When it comes to handhelds, nobody can argue that Nintendo is a juggernaut. Each iteration consistently sells well and the lifetime sales numbers back it up. Its consoles, on the other hand, are a different beast. Outside of the commercial success of the Wii, which broke outside the video game crowd, Nintendo consoles don’t generally do “well.” At least, what we currently consider doing “well.” Only two of its home consoles have broken 50 million worldwide sales: the Wii and the Nintendo Entertainment System. Sadly, the Wii U doesn’t look to add to that accomplishment. But it made me wonder: Why do Nintendo consoles do so much worse than its handhelds? In this article, I will compare Nintendo’s approach with the 3DS to the Wii U, and explain where Nintendo is going wrong as an example.
First and foremost, the Wii U name is awful and does a poor job differentiating itself from the previous generation. The 3DS, while still featuring the DS name, was ever so slightly tweaked in a clever but cheesy way. But there is no ambiguity in the name of what made the 3DS unique. It features 3D. And to those who don’t understand that, for whatever reason, they can see the number three and believe it’s better than the previous version. So by simply adding the number three, Nintendo not only explained the biggest draw of the feature, but also an assumption of it being the newest and best handheld Nintendo offers.
But then there’s the Wii U. Nintendo clearly wanted to capitalize on the Wii brand, and who can blame them. The drawback falls on its poor marketing of what the “U” stands for. To consumers, and apparently Nintendo itself, the “U” stands for upgrade. And piggybacking on the complaint of the original Wii, why would someone want to upgrade to a system they grew bored with relatively quickly? The Super NES worked because the leap from the previous console was large, the console was genuinely enjoyed, and the NES had a strong following. The PlayStation is now on the fourth iteration, and it’s because Sony supports the console with great games and people recognize that. Nintendo may have the strongest numbers with the Wii compared to the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, but the longevity isn’t there. Now, the Wii U is suffering in part due to the name connection with the original Wii.
Second, the hardware is another emphasis for improvement. The 3DS is selling well, but Nintendo recognized the issues some people were having with the 3D itself. To combat this, the 2DS was released. Yes it’s ugly and I haven’t actually seen or heard anyone use it, but the fact that Nintendo changed its handheld hardware to eliminate the key feature of the system that some viewed as negative was an attempt to win more people over. The form factor was modified to appear more tablet-like, the 3D was removed, and the cheaper selling price could woo in those intimidated by the 3DS’s price and 3D “gimmick.” The Wii U has a similar concern with its gamepad as the biggest selling point of the system, outside of the HD graphics, and has not been put to good use. The gamepad screen is not well implemented in games, which is a weird turn for Nintendo who normally takes advantage of whatever quirks its systems tend to have. The most useful part of the gamepad is playing the Wii U games on it instead of the big screen, but that isn’t what the selling point of the system should be.
Nintendo, while not an easy change to make, would benefit from removing the gamepad and making it an optional accessory. If people want to take advantage of the second screen option, then let them make that choice. Remove it and replace it with a pro controller which removes the intimidation factor of the gamepad and may cut the price as well. Of course, that means something would need to be done with games that do use the gamepad in some way, so patches would need to come from Nintendo so the pro controller would work with them. Nintendo has the money and resources to make this work, or at the very least, they would have to make it aware to consumers that some games are not playable without the gamepad. At this point, the gamepad comes off as more of a crutch to the system than a benefit. Nintendo may want to consider ditching it.
Another hardware aspect Nintendo should realize is this: handhelds do not need to be top of the line, but consoles do. Take for example the PlayStation Vita and the Nintendo 3DS. There’s no comparison in terms of which hardware is better. The Vita destroys the 3DS in every conceivable way. Yet, it doesn’t matter. The Vita is grasping for any potential sales and the 3DS is cruising along. Part of the reason is: the hardware itself doesn’t matter too much. It’s still nice to have the newer options, but the very idea of handhelds are to have experiences on the go. There’s already an understanding that what you give up in power is made up for in convenience of on-the-go gaming. Graphics don’t matter as much as they do on the consoles. Online features don’t matter as much as they do on the consoles. Even the lack of controls, to a point, doesn’t matter as much as on the consoles. Handhelds do not suffer from the same burdens that consoles do.
Which leads to the Wii U. Graphics matter. Online features matter. Controls matter. Gamers want consoles to be the best gaming experiences possible. As the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 sales show, people are not afraid of dropping cash on a system if they feel it’s worth it. The casual audience is a gamble because they need that one thing that sets it apart that looks fun and accessible. But those things don’t come up as often as people would like. Gamers on the other hand are easier to please. Show them games that look great, support a system well, and speak the language they want to hear; you are guaranteed to have sales. But as Nintendo has shown for many years now, it is more concerned with family friendly experiences than consoles that are graphical showcases. And it’s coming back to bite the Wii U. If Nintendo wants to know why its systems do not sell as well as PlayStation or Xbox, its first change needs to be the hardware its chooses. Nintendo can’t stand up to competition if it isn’t willing to compete with them in the first place.
Lastly, and most importantly, are the games. Several months ago, I touched on why I have faith in the Wii U and part of it involved games. Anyone that owns a Nintendo handheld knows the support it receives. Maybe not immediately out of the gate as evident by the 3DS, but within a year, everyone has something to play. The number of titles and franchises that the 3DS has is staggering, and that has always been the case with previous handhelds.
Here is where my frustration at Nintendo and its console direction blows my mind.
Where are the same titles on the Wii U? I don’t mean exact same games, but why do none of these series branch out to expand the desolate console gaming library? Where are the Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton games on the Wii U? What about Fire Emblem or Harvest Moon? Mario RPG’s are rampant on handhelds, but the best one was on the SNES. Where’s my console Mario RPG? And for the love of God, how have you not released a Pokemon game, one of your biggest franchises, on the Wii U? Not Pokemon Rumble U…a full fledged Pokemon HD game that’s similar to a handheld counterpart! I understand not wanting to take away from the magic of those games on handhelds, but releasing one console version of each of these games a generation isn’t going to hurt those franchises on the 3DS.
The Wii U has only been out for a little over a year. I get it. Expecting a flood of games is somewhat unrealistic. But the problem is, Nintendo hasn’t given me any reason to believe games like this will come out for the system. That’s the crazy thing. As supportive as it is about the handhelds, it throws its consoles out expecting the same to happen. Nintendo expects certain “system seller” games to be the saving grace of the system. But as New Super Mario Bros. U and Super Mario 3D World have shown, Mario isn’t that game. The “year of Luigi” couldn’t sell consoles. I highly doubt games like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Hyrule Warriors will do much better. Releasing two or three big games a year is not enough when the rest of the year is absolutely barren. Third parties haven’t been given a reason to release games on this console, so they won’t have any help there until Nintendo can sell its own games first. Nintendo can’t afford for gamers to wait until there is enough they want on the console. Give them reasons to buy it now. More games do just that, whether it is similar games to the 3DS, more virtual console games, more indies, more HD remakes…do whatever you have to Nintendo. It’s part of why the handhelds are successful, and why the console isn’t.
It’s frightening how unconcerned some people are about Nintendo. Nintendo has a long history of regurgitating similar titles over and over again (I’m looking at you Mario Kart, Mario Party, and Smash Bros) as a method to persuade gamers to jump aboard the Nintendo train. Its relationships with third party developers have soured over the years and don’t look to improve any time soon. But there’s no need to worry apparently, because Nintendo has money in the bank. News flash folks: No company is safe from failure, no matter how much money they have. Is Nintendo going to lose it all any time soon? Of course not. But to think that Nintendo is invincible because it has a nice financial nest egg is ludicrous.
Patience is running thin with gamers and Nintendo in the console department. Nintendo may be safe on handhelds, but its consoles are less and less impressive with each new generation. It can’t rely on just one gimmick to win over a large crowd each time, because people will start seeing through it. Nintendo needs to realize why handhelds are so accepted and beloved, even in a world dominated by mobile games/apps, and ask how its can transfer those strengths to the consoles. If it doesn’t, it may not be making consoles for much longer.