Adam's Rant: What's The Deal Nintendo?

By Adam Ma on January 21, 2014, 10:38PM EDT
Wii U

On one hand it's hard not to feel bad for Nintendo given the current state of things. Everyone knew there was going to be a huge slash on projected sales, but a cut of over 70% on the Wii U? Further sales forecast drop on the 3DS? It's pretty brutal, and reading a few of the reports floating around you would think it was really just the way of the world. Handheld devices like the 3DS now have to compete with ever expanding cell phone apps, and the Xbox One/PS4 put out a lot of pressure this holiday season with their launch. Nintendo was bound to be in a hard place, right? Isn't this an uphill battle?

But didn't the Wii U launch a full year ahead of the competition with almost complete knowledge as to what both Sony and Microsoft were planning for release at the end of 2013? And didn't both competing consoles lose a major third party title, Watchdogs, only weeks before the big push? Is Nintendo not forced to endure a constant stream of demands from vocal fans primarily asking for more multiplayer integration and support for third party titles? What about the entire group of gamers looking to bring Super Smash Brothers to the level of other professional fighting games, only to be met with resistance by Nintendo and its developers at every turn?

For as heartbreaking as the news of Nintendo's failed sales goals are the publisher has earned it, and the most frustrating part of it all is knowing that its struggle to maintain sales is likely rooted in the same stubborn development methodology that creates such amazing games.

The absolute best example of this would be Super Smash Bros' director Masahiro Sakurai whom has been in an entrenched battle against his own community over the development of Smash Bros as a franchise. The struggle over whether or not SSB is supposed to be a party game or a tournament level fighter has been a black and white debate with no room for discussion in between on Sakurai's part, and there's even some suggestion that slowdowns in character movement was done intentionally in Brawl to ensure the franchise's continued role as a family and/or party title.

Yet in the face of such intentionally restrictive design the Smash community continues onward, designing mods to make Brawl more competitive while prompting record breaking live streams of Melee at renown fighting tournament EVO; even garnering enough fan support to repeal a Cease and Desist against the fighting game's presence in the tournament within an hour of the order's announcement. Most developers would kill for such a persistent, loyal, and passionate fanbase so exactly why Sakurai is fine with ignoring them (perhaps even going so far as to spurn them) is baffling.

This same stubborn determination to resist fan request bleeds into their plans for consoles as well, made more confusing by the fact that third party companies are more than willing to develop for their console. Assuming that Nintendo has a console that's easy to work with; a long-standing issue for the Wii family.

Given that as a developer Nintendo has a time-proven history of being able to maintain as many console exclusives as the competition, lacking any of the games that the Xbox of Playstation share doesn't make much sense from a business perspective. Their consoles launch with content that's almost entirely unique, but the wait time between such games is too great to justify not looking elsewhere for entertainment. Even if they're not looking to be the all-in-one system for every household, snagging even a few extra developers to spin their existing franchises into different directions would likely be enough. The effort is there in titles like Metroid Other M and Hyrule Warriors, we just need to see more.

Even more painful is the lack of a real next gen console, something that integrates both the safe environment for family online play while at the same time pushing Nintendo forward on a graphical level. That's not to say that every single game needs to look hyper realistic, but there are concrete limits to what teams can do on the Wii U when compared to XBO and PS4. Even worse are the peripherals that devs have complained about time and again, extra devices that need to be considered or programmed around just to create a 'extra unique' experience.

Why not add friend codes to their console games as a means of unlocking chat, keeping online play active but still restricted from the more poisonous kinds of gamers Nintendo has been trying to avoid. It also may be a time to step away from gimmicks and peripherals for a little while and get back to the core of gaming, similar to the way the 3DS has been working so hard to maintain a good balance of RPGs, platformers and non-standard puzzle titles. Considering how most look upon the Gamecube fondly, a return roots may not be the worst move Nintendo could make.

This isn't the end for Nintendo, not by a long shot. There is still a lot of life in each of their franchises, and they've shown time and again an unparalleled sense of creativity in their game design. There aren't many complaints when we look at Nintendo as a developer, but as a publisher and console manufacturer things need to change. Maybe they've rested on the breakaway success of the original Wii for such a long period of time that they've lost perspective on trying to match what it is the customer wants. Microsoft certainly learned that the hard way during the promotion of the XBO, and their change of stance has certainly reaped rewards. Maybe it's time for Nintendo to do the same.

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