First off, I just want to say that I consider myself a Nintendo fan. Am I a fan of their hardware? I would say yes, but I’m more so a fan of their software. Growing up with franchises such as The Legend of Zelda, Mario and Metroid kind of makes it hard to not eagerly anticipate the newest titles in their respective series.
Second, and most importantly, I think that Nintendo, in more recent years, has made some rather poor choices when it comes to hardware design and business in general. This doesn’t mean that my fandom has diminished or that I hate Nintendo, it just means that I’m sort of disappointed in their lack of willingness to compete with the rest of the video game world.
Here we go…
During the 8 and 16 bit eras, Nintendo ruled the entire planet. Sure, there was competition from Sega with the Master System and Genesis (maybe a little with the TurboGrafx 16), but Nintendo always seemed to 1-up (like that?) them in some fashion. Whether it was graphics, sound, or quality titles, Nintendo always seemed to have the bigger dog in the fight.
Around the 32/64 bit era, things started to change. Previously, CD-ROM based add-ons were met with mostly negative results. The Phillips CDi didn’t do well, the Sega CD was mostly horrible, and even Nintendo canceled a partnership with Sony during development of their own SNES CD add-on. Unfortunately for Nintendo, they created a monster that would prove to be much more competitive than Sega ever thought possible.
The Sony Playstation was released on American shores in 1995, but wasn’t exactly the most popular piece of hardware ever created. A year later, Nintendo released the Nintendo 64 (previously known with the much cooler, Ultra 64 moniker), a much more powerful system. There was one problem, though: The system still used the cartridge format for games.
Now let’s step back and think for a second: Could Nintendo really be at fault for that? From Nintendo’s perspective, every CD-based add-on/console had failed up to that point. Why would Nintendo ever think to release a console with its primary form of media being the Compact Disc? Nintendo probably thought that they were doing the right thing, a thought with which I can mostly agree. The only thing one can really chalk it up to is timing. The time was just right for a CD-based console.
The one thing that really hurt Nintendo during that time was the announcement that Final Fantasy VII would be released for the Playstation rather than the Nintendo 64. By this point in history, RPGs were starting to become slightly more mainstream. Games for the SNES like Final Fantasy III (VI, as it would later be known) and Chrono Trigger were "must-have" games for 16 bit gamers. Because of the rise of RPGs and their ever expanding scope, Square decided to release FFVII on a console that could handle the larger demands of the game. There would be a hit taken when it came to visuals, but FFVII could be a much larger game with the CD format.
The quality (or lack thereof) of the game aside, FFVII was a monster title. The thing sold a ridiculous amount of copies and, (again) unfortunately for Nintendo, a LOT of Playstations. Because of the growing Sony console market and the ability to reach a much larger scope with the CD format, most of the previously "Nintendo loyal" third party developers jumped the Nintendo ship and began producing games on a near exclusive basis for the Playstation. While Nintendo was still successful during this period, due mainly to relying on their brand name and first party titles, the 128 bit era would start to see things change drastically.
Sony, still riding high as the dominant console when it came to software sales, released a more powerful console in March of 2000 dubbed, "Playstation 2." Sony would continue its dominance throughout this era as well, facing off against competition from Nintendo’s newly released "Gamecube" and newcomer to the console market, Microsoft and their "Xbox."
The Gamecube was a great system, don’t get me wrong. It was technically more powerful than the PS2 and more on equal footing with the more powerful Xbox. The problem was software sales and name recognition. The PS2 was not only the first out of the gate in the new generation of consoles, it also carried a more recognizable name this time around. Most third party developers were already on board with the Playstation brand previously, and with sold out preorders around the world, were more than willing to develop for the new system. The Gamecube was left out in the cold and the Xbox was just starting to gain steam.
Nintendo still had their first party titles which were, and still are, top-notch in terms of quality, but perhaps Nintendo’s shining decision was securing exclusive rights to Capcom’s Resident Evil franchise. This was a huge move for Nintendo, but the exclusivity of one franchise couldn’t make up for the ridiculous amount of third party franchises on the PS2. Also, Capcom’s exclusive contract must not have been a very long one. Shortly after the Gamecube release of Resident Evil 4, there was a port of that game (with huge additions), Resident Evil: Outbreak File 1&2, and Dead Aim all released for the PS2. Outbreak and Dead Aim being PS2 exclusive, I might add.
The only thing bad that can be said from a technical standpoint about the Gamecube is its choice of format: Mini-DVD. Other than wanting to preserve the small (size-wise) nature of the console, this is a decision that I honestly can’t understand to this day. Did this hurt the console? To be honest, I’m not really sure. It’s possible, because rather than have games cost roughly the same across all three consoles to produce physical copies, publishers perhaps had to pay a little extra for Mini DVD. I can’t really say for sure, simply because I don’t know how much it cost back in the day to produce that particular format.
In the current generation, things got even more hairy for Nintendo. Microsoft was the first company on the floor with their Xbox 360 in 2005. With more of a focus on multiplayer/networking and graphics that were a noticeable improvement over the previous consoles, it’s no wonder that the 360 gained popularity as quickly as it did.
A year later on November 11th, 2006, Sony released the Playstation 3. Unfortunately for them, Microsoft had mostly blanketed the market with the 360, so the PS3 was marketed as more of an entertainment "do-all" than a straight-up video game console. Sony also used the PS3 as more of a marketing tool to sell their new High Definition format: BluRay. While I commend Sony for wanting to integrate new features into home consoles, they were a bit ahead of their time. Video streaming services had not reached the popularity that they are in 2013 and neither had the advent of the "app." It was good to know the PS3 was capable of doing these things, but in 2006, people found it hard to care enough to drop $500 on the console.
Nearly a week later, Nintendo released the Wii. The problems that I had with the system are shared amongst most gamers, so I’ll break down some of those opinions:
When the Wii was first revealed, I remember seeing images of the controller and thinking, "What the crap is that thing?!" The design was so far removed from what gamers were used to that it was somewhat unrecognizable. There were a few familiar elements like a d-pad, a few face buttons, and an analog stick, but you were supposed to hold separate pieces in each hand and point it at the screen in order to interface with whatever game you were playing. On paper, the ideas for gameplay sound pretty cool, but in actuality, they become somewhat frustrating. First person games were tedious because movement was a lot more difficult; platformers mostly required you to turn the wii-mote portion on its side in a somewhat uncomfortable fashion; and having to point the controller at the screen constantly became quite tiring after extended periods of play.
I, like most gamers, like to "vedge out" while playing a video game. I don’t really care to wave my hands about just to make my in-game avatar turn around to look behind me, or have to point the controller constantly on screen to make sure my character moves in a particular direction. These actions are made much simpler by the use of dual analog sticks.
A "classic" controller was released with a more conventional design, but it was only compatible with a few regular Wii games and mostly used for downloadable (Virtual Console) titles.
High Definition graphics and imagery were becoming the standard before the Wii was released. I understand Nintendo’s focus on gameplay, but graphics immerse me in the experience as well as gameplay. When I’m having to deal with frustrating/tiring controls AND graphics that are nowhere near what they COULD be, the immersion is lost. Immersion is clearly what Nintendo was going for with the introduction of motion controls, but is it really that hard to have both graphics and gameplay? I don’t think that a game has to be pretty to be fun, I’m just saying that there’s no excuse for releasing a console that is underpowered when compared to its competition just for the sake of in-game controls.
Lack of Third Party Support -
This is the main problem with the Wii. I can’t blame anyone but Nintendo for this one. With the Gamecube, even though developers were attached to the PS2, they still knew that Nintendo could release a quality piece of hardware. Games COULD be ported, they just weren’t because of the popularity and large user install base of the PS2. I believe that had Nintendo released an equally powerful console like the Xbox 360 (and perhaps dropped the motion controls), they would have seen more third party developers gravitate towards them. Releasing a drastically, technically speaking, inferior console than what technology was capable of, made developers scoff at the Wii and mostly avoid it. Also, motion controls would HAVE to be integrated into the game since not everyone had the classic controller or "nunchuck" peripherals. These extra controller options, and added motion controls in general, take more time and therefore cost more money to implement. I honestly can’t blame third party companies for wanting to pass on the Wii. I don’t say that out of spite; I only say it because it’s the most realistic viewpoint.
Catering to the "Casual" market -
I’ve been talking about how I’ve been writing an article about this for a few weeks now, but I’ll go ahead and address part of the subject.
A casual market does, indeed, exist. The thing I get sick of hearing is the "core gamer" term. I think that the term is used in most cases to put a stamp on gamers who like games like Grand Theft Auto, etc. Most of the time, it’s used in some kind of derogatory manner, or to separate certain games from others that shouldn’t be separated in the first place.
I look at games in 2 different styles: Casual games… and EVERYTHING ELSE. There is no in-between. Grand Theft Auto is no more "core" than Super Mario Bros. A casual game is something like Angry Birds. Most of what you’ll find in an app store for your particular smartphone can be considered casual games. These games are defined by the fact that you can pick them up for 5 minutes and put them down. Basically, games you play when you’re bored or waiting in the doctor’s office.
Most gamers, just like we all did back in the 80s and 90s, take video games seriously. The video game market EXISTS because we take them so seriously. Not only do consumers take them seriously, but so do developers. Gone are the days when a game was developed over the course of a couple months with a team of 5-10 people. Nowadays, games usually have 40-100 people working on them and sometimes take up to 2 years to produce. With that kind of production, developers want to deliver the absolute best experience possible, which is something most of them didn’t feel was possible on the Wii. Just like developers want to deliver the best experience possible, gamers want to receive the best. Being a platform which caters predominantly to gamers who only want to pick a game up, play it for 5 minutes and then go to work, the Wii was not the platform to go to for most third party companies.
With the Wii, Nintendo based their marketing strategy around roping in the casual gamer… and they did it in spades. People who normally wouldn’t dare pick up the latest Nintendo console were actually making it a point to do so. One particular example that’s always used is that of someone’s grandma playing Wii Sports. Did this actually happen? Yes, it did. The problem is that a grandma is still a grandma. Because grandma enjoys bowling on Wii Sports, that doesn’t mean she’s going to be beating down the doors of her local Gamestop to preorder the next Mario or Zelda game. For grandma, it begins and ends with Wii Sports. My question is: What was the point in Nintendo doing this? The answer: To sell more systems. But system sales are only half the battle. If a company doesn’t have the software to back it up, then that company doesn’t get any back end off of titles sold and the console sits and collects dust. Such was the case with a great many Wiis that were sold in 2006 and onwards.
All that being said, the Wii DID have some solid titles, but those were few and far between. I realize that that’s subjective given to one’s tastes, but can’t that be said no matter what console is the subject of discussion? I believe the games that were the strongest were ones that were developed by Nintendo themselves… which were few and far between. Nintendo didn’t have the "next killer app" down the pipeline from month to month. Sometimes strong titles would release with 6 months to a year between them as opposed to the PS360 which had a new, large-scale title available nearly every month. But when you’ve only got one company releasing consistently, top-drawer games, what do you expect?
I’ve already made my recent opinions known about the Wii U, so I won’t go into that again. I’ll only say that Nintendo has a lot of catching up to do to win back all the gamers that they’ve lost to the other two big companies in recent years. I still love Nintendo and will probably continue to buy their hardware for as long as they continue to produce it. But when two other guys carry around bazookas and you’re still carrying around a pistol, it’s easy to see how the fight’s going to end.
Ok, I was done with the article and then I thought of this analogy to sum up the whole thing and expound upon that last line:
Nes = Pistol; Everything else at the time = BB-gun
Snes = Machine pistol; Everything else at the time = Pistol
N64 = Upgraded machine pistol; PSX = Regular machine pistol with more bullets
Gamecube = Assault rifle; Xbox = Assault rifle; PS2 = Slightly less powerful assault rifle with more bullets
Wii = 2 assault rifles duct taped together; Xbox 360 = Machine gun with buckets of bullets; PS3 = Machine gun you can play BluRays on, but has the same kind and amount of bullets as the Xbox 360, but sometimes misfire.
Wii U = Machine gun; Next Xbox = Bazooka of some sort; PS4 = Bazooka of some sort that will probably play BluRays.
Yeah, the analogy is a little bit ridiculous (and using the bazooka to represent the unknown was probably extreme), but it illustrates how Nintendo’s consoles are viewed by the majority of the gaming public (myself included) and that recently Nintendo has seemed to be behind in recent years. At times, being behind in a somewhat costly fashion.
With that, I release you!