Still Pushing That Wii U at First
You gotta hand it to them, Nintendo kicked off 2016 still adamant about supporting the Wii U. We totally get it, giving up on hardware that millions of fans have purchased only a few years after its release doesn’t usually go over very well. But, even with more time, the platform’s struggling third-party lineup failed to materialize in the face of its relatively low sales and power.
Towards the middle of the year, there were a lot of rumors swirling around something cooking behind closed doors, something that could revolutionize the Nintendo hardware lineup. It seemed the Wii U would finally be put to rest, though concrete plans would not come till months later. Meanwhile, the market was clearly losing interest, and if you could only pick one bad move made by Nintendo in 2016, this would probably be it.
The 3DS Kept Nintendo Competitive
While the Nintendo was failing on the home console front, it was doing much better in the handheld market. When it came to dedicated handheld gaming devices, the 3DS had no real competition this year. The Vita has been dead in the water over in the West for some time now, and Microsoft shows no real interest in the mobile platform market.
Nintendo’s handheld monopoly could have easily seen profits from mass shovelware releases, but instead, the company put out some great games. Fire Emblem Fates proved to be a stellar trio, Zero Time Dilemma showed that puzzles are still worth our time, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice gave us the dose of law we all wanted, and Pokemon Sun and Moon closed off the year incredibly strong.
Even better is that these titles aren’t just “pretty good for handheld.” They stand up there among some of the best experiences you could get in 2016 on any platform.
The Year of Pokemon
The 3DS played a major part in keeping Nintendo hardware afloat, but if there is one thing that brought Nintendo back into our lives this year, it’s Pokemon’s 20-year anniversary. Nintendo’s celebration showed they still know how to reign in tons of fans.
Thanks to augmented reality, this summer brought the ability to catch Pokemon in the real world. Pokemon GO got millions of people out of their homes and, most importantly, making new friends. Not only was the game free to play, it didn’t require a Nintendo device to play it. You could just download Pokemon GO on your smartphone and go catch some critters in your yard. The simplicity of access and gameplay, coupled with the lovable Pokemon brand, was a record-breaking hit worldwide.
Later in the year, Pokemon Sun and Moon continued this good fortune. Not only was this generation of Pokemon games among the best the franchise has ever given us, but it also became the biggest launch in the series’ history. By keeping those adorable little monsters in the spotlight all year long, Nintendo ensured a piece of limelight for themselves through the year.
Press and Messaging
Nintendo has definitely struggled with messaging in recent years. The company likes to play things close to the chest (for good reason), and that often leads to fans feeling forgotten. On top of that, there wasn’t always clarity when they did decide to share, with the Wii U being a prime example of why that can be a bad thing.
The company opened up this year, presenting a much more fun experience for fans while also being much clearer in what they were putting forward. Reggie was clear in stating that the company realized they needed to do better with messaging. There was no room left for confusion, and they’ve become great and letting everyone know when they’ll share more rather than leaving things up in the air or open to interpretation. The first reveal of their upcoming console was clear and to the point. It showed off a console that is new and very much not a new version of the Wii. News about games came out in Directs that were fun and informative, and anytime a change was made, Nintendo made sure fans knew what was up. Heck, they even went on The Tonight Show to show off their new toys with Jimmy Fallon.
It’s a more open Nintendo that, while still keeping some secrets, is letting fans in on what’s going on by doing shows just for them and spreading the word on everything else that’s happening with their games.
This showed that the company has been learning a lot from past mistakes and what their competition is doing. They’re putting themselves out there and trying new things, and that’s helped to set the framework for what’s to come.
The Switch is the next big step for Nintendo. It’s a full console experience that can be taken on the go, and it doesn’t have Wii in the name (no more consumer confusion). The presentation was strong and clear, showing all the potential strengths of the hybrid hardware while also showcasing some really notable third-party support, something Nintendo seemed to lose a long time ago. Having the likes of Bethesda, From Software, and Take Two in your corner alongside EA, Ubisoft, and the stellar library from their first-party studios, the next console may be able to deliver bigger experiences, projects too large to make it onto the Wii U.
If Nintendo plays its cards right, the Switch can be much more just a gimmick. A truly mobile console experience with developer support would be the first of its kind on the market, taking the biggest games and letting you play them pretty much anywhere in the world.
Of course, there are some issues with the Switch, with the main one being a severe lack of information. The company is set to reveal more in a few short weeks, but as of now we have no information on power, charge, or price, while major developers are still pretty mum on what they can or can’t bring to the device. Hopefully, this all gets ironed out soon enough.
Mobile Money Maker
One thing that it seemed Nintendo would never do again is allow its major properties to appear on anything other than a Nintendo console, be it handheld or for home. After the whole issue with the horrible Zelda games on the Phillips CD-i, the company needed more control over its brands so no more nightmares would be created. But as technology has boomed over the past decade, expanding the reach of these beloved games is a smart business move, one that Nintendo has finally embraced.
Pokemon GO was a huge launch for the company, but that was actually created by Niantic alongside the Pokemon Company, and surprisingly isn’t the first time those little monsters have appeared on a mobile device. But it definitely showed that there was a demand for Nintendo properties on iPhones and Android devices. Fast forward to the winter and you have the biggest surprise of them all, Super Mario Run, a Mario game that feels a lot like the classic experiences available outside of a Nintendo platform. It’s a big move for the company, because any platform holder would love to have a Mario game.
The future is looking even brighter for Nintendo in the mobile space, as two more big properties are set to hit phones and tablets in the coming year: Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing. The company is poised to be a triple threat in the coming year with its handheld leading the market, a new home console, and now a strong presence in the mobile space.
How Was 2016?
We’re not going to mince any words here, Nintendo has had a rough go for some time. The company still puts out strong experiences, but felt stuck in a rut thanks to odd messaging and a home console that felt out of place next to its competition. 2016 needed to be better for the gaming giant, as Microsoft and Sony quickly found their stride and started to grow a wide gap between them to worrying proportions.
2016 finally saw the giant waking from its long slumber, and it’s the best Nintendo has looked in quite some time, even if a few wrinkles remain. While this year didn’t improve perception of the struggling Wii U, it did set things up for what could potentially be a killer new console.
It was great to see Nintendo getting back in its groove. While it wasn’t the complete turnaround everyone was hoping for, I hope it’s at the very least the curtain opening on a stellar 2017.