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 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.
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.
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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