2016 couldn’t have gone much worse for Nintendo. It’s Wii U console was reduced to the role of non-player within the industry, roundly mocked for its low sales and laughably barren release schedule. Third party developers had long since flown the coop, leaving the company with barely a game to sell. It was a tragic state of affairs, made worse by the fact that Xbox and PlayStation were about to unveil their own 4K gaming devices. Nintendo was so far behind the curve, they weren’t even discussed in the same breath anymore.
What a difference a year makes.
If this weeks Nintendo Direct didn’t make it clear, the Japanese gaming giant is back. Not only has the company managed to build an exciting roster of first party titles, it’s also managed to entice some of the biggest publishers in the industry to have a gamble on the portable gaming device. The likes of FIFA (EA), WWE 2K18/NBA 2K18 (2K), DOOM/Skyrim/Wolfenstein (Bethesda), LA Noire (Rockstar), Resident Evil (Capcom), Sonic Forces (SEGA) and more compliment a staggeringly stacked first party roster. It’s a games roster that would have any console fan gushing but for Nintendo fans – it’s a sign that the Switch is well on the way to correcting the Wii U’s damage.
The problem is that Nintendo needs to showcase that, not only has it learned from the failure of the Wii U, they’ve also learned from the success of Nintendo Wii. Because really, we’ve been here before. Back in 2006, Wii came from nowhere to not only become the talk of the industry – it managed to outmuscle more powerful competitors. It didn’t take long for major third-party developers to jump aboard – delivering watered down versions of their multiplatform hits. It was a situation that loaded the Wii with inferior games, ultimately creating the situation where great games were being drowned out by the dross of quick cash-ins. Nintendo’s arrogance seemingly was their downfall towards the end, as the Wii U lumbered into stores.
Nintendo Switch demands compromise from its gamers, that’s part of the deal. The problem emerges for the portable console when it fails to adequately answer simple questions about the long term. These are the same kind of questions that burdened the Wii U – questions about how far Nintendo had really thought ahead when it came to its console. As it turned with that – there wasn’t an answer. Once the writing was on the wall, the company all but abandoned their HD console. Switch is nowhere near the same fate – but it’s not immune to suffering a collapse in confidence if they can’t answer lingering issues. It’s an arrogance that Nintendo can’t afford to indulge.
It’s an arrogance that’s returned numerous times over the years. Success has always been fleeting for Nintendo, not least because the company fails to truly capitalize on great momentum. Whether it be poor planning or just bad decision making, success always seems to come in waves for the Japanese game’s developer. The SNES, for example, was followed up by the Nintendo 64, a console that didn’t sell anywhere near as well as Nintendo hoped. The Gamecube further compounded this problem, indicating a stubbornness from Nintendo to adapt. to market trends (That handle and those discs) The Wii U arguably was the height of this arrogance, a monumental flop in the shadow of the Wii that was built on a tower of bad decisions.
It’s why I’m cautious when it comes to their latest console. Switch is enjoying plaudits now but still has glaring holes in its armor – holes that in 2017 are positively laughable. The much vilified Nintendo Online Subscription service is as terrible today as it was back at its announcement. Moreover, the online service the company is building lacks features that arguably should already have been announced. Where is the much desired Virtual Console? Why is the infrastructure so archaic? There’s also the long-term issues around the company’s console. Just how long can they feasibly stand behind its hardware when every year, mobile hardware catches up? Before, as has happened in the past, competitors decide to try their hand at stealing Nintendo’s gimmick.
While not game breakers by themselves, the lack of forward clarity means that Nintendo Switch never feels more than a few bad decisions from undoing its good work. If Nintendo doubles down and opts to keep its online subscription service as-is-intended – what damage will that cause? How many gamers will be turned away because they don’t fancy paying for a vastly inferior product? How long can the company continue to struggle to stock a console that gamers want before it hurts the product? With the Holiday season right around the corner, Nintendo can’t afford to lose sales in that volume.
I’m not trying to undermine Nintendo Switch. Seeing DOOM running on a portable device is incredible – even in 2017. The fact there are some gamers out there nitpicking over lower graphics quality makes clear just how far we’ve come. That Nintendo has largely achieved its initial aims. The worry for me though is that these huge third-party games are masking more long-term concerns with the console – concerns that aren’t being answered.
It’s why six months after launch, I’m still waiting for those answers. It’s also why when I see people declaring Nintendo as the “winners” of 2017, I can’t help but feel there’s a sense of short-sightedness on the part of those gamers.
If we enter 2018 and still find ourselves wondering about these issues, then they become bigger problems in the long term. If it’s clear Nintendo isn’t learning from the past, merely throwing more at gamers to distract them, Switch is only doomed to follow many other consoles in squandering its early potential.
A year is a long time in gaming. Nintendo’s showcased better than anyone else. But if they’re not careful and more willing to communicate their long-term vision to gamers – Nintendo may find itself repeating history.
Nobody wants that.