Playstation is banking on cutting edge and expensive tech to forge a new path for the medium. Nintendo need to appeal to the casual audience again. The audience that have become interested in Nintendo again after Mario suddenly popping up in the front page of the App Store. It’s as much a time to reflect on past mistakes as it is to make themselves relevant again.
Stage 7- hope.
- Regardless of expectation, I hope Nintendo continue to exist on their own terms. The wolves had been at the console door for some time, demanding that Nintendo pull their head out of the sand and embrace a changing landscape. Mario on a smartphone is a concept many proposed, but few thought would actually happen let alone embraced. Going forward, the reveal of any new hardware is met with excitement, and in terms of the NX, it has become unbearable, but hope is a term seldom used by a business or a company. More fitting vernacular like improvement, advancement and progression effectively quash terms like fun and hope that Nintendo were instrumental in giving a generation that grew up imagining and dreaming of saving the world as well as the princess. The industry would not have existed in it’s current state without Nintendo, and the world would be a worse place without them, so if the NX is not what I hoped for. Developers who grew up on Nintendo are pushing creative and technical boundries with Sony and Microsoft clambouring to find the talent. Nintendo stalwart Shigeru Miyamoto declared to the world that Mario will appear on iPhone. I hope that Nintendo is nurturing its own stables of creativity, under the guidance of Miyamoto, Eiji Aonuma and Satoru Iwata’s legacy. If the games that I consider appealling to me as well as being a potential commercial success, such as a fully fledged Splatoon sequel or a mature and immersive Metroid game don’t happen. If super Mario brothers NX, Pokemon or Animal Crossing are preferred to Galaxy 3, then I will move on. There are plenty of alternatives to focus positive energy on, rather than dwell on he could have been. Things change, and fans must accept that a company will do what is in their interests. Memories can’t be taken away, and can even be shared with a new generation, on new hardware, with new ideas and an open mind.