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Nintendo: Keeping Us Entertained For All the Right and Wrong Reasons

The Switch doesn't deserve to be such a huge hit. But it also does. So confused.

Opinion by Nadia Oxford, .

Regardless of how you feel about Nintendo as a console manufacturer and a game developer, you need to give the company due credit for this much: The things it says and does make this industry an interesting and unpredictable place.

Just this week alone we learned a bit more about what Nintendo has in store for the Switch's online voice chat and its Virtual Console / classic game subscription service. The former is kind of bad. The latter is pretty great. The discourse is delicious.

Nintendo is Facing Off Against Apple for Switch Hardware Parts

Nintendo is fighting for the same parts used in Apple iPhones and other smartphones.

But that's peak Nintendo, isn't it? It runs hot, then cold. It invites scorn, then adulation, then more scorn – sometimes in a single day.

That's why Nintendo's such a fascinating company to watch. It's a big corporation, sure, and it's certainly not above exhibiting the cold detachment that comes with the conservative corporate mindset. It exists to make a profit, but you can still clearly see the love Nintendo has for video games beating down in its very core.

I guess that's why I'm glad the Nintendo Switch is making a killing even though, on paper, you get the impression the console / handheld hybrid has no right to succeed.

See, I mourn for my PS Vita every time I hold the sleek little thing. "What a stylish system with so much potential," I weep as I press the back of my hand against my forehead. But when Sony realized it didn't have an instant winner against the Nintendo 3DS, it all but killed support for the PS Vita outside Japan.

To echo Kat: Yay, we (probably) won't have to buy Mario 3 for the third time on the Switch!

It was a sensible business decision, and Sony's a much bigger company than Nintendo: It manufactures TVs and other electronics in addition to the PlayStation, so it needs to cull support for failing hardware as necessary. That means quick and unfortunate casualties like the Vita.

By contrast, Nintendo doubled its developmental efforts on the sickly Wii U. Its determination to court newcomers and placate established Wii U owners resulted in some of its best games ever: Mario Kart 8, Splatoon, Super Mario 3D World – and, let's face it, Zelda: Breath of the Wild was originally developed for the Wii U, too. The point is Nintendo must've quickly realized the Wii U was taking in too much water, but like the musicians on the Titanic, it resolved to put on a hell of a show.

Much of that was necessity, of course. Going back to the PS Vita example, Nintendo can't afford to cut off a failing piece of hardware at the joint and immediately move on to the next thing. Again, next to Sony and Microsoft, it's a comparatively small company whose sole business is video games.

Yeah, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a souped-up port, but it's a souped-up port of a great game no-one played in the first place.

But that's also the reason why it moves in mysterious ways: It's small, it's agile, and it needs to think quickly to stand out in an industry dominated by hardware and software behemoths (to say nothing of smartphones and tablets). Watching Nintendo do its thing is like watching a dolphin swim. It's breathtaking to see it jump, flip, and revel in the joy of life even though you know it's probably going to do something regrettable and ignoble as soon as it sinks back under the water.

Nintendo deserves to be called out when it does something stupid, but at the same time, Nintendo fans are used to taking the bad with the good. Look at The Switch. It launched with a single must-have game (albeit a great one) and a high price tag. Its hardware doesn't stack up to the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, let alone the PS4 Pro or Scorpio. We won't see its iteration of the Virtual Console until 2018. Its online community is dismal. But its TV / portability gimmick is great, and its launch window is solid. I can't even begrudge the Switch for re-packaging the likes of Mario Kart 8 because so many people missed out on the Wii U's excellent first-party library the first time around.

It's as if Nintendo rotates through an endless cycle where it launches a console that ultimately flops, learns hard lessons, applies some of those lessons to the next generation of hardware (but not all the lessons, mind you), gets complacent, and flops again.

It's an aggravating cycle to behold time and time again, but one way or another, we all wind up entertained.

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Comments 14

  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #1 SatelliteOfLove 3 months ago
    Today's gentle reminder from yours truly on Nintendo that will serve you well:

    Never count on Nintendo to succeed, and never count them out.
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  • Avatar for jimgamer #2 jimgamer 3 months ago
    Good article. I think the handheld space has always been a fascinating one in how much more often refreshes/redesigns happen, and how they are more iterative than typical console refreshes. With tech supply chains and advancements (screens, chip designs, semi process shrinkage) moving so fast these days - a result of Apple and its competitors - it seems Nintendo is potentially even better positioned than its competition to be nimble. A TV console with a mid-cycle refresh, or upgrade is less alluring to the average consumer. Compare that with an annual upgrade of a phone, and I would guess you get bigger numbers. Nintendo has now created a fantastic and reliable key functionality (TV/handheld) in a device that screams for an annual refresh. The personalization of a handheld - that can be accessorized, carried everywhere, and owned rather than shared - is a strong draw and it feels like they have only just got started. Joy cons with swappable functions rather than colors. Apps for video services, music, social media. Custom colors. All locking you in to individual ownership of the device, for several family members, where a TV console will suffice for each household. I think they have got this one very right.Edited June 2017 by jimgamer
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  • Avatar for chrisc #3 chrisc 3 months ago
    I will admit I was a bit of a Switch doubter. On paper, it doesn't seem particularly great. It doesn't "do" very much (apart from a handful of games). And it seems underpowered in comparison to the latest console and mobile phone tech.

    These issues are all (in Nintendo-friendly-speak) cowpoo.

    The key to the Switch -- unlike other handheld gaming devices -- is that it delivers the full home-console version regardless of whether you're in the living room, bathroom, train, or anywhere else. You're not getting a cut-down Zelda; you're getting Zelda. You're not using a few buttons to replicate the control scheme -- the controllers *are* the controllers (which you can manipulate in several ways).

    It's genius.

    You can't play a PS4 Pro game on your commute. You're going to be anchored to wherever you set up that Xbox Scorpio. The 3DS version is never going to look that great, and will be compromised in several aspects. But the Switch?

    You're playing the full version wherever you are, in a convenient form-factor that fits in your backpack. There's no contest. It's right there.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #4 NiceGuyNeon 3 months ago
    If it weren't for Nintendo I would give up on consoles entirely and solely be a PC gamer (and solely read PC Gamer and Rock Paper Shotgun).

    But there's Nintendo. They exist and therefore I play console games. I don't care about social features, apps, hardware specs or really anything but games. And I can count on Nintendo for one thing: to put on one hell of a show, almost without fail, at least once a year. Breath of the Wild is one of the best games I ever played. All the Wii U and Switch need to do is power on and let me play.

    The bad decisions? I can live with those. Just give me a reason to keep playing.
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  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #5 SuperShinobi 3 months ago
    I love my Vita as much as always, even though 2017 has been poor so far in terms of new releases for it, unlike last year, which was still pretty great. The Vita already has hundreds of its own games, hundreds of PSP games that you can play on it as well as hundreds of PS1 classics. Such a vast library combined with rock-solid and elegant hardware design mean that Sony can be proud of what they have achieved with the Vita. For me it's the ultimate handheld console. I hope they'll continue it as a platform for a couple more years at least.

    Nintendo is still supporting the 3DS, which is good, but it looks like they may be moving towards a single platform strategy eventually with their hybrid console strategy. Microsoft already has a similar strategy, where they make the same game for the Xbox and Windows. It would've been untenable for Sony to support 3 different platforms (PS4, VR and Vita), especially if their competitors operate a model where they essentially have only one platform to support. So they had to drop support for one of them. In the modern era, even supporting 2 different platforms is a huge strain on internal studio resources.Edited June 2017 by SuperShinobi
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #6 Roto13 3 months ago
    I'll be fine if Nintendo just keeps porting Wii U games to Switch to flesh out the library. Haters will complain about rehashes but it's not like any of them played any of these games the first time. Wii U sold to Nintendo die hards only and they don't mind so much.
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  • Avatar for thesirkibble2 #7 thesirkibble2 3 months ago
    Nintendo remembers something we ignore: in order to innovate, there must be failures first. We don't want failures. We want status quo-guarenteed-to-work-power-machines. Nintendo wants you to be a kid again - or stay a kid.

    That's why this is so entertaining. We all want Nintendo to see success with their experimentations but we can't help but facepalm at their missteps. And we can't stop talking about it. They certainly are entertaining but it wouldn't be entertaining without the highs and lows.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #8 riderkicker 3 months ago
    @thesirkibble2 But Thomas Edison took risk after risk after risk in succession. Whatever Nintendo is doing is like two steps forward a step back.
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  • Avatar for JiveHound #9 JiveHound 3 months ago
    That dolphin metaphor is great. Especially considering it was a codename once upon a time.
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #10 TheWildCard 3 months ago
    I'm kind of torn on the Switch, on the one hand, I want it to succeed because Japan needs another ecosystem to put games on, especially small- to mid-sized developers still trying to stay afloat without going over to darkside (mobile). On the other hand I want Nintendo to earn it, and I'm not sold on the Switch as a platform or as a piece of tech. It's too big and heavy for what I want for a handheld system; the joycons pretty much suck; it has no d-pad; the fact that the best control option is an overpriced gamepad that kill the portability factor is kind of a problem if the biggest selling point is said portability.

    As nice as it is to play indies on a portable, $300+ is pretty steep for that privilege. And then there's stuff like their laughably delayed online service, which makes me question why the hell they think they can be a platform holder if they can't even bring the goods.
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  • Avatar for Modern-Clix #11 Modern-Clix 3 months ago
    Nintendo definitely makes some odd decisions here and there, but the fact is, the good always outweighs the bad for me. I love their hardware and their software at the end of the day. Something does not have to be top of the line spec wise to be quality IMO. I mean the GC had amazing specs, but it had nothing on the behemoth that is the PS2.

    The Wii U had plenty of issues, but I loved the software, Miiverse, etc. Hell, I even loved the OS despite it being on the slower side because it had so much personality and charm (and catchy music!)

    I love the Switch so far, and I think people saying the price is too steep can be applied to any of the consoles. There is a reason I waited over a year to get a PS4, and it is because the price was to steep. I think 300 dollars for a console these days is par on course and fair. Would I love to go back to 199.99 consoles? Heck yeah! But those days are done. With all the tech in the Switch, people were delusional that it was going to come out for 200. Especially since a N3DS XL foes for 180 and the regular sized 3DS is 150.

    The only thing I will say, is that yes, wish it had a pack in game. Nintendo does not really have to earn anything with me, because well, I love their games. Simple as that. Gaming is a luxury, not a need. You either like something, then cool, or you don't, then cool as well. People get worked up on meaningless things. We game because it's fun. That is enough for me to buy a system. Am I having fun?
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  • Avatar for Modern-Clix #12 Modern-Clix 3 months ago
    @TheWildCard Hmm, I respectfully disagree. I find the system to be comfortable to hold and pretty light. I also disagree that the JoyCons suck. The only negative for me is the lack of a standard cross dpad. That said, once I unlearned and got used to it, I have been playing Shovel Knight without a hitch with it.
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  • Avatar for mylaluu #13 mylaluu 3 months ago
    The Switch is better than I think and Nintendo is still trying to release more games for it. Title ARM will be the best one right now.
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  • Avatar for thesirkibble2 #14 thesirkibble2 3 months ago
    @riderkicker I can't tell if you're being sarcastic.
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