Nintendo’s announcement that its efforts with the Wii U have been a critical failure, to the point that a corporate shake-up of both policy and staffing is imminent, was no surprise to me.
As a matter of fact, as a person that has been close to the system since day 1, this confirmation has been a frustrating inevitability since the beginning. Let’s take a step back and let me paint you a picture from my point of view.
June 7th, 2011: I’ve just finished with Nintendo’s unveiling of the Nintendo Wii U, I’m trying to decide what approach to take with it, when my cell phone starts ringing. It’s a member of Nintendo PR. I was working with them earlier in the month on a few things, so the call isn’t surprising but what happened from there really was. “Josh, what did you think of the presentation? Did you have any questions?” I explained my confusion, was this just a tablet-style system? Add-on for the Wii? What is going on with online? The PR rep told me that the message had been a confusing one but the system itself was standalone and had a base unit that looked quite similar to the Wii, then after recording some feedback, sent over some info on the system. I was confused by the way Nintendo approached this, I already had one system of theirs that had no games (3DS) and was really concerned about how the whole situation rolled out.
November 17th, 2012: I’m standing in line with a friend, waiting to get my Wii U at a local electronics retailer. I brought my 3DS and was enjoying Liberation Maiden. It was nice to start seeing some games released for the platform and I was looking forward to the next year of games in particular. I hadn’t pre-ordered my system, so I was waiting in the secondary line to buy mine at midnight, when a guy in line asked me a question. “So, if I don’t have a Wii, I’ll need to buy one so my kid can play the Wii U as well, right?” I informed him that the two are completely separate systems and the Wii U will use the Wii-motes but not the Wii. He told me, “I wish that had actually been explained a bit better!” and left. I bought my Wii U, ZombiU and New Super Mario Bros U and went home to play it. After waiting 4 hours for the update to work, I went to sleep.
Over the next year, Nintendo and I had a rocky relationship. After getting a chance to play some great games at PAX East, I didn’t generally interact much with my console, outside of playing a few Wii U games and teaching my son how to play Mario. In fact, I was partially regretting my decision to purchase the console BUT I held out hope as my 3DS was now loaded to the brim with awesome games. By June, I was playing a few games regularly with Aiden (my son) and starting to feel like the system was starting to realize its potential. Then Blockbuster liquidated their game supply, I scored Tekken Tag Team 2, Epic Mickey 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and a copy of Batman Arkham City for a friend.
I’ve not played a single one of those games yet.
I gave my wife (the casual gamer!) Lego City Undercover for her birthday and over the next 6 months, she proceeded to nearly 100% it. Aiden has made the Wii U his primary game system, enjoying the 1st party Nintendo games like Super Mario Bros 3D World, Legend of Zelda; Windwaker, Nintendoland and Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed. I filled travel time and lazy days with Pokemon X, Fire Emblem Awakening, Mario and Luigi: Dream Team, Animal Crossing New Leaf, Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance and Project X Zone but nothing on the Wii U really got its claws into me. I enjoyed the new Mario game and also Adventure Time but missed out on games I would probably have preferred, such as Wonderful 101. It was a productive Nintendo year in the Knowles household at a casual level.
When news of Nintendo’s failures in the last year hit my desk, I wasn’t surprised. They’ve spent the last 2 years playing catch up. There are still consumers that don’t even know exactly what the Wii U is. The 3DS came into its own as of last year and the Wii U was an obviously mismanaged flop that still actually has unrealized potential. They had an entire year to educate consumers on their home console and release software that would make the system a must own platform. Instead, the Wii U got 10 exclusive titles last year which were eclipsed by the 3DS exclusive titles released. The Wii U became a stranger in its own house. Now that the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are here, there isn’t much of a reason to be interested in what Nintendo has to offer for the home experience, especially for the traditional gamer. Like Little Mac taking a punch from King Hippo, they are down and the 10 count is going.
The fight isn’t over though and they can still pull this one off.
Nintendo is in dire need to inject a new culture in their company. Iwata’s constant pleas of “Give us a little time” are now falling of deaf ears, it is time for him to go. The Virtual Console needs to be embraced and options for Wii U and 3DS connectivity really need to be introduced and rolled out. Nintendo has 1st party titles that could make the Wii U a household item, such as Animal Crossings, Pokemon, Fire Emblem, Legend of Zelda and Metroid. Where is Earthbound/Mother?! For the most part, these were all staples of what has made the 3DS a success. They need to work with 3rd party developers to release games like Minecraft, Terraria, Dark Souls, Grand Theft Auto and more which would make the system more appealing to the typical user. Overhaul the online features, local multiplayer is fun but many gamers love the social aspect of being able to play a game with users from around the world. Finally, the archaic pricing option on the marketplace needs to be fixed!
I grew up with Nintendo consoles and it truly scares me to think that the actual end of their console age could be looming. They still have fight left in them and I truly hope that the upcoming year is the year of the Wii U. If not, the folks at Nintendo are going to have to think long and hard about what they will be doing from there on out.