Where Did Nintendo Go Wrong? - mbellacio Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Where Did Nintendo Go Wrong?

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By this point, it's fairly common knowledge that the Wii U has not had the success Nintendo would have liked.  In reality, the Wii U has not had the success that Nintendo frankly needs in order for the new console to be a profitable venture. And while many prophets of doom predict an early death and Nintendo itself promises that the Wii U will do better, there is no real certainty as to it's fate.

It is hard for me to watch the course that Nintendo has taken with the Wii U. I STILL love my Gamecube. It will probably be one of my favorite consoles of all time even in the face of all the naysayers and critics. And contrary to everyone's complaints about the Wii, I liked that console too. At least with the Wii I still  had the impression that Nintendo was still TRYING to stay relevant. Now, I almost detect a whiff of confusion coming off of Nintendo. They seem lost in today's market. They seem unable to accurately read what consumer's actually want, or to even anticipate what they MIGHT want.

If I were to be frank, in too many ways, the Wii U feels like a half-heartedly designed console. I don't sense that Nintendo's legendary passion for quality of both hardware and content is present with the Wii U. The tablet-style controller almost immediately struck me as confused attempt to blend the VMU-equipped Dreamcast controller with a tablet like experience. Even the design of the console shell itself is uninspired. At least the Gamecube had a strong design aesthetic.  The N64 had an attractive design as well. What made Nintendo decide to settle with having their new console resemble an external hard drive enclosure?

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I take it back. This actually looks BETTER than the Wii U.

 

Many months ago, prior to the Wii U's existence being confirmed by Nintendo, I wrote a blog predicting what I thought Nintendo would produce for the next generation. That blog was written with much optimism and faith that Nintendo always knew exactly what they were doing. Sure, we had all seen Nintendo struggle before, but time and time again they always managed to remind us why they had dominated gaming for so long.

Considering the astronomical success the Wii had (and the pile of money it made), I was convinced that Nintendo would undoubtedly reinvest a good chunk of that money into R&D on a new console that would literally crush the competition. Man, was I wrong. It would seem that success went to Nintendo's head like opium. Emboldened by it's success with the Wii, Nintendo obviously felt that they could repeat the strategy of using under-powered hardware. But ironically, Nintendo seemed to completely ignore that their were many factors contributing to the Wii's monumental success.

For starter's the Wii was an absolute steal at $250 when compared to it's competitor's that were asking twice as much for their consoles. Secondly, the Wii was genuinely something completely new and fresh. The bold decision to abandon a traditional controller for the Wiimote and Nun-Chuk was both crazy and fascinating. The design of the Wii itself was clean, sleek and very Japanese, which added even another level of intrigue and appeal.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again. You can NEVER underestimate the value of beautiful design. People shop with their eyes before anything else. Aesthetics mean EVERYTHING in hooking in a buyer. Steve Jobs keenly understood this with the various Apple products he helped launch. Do you really think people love the iPhone just because it's so functional? Hell no! By any standard of measure, Apple has some of the most beautifully designed products ever, and that appeal to the senses has proven to be very lucrative.

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Remember these? A perfect example of the power of good design.

 

While I still tend to like the design of the Wii U tablet, the console itself does nothing for me. And even when considering the Wii U's tablet, I think it's a great example of an idea that probably sounded better on paper. Personally, I think Nintendo put too much effort into the Wii U tablet. It was a good idea, but the execution was flawed.

I knew that Nintendo's next-gen console was going to have a controller with a screen and some kind of "touch" ability. You could already see the direction Nintendo was headed with the Gamecube, Gameboy Advance, and Nintendo DS. And if you think about it carefully, you can see strong parallels between Sega's Dreamcast and every Nintendo console that came after it.

When the Dreamcast was first launched, there was a peculiar fascination with Tomagotchi's, which were incredibly small and simply LCD based games that could fit in your hand. And keep in mind that the original Gameboy featured graphics that weren't all that much more advanced, but gamers all over the world still LOVED that little machine.

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The birth of mobile gaming?

 

So when Sega released the Dreamcast, which was already an very impressive console, the idea that the controller included a small memory card that was capable of playing mini-games itself was just an insanely good bonus from any standpoint. The kitschy appeal of carrying your little VMU around in your pocket, and being able to your overall gameplay through mini-games was nothing short of genius. It is this idea that I believe Nintendo has tried to improve upon and develop.

The Gamecube promised to offer unprecedented depth of gameplay through "connectivity" with the Gameboy Advance. But almost immediately, the concept was hampered by the design of the two consoles. The Gameboy Advance was not even close to being a VMU. While a VMU could be had for as little as $19.99, the GBA was never less than $89, and that's with no game. The cable to connect the Gamecube and GBA incurred yet another expense, which hindered the concept of easily connecting the two systems or with other players. So to make a long story short, "connectivity" as an idea suffered a fairly quick and embarrassing death.

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So much for that idea...

 

For the Wii, Nintendo abandoned "connectivity" altogether. The Nintendo DS was obviously able to take advantage of it's wireless capabilities, but any vision of swapping gameplay between consoles and handhelds had been shelved. Ironically, the decision to focus on core gameplay seemed to payoff for the Wii. Certainly, it's commercial success dwarfed that of the Gamecube.

The Wii U has a number of problems with it's overall design. Number one, Nintendo has made the broad assumption that gamers now prefer a tablet like gaming experience as opposed to sitting in front of a 51-inch screen TV. Even so, they're is the added problem that the Wii U tablet cannot operate independent the main console. So... taking road trips with the tablet to squeeze out a couple of levels? Nope. Taking the tablet to work to level up some characters on your lunch break? Not a chance. Without the main console unit, the Wii U tablet is a $50 paper weight.

I won't spend much time on the Wii's specs. But clearly it doesn't take a genius to figure out what's wrong. Nintendo made the bold decision to defy the idea that new hardware must show a significant increase in power. And certainly the last few console generations have indeed proved that it's not the most powerful machine that necessarily wins.

Nintendo's big mistake really was a combination of ignorance, and hubris. It was no secret that Nintendo struggles with garnering third-party support. But in light of that, what is surprising is that Nintendo made no effort to counter this issue. Why hadn't Nintendo expanded their first-party studios? Where was the development of new IP's?

Where is Nintendo's answer to Halo, Killzone, Gears of War, Forza Motorsport, or Gran Turismo? Even now, what does Nintendo have that keep their loyal fans from being enticed by Titanfall, or The Last of Us? Is there anything in the pipeline for the Wii U that is even remotely that exciting?

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I want giant mechs and jetpacks!!! Where are my giant mechs Nintendo?

 

You know, I'm all for preserving wholesome entertainment for kids and families alike, but the Wii U is almost beginning to resemble a Fisher-Price toy console. There are just way too many cutesy, cutesy, children's games. There's too much Disney, there's too much Mario, Luigi and Link as well, to be frank.

I understand that Nintendo has fared well as being the last holdout for wholesomeness and non-violent gameplay. I even appreciate that. If I had young kids, I'd probably buy them a Wii U instead of a PS4, or Xbox One. But catering to toddlers and grade-schoolers is not what made Nintendo the company it is today. No, if you were to go and take a look at the library of software available for the SNES, you'd see one of the broadest, most diverse selection of games ever to grace a console. No matter what kind of player you were, Nintendo had you covered. That's a far cry from today where it seems that nearly every Nintendo game announced is intended for an audience between the ages of 7 and 12.

Bottom Line: If Nintendo wants to be able to rescue the Wii U from certain failure, they will do several things in the months ahead.

1) They will cut the price of the Wii U significantly. I would suggest $199.99.

2) They will beef up their first party studios and push their in house development for an unprecedented number of new and compelling IP's.

3) Give Mario, Luigi, and Link a slight rest and give us a proper Metroid already.

4) Now that they've partnered with Sega, how about a new Altered Beast, Chakan, Sega Rally, PowerStone or Shinobi, or Shemue?

5) Enough with the flood of kiddie crap. Let's see some hard-core, guns-blazing AAA action extravaganzas. Nothing weird, just good-ol' FPS mayhem.

6) Redesign the console. It may be early for this, but a redesign would allow them to make something that looks good enough to grab people's attention and lower their production costs as well.

And that's my two cents folks. What do you think?

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