As popular as Nintendo is in the gaming industry, there’s one thing they’ve struggled with (to put it mildly): their public image – which many have now come to associate with being strictly family-friendly, non-violent and casual.
And that’s resulted in some pretty weird situations for us fans; whenever Nintendo pops up in a conversation, it’s not uncommon to hear phrases like “Nintendo’s games are for kids” or “Nintendo’s hardware always sucks”.
Of course these are far from being the truth but sadly, a good chunk of the mainstream gamer audience actually treats these claims as facts – in fact I see this every day on most Nintendo related content on any site.
So, I present a two-part piece: this part traces Nintendo’s image transformation from “core” to “casual” as well as a brief look at their current status while the next article deals with the debunking of aforementioned stereotypical “myths” about Nintendo, .
Mortal Kombat And The N64
This image problem originated back in 1993, when Nintendo censored the original Mortal Kombat for the Super NES (by removing blood and altering Fatalities), which lead to being poked fun at by SEGA, Nintendo’s then-competitor and even gamers (most of which were teenagers), painting Nintendo and the SNES in a family-oreinted light (again teenagers). But it wasn’t till the next few systems that the issue would gradually become worse.
The Nintendo 64’s third party and consumer support dwindled in favor of Sony’s PlayStation which came to be known as the go-to platform for mature gaming experiences due to the use of CDs that enabled developers to implement FMVs (full motion videos), lengthy cut-scenes and store huge amounts of data – all of which lent to cinematic gaming experiences on the console (which were a big deal back then). Gritty games like Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII stole the spotlight from Nintendo’s cartridge based powerhouse, whose storage issues limited those games from making their way to Nintendo and thus, the N64 faded into the background.
The GameCube experiment
The Big N’s efforts to lure back the core gamers with their next system, the GameCube with its tasteful selection of mature games (such as Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Metroid Prime, Resident Evil 4 and Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem) flopped as well, due the system’s cutesy lunchbox look, lack of online and mini-discs giving a poor first impression of the console. The growing popularity of the PlayStation brand – thanks to the PlayStation 2’s increasing catalog of games and support, plus the CD player functionality – and the beastly capabilities and shiny new online functionality of the new kid on the block, the Xbox, didn’t help matters either.
GameCube had everything for a recipe of success: larger capacity storage media (the GC storage limitations are quite exaggerated as this thread talks about), mature third party support and even powerful hardware (superior to the PS2, almost on par with Xbox) but the GC was still seen as a kid’s system over the competition just due to design choices. Pretty ironic, isn’t it?
7th Gen Competition
Then came the 7th gen with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, boasting HD visuals, cutting edge hardware and advanced online gaming – all of which signified a huge jump in technical advancement over the last gen. On the other hand Nintendo had failed twice in a row to lure the mainstream gamers, and hence decided to go the opposite route: they tried to create their own audience by catering to everyone, regardless of gaming orientation.
Enter the Wii, a motion controlled gaming system with an affordable price point that was technically just on par with the last gen Xbox; while the system was predicted by many to fail thanks to its underwhelming nature, it eventually became a sleeper hit among the non-gaming masses owing to its revolutionary gimmick – motion controls. The Wii raked in massive sales and huge profit for Nintendo and even brought humongous third party support – something which no one predicted would happen, not even Nintendo themselves.
However it wasn’t all fair and dandy; the Wii also had to face several issues:
- The weird name lead to more than a few puns and jabs at the system
- Unorthodox gimmick
- Inferior specs to PS3/360 (owing to the necessity of being affordable, plus a miscalculation on Nintendo’s part regarding the growth of high definition gaming)
- Shovelware that drowned out the quality releases (due to publishers eager to grab a piece of the cake and not caring about genuinely enjoyable gaming experiences)
- Focus on non-gamers
While the system still ended up getting dozens of good games (many of which were exclusive) they were overshadowed due to the aforementioned issues that left a sour taste in gamers’ mouths and the Wii got bad rep; Nintendo’s core image was finally largely shattered.
The Wii U Fiasco
While it initially promised a huge comeback for the Big N into the console race, Wii U ended up being a serious misstep due to Nintendo’s shortsightedness:
- Lack of significant marketing hurt the system’s sales.
- Miscommunication via advertisements meant that many consumers mistook the Wii U GamePad as an add-on for the Wii.
- Reliance on casuals to bring back sales (who, after the Wii, had moved on to smartphones), as seen by the kid-friendly ads.
- Reusing the tainted Wii brand.
- Weaker hardware compared to PS4/XB1 that dealt them a huge blow in the long run.
All of this ultimately lead to developer and consumer disinterest and did basically nothing to fix Nintendo’s hurting image, despite the Wii U having a good selection of games and full backwards compatibility with the Wii.
The Nintendo Switch (Literally)
However the introduction of the Switch has worked wonders for them and changed them drastically, as a company.
- With aggressive and spot-on marketing, they’ve set a new goal for themselves: to make the Switch the next biggest thing in the market by carving out their own niche, thanks to the system’s hybrid nature that allows them to both reap the benefits of their handhelds and overcome the pitfalls of their home consoles.
- By planning a strategic game lineup of upcoming games, they’ve shown their dedication and seriousness towards gamers.
- Listening to third parties and embracing their efforts has bought in huge support from major publishers like Bethesda (with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, DOOM and Wolfenstien II: The New Collosus) and Rockstar (with LA Noire), plus staggering backing from indies.
As it stands, Nintendo has done a lot to crawl out of the hole that is not entirely their own doing. But sometimes its tough to get out of the pigeonhole that millions have put you in. In the next piece we look at some of the myths that have come up around Nintendo stemming from their past sins, and we debunk them based on what Nintendo has to offer today.
Let us know in the comments, whether you agree or not. Do you have anything to add? Any particular aspect that we have missed? We would love to hear from you.