Photo: Courtesy of Tribune News Service

Column: Nintendo walking on thin ice

Nintendo held an event for the Switch, its new TV/handheld hybrid console, earlier this month. After the financial failure of the Wii U and a severe lack of games over the past year, gaming fans hoped to see a new Nintendo that understands its audience and comes out the gate swinging.

Now, in the wake of the presentation, many believe that Nintendo failed to do this.

Over the past year, Nintendo’s first-party offering of games for the Wii U has been scarce. Granted, Sony and Microsoft’s first-party development has been somewhat lacking as well, but the difference is PlayStation and Xbox have numerous third-party developers creating games for both platforms, meaning that there is always something to play, even in these dry spells. Nintendo, on the other hand, doesn’t receive the same kind of support, which means that when Nintendo stops releasing games, Wii U owners are simply left with nothing.

The common theory was that Nintendo was holding back on game releases and announcements in order to make the launch of the Switch an event so large that it would be impossible to miss out on.

This is precisely why it's a hard pill to swallow that, at the time I’m writing this, the Switch is set to release with 5 games, only three of which are new. Many of the games coming out after that are also ports, and even the games that aren't ports haven’t garnered the most excitement from fans who, like myself, are begging for compelling reasons to drop down money and buy a Switch.

There is the argument that the PS4 and Xbox One launch lineups were also fairly weak, and I will admit that’s true, but the fact of the matter is that Nintendo is in an entirely different situation here. Neither the PS4 nor the Xbox One were tasked with following up after a catastrophically under-performing console like the Switch is.

Courtesy of Tribune News Service

And the whole third-party developer problem shouldn’t be understated. During the conference, Nintendo had a fairly abysmal showing of third-party support that included “Skyrim,” which is rumored to not be the HD remastered game but rather the 2011 Xbox 360/PS3 version, and “FIFA,” which is also rumored to be the Xbox 360/PS3 version. Nintendo had representatives from EA, one of the largest game companies in the world, over to Japan just to vaguely announce that “FIFA” would be coming to the console? And they had Todd Howard from Bethesda appear in the stream to reveal a port of a five-year-old game? Don’t get me wrong, I love fighting dragons and putting buckets on shop clerks' heads so that I can steal their cheese wheels, but a port of an old game isn’t exactly the sign of developers having faith in the hardware.

Nintendo needed to blow everyone away with this conference and establish itself as a true contender in the market, and this simply didn’t happen. With an awkward presentation, a lack of games and a seemingly backward and deflating emphasis on motion controls — which I highly doubt the world is going to fall head over heels for again with VR becoming an accessible option — the conference was ultimately disappointing.

But who knows? Maybe none of this matters. Maybe Nintendo doesn’t need third-party support, and there are enough people like me who are willing to have a second console for Nintendo games. However, even to get fans like myself, Nintendo is going to need to prove that it can keep a steady flow of fun games, and right now, the horizon is looking pretty sparse. I hope that Nintendo can get back on its feet with this console, because I truly believe that a vibrant and creative Nintendo functioning as both a hardware and software developer is very beneficial to the industry as a whole, and I fear that this might be the last chance of securing this future.

I’m far from the first to raise this concern, but if the Switch sees the same financial failings that the Wii U did, this very well could mark the end of Nintendo, at least as a hardware developer. I would hope that if this were to happen, Nintendo would recognize that its games still hold a special place in gaming and continue to develop games on other platforms like PlayStation or Xbox, but there is also the worry that Nintendo would simply close down completely. I would much rather the Switch see incredible success and not have to worry, but these are legitimate possibilities if Nintendo doesn’t switch up their strategy.

While the Switch releases on March 3, it will likely take until later in the year and beyond to truly get a grasp on Nintendo’s success this time around. As someone who loves Nintendo, its characters, history and numerous incredible games, I’ll be rooting for them.



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