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Opinion – The Perpetual Disappointment Of Nintendo Fandom

by Brian Shea on Apr 28, 2016 at 09:13 AM

Nintendo is one of the most beloved developers in the industry and was instrumental in helping popularize and legitimize video games in their early days. The company has a stable full of iconic franchises that it regularly taps to great results. Unfortunately, even with those advantages, a feeling of disappointment seems to follow Nintendo fandom in recent years thanks to questionable decisions made by the company.

The latest round of disappointment comes from major news related to its upcoming console and the next entry of The Legend of Zelda. In one swoop, Nintendo not only delayed The Legend of Zelda for Wii U into 2017 (it was originally confirmed to release 2015 before being delayed last-minute into 2016), but it also announced that the delay was so it could experience simultaneous release on the NX, which is now scheduled to launch in March 2017. It’s strange and slightly anticlimactic that our first confirmed game for NX is a title that is also releasing on the company’s current console (though many expected this would happen with the constant delays late in the Wii U’s lifecycle).

Perhaps the most upsetting news to come from Nintendo is that the next Zelda game will be the only playable game that it is bringing to E3 2016. Though I’m a huge Zelda fan, I always look forward to the surprise announcements from Nintendo and checking out the latest updates on my favorite franchises from my entire life in gaming. That feeling of excitement is no longer there with this announcement and the announcement that the NX won’t even be at the expo. While fellow Zelda fans can take solace in knowing that we’ll get the first hands-on impressions with a game that’s been largely kept under wraps, reading the not-so-subtle between-the-lines message spells a bleak picture for the remainder of the Nintendo lineup for this year.

The implication here is that Nintendo’s current home console is all but dead in the water. The Legend of Zelda was the last remaining hope for Wii U, but with the announcement of it also coming to NX and no indication of any other large titles coming to the Wii U before the March 2017 launch of the new platform, Nintendo loyalists don’t have a lot to look forward to on Wii U. 

You hear the notion that “nobody buys Nintendo consoles for third-party games,” but what those pushing that idea fail to address is that third-party developers and publishers are the ones that plug the holes in the release calendars. With next to no major third-party publishers in the corner of the Wii U, and Nintendo seemingly focusing its development efforts on NX, the Wii U catalog becomes a barren landscape over the next 10 months. I always love adding the newest Nintendo release to my library, but this news has squashed my enthusiasm to continue building my Wii U library. For all intents and purposes, it is being treated as a legacy platform with Nintendo seemingly focused squarely on the NX.

It’s looking more doubtful that we’ll see any more major releases on Wii U beyond the ones that have already been announced. This means that barring any surprise announcements, new excitement generated for the Wii U that doesn’t come from Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE will need to source from either indie developers, Virtual Console releases, or a much-needed system price drop.

This would be less upsetting if this was the first time it happened. Fans still have recent wounds of the company’s abandonment of the Wii, a substantially more successful console, as Nintendo geared up for the Wii U launch. With few third-party releases to fill in the gaps, Wii owners were left with a console that gave few reasons to fire it up. Now it seems the Wii U is following that trend with even fewer things to look forward to. I would love to be proven wrong with a major announcement at E3 of a game fans have been clamoring for to see the Wii U off in style, but I’m afraid that doesn’t play into Nintendo’s style either.

It seems that every year, players are saying that they expect Nintendo to finally give them the feature or announcement they’ve been requesting for years – the kind of blind optimism that seemed reserved for fans of companies like Square Enix. Eventually that company began revealing more information on long-awaited projects like Final Fantasy XV, Kingdom Hearts III, and, of course, Final Fantasy VII Remake. Unlike Square Enix, however, Nintendo continues to refuse fan demands to deliver the side-scrolling heir to Super Metroid or the legitimate Pokémon RPG on consoles. 

Even when the company does deliver on fan requests, such as a new Star Fox game that leans on the traditional design conventions of the series, Nintendo often relies heavily on gimmicks that sour the experience. I couldn’t tell you how much I was anticipating a more traditional Star Fox experience, but that excitement fell to Earth pretty quick once I got an extended look at the motion controls that can’t be completely turned off.

Another example of Nintendo delivering fans something that was requested with unfortunate twists was its expansion of the Virtual Console offerings on the 3DS to include SNES classics. Sadly, the news came with the caveat that this highly requested feature only works on the upgraded version of the 3DS handheld, the confusingly named New Nintendo 3DS. While there are likely legitimate emulation and compatibility reasons behind the standard 3DS hardware not being able to handle the SNES games despite running more demanding experiences with ease, it further highlighted the technical limitations of the device.

With no information on what exactly the NX is and rumors circulating that it is a console/handheld hybrid, Nintendo put fans in a difficult spot as they experience justifiable hesitation with such a mysterious announcement on the horizon. The SNES Virtual Console on 3DS has been my most desired feature since I picked up the device, but I own a standard 3DS XL, meaning I’m left out unless I choose to upgrade for the second time. Believe me, I was tempted, but I just can’t justify upgrading my 3DS yet again with no idea of what is sitting right around the corner with the NX.

It hurts fans that they don’t even know what the NX is, and makes them wary of upgrading. This is particularly true since, despite its constant desire to innovate in the gaming space, Nintendo is often behind the competition in its tech – a fact that has become more apparent with each passing generation.

This was never more apparent than it was with the Wii. As Sony and Microsoft forged ahead to deliver stunning visual experiences on their consoles, Nintendo’s first jump to high-definition resolutions began in 2012 with the release of the Wii U. Despite the jump to finally feature HD graphics, the Wii U still couldn’t compete with the cutting-edge technology the other consoles offered.

Fans are hopeful the power of the NX will make it a competitor again. Rumors have claimed that the NX will be “as powerful as the Xbox One” to “more powerful than the PS4,” but Nintendo remains silent on the topic. If Nintendo’s history has given fans any hints either way, it’s that they shouldn’t raise their expectations. Nintendo seems content on marching to the beat of its own drum and developing games its way. 

In the past, this approach has worked out for Nintendo, but it just can’t get away with that approach like it could in the early days. The industry has evolved, just like its competition. Nintendo isn’t the only big dog in the market anymore and its snail-pace advancements haven’t proved to be enough to keep up with the likes of Sony or Microsoft. We now live in a time where companies have unprecedented access to knowing exactly what its fans want. Nintendo shouldn’t listen to every single loud social-media user and completely bend to their whims, but what your most ardent fans want should play a big role in determining future moves. That’s not the company that Nintendo is today, but just as we enthusiastic Nintendo fans are conditioned to, we look forward to the next big announcement in hopes that this is the time the company will finally give us what we want.