Nintendo is not doomed. The company has weathered crisis after crisis before (anyone remember the Virtual Boy?) and come out the other side stronger than before, and that was before the success of the Nintendo Wii gave them an absurdly large amount of cash they can fall back on when times get tough. Nintendo’s not going anywhere.
That being said, Nintendo has certainly seen better days. 3DS sales are faltering, the Wii U has absolutely cratered, and Nintendo has delayed the last silver bullet in the console’s arsenal in the hopes that it can give the NX a strong start in March. Little is known about Nintendo’s mysterious new console, or their general strategy for how to proceed, but one thing’s for sure: a change in direction is badly needed.
In the meantime, here are the 13 Ways Nintendo Can Get Back On Its Feet.
13 Clearer branding
The Wii U suffered from a lot of problems, but at the end of the day, it was an interesting console with a solid library of great Nintendo games. Why, then, did consumers seem to reject it so strongly, especially following the incredible success of the Nintendo Wii? The answer is obvious to anyone who’s tried to explain what, exactly, the Wii U is to more casual players that largely abandoned Nintendo this time around: unclear branding.
Through the confusing name and focus on the controller rather than the console, Nintendo did a terrible job of differentiating the Wii U from the Wii, leading many consumers that might have been interested to conclude that the Wii U was simply a peripheral for the Wii that could be safely ignored. This problem isn’t just isolated to their home consoles, either; the confusingly named New 3DS is another example of bizarre, poorly-thought out branding that gets between customers and the games.
Nintendo should take a page from Sony’s book (or their own book from a few decades ago) and give the NX a name that clearly indicates succession.
12 Don’t let hardware fall behind
Underpowered Nintendo consoles are actually a relatively recent phenomenon. The NES and SNES were powerful machines for their era, and while the Nintendo 64’s cartridge technology proved limiting in the long run, it allowed for early releases that felt light-years ahead of their nearest competition. Even the Gamecube, while less powerful than either the Xbox or Playstation 2, was similar enough in power to allow for easy ports and graphically impressive exclusives like Resident Evil 4.
It wasn’t until the Wii that a Nintendo console was too far behind in graphical quality to allow for easy ports of many third-party games, and while Nintendo correctly deduced that the novelty of motion controls and a cheaper price point would more than make up for this shortcoming, they couldn’t bottle lightning twice. The Wii U still lacked the power to run most modern games, and this time, it needed it.
Nintendo’s new console needs to be at least on par with Sony and Microsoft’s offerings, if for no other reason than to help with the next entry on this list...
11 Mend relationships with third party developers
Third party abandonment of Nintendo consoles is a complicated problem. Many third-parties are certainly averse to working with some of Nintendo’s unconventional hardware, but others might be turned off by more petty reasons. Back in the 80s and 90s, Nintendo’s image was less of a Wonka-esque whimsical magic factory and closer to a ruthless corporate juggernaut, taking advantage of their initial monopoly on consoles by trapping third parties business agreements so exploitative and manipulative that they violated anti-trust laws.
Refusing to work with a company for something that happened decades ago might seem vindictive, but the example of Konami seeming to destroy one of their best game studios over a petty grudge shows how powerful resentment can be in this industry. It’ll be a long, hard slog, but a Nintendo console that could play all of the big releases and first-party Nintendo games would be a force to be reckoned with.
10 Lend out more franchises to other game studios
Some of Nintendo’s all-time best releases have come from trusting older properties to new, up-and-coming studios. Rare and Retro both worked magic with their Donkey Kong games, and the Metroid Prime games are some of the best in the entire Metroid franchise.
Even non-traditional spinoffs developed in this model can be fun, like Koei Tecmo’s Hyrule Warriors. There are dozens of other studios that could do great things with Nintendo properties if given the chance. Imagine a FromSoft developed Metroid or Zelda game, or a sequel to Punch Out! developed by Platinum Games.
9 Use massive cash reserves to purchase small game studios
If all else fails, there is a drastic way for Nintendo to substantially reduce its shortfall of quality titles. Nintendo’s currently using their massive cash reserves as a way to mitigate other losses, but the company should seriously consider using that money to build up smaller internal studios, or buy them outright.
Smaller games like Pushmo and Dillon’s Rolling Western are great, but there simply aren’t enough of them to compete with the massive amount of indie releases Sony and Microsoft boast on their online stores that help ease droughts between bigger games. Buying promising independent game studios could produce a similar stream of consistent, high-quality games, which could help to alleviate the next problem on the list...
8 Better time first-party releases
2014 was a great year to be a Wii U owner. Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Super Smash Bros Wii U, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, and Shovel Knight are all amazing games, and they came out so quickly that it was almost difficult to keep up. 2016, on the other hand, gives us the Wii U Star Fox Zero, Pokken Tournament... and that’s about it.
Modern Nintendo consoles rely so heavily on their amazing first party games that there’s little reason to keep them plugged in otherwise, and if Nintendo can’t get more games made, it needs to better time the games that it has. Instead of having some years packed so full of great games that gamers can’t keep up and others completely bereft of content, Nintendo should stagger its releases so that there’s always something interesting on the horizon for fans to look forward to.
7 Put classic games on smartphones
So far, Nintendo has indicated that their smartphone games will largely take the form of companion apps to current Nintendo games. While a few of these wouldn’t be a bad idea, there’s another possibility for the platform that could easily make Nintendo a staggering amount of money without diverting profit from their current releases: put its classic games for sale on mobile platforms.
The fact that there are dozens of emulators for iOS and Android show that there’s demand for old-school Nintendo goodness on the platform, and most fans would probably be happy to pay for their games if it meant they’d run smoother. It might be prudent to focus on less twitch-based games to keep imprecise control frustration to a minimum, but this wouldn’t be an obstacle for games like Pokémon making the transition, and Pokémon on iPhone would top the charts for months.
6 Take online multiplayer seriously
Last year’s Splatoon was Nintendo’s first foray into the world of competitive multiplayer shooters, and in terms of style, gameplay, and mechanics, it had no trouble whatsoever keeping up with the competition. But the limited options in terms of grouping with friends and cumbersome match-making and menus lacked much of the simplicity and ease-of-use gamers take for granted in online multiplayer games.
Of course, Splatoon was a massive improvement over Nintendo’s last generation of online multiplayer, which relied on tedious twelve-digit friend codes for the most basic of interactions. Nintendo caters to a family audience, and it’s entirely reasonable for them to take precautions to avoid a toxic online community, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t also provide the basic functionality and convenience that other developers provide so effortlessly.
5 Overhaul e-shop interface
As bad as Nintendo’s online functionality is in their games, at least it only affects the games with multiplayer. Their e-shop interface, on the other hand, is a constant hassle to any kind of gamer that wants the convenience of buying digitally. Nintendo’s online storefront is slow, cumbersome to use, and lacks basic features like a cart to purchase multiple games simultaneously.
It’s mind-boggling that one of the biggest video-game companies in the world is so out-of-touch when it comes to the needs of gamers that prefer to buy digitally, which is growing rapidly. If the NX launches with the same clunky interface of past Nintendo platforms, it will be a major missed opportunity.
4 Massive virtual console library at launch
Nintendo’s massive back-catalogue of games is nothing to sneeze at. It boasts pioneering platformers like the Super Mario series, incredible RPGs like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, revolutionary exploration-based games like the Metroid and Legend of Zelda series, and hundreds upon hundreds of others, each beloved in their own special way. The Wii’s virtual console--an online platform to let gamers pay a few dollars to buy digital versions of these games--was an amazing idea, but the execution was lackluster at best, with titles coming at a glacially slow trickle.
The Wii U’s implementation was even worse; rather than carry over the library the Wii had already built up, it started over from scratch, re-releasing the games at an even slower rate. While this isn’t entirely Nintendo’s fault--there are legitimate licensing issues that need to be hammered out before the games can be released, and it does take some amount of time to port even relatively simple games to new hardware--the fact remains that Nintendo’s current use of their back catalogue is pitiful.
The company can’t launch their new console and expect people to wait potentially years for the classic games they want to re-release. When the NX launches, it should boast a massive virtual console library, or at least one with more than the same games as always.
3 Take more risks with Mario
Annual releases have become bog standard in the video game industry, for good or for ill. The closest that Nintendo has are its big franchises, the series that everyone knows will show up in at least one iteration on their console--the 3D Mario games, the 2D Mario games, the Mario spin-offs like Mario Kart and Mario Party.
Unfortunately, many of these franchises have become relatively stale in recent years, with the New Super Mario Bros series in particular approaching the same level of stagnation that has plagued series like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty in the past. The games are still good, but one of the advantages of a legacy character like Mario is that it’s easy to change the formula every now and then while retaining the possibility to fall back on old themes and tropes if things go wrong. At the very least, Nintendo should try something radical and different with one of these franchises on the NX.
If it goes wrong, they can simply fall back on the same template they’ve used to great success over the past decade, but if it goes well, it would be a much-needed breath of fresh air.
2 Use all of your franchises
Nintendo has an incredible plethora of riches in its dozens of IPs, but it’s been content to make use of relatively few of them, relegating the rest to cameos in games like Super Smash Bros. For a company that’s in constant need of more games, this is a colossal error in judgement. Nintendo fans love Mario and Link, but they also love Samus, whose last solo adventure was in 2010, and Captain Falcon, whose last game was in 2004.
There’s massive demand for new games in Nintendo’s underused franchises; the success of Earthbound inspired Undertale and the many, many Metroid imitators prove that. All Nintendo would have to do is devote a fraction of the resources and attention to detail they lavish on the Super Mario and Legend of Zelda series to new games in abandoned series, and they’d be free to reap the rewards. Unless, that is, they taint a reboot with their biggest bad habit...
1 Stop innovating solely to innovate
Star Fox Zero had everything an amazing game needs. Interesting enemies, well-designed levels, visual polish, and the expertise of both Nintendo and action-game powerhouse Platinum Studios. Unfortunately, at some point in development, Nintendo decided it wasn’t enough for Star Fox Zero to be just another Star Fox game, nevermind the fact that the last wholly original game in the series was released over ten years ago. Instead, the game had to boast an “innovative” control scheme that made use of the Wii U gamepad’s gyroscope, and the result is a poorly selling, critically-panned disaster that’s difficult to play.
Innovation is incredibly important, and something that much of the video game industry has unnecessarily abandoned. But innovation is only worthwhile if it’s actually making things better. Many of Nintendo’s innovations have done precisely that; the Nintendo 64’s analogue stick pioneered easy control in 3D games, the Wii’s pointer controls provided interesting new ways to scroll through in-game menus, and the Wii U gamepad’s streaming technology is a godsend in households where fights regularly break out over who gets to use the TV. But many of Nintendo’s innovations are forced innovations, changes that aren’t implemented because they improve anything, but rather because Nintendo feels like things should change.
Motion controls that needlessly replace button presses with delayed, imprecise inputs and unwieldy gyroscopic controls that replace reliable analogue alternatives are not only unnecessary, but harmful, taking perfectly good games and giving them serious flaws. Nintendo wouldn’t be Nintendo if they didn’t innovate, and the NX undoubtedly has some new spin on how video games are traditionally played. That’s fine; some of the new ideas Nintendo is bringing to the table are probably interesting and worthwhile ones. But they won’t be right for every single game, and this time around, Nintendo needs to learn that lesson.
Can you think of any other steps Nintendo can take to get back up on its feet? Let us know in the comments!