Editorial: What is behind Nintendo’s return to form?

It is no secret that Nintendo stole this year’s E3. In the face of Sony’s rather pedestrian affair and Microsoft’s embarrassing implosion, Nintendo’s conference was the shining beacon of hope in an otherwise depressing expo. After many years frozen out in the cold Nintendo rained down their golden shower upon their long suffering core fans, unveiling a sweet looking successor to the DS with incredible third party support, and bestowing an embarrassment of riches upon fans of old-school platforming with the announcement of new Donkey Kong Country and Kirby, with footage of Team Ninja’s upcoming Metroid: Other M. Speaking personally, only the unveiling of the 3DS had any direct relevance to me. But while I may have grown out of classic Nintendo platformers, as a lapsed Nintendo owner from back in the day I cannot help but approve of their strong showing of core games on everyone’s favourite object of derision, the Wii. I find the mere knowledge that these games are in development to be a conceptually satisfying notion which, in conjunction with strong JRPG support from Mistwalker and Monolith Soft, seems to indicate that Nintendo have turned a corner. Could it be? Have Nintendo realised that their saturation of the casual market is near complete, and that future growth lies with core gaming? Have Nintendo elected to dust off their amazing first party developer hat as a value adding accoutrement to Wii owners and prospective Wii owners alike? Has Nintendo remembered who they are? Watching their E3 conference gives every indication that the answer to these rhetorical queries is a resounding yes.

A bountiful bevy of core games appears to be upon the horizon

*Sigh* and on that happy bombshell the wheels of cynicism begin turning. Nintendo is getting ready to launch a new handheld console. How many Soccer Mums might one expect to see at the system’s midnight launch? Nintendo know full well how fickle the casual market can be. Casuals only jump on a bandwagon once it is already popular, self-medicating dead eyed house wives, teenage girls and small children are not likely to be key to early adopter sales. Nintendo have a bad reputation among core gamers as a company that will abandon them as soon as a more lucrative demographic comes along. Nintendo need their core fanbase to bolster early sales, and more importantly they need to woo them back. For many, a strong selection of launch titles may prove insufficient, as there is no guarantee that Nintendo will not simply abandon them once again once they have served their purpose. Gamers will be looking for signs that Nintendo really have changed their tune, cue the strong showing of the Wii. Nintendo’s new handheld has been under construction for two years and this current crop of core Wii titles have been in development for how long? Since before the Wii’s still stellar hardware sales began to taper off I would warrant. Could it be that that Nintendo’s E3 conference was an exercise in rebuilding their brandname goodwill? Everyone has been really quick to forgive Nintendo their indiscretions, and consign them to the past. Nintendo’s E3 was great, but I am not fully sold on Nintendo having left their casual focus behind them.

This one's for you Oyashiro!

Paranoid? Probably. I actually have a really good feeling about the 3DS, the third party support gives one confidence, the games announced provide an undeniable value proposition and if nothing else it will allow for 3D UNDERBOOB. The 3DS is an attractive piece of hardware, the capabilities look decent for a Nintendo system, and I am rather impatient to get my hands on it. But for all the excitement that Nintendo’s conference has invoked in me, I am still left with a vague sense of doubt as to how this refocusing on core gaming will fit into Nintendo’s long term intentions. For me Nintendo’s push into core gaming coincides with the launch of the 3DS just a little bit too neatly, given that their impending Wii catalogue would have had to have been planned well in advance. But what of you Nate’s delectable double-D denizens? No you think it ungrateful to cast dispersions on Nintendo’s character when they actually get something right for once? Do you think it silly to read too much into the machinations of Nintendo when releasing games is what game companies do? Or does Nintendo’s sudden about-face raise similar questions for you as it does me? Can you see the 3DS being abandoned to the teeming casual masses?


  1. I must admit I am surprised (but pleased) with Nintendo’s volte-face. Now I can look forward to Metroid Other M, Zelda Skyward Sword, and Last Story without feeling guilt about owning their plastic consoles!

  2. reading too much into it. I’m pleased but not not surprised. I’m thinking that at some point they just decided to get off their asses and start with the third party support.

    and talk of nintendo “betraying” and “abandoning” the hardcore crowd bugs me. they’re a company, an organization whose sole purpose for existing is making money. people bitch about nintendo in the same way wives bitch about unfaithful husbands.

  3. Nintendo absolutely betrayed their console early adopters, they purchased the console expecting games, Nintendo marketed the Wii as a gaming console in the early days, and then they dropped support for the Nintendo faithful in favour of casual gamers. Betrayal. Now mercifully they seem about to redress the balance.

  4. Well, a lot of the ‘redress’ is third parties, and not Nintendo so much–though their strong first-party focus during E3 (particularly Skyward Sword and Metroid Other M) may be helpful if viewed as a barometer for their console as a whole, at least for the immediate future, and especially when we consider what they didn’t show (shit like that stupid Wii music game).

    In retrospect, I think a lot of the praise given Nintendo is not so much due to a change in the games they are putting out (after all, Metroid has been on the books since last year, and we knew a new Zelda was in the works), but rather due to the conspicuous absence of casual bullshit in their conference. That doesn’t mean it isn’t being made, of course, but it may indicate that they are aware that casuals don’t pay attention to E3, and that announcing such games there isn’t going to get them a positive media reaction.

    Microsoft, on the other hand, used their entire conference to talk about casual gaming bullshit, and they are reaping the whirlwind for it. Nintendo’s PR people must be patting themselves on the back for gauging their audience, just as Microsoft’s PR people are packing up their desks and putting their resumes on monster.com.

  5. I’m looking forward to the announced games, and I have confidence in the 3DS. I don’t have confidence that the Wii’s lineup will be consistent at all.

  6. @Ethos: Nor do I. I think that the Wii’s lineup has never been consistent, though it has had good titles which drop semi-occasionally. Perhaps that is a sort of consistency, though!

    The problem with the Wii is, and has been, a lack of solid third-party support. This isn’t something Nintendo can repair by force, but it is the sort of thing they can encourage. It would require them to part with some of their hard-earned (HA!) money in the present, in the interest of reaping future, long-term rewards.

    Much of the positive attention given Nintendo after their E3 conference seemed to be because the press believed that Nintendo pledged to make those future investments in third-party development. There was a strong third-party showing for the 3DS (a VERY strong showing, as MAP Episode 70 shows–the list is huge!). There was not as much for the Wii, though there were some surprises. We musn’t forget Mistwalker’s and MonolithSoft’s very anticipated titles.

    Despite this, the Wii will retain the stigma of a first-party console until those games are actually released to critical acclaim. It’s going to take more than a handful of solid third-party titles, too. Look how long it took for Sony to claw their way up from third place–a feat they have only accomplished with a huge expenditure of blood and treasure. So, this is not going to be an overnight metamorphosis. This is a fact which is clearly driven home when I look at my seven Wii titles, and consider that all of them are first-party, six of them have Mario playable in-game, and five of them have Mario in the title.