The winner is Nintendo. We’ve all heard it before: from record profits to soaring stock values, the Big N is very much enjoying a view from the top thanks to the flooring success of Nintendo DS and Wii. Graciously, the venerable gaming company isn’t getting caught up in its laurels, wearing a humility that befits its humble 19th century origins in playing card manufacturing. Satoru Iwata had this to say just as Wii began to sell in skyrocketing numbers:
Part of my job description includes keeping our employees from getting delusional. Mr. Yamauchi [Iwata’s predecessor as Nintendo president] has a favorite saying– I hear he started saying it around when the original [NES] became a big hit: ‘Keep your head on your shoulders and figure out where your strength ends and where dumb luck begins. Never forget that you were blessed with good fortune.
With the 8th generation of consoles around the corner, Nintendo is going to have to hang on to those words of wisdom. Success in one generation does not make future riches a given. Just ask Sony, which after enjoying a 70% market share with PlayStation 2, is now sitting squarely on the bottom rung of the console wars. Or Nintendo itself, which after GameCube– its most disastrous console ever, despite its virtues– attracted rumors that it would go the Sega route, retiring from the hardware biz while producing games for other consoles.
Sony’s case in particular proves that customer loyalty isn’t a pillar to be relied on in the console industry. Those 70% just didn’t make the jump. And I think that will be even more applicable to buyers of Wii. Those legions of parents and non-gamers that latched onto the attractively-priced Wii make up the demographic least likely to recognize and harbor affection for one game company over another. I don’t have a statistic for that one. It’s a hunch. What they’re after is fun– as Nintendo so well knows– and if they see fun happening with whatever interactive entertainment Sony and Microsoft have up their sleeves, they’ll flock. Problematically, Nintendo might be depending on this wandering loyalty; surely it’s why it’s dubbed its next console Wii U.
So what’s the Big N to do? Here’s an idea: make Wii U as much about untapped demographics as about the true fans. People like you and me. People who loved Nintendo before the 21st century. People who can play through a world of Mario blindfolded and on mute because they’ll be humming the tune themselves. Have your cake and eat it too, Nintendo. That view from the top depends on it.
So without further ado, here are a few things Nintendo can do to bring the core gamer back– not that all of them left.
Give us a conventional controller (on the side)
Hey, it can play nice with Wii U’s controller. Today’s Wii supports use of the GameCube controller, but Lakitu save the Big N if it makes another generational shift, accepting only Wii Remotes for players 2 (or 3, if two tablets are possible) through 5.
Hello old friend! Think about it, are you willing to play Smash Bros. with a tablet?
Unfortunately, the Wii U revealed at E3 2011 had less than 5 GameCube controller ports. It had zero. Nintendo is a master of innovation, but it should let us stick with the tried and true if and when we want to. If catering to the purple controller feels like stagnation, then, better yet, give us a nostalgic evolution! The GameCube controller had something (and the classic controller seriously doesn’t). Redesign it in sleek whites, blacks and grays, round out the C-stick, and of course make it wireless. The Xbox and PlayStation have reached a minimalist perfection with their current controllers, and Wii U won’t attract action and shooter giants without something that can meet them eye to eye. Oh, and the fate of Super Smash Bros. Fisticuffs (we’ll call that a working title) does hang in the balance!
Revive the Virtual Console
If any console giant has a back catalog to take advantage of, it’s Nintendo. It’s done that to a handsome extent– Bomberman ’93 is some serious go-to fun when you’ve got a few friends and minutes to explode- but the VC is now in a slump comparative to Old Yeller in his final days. IGN’s Lucas M. Thomas penned a fantastic history of VC and some ideas on how to bring it back. His articles were about arming 3DS with a Virtual Console revival, but much of the ideas therein would be just peachy with life on Wii U.
The first is giving consumers a voice. Club Nintendo (as a channel on the console rather than an out-of-the-way website) needs to start gathering the opinions of its adherents, for both short and long-term projects. Members could create shortlists for upcoming VC titles, or vote for one “game of the month” to carry a temporary discount.
Secondly, as much as I dislike the recent yet endless wave of exclusive pre-order content, Nintendo could reward early buyers with sweet merchandise– belts, hats, and posters proudly stamped with “Now on Virtual Console!”– and a few bucks off. Thirdly, hook up the backwards compatibility! Every VC game we’ve bought on the current Wii should carry over. It’s that simple, and a powerful way to bring the Virtual Console back into the minds of long-bored consumers.
Take your own games seriously
Defeating Bowser in New Super Mario Bros. Wii wasn’t easy, but it was more a test of patience than of agility. Every time I lost a life I had to drag myself through a solid 90 seconds of easy hurdles and cut-scenes, fighting off the urge to fall asleep, just to get another chance at the big lizard. Why, Nintendo, why? You crafted a final level that was compelling and difficult. Act like you know it, and let me respawn fast, à la Super Meat Boy.
Do you think Mario Kart needs to grow up? The infuriating rubber banding issues would suggest that yes, it does.
Another series that needs to graduate is Mario Kart. This game doesn’t quite make the cut in video game tourneys or e-sports, and a simple item list would change that. A race or battle with nothing but single green shells, boost mushrooms, and a few bananas would make for an actual test of skill instead of a Koopa roulette.
No one can deny that Nintendo has amazing business sense, and it’s beautiful to witness the success of a company so dear to many a gamer’s heart. That old speculation, of Nintendo’s reduction to third-party game making, is too funny to be insulting now. Yet the company is still out of touch on a few things. Here’s hoping they can rival their competitors in the hardcore market. Only the next generation will tell.