Nintendo had an interesting 2011, to say the least. After the lackluster launch of their newest portable, the 3DS, the subsequent price drop paired with some high-profile title releases in the fall spurred an impressive uptick in sales. Strong holiday profits have put Nintendo in a good starting spot for 2012, but their workload for the upcoming year will far exceed that of 2011.
Nintendo introduced a sizeable list of first- and third-party games for their portable system, with a staggered release schedule to keep interest from dwindling. Kid Icarus, Animal Crossing, Resident Evil, Monster Hunter, Heroes of Ruin—the list of games grows, receiving a fair bit of press as well as an increase in excitement from gamers.
What Nintendo should and must do now is buckle down and deliver a fresh IP to the masses. Always considered an innovator when it comes to new designs, risks such as Nintendogs, Elite Beat Agents, Wario Ware, and the aforementioned Animal Crossing have proven critically and profitably successful. With the hardware in mind, the 3D, touchscreen, SpotPass, StreetPass, and Play Coins have eluded several titles, even new entries in venerable series like Super Mario 3D Land.
Mario Kart 7 took a good step in showing Nintendo's dedication to expanding their online multiplayer capabilities, but the stigma still remains. We can probably expect the PS Vita to have strong online support right out of the gate, and however Sony's portable fares when released worldwide in February, Nintendo should stop sitting in the backseat when it comes to global interconnectivity. Quick deathmatch hookups in Kid Icarus, publicly visited towns in Animal Crossing (per the player's agreement, of course), and cooperative hunts in Monster Hunter are all features which should absolutely be included in their respective games.
Now, concerning the hopeful news of the next iteration of the 3DS, I have no doubt that Nintendo's Research and Development team is working up the blueprints, hopefully with our concerns and criticisms about the current model in mind. A built-in second circle pad and a heftier battery life are two of the biggest upgrades needed, but the system has plenty of room for smaller tweaks as well. However, although I would love to see a 3DS Lite (or whatever it may be called) on store shelves right now, from a business perspective, Nintendo should keep any and every piece of information concerning the next 3DS model locked in a vault until 2013. There are still a lot of gamers on the fence about whether or not they should purchase the portable. If even rumors are leaked of a new model, those gamers will definitely keep that money tucked away until that version is released. Of course Nintendo doesn't want that; their goal, as has historically been the strategy, is to sell off as many current models as possible, wait for those same consumers to yearn for something new, and then finally deliver on those wishes. So no, if my speculations are correct, we will hear nothing about any upgraded 3DS this year.
Let's move on to the consoles now, starting with the one on its death bed. It has been clear for a while now that the Wii has surpassed its life expectancy. Unlike the PS3 and Xbox 360, which can still hold their ground, the Wii just can't stay afloat. The allure of motion controls has faded, and Nintendo continues to be overlooked by third-party developers because the Wii simply doesn't have the guts for the game. Granted, the recent Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was a wonderful addition to any owner's repertoire, but with those kinds of releases few and far between, it's time for Nintendo to bear another console child.
Which, of course, they have with the Wii U. No rumors, no speculation. It's official: The system is in development, and looks to be available by the end of year. With the 3DS now smoothly rolling along, you can bet Nintendo will be pitching their new console at every convention and exposition. One of the biggest luxuries for the Wii U is that—unless we get a bombshell from Microsoft or Sony—it will hit store shelves possibly even a year before the competition. What Nintendo should do is twofold: showcase the power of the system, and sell the tablet controller. They need to win on both these fronts to be successful. Why? Because if the system's graphical strength is only on par with the Xbox 360 and PS3, then hardcore gamers will have absolutely no reason to buy one, since the majority of this type of gamer could care less about the newfangled tablet controller. Nintendo needs third-party developers to either be exclusive to them (at least until the other next-gen systems are released), or at the very least show, in quality, that the Wii U copy is the one to buy if the same game will also be available on the Xbox 360 and PS3.
With the tablet controller, Nintendo will likely target the same broad audience it did for the Wii: the casual gamer, the family connector, the middle-age moms, and the rest of the group outside the "core gamer" circle. It may be a trickier sell, since tablets are not a new technology like motion gaming was with the Wii. However, most of that same audience I just described are probably without an iPad or Galaxy Tab, either because of cost or complexity, which—if the initial price tag of the WiiU is say half that (around $250)—is much more likely to win the crowd over. But the Wii U could still sell with those who have a tablet lying around, they simply need to design and promote it properly. With the exception of a few gems, the vast majority of tablet apps are shallow, designed for a quick pleasure fix. If Nintendo can showcase some deep gameplay with the Wii U, and be able to export the same experience onto the tablet controller, it may be enough to attract a new interest. We've already seen it with the Zelda demo; we just want more of it.
Few would make the claim that Nintendo is not an innovator in the field of video games, whether the brand appeals to them or not. Also, the Big N has learned from failed designs, and as such has been very clear about their new visions, staying at the drawing board as long as necessary before diving into development. However, the world of video games has drastically changed, even since the Wii first came out, so Nintendo must make sure they don't appear out of touch with today's gamer. They've got a lot riding on 2012, and I'll be very interested to see what they've done with it a year from now.
Date: January 30, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*