It's impossible to deny that Nintendo has created a legacy that's simply unparalleled in the world of gaming. Mario, Link, and Donkey Kong are practically synonymous with gaming themselves. But, quite frankly, Nintendo has been making some pretty bad choices lately that have left some contemplating whether the Big N will survive another generation or go the way of SEGA and drop out of the console race altogether.
Currently, the most obvious misstep is the 3DS. While it's an excellent piece of hardware that does some very cool things, it was designed for the wrong fan base: the casual crowd. It's hard to judge Nintendo too harshly for this; I mean, the Wii completely dominated this console generation by catering to a casual audience. It seems like a fairly safe bet to extend that logic to their next handheld device, right?
But they forgot to take the competition into consideration. The Wii's major competitors were the PS3 and the Xbox 360, both of which maintain a strong focus on the hardcore gamer. When a casual console showed up in an age of hardcore game systems, the casual crowd completely ate it up. It was their only option for a console suited to their casual gaming needs, after all. And the Wii had some really neat motion control features, and a low introductory price to boot. It was cheap, innovative, and pretty much had a monopoly on the casual console market.
But the 3DS never had this luxury. The mobile gaming market is soaring right now, and introducing a handheld gaming device that doesn't allow users to make phone calls isn't the best way to attract this demographic. The casual gamer on the go will play Angry Birds on an iPhone while waiting in line for a movie, but probably won't pull out a 3DS for a round of Mario Kart. The 3DS simply threw itself into a market that was ridiculously oversaturated already, and it just wasn't as suited for the needs of the casual gamer as an iPhone or an Android device.
With Sony's upcoming portable gaming device, the PlayStation Vita, not on shelves yet, Nintendo had a great opportunity to snatch up hardcore gamers with mobility on the mind. They could have skipped the 3D feature entirely, added a second thumb pad, and launched with a more hardcore-friendly lineup, with brand new additions to maybe the Metroid, Zelda, or Super Smash Bros. series. However, as the Vita launch gets closer and closer, it's becoming pretty obvious that Nintendo has missed the opportunity to take advantage of its earlier launch.
To make matters worse, the 3DS started off with a painfully weak game lineup. In fact, at the time of this writing, the two best games for the 3DS are actually Nintendo 64 ports, and that's a little sad.
Also, Nintendo has just confirmed the existence of their Expansion Slide Pad, which adds a second control pad to the 3DS. Before the official confirmation, this device was simply too ugly to be real. Well, it's still just as ugly, but now it's real. Admittedly, the device is functional, as it adds a much-needed right thumb pad, but it's a cumbersome add-on that could have been avoided had Nintendo anticipated the necessity of a second thumb pad in the first place. Arguably, this is something they would have thought of had they had a hardcore audience in mind from the outset.
Now let's move on to the Wii U. Sure, Nintendo wowed us at E3 with the slew of great features that would be included in its impending console. The Wii U has a lot of things the Wii lacked: HD visuals, strong third-party support, and a twin-stick control format. And seeing that controller in action, with its full color touchscreen, was a little bit like seeing magic happen. However, as time wears on, people are getting more and more skeptical of the Wii U. That iPad-like controller can't possibly be very comfortable to hang onto for lengthy gaming sessions, after all. And it can't be cheap either; at this point, no one expects the cool low entry price that the Wii had.
If the 3DS ultimately fails, and the Wii U also fails, could this be the end of Nintendo's presence in the console race? Could they just throw in the towel and spend their time on games and peripherals?
I highly doubt it. People are going to buy the Wii U simply because it's a Nintendo console. While it probably won't see the sorts of sales figures the Wii did, lackluster Wii U sales won't bankrupt the big N. This is the company that survived the Power Glove and the Virtual Boy, after all.
Sure, the 3DS got off on the wrong foot, and people are eyeing the Wii U with caution, but Nintendo will prevail. If nothing else, a strong first-party game lineup will move its consoles. And that's Nintendo's ace in the hole. Nintendo has its Mario empire, its Legends of Zelda titles, its Animal Crossings, and so much more. These are the franchises we continuously pine for, and many of us will buy a 3DS and a Wii U just to play them for another generation.
My prediction: A later model of the 3DS will definitely add a second thumb pad, as we're getting word of more and more games that will require it. And Nintendo isn't going to want to have to rely on such a cumbersome add-on as the Slide Pad Extension. Also, the 3DS will eventually have a game lineup worth buying the console for.
And even if the Wii U is a terribly awkward and expensive console, people will buy it. In fact, all Nintendo needs to do is bring us a brand new HD Zelda title (not another remake) and, personally, I'm pretty much sold. I'm sure plenty of my fellow gamers would be too.
Nintendo simply holds the keys to the hearts of gamers. Even though Nintendo franchises get milked practically to death, they have a tendency to push the gaming envelope every once in a while. Look at the 3D platforming madness of the N64 era, or the motion control fad of the Wii's heyday.
As long as we keep seeing Mario and Zelda titles, Nintendo will have a firm foothold in the world of gaming. Even if it's based on nothing more than nostalgia.
CCC Editor/Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*