One final plea to Nintendo before moving on to other things…
Think way back to March of 2015.
The New Nintendo 3DS had been on the market for literally weeks before, at a meeting to talk about the companies dalliances with the smartphone generation (a move which seems to have been surprisingly successful), the late Satoru Iwata dropped a bombshell; he didn’t just say that Nintendo had a new console in the works, he even went as far as to give it a name – the “NX”. It was a decidedly low-key announcement which sent shock-waves through the console universe, shock-waves which soon began to shake the Sony and Microsoft trees and loosen the tongue enough for them to start admitting they, too, were looking at new hardware.
It’s time to admit it – I love Nintendo, as much as I love any gaming console manufacturer but Nintendo does have a place in my gooey, blackened heart, but the Wii U was a cluster of fruit and nut bars from the opening gambit. It was marketed wrong – it should have been a DS variant, an HDS if you will. It was left to third parties to take the slack early on, something that even the most addled of Nintendo fans knew was a tall order of insanity with a plate of chips on the side. Nintendo couldn’t even get their own games out fast enough, and though it’s fair to say Nintendo has had more success on the software side this generation with the likes of Mario Kart 8, Smash Bros. and Splatoon more than doubling exclusives sales on rival platforms, the Wii U needed those things earlier on in its life cycle. It was a mess, and Nintendo paid the heaviest price this generation, selling no more than ten percent of the volume of Nintendo Wii consoles it shifted not five or six damned years ago. Where it matters, the Wii U has been a disastrous mess.
But in a lot of ways, I don’t mind that. I’ve written that companies need the occasional slap from the market. And I have come to my own conclusion that the Wii U was a rush-job in and of itself. The Wii U was a half-way house between the home console ideal and the DS variant and it never quite got to be either – the core idea was always there, but the technology to make it a reality needed more time in the oven. Four years later, we’re being teased with the idea of a hybrid, modular hardware ecosystem. A tablet that turns into a handheld, a handheld which when docked at home becomes a proper home console, and a home console which can have its power and performance enhanced by extraneous modules. I’m almost convinced now the Wii U was a bottled attempt at this, to broach the handheld and home console division, but one done without the necessary technical essence or pinaché that we do expect from Nintendo.
But here we are, eighteen months later from that teaser and all we have is leaks and promises.
I understand Nintendo’s desire to keep a lid on the finer specifics of the NX. Look around the gaming landscape and you’ll see ideas and concepts that Nintendo itself can claim it pioneered; the D-Pad, the Standardised Controller Layout, Rumble, Analog Sticks, heck – Nintendo was doing online experiments in Japan in the mid-90’s, though I concede Sega refined that enough with a proper modem that it can lay better claim to the online thing. But the Satellovision stuff was delivered in patches downloaded via satellite internet. Yup – Nintendo was patching in the mid-90’s (and also streaming games and laying the ground work for online distribution)! From how 3D games play to early experiments with 3D chips and the buzz over motion controllers last generation (and Sony’s attempt to effectively rip off Smash Bros.), Nintendo frankly has a damned good reason to be a little paranoid about outside forces and companies wanting a slice of its latest idea. Heck, who remembers in terrified expectation for the Wii U, Sony and Microsoft started pushing tablet and smartphone integration with its games? As the Wii U fell over, Microsoft and Sony backed off that idea with a speed that must have defied all known laws of physics.
I don’t say that to gloat that “Nintendo is teh gratest“, merely to point out the reality of things. Without Nintendo, the console industry as you and I know it would not exist. Sure, it would have moved on – maybe even come to the conclusions Nintendo arrived at in time. But Nintendo did more than show off a few gimmicks here and there, or utilise already existing technology in new ways – it demonstrated HOW to use them. It’s impossible to describe to people an age before Super Mario 64; it took Sony and developers a year or two before they realised just how much there was packaged in that one single game that could change everything. Nintendo doesn’t just drop hardware – it drops ideas, and ideas bear fruit in time.
That was, in my view, the single biggest failing of the Wii U. It took arguably until Super Mario Maker before Nintendo had a bona-fide vindication of the Wii U as a concept. Whilst Super Mario 3D World, Hyrule Warriors, Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon all had their place, it was still relatively easy to consider the possibility that the Wii U Gamepad – the U-Pad – was still a bit of an extraneous addition, a gimmick that never quite took off. Super Mario Maker was released in September of 2015; the Wii U was released in the fall of 2012. Three years for a vindication is not typically Nintendo. Want to know why the Wii U was such a flop? There’s your reason; if Nintendo can’t demonstrate how to use a new function or feature, after decades of demonstrating how to use their ideas, what hope is there for others?
I don’t believe for a second the PlayStation 4 Pro is Sony’s next big console – it reeks too much of the New 3DS situation for me to consider that a possibility, but we have a market that is restless and drifting far from its original intent. The PS4 Pro is coming in at $400. The Scorpio sounds like it might come in closer to $500. There’s a reason why the PlayStation 2 and the Nintendo Wii were success stories; they were cheap. The mass market didn’t need to think twice about the purchase – the PS2 was a DVD Player, and at the time wasn’t much more expensive than an actual DVD Player. Why buy two machines when one does it all? The Wii, on the opposite side, was a cultural phenomenon – a lifestyle machine, and everyone wanted the sleek small white box and its funky new controller. But their price made them essential purchases for the wider market. The PS4 Pro and the Scorpio – and perhaps even Sony’s next console – are shifting closer towards the PC Gaming scene, a place which has seen explosive growth.
This general unrest in gaming, the lack of ideas and perhaps even quality control, all plays into Nintendo’s hands – even on the Wii U, there’s very few games which are objectively awful in every way. The market is giving way right now, in the wake of the PS Plus Price Hike and the PS4 Pro reveal, showing that consumers are agitated, frustrated and eager for change of some kind. Sales are dropping. The industry needs some big new hitter, and it needs it soon – sales right now should be spiking, but they’re falling as the market realises new hardware is on the horizon.
In essence, Nintendo needs to play it’s NX Card now.
You couldn’t ask for a better set of circumstances – aside a few teasers, there’s nothing big on the immediate horizon. Sony just had what amounts to a disastrous conference revealing the PS4 Pro, a machine that the media has tried to spin as a positive and is being relentlessly mocked for doing so. Microsoft is more interested in the PC Cross-Play ideal; but even there, we’re extremely unlikely to see anything before E3 of 2017, and I’d suggest we’re not likely to see much of the Scorpio until July or August of 2017. There is nothing happening – nothing at all. The field is clear, and if Sony and/or Microsoft were to steal ideas from the NX – which seems unlikely, as Nintendo’s patents plus its modular hardware ethos would mean them going back to the drawing board – Nintendo could point out three decades of situations where it got to the market with an idea first. Nintendo would, effectively, be gifted ammunition that would likely bury Sony’s third-party support; they tried killing the wrong company. Nintendo does it first. Why follow the copycat?
Not only that, the consumer market is begging for more information – official information. They want to see it, they want to obsess over it more, and that’s another clanger the industry finds itself in. The Scorpio – eh, s’alright. The PS4 Pro? Incremental hardware upgrade. The NX? Completely new set of ideas and challenges. That’s exciting – newsworthy, even. Not even the most smug, deluded fanboy of the PlayStation or XBox could deny that the NX is, as it stands, newsworthy. It is a radical shift. Will this shift denote the shape of things to come? Even just speculating on the possible ramifications of the machine would have most websites drowning in op-eds.
The final reason is simply – I’m tired of leaks. I’m tired of rumour. And I’m tired of gossip. I’m tired of Emily Rogers – I’m sure she’s a lovely person really, but I’d rather skip the middle man now if that’s quite alright with her. I’m tired of the likes of Forbes suggesting delays and click-baiting when their ad system still needs so much work (or a pair of concrete slippers). I’m tired of the industry as it stands, I’m bored of my current hardware – my PC has had so much usage it’s unreal – and I’m frankly amazed Sony thought the PS4 Pro would be enough to keep itself going, when in truth it is more likely to cannibalise their own market and leave millions of old PS4’s languishing on the second-hand shelves, taking much needed sales away from new hardware.
And I’m just tired of waiting. It’s been eighteen months. The NX is due in six months. We’re long past the point where Nintendo can tease coquettishly behind a fan, dropping clues here and there. The NX will cost money – actual, real-world, cold hard cash. If Nintendo wants my cash – and I’m pretty sure at this point that they do – it might be prudent to actually take a glove off in this marketing striptease. I’m a patient man. But we all have our limits, and if Nintendo isn’t careful, they could overplay their hand – wait too long, something else lands, all that time and effort wasted because we’re attracted to the other shiny thing.
Because the NX is a shiny thing; in a period of grey, that shiny thing looks like a foglight cutting through the darkness. Best to attract the attention now and ground people on your rocks than risk someone else shaking loose a few stragglers on theirs…