Does Nintendo Need To Grow Up?

A popular accusation leveled at Nintendo is that they rarely bring out any ‘new’ games. This may just be a remark to aggravate fanboys or a genuine comment on the state of the company’s popularity outside of its loyal admirers. Many recent first-party releases fit this argument, this year’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD for the Wii U was simply a graphical enhancement of an older game, as was the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D for the 3DS in 2011. The Super Mario franchise, in both its 2D and 3D incarnations remains a constant fallback for Nintendo to boost console sales, for example, the recent Super Mario 3D Land for 3DS and Super Mario 3D World for Wii U. Admittedly some of these titles have been truly groundbreaking, such as Ocarina of Time when it was first released in 1998, and others have come to be seen as pinnacles of their genre such as Super Mario Galaxy.

The dominant games for Nintendo consoles today are from series that are decades old, containing the same characters and plotlines. This could be a sign of a company whose outlook is still stuck in the childhoods of the past.
It can be argued that an unwillingness to change this formula is not evident in Nintendo alone, with the now annual releases of instalments of Activision’s Call of Duty and Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchises. It has become an industry standard to exploit popular series as cash cows leaving less room for new IPs (Intellectual Property). However there have been some exceptions, for example Naughty Dog, who restricted their massively successful Uncharted series to a trilogy. They then releasing a new IP in the form of The Last of Us, receiving an equal amount of critical acclaim. Contrastingly, after 2007’s Halo 3 was thought to be the last in a trilogy, Microsoft announced the beginning of the new Reclaimer trilogy in 2011. Original developer Bungie, however, has a new First-Person Shooter, Destiny, slated for release in September and is anticipated to be a dramatic shift to a MMO set-up rather than a restrictive ‘corridor’ style FPS.

Owners of the two most recent Nintendo home consoles, the Wii and Wii U only have access to a meagre selection of cross platform third party games due to their technical limitations. Yet these limitations, were part of a business strategy to attract non-gamers into buying their consoles due to a relative level of affordability and usability. This strategy made the company rich, with sales of the Wii eclipsing the Xbox 360 and PS3. Yet this success has not continued with the Wii U. The console has garnered sales of less than 4 million units since its release in November 2012, very poor compared to the figure of 20 million managed by the Wii in the same amount of time. This also adds to the conclusion by some people in the industry that Nintendo is echoing the decline of its once rival, Sega. After the sales failure of its Dreamcast console in 2001, Sega had to restructure itself as a third-party developer and never to make a console again. One could argue, however, there are key differences between Sega then and Nintendo today. Sega couldn’t compete with Sony’s PlayStation 2. Nintendo, with a strong fan loyalty to its first party content and its ability to find a gap in the market with the Wii, has been able to continue producing consoles. The problem is for how long?