Fans of the Wii U, one of the more polarizing systems in Nintendo’s back catalogue, woke up one day earlier this month to the news that their beloved console was being retired by the company. It’s a shame – games like Bayonetta 2, Mario Cart, Splatoon, and Super Smash Bros. were almost enough to carry the console on their own – but it’s hardly a surprise; with just 13 million units shifted, the Wii U was a commercial flop.
To put that number into perspective, Sony has sold 158 million PlayStation 2 consoles since its 2000 release while the original Nintendo DS has found 155 million owners since 2004. Perhaps the most damning comparison is between the Wii U and its predecessor, the Wii, which sold 88 million more units than the Wii U.
Nintendo’s second-generation device was poorly thought-out from the beginning; it was expensive, underpowered, had little support from third-party developers, and had more peripherals and controllers than every other console on the market put together. And now, it’s dead – after just four years.
Let’s move on. Here’s a quick look at two recent developments at Nintendo – the company’s belated move into mobile gaming and the announcement of the Nintendo Switch console.
Mobile gaming is worth $34.8 billion worldwide and supports endeavors as varied as match-three games and casino titles. However, brands targeting the industry, such as Lottoland, a company that helps people join lottery syndicates, often have to find ways to stand out in an overcrowded market, using incentives like a free bet on the EuroMillions jackpot to lure customers in.
Nintendo has an advantage. As a major name in gaming, the company has an existing market of fans interested in their products, yet Nintendo is a notable absentee in a world dominated by fellow gaming giants EA and Activision.
Nintendo now plans to release four new mobile games before March 2017, including an ‘infinite runner’ in Super Mario Run. It’s a seismic shift for a company that has demonstrated little to no interest in the sector previously, and one of the last decisions made by late president, Satoru Iwata, before his death last year.
The upcoming Super Mario Run is a pretty standard title in the long-running franchise. Mario runs automatically in a 2D world; the player simply controls when he jumps. The gameplay is simple but it adds challenges in spikes, pits, and the usual motley crew of enemies. There’s also a multiplayer race mode.
Nintendo softened the blow of the Wii U’s premature retirement by announcing that the long-rumored Nintendo NX device was to get both an official name and a release date, in Nintendo Switch and March 2017.
The company’s upcoming device is an attempt to combine the versatility of the Wii U, its various screens and controllers, with the portability of the DS range of handhelds. In that, it’s several consoles in one.
The Switch’s biggest selling point is the fact that it’s partially modular. The device has a standard controller that breaks down into two ‘Joy-Cons’, which can be attached to a small, battery-powered monitor and used as a PSP-style portable console. Both Joy-Cons function as individual controllers, however, permitting two-player experiences using the monitor as a surrogate TV.
What separates the Switch from the Wii U is the fact that it’s a practical device suitable for almost any conceivable scenario that a console can fit into (travel, parties, playing on the sofa, etc.) and not a motion-controlled, multi-screen gimmick played with a peripheral golf club. However, there’s still a great deal of conjecture surrounding the device.
— Nintendo Wire (@NinWire) 16 November 2016
A good example of the latter is the fact that Skyrim, heavily advertised as a Switch-compatible game, has not been confirmed as such by the game’s developer, Bethesda. It’s an important point; prior to the Wii U’s launch, Nintendo received the same greeting from AAA developers yet the console died with little third-party support to its name. Associating Skyrim with the Switch could prove a poisoned chalice for Nintendo if early adopters can’t find the game come release day.