The Problem With… Nintendo Apologists

bundle_gray_tabletopI’ve pre-ordered a Switch. I do however still stand by my original stance that the Switch isn’t an impressive system; it’s ugly, under-powered and will struggle to get 3rd parties back on board. So why then have I pre-ordered? I’ve been a Nintendo fan since back in the NES days and their games still have that something special that keeps me coming back. Don’t get me wrong, they do occasionally churn out some shit. Even big franchises like The Legend of Zelda have the occasional “miss”; I thought both Spirit Tracks and Skyward Sword were among the worst in the franchise. I also like the idea of taking some potentially great games like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with me while I travel. These days I find myself playing handheld systems like my Vita more often than my home consoles so the Switch might be a great setup for me.

I understand Nintendo get a lot wrong (as we’ll delve into in this article) but there’s a lot of fans who I guess we’d call “fanboys” who are so blinded by their sheer love for everything Nintendo that they cannot and will not accept any criticism thrown at the company. Now to be clear, there’s die hards in both the Sony and Microsoft camps too but Nintendo breed a special kind of loyal fan. In the past I’ve been labelled a Nintendo fanboy and a Sony fanboy but honestly, I’m neither. I criticise things I hate with all 3 video game giants, I just have a tendency to enjoy first party Nintendo games and in recent years my consoles of choice tend to be Sony devices – that’s my personal preference. So let’s explore the special flowers that are Nintendo apologists. I’m going to use a few personal anecdotes in this article which I’m ok with as I’m specifically making an argument about these types of fans, not Nintendo fans in general.

I recently got into a debate on a Facebook group when I saw a post stating “That explains why the pro controller is more expensive, that’s insane it has that all built in. Glad to know that”. The post was accompanied by a brief description of its features. The tech inside the pro controller boasts features such as “motion controls”, “HD rumble” (whatever that will end up being) and “built in amiibo functionality”. Firstly, I’m not totally convinced that these features do explain the high cost of this controller. Doing a quick search, the Xbox One controller retails for around $50 and includes their own version of updated rumble in the form of “Impulse Triggers”. A PS4 DualShock 4 can also be picked up new for a similar price and they too feature new tech such as the light bar, speaker (new to PlayStation controllers) and a “Clickable touchpad”. Arguably of course the Switches HD rumble might be a revolution compared to the rumble of old but do an NFC reader and a fancy update to rumble justify a full $20 increase over the competition? Let’s give the poster the benefit of the doubt here and agree that this “new” tech actually does justify the $20 increase. WHY DO I NEED IT? And here’s my argument that I posted in response:

“That doesn’t mean the majority of players want all that tech. Does everything in your house really need to have the ability to scan amiibo? Or would the main screen be sufficient? I’d certainly take the lack of amiibo scanning in a specific controller if it meant the price was £15 less.”11396097-6244453754475000

A second poster then argued that indeed, this same logic could be applied to PS4 or Xbox One controllers. I agreed that indeed that is true but that doesn’t justify Nintendo bumping the cost of their controller up significantly. We as consumers come to expect a certain price bracket for consoles and accessories and indeed on this matter gamers will vote with their wallets I’m sure. The worst part about this is that the pro controller isn’t even the most expensive controller on offer. A set of Joy-Cons will set you back around $90! Journalists and fans alike (well, except for Nintendo apologists) seem up in arms about the price, Polygon seemed to have done the work for me here, after checking Twitter Ben Kuchera stated “I checked Twitter to see if I was just suffering from a case of unrealistic expectations and nope, there seems to be some serious pushback from others about the price of these accessories”1. Jim Sterling commented after the reveal “Let’s look at everything else Nintendo did to kill my interest in the switch”2 before going on to complain about the price of not only the pro controller but other accessories. Colin Moriarty explained on his new show “Colin Was Right”:

“You do have to do something to keep people around. The games aren’t there and they aren’t going to be there and these ridiculous peripheral prices are simply isolating potential customers even more.”3

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Gamers could chose to take or leave the console and any accessories; Nintendo has every right to charge whatever they feel is reasonable but get this. Since the NES we’ve seen a notable decline in install base throughout all of their home consoles4, with the Wii being the one anomaly here. The NES for example shifted over 60 million units whereas the Wii U has managed fewer than 14 million units and with the Switch releasing in less than 2 months that figure isn’t likely to creep up much further. With that I’d consider it a reasonable expectation that Nintendo should do everything they can to win back a bit of loyalty. Maybe sell the console for a significant loss in order to get the install base back up? After all they’d make a killing on software, much like the business model Sony and Microsoft have used many times in the past.5 How about charge a reasonable price for extra controllers? Maybe bundle in the ability to charge the Joy-Cons with the included grip rather than having to shell out for a special charging grip?6 So the slightly higher than expected price of controllers and accessories alone isn’t the only issue here. I think a Facebook post I wrote summaries this nicely:

“What exactly would Nintendo have to do in order for you to call them out on it? Shit on your lawn? There are a stack of issues surrounding the switch and so many Nintendo apologists are coming out with excuse after excuse.

Look, it’s not JUST the charging issue here, that’s merely the icing on the cake or should that be cack?”

Let’s address some of the other points then that are contributing to this mess. The launch line-up is really weak, on the launch day itself we have The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Ok, here’s a decent first party franchise) and 1-2 Switch in terms of first party titles. As for 3rd party? Skylanders something or another, Just Dance 20 whatever year it is and Super Bomberman R.7 Nothing really to write home about. And as for Zelda, well although this is a beloved Nintendo franchise it really isn’t a big system seller; just take a look at past Nintendo sales figures.8 I’d also add that out of these games 1-2 Switch and Super Bomberman R are the only exclusives, Zelda is also on Wii U and the rest of the bunch are coming to multiple platforms. Ok, so how about games released during 2017? Notable “big” games include Super Mario Odyssey, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, FIFA, NBA 2K18, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2 and ARMS. Notice the absence of a lot of major cross platform games? Where are Call of Duty, Battlefield, Resident Evil 7, Kingdom Hearts III, Mass Effect Andromeda, Metal Gear Survive, Red Dead Redemption 2 and South Park: Fractured But Whole to named but a few. Sure, as the saying goes “people buy a Nintendo or Nintendo games, not cross-platform games”. Hmmm, I’d be convinced of that if only the sales figures showed that to be the case. The fact is when most households chose to splash out on a console they are clearly picking the Sony or Microsoft boxes that can play a few great exclusives as well as being supported extensively by 3rd party developers. Think about it, gamers with a bit of excess cash might buy 2 or even all 3 of these home systems but many kids or adults on lower incomes will only buy one console. And these consumers will certainly want a box that gives them a decent variety of games, including games that their friends are talking about.  And this brings me to the next comment I found on Facebook:

“The hybrid nature of the console will hold it back from being a mainstream success. But it will likely do pretty well, Zelda at launch, MK8 Splatoon and Mario Odyssey all in the first year, will keep the system selling well all the way through its first year.”

My response to this statement?

“4 games in a year will not “keep the system selling well”, especially when 2 of them are essentially “deluxe” versions of existing games and zelda is not an exclusive.”

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The conversation continued with this user stating that I was “forgetting those are four of the biggest games Nintendo has”. The problem is that these “biggest” franchises also made appearances on Wii U and they didn’t shift enough consoles so what makes him think they will just because they are coming to a new platform? Another user then chimed in to tell me games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe aren’t simply ports like we saw from PS3 to PS4. I’m not sure what he’d consider a port then when Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is (as the name implies) a Deluxe version of an old game, it includes all previous DLC and a couple of extra bits and pieces to sweeten the deal. It is by no means a brand new game and it isn’t being marketed in that way either. To top off this debate the original user then informed me that these games did in fact sell the Wii U console. Really? REALLY? The 85 million or so gamers who bought a Wii but didn’t buy a Wii U might disagree with you there! The final comment from the original user was also a bit of a surprise after I’d mentioned to him that you only have to look at how the media reacted after the second reveal. Proving my point that Nintendo apologists are almost blind to any criticism he noted:

“The “buzz surrounding it died”? In what world are you living in? Ever major gaming, tech, nerd , and even news outlet has covered the Switch conference.”

Well I’m actually referring to the likes of the Jimquisition episode9 on this subject where Jim Sterling does a fine job of highlighting some of the points (and others) that I’ve mentioned here. Jim specifically mentions at the end of the video that he made the episode out of frustration because he believes Nintendo has “the potential to be the best platform holder…”.10 I’m doing much the same thing here, I haven’t written this article to slate Nintendo – I’ve ordered the Switch! I’ve wrote this article to vent my frustration at a company which makes so many stupid mistakes that they really shouldn’t make.

Would you like more proof that the buzz died after the reveal? How about the Kinda Funny guys? Colin specifically stated after the Nintendo reveal11 back in October 2016 “I’m excited to pre-order”.12 After the second reveal Colin commented that he was “not very excited”13 before the guys commented negatively on the price of the accessories14 and everything else for that matter!15 Anecdotally I might also add that during the original reveal I left several comments on forums expressing my dislike of the Switch’s ugly, clumsy design. I was pretty much shot down immediately, not a lot of people agreed with me. Fast forward to the second reveal and forums are now seemly divided down the middle with arguments revolving around the high price of the accessories, the Nintendo network becoming a premium service (more on this soon) and the sparse launch line up. And then there’s the articles, of course it wouldn’t be fair to say that all the Switch press was negative. There are indeed a lot of positive posts and many fans and journalists alike have been won over. But just look at a few of these headlines and I think you’ll agree that Nintendo haven’t exactly knocked it out of the park:

The pricing on Nintendo Switch accessories is a bad, bad joke1
Nintendo Switch online service’s ‘free’ monthly games come with a huge catch161-2-Switch is not the killer app the Nintendo Switch needs17
Nintendo Switch will launch with fewer games than the Wii, Wii U or 3DS18
Nintendo Switch’s bundled Joy-Con grip doesn’t charge controllers19

And I think that sums up Nintendo, there are always caveats with their services, games and products. And talking of services, let’s take a look at Nintendo’s new offerings. First of all there’s news that the Switch’s voice chat is done…wait for it… via a smart phone app!20 That’s right folks, there is no native voice chat built into the Switch, and here’s the reasoning behind it according to NOA’s head honcho Reggie Fils-Aime:

“we want to reinforce the capability to take your experience with you on the go…. The ability to do matchmaking, voice chat through your phone, it’s a hell of a lot more convenient than having a gamer headset stuck into your backpack trying to do that. That’s why we’re doing it the way we are. We see the convenience, we see the ease of delivery. We think it’s going to lead to a better experience.”20

This is another common problem with Nintendo, they do things so against the grain that it defies all logic yet Nintendo will outright defend these decisions, as will their apologists. If the issue here is parental controls then implement controls to block this feature for children. If however the issue really is convenience then why can’t we have the best of both worlds and include voice chat out of the box as well as via a smart device app? Is Reggie seriously trying to say voice chat via a phone is more convenient? Not only does this mean anybody who wants to voice chat needs a couple of hundred pounds worth of mobile phone, but it needs to be charged, have a decent signal and be used separately from the Switch’s interface. And how about the “gamer headset stuck into your backpack”? Is he suggesting you no longer need a headset? So I just sit on the train with my phone next to my ear or with the speaker blearing out? Or do I use a small set of headphones with a microphone? If the latter then why can’t I use that with a Switch instead of the massively inconvenient headset Reggie assumes I need if voice chat was native to the console?

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For the record, personally I don’t care about voice chat, especially on a Nintendo console as I’m not a big online gamer. Like voice chat or not though, there’s a hell of a lot of gamers out there who use this feature daily on the PS4 and Xbox One. How can Nintendo ever hope to gain a big fan base when online gamers are denied basic features like this? Yet again though, the apologists help justify Nintendo’s absurd decision. One Facebooker commented “When you make things more difficult for people to use – voice chat – you deserve to be endlessly mocked.” Perhaps he was trolling a little as this was on the Nintendo Voice Chat Facebook group, however, just look at this response “I don’t agree. Nintendo is pivoting towards mobile as a focal point. They approach online differently as such. So, it may not be for you, but mocking is for kids online.” “Pivoting towards mobile”? So that’s the justification for shafting core online gamers?

It seems that voice chat isn’t the only online feature Nintendo is having a stab at butchering either. Much like Xbox Live and PSN, Nintendo will now also start charging for online functionality and in return gamers can expect online lobbies with voice chat, exclusive deals and monthly game downloads from the NES and SNES libraries.21 Here’s the catch, not only have Nintendo miserably failed with all online ventures on previous consoles when compared to Sony and Microsoft but their new paid for service will be giving fans access to an 8 or 16-bit game for one month only!22 Ok, so I’m a firm believer that gameplay is king and I also think that some of the finest games in existence can be found on both the NES and SNES but there’s no denying that offering gamers limited access to 20 or 30 year old games for a month isn’t exactly on par with their competitors. Sony alone offers 6 games per month (2 on each platform from PS3, PS4 and Vita), not forgetting that quite often a selection of these games are also cross-platform so the argument of “I only have a PS4 though” doesn’t wash here. Arguably a lot of these games aren’t worth the bandwidth they use to download but there have also been some great games on the service over the years. And what’s more, both Sony and Microsoft let you play these games for the entirety of your subscription. Having now been a subscriber for 5 or 6 years myself I literally have access to hundreds of games.

I actually put this question to members of the Nintendo Voice Chat Facebook group and in general most responses agreed with me. There were however a couple which tried to justify Nintendo’s decisions and put a positive spin on things. Here’s a couple:

“I like it the flavor of the month concept to it. In reality most of these games take a few hours to beat. So a month should be more than enough time with an NES or SNES game.”

“In a way wouldn’t having it only as a month motivate people to play right away, fill the online modes and most will be done with NES and SNES games after a month anyway? Just a thought.”

“The good thing about the monthly thing would that it would encourage a lot of people to play it that month. This would make it a lot easier to find people to play online with during that month.”

“I like it, i think it will be great for everyone to have access to the same title at the same time.”

Now, I understand what the first commenter is suggesting. In general a lot of NES / SNES era games can realistically be beaten with a couple of hours. However, what I don’t agree with is justifying this decision just because a game is short. Let’s put it this way, sometimes I might buy a game or get one free with PS+ but not actually get around to playing it for months, or even years in some cases. Why would Nintendo putting a restriction on the availability of the game be a good thing? Isn’t it better for the gamer to decide when they want to play the game instead of having it dictated to them?

I’d urge you all to throw away your nostalgia and throw away your biases and really take a look at Nintendo’s decisions. This is a company I grew up with, I love their consoles and love their games but there’s nothing wrong with calling out a company when they do something shitty. It’s pretty clear from Nintendo’s dwindling sales figures that they are struggling to stay relevant and keep up with Microsoft and Sony and if they at least don’t try and offer similar services and technology they will eventually fall.

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Finally, please go and watch both the Colin Was Right episode “Same Old Nintendo” and the Jimquisition episode “What Nintendo Fucked Up With The Switch So Far”. Both of these episodes are excellent, level headed and delivered by Nintendo fans.

A note about any Facebook quotations I’ve used.
I’ve left quotes unaltered, including spelling and typos. I felt this was the best way to avoid misquoting anybody. I’ve left out any citation here; they are simply being used as anecdotes to protect the users anonymity.

1 – http://www.polygon.com/2017/1/13/14261342/nintendo-switch-extra-controller-price-terrible
2 – https://youtu.be/7fH_wl8ceAg?t=341
3 – https://youtu.be/LenzNAyRnWU?list=PLy3mMHt2i7RJjrxBVoVL5tDTbhimG4NFz&t=540
4 – https://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/en/sales/hard_soft/
5 – http://www.pcworld.com/article/127906/article.html
6 – http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-01-16-nintendo-switchs-basic-joy-con-grip-doesnt-charge-controllers
7 – https://twitter.com/NintendoAmerica/status/820006323328864256/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
8 – http://uk.ign.com/articles/2014/01/29/these-are-nintendos-lifetime-hardware-and-software-numbers
9 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fH_wl8ceAg&t=352s
10 – https://youtu.be/7fH_wl8ceAg?t=681
11 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5uik5fgIaI
12 – https://youtu.be/HONQAWV5nxQ?t=754
13 – https://youtu.be/QdNiaVEzrwM?t=333
14 – https://youtu.be/QdNiaVEzrwM?t=452
15 – https://youtu.be/QdNiaVEzrwM?t=511
16 – http://www.polygon.com/2017/1/13/14266290/nintendo-switch-monthly-games-not-free
17 – http://www.polygon.com/2017/1/13/14268204/1-2-switch-nintendo-switch-pre-review
18 – http://www.polygon.com/nintendo-switch/2017/1/13/14263186/nintendo-switch-lineup-wii-wiiu-3ds-comparison
19 – http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-01-16-nintendo-switchs-basic-joy-con-grip-doesnt-charge-controllers
20 – http://uk.ign.com/articles/2017/01/14/nintendo-talks-voice-chat-online-approach-for-switch
21 – http://uk.ign.com/articles/2017/01/13/nintendo-switch-online-services-will-be-free-at-first
22 – https://twitter.com/kobunheat/status/819956802741747712?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

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NX Launch title speculation

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The NX should be in our homes within a year but what games can we expect to play on Nintendo’s new box? Nintendo has to strike a balance between releasing enough 1st party games on a regular basis to satisfy its fans yet not shoot its load too early and leave fans in a software drought for months at a time. After all, with Nintendo’s track record we can’t count on 3rd party support, especially if the NX turns out to be drastically different from the PS4 and the Xbox One – making porting more hassle than it’s worth. 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Legend-of-Zelda-Breath-of-the-Wild-Screenshots-02-1280x720

Nintendo have already confirmed Breath of the Wild will be an NX launch title1. No doubt this will please many hardcore Nintendo fans looking for a meaty title to get their teeth into during the launch period.

Personally I think Skyward Sword and Spirit Tracks are among the worst Zelda games Nintendo have released. Breath of the Wild needs to do something special to restore my faith in the franchise and after watching some of the footage that Nintendo have released I have to say this is shaping up to be one of the best Zelda games in recent years. That being said, Nintendo aren’t very forward thinking so Breath of the Wild could go either way. It’s all well and good offering us new mechanics, new items and a vast open world but will it have substance? Walking around a large open world scattered with a few fetch quests and several handfuls of heart containers placed slightly out of reach just isn’t going to cut it. Nintendo needs to make a believable, fun world packed full of a variety of side quests that offer up new experiences and offer unique rewards.

Chance: 100% 

Super Mario

Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel were both critically acclaimed2 and many fans were hoping that Galaxy 3 would find its way onto the Wii U. What we got instead was Super Mario 3D World which was also a fantastic game, although it didn’t quite hit the sale note that the Galaxy series did. So what does this mean for NX? Will Nintendo finally release a Galaxy 3?

The Galaxy series would undoubtedly make it into my list of favourite games of all time yet I think it would be a shame for Nintendo to bring us another. Nintendo needs to do what Nintendo does best and bring us yet another fresh, genre redefining Mario game that we know they are capable of. We want to be blown away with an all new concept that shows us why Mario is truly the king of platformers.

Nintendo have released six home consoles to date with only two of them (Gamecube and Wii) not having a core 2D or 3D Mario game as a launch title. The chances are then that Mario will either be a launch title or released within the launch window (a moving target, that let’s say for arguments sake will be within the first 12 months). Nintendo have a lot of fans to win back with the NX so a Mario game early on will be a no brainer, and let’s face it 3D World was released back in 2013 and aside from some smaller projects the team have been pretty quiet since.

Chance: 90%

Donkey Kong Country

We know that Retro have actively been working3 on an unannounced title since Tropical Freeze was released back in 2014. Based on Retro’s previous track record we could be looking at a new Metroid game, a 3rd DKC returns game or even revitalising another beloved Nintendo franchise. I’m playing this one safe then as I don’t think it’s a certainty that we’ll get another Kong game any time soon. Nintendo have been known to rest many well know franchises with Metroid skipping the N64 entirely while Donkey Kong has been put to bed a few times throughout the decades, coming back years later reinvented.

Chance: 33% 

Metroid

SamusandMotherBrain

Nintendo would do well to come out swinging with this one. We haven’t seen a core 3D Metroid game since 2007’s Corruption while a core 2D game last graced our screens back in 2004 in the form of Zero Mission (a remake of the original Metroid game). Of course we all remember the rather lack-lustre Other M4 which was a bit of a bastardisation of both the 2D and 3D games but even that, as the most recent Metroid outing was released in 2010.

Metroid producer Kensuke Tanabe stated to Eurogamer that a new entry in the series likely wouldn’t drop until the NX is released5 due to the development time of a new game. It’s also difficult to predict whether a new entry in the series will return to the games classic 2D roots or if Retro would pick it up for yet another Prime-esq game. While it’s not strictly an FPS, my guess is that Nintendo will want to offer up something within that genre.  After all the prime series looked gorgeous and was perhaps the Trojan horse to help sell the Wii to the FPS market.

I do think though that a new 2D Metroid could be on the horizon but this would suit a more niche audience and so Nintendo would do well to develop a 3D game first.

Chance: 70%

Kirby 

There’s no shortage of Kirby games, we tend to receive one in some form every couple of year. Be it a pinball spin off or a platformer with a new aesthetic, Kirby is constantly being reinvented, some love the franchise and some hate it. Kirby is a great addition to Nintendo’s library as the games are generally kid friendly but appeal to old skool Nintendo fans.

Kirby is arguably one of the lesser franchises that jumps to mind when thinking about Nintendo games so while the chances of getting at least a few Kirby games on NX is fairly high I wouldn’t hold my breath that there’s going to be one for launch. In fact, to date no Kirby game has ever been released on any platform for the launch date. Kirby doesn’t have the appeal to draw in gamers looking to invest in a new piece of hardware; instead this franchise should be used more as “filler” to bolster months with fewer 1st party releases.

Chance: 20%

Pikmin 4 

While not strictly a lunch title, the original Pikmin was a launch window game, releasing within a matter of weeks of the GameCube. Pikmin 2 followed around 2 years later, also for the GameCube while Pikmin 3 hit around 6 months after the Wii U launch – technically being another launch window game.

Back in August 2015 Shigeru Miyamoto confirmed that Pikmin 4 was nearing completion6 and with no word on progress since it has presumably been ported over to NX. The chances are then that Pikmin 4 will certainly be released within a matter of months of the NX launch, if not on launch day.

Chance: 80% 

Fire Emblem

SI_3DS_FireEmblemAwakeningAs an old school Nintendo fan I’m always surprised when a game emerges that I know nothing about – Fire Emblem is one such franchise. I was already familiar with Advance Wars but I’d never even heard of Fire Emblem until Awakening was announced for the 3DS. Glancing at sales figures, previews and news articles makes one thing clear since the release of Awakening; Fire Emblem is now more relevant than ever. A Fire Emblem game heading to the NX then seems like a no brainer.

With Fates releasing very recently for the 3DS it’s hard to predict what developer Intelligent Systems will do next. They may return to the sister series, Advance Wars or work on something totally different. With the huge sales enjoyed by Fates7 (even outselling the massively successful Awakening) Nintendo may decide to strike while the iron is hot and choose to release a follow up as quickly as possible. And what better way to release a follow up to a successful franchise than to develop it for a new piece of hardware that they are trying to push?

Although Fire Emblem is far more relevant than it’s ever been its important not to overstate how big this franchise is. Nintendo’s big hitters such as Pokémon, Mario Kart and Super Mario regularly shift in the region of 10 times the amount of copies that Fire Emblem can8. Why send out Fire Emblem to die when Nintendo could ship it during a slower period?

Chance: 25%

Pokémon

“Pokémon on a home console?” I hear you cry? Rumours are rife9 that the NX will in fact be a hybrid console, combining both the power of a home console, playable on a TV along with the flexibility and portability of a hand held.

Pokémon is without doubt one Nintendo’s most beloved, best selling franchises and since its inception back in the late 90’s the franchise has never skipped a handheld generation. With Sun and Moon arriving later this year it’s doubtful that we’ll see a new entry in the series for the NX launch. We don’t yet know what compatibility will be like with previous consoles though so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to see a 3rd game to complement Sun and Moon. The last time we got a 3 game generation was back on the DS with Diamond, Pearl and Platinum.

Chance: 30%

Star Fox

Over the years Star Fox has gained average to good review scores10, with the most recent entry in the franchise, Star Fox Zero scoring among the lowest in the series. Nintendo need to plan their next move carefully. It’s fair to say Star Fox has never been among the top echelons of Nintendo’s all-stars so it would come as no surprise if Star Fox doesn’t make an appearance on the NX any time soon – if at all (Star Fox was notably absent from the Wii).

Chance: 10% 

Mario Kart

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Since being introduced on the SNES, Mario Kart has had a single release on every piece of Nintendo hardware (with the exception being the Virtual Boy). There’s no doubt that Mario Kart will make an appearance on the NX but what’s more difficult to predict is when it will see the light of day.

Mario Kart 8 was released around 2 years ago so it’s fair to say another entry in the series could be well into development but then again how often are Mario Kart games launch titles for a system? The answer is never. Although we’ve seen Mario Kart games during the launch window we’ve never actually been able to pick up a copy day and date with a new piece of hardware. The chances of Mario Kart NX being a launch day title then? Not good. The chances of it being released within the first year? Fairly good. 

Chance: 60%

Splatoon

Splatoon is a hard one to call, is this destined to become a staple Nintendo franchise or will fans see it relegated to the likes of Pilotwings, Wave Race and Kid Icarus, popping up every couple of generations with no real consistency?

Considering Splatoon was universally praised11, sold fantastically well12 and had its own range of Amiibo it seems only logical that Nintendo will continue pushing it in the coming years. Not only does Splatoon fill the role of a pseudo-shooter (a genre lacking from Nintendo’s 1st party teams) but it appeals to a wide range of gamers and offers online play, a market which Nintendo really needs to cater to.

Chance: 50%

Animal Crossing         

Animal crossing is another heavy hitter for Nintendo. The game uses a tried and tested formula and iterations don’t tend to offer much in the way of new mechanics but nevertheless fans lap up each entry in the series. Animal Crossing hasn’t made an appearance on the Wii U so there’s a good chance a game might have been in the works and is now being ported over to the NX.

Animal Crossing would be one of the better games to show off the capabilities of the NX. Taking the game on the move and street passing with other players then heading back home and visiting their village with your home internet connection all while enjoying the graphics on your HDTV seems like a great way to sell a new game in the series. 

Chance: 70%

Super Mario Maker 2 

Super Mario Maker was a great idea. Take the LittleBigPlanet formula; throw in a bunch of Super Mario Brothers items, power-ups and landscapes then create a bunch of near impossible obstacles or novelty music levels for friends to enjoy. After offering players all the recourses they need to faithfully recreate levels from the golden age of Super Mario Bros. what more can Nintendo offer?

Chances are a Super Mario Maker 2 would do something completely different. The less likely idea would be to offer players a Super Mario Maker 3D, featuring elements of games from Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. Not only would this overwhelm players but seamlessly transitioning between these 3 generations of Mario games and mixing up mechanics such as FLUDD from Sunshine or planetoids from Galaxy would be an absolute nightmare.

The other, far more likely scenario then is to tackle a different franchise. How about a The Legend of Zelda Maker? A Metroid Maker or a Donkey Kong Maker? All 3 of these would work well and after up different, unique experiences. Imagine creating dungeons in a Zelda maker or creating sections of a space station in Metroid and deciding which doors can be unlocked with which upgrades? What about designing mine kart sections for Donkey Kong?

Sales of Super Mario Maker were pretty strong so Nintendo must have had the conversation about where to take the “maker” franchise next. That said, this type of game probably isn’t suited as a launch title to show off a system and its graphics. I’d expect to see a game like perhaps 2 or 3 years into the NX’s life.

Chance: 20%

Super Smash Bros. NX

Smash Bros. is now a staple Nintendo franchise, with an entry hitting each Nintendo home console since the N64. Each game in the series is received with overwhelming praise14, so what better way to celebrate Nintendo’s rich history and character roster than with an all-star game?

There’s no doubt that during the life of the NX a Smash Bros. game will release, the question is when? Furthermore who will develop the next game? The wait between Melee and Brawl was 7 years, while the 4th entry in the series Super Smash Bros. Wii U and 3DS came a further 6 years later. With that in mind were not likely to see a new game until around 2020, well into the NX life-cycle.

Series director Masahiro Sakurai has also expressed a desire to move on from Smash Bros. due to its lengthy development time and fan expectations. If Sakurai really is done then Nintendo will want to carefully select a worthy development team to take over the reins – this could take some time. All signs then point to the next Smash Bros. being a fair few years away yet.

Chance: 20%

  1. https://www.nintendo.co.uk/News/2016/April/Nintendo-provides-updates-on-mobile-NX-and-The-Legend-of-Zelda-along-with-annual-earnings-1102529.html
  2. http://www.metacritic.com/game/wii/super-mario-galaxy
  3. http://uk.ign.com/articles/2014/02/28/wii-u-is-a-powerhouse-says-donkey-kong-country-developer
  4. http://www.metacritic.com/game/wii/metroid-other-m
  5. http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2015-06-17-next-proper-metroid-prime-would-likely-now-be-on-nx
  6. http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-07-20-pikmin-4-in-development-and-very-close-to-completion
  7. https://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/pdf/2016/160427_4e.pdf
  8. https://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/pdf/2016/160427_4e.pdf
  9. http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2016-07-26-nx-is-a-portable-console-with-detachable-controllers
  10. http://www.metacritic.com/search/all/star%20fox/results
  11. http://www.metacritic.com/game/wii-u/splatoon
  12. https://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/pdf/2016/160427e.pdf
  13. https://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/en/sales/software/wiiu.html
  14. http://www.metacritic.com/search/all/smash%20bros./results
  15. http://www.gamesradar.com/super-smash-bros-creator-may-be-done-series/

The problem with . . . Sonic The Hedgehog.

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In 1991 a blue blur streaked across our screens for the first time. This is when my first experience of Sonic The Hedgehog began, with my Master System controller in hand I spent countless hours dashing through each zone hoping to defeat Dr. Robotnik (as he was named back then in all but Japan). Sonic was like nothing we had seen before, his sheer speed, the lush setting of the green hill zone and his cool persona. Sonic was fresh and a far cry from the outdated podgy plumber sporting a moustache and dungarees, yet at some point throughout the years it all went wrong. You see, although Mario as a character was always much less “cool” than his blue younger rival, Mario is still innovating and refreshing with each new instalment of the main franchise, which is now pushing 30. So where did it all go wrong for Sonic? For some years Sonic was arguably as big, if not bigger than Mario, let’s take a look back at how Sonics rise to fame began.

During the 1980’s the juggernaut of Nintendo began to dominate the games industry with a reported market share of around 92%[1]. By this point Sega had already entered the console market and yet the Master System paled in comparison to the NES, selling around 13 million units[2] while the NES achieved a whopping 61.9 million[3] sales. At this point Sega had to rethink their strategy, the Genesis had arrived in Japan at the end of 1988 and over the course of almost two years it was eventually released in the UK (the console was named ‘Mega Drive’ in both Europe and Japan). This console was about to sow the seeds of success which would shoot Sega into the forefront of gamers minds, and make Sonic one of gaming’s greatest icons for generations to come. The Genesis was not an instant success, however, that was all about to change as a new game had been developed called Sonic The Hedgehog and it would be bundled in with every new Genesis console.

Sonic became an instant success and Sega’s market share peaked at around 55 – 65%[4][5] during 1991. The golden era of Sonic was about to begin as a string of Sonic titles were released yearly, beginning with Sonic The Hedgehog 2 in 1992, the lesser known Sonic CD in 1993, and both Sonic The Hedgehog 3 and Sonic and Knuckles released during 1994. The classic Sonic formula had worked wonders throughout the 16-Bit era, however, Sonic’s reign was about to end due to three important factors discussed below.

Part 1: Sonic Adventure

3D gaming ushered in a new era for videogames, and many existing franchises had to evolve to stay relevant. Super Mario 64 hit shelves in 1996, followed by other 3D platformers, such as Crash Bandicoot on the PlayStation. Sega had also begun to evolve and so the natural progression was to bring their mascot into the realms of 3D. Fans had to wait 4 years after the release of Sonic & Knuckles for Sonic Adventure, which was released for the Dreamcast in 1998; it was the first in the main series to feature 3D gameplay (spin-offs such as Sonic Labyrinth and Sonic 3D had previously experimented with isometric gameplay).

Sonic Adventure received mainly positive reviews[6][7],so how could 3D possibly have had a negative impact on the franchise? Sonic The Hedgehog had been designed to be a much faster game than Super Mario Bros.[8] There is still an element of skill involved in Sonic’s gameplay, however the main appeal is its speed. I generally felt myself rushing through most levels as fast as possible rather than trying different routes and finding all the secret areas. Adding a third dimension to the mix didn’t really add anything to the game play, and if anything, Sonic became increasingly frustrating to control as his speedy movements were difficult to judge in a three dimensional environment. Mario on the other hand was a slower paced game with a greater focus on skill and taking time to plan each jump with expert precision, or work out a method of attack (there was of course a countdown timer in Super Mario Bros. but generally stages were not designed to be sped through as they were in Sonic The Hedgehog). Adding a 3D element to Mario games offered a further degree of tactics; the player now had to carefully navigate the plumber across narrow ledges, circle enemies and shake off crazed Bullet Bills. Moving to a 3D environment was one of only several large changes Sonic Adventure brought with it.

In recent years many would agree that Sonic games have become bloated with superficial playable characters, and if we compare this with core Mario games, the player is generally only able to play as Mario or Luigi, of course there are exceptions to this (see Super Mario 64 DS). I believe Sonic Adventure was the catalyst for this, adding six playable characters that were insubstantial in terms of their relation to the Sonic universe and more importantly to the player base. Sega seem to have addressed this oversaturation of extraneous character selection with the launch of Sonic The Hedgehog 4, in which a character teaser countdown[9] was used which finally revealed Sonic as the only playable character.

Sonic Adventure also brought with it some strange design decisions. Gone were the memorable electronic songs synonymous with previous games in the series, instead replaced by throw away guitar riffs and vocals . . . vocals! As for the level design, there were some beautiful zones such as ‘Emerald Coast’, ‘Mystic Ruins’, and ‘Windy Valley’, all of which were reminiscent of canonical Sonic design. New, however, was the inclusion of hub worlds (think Super Mario 64’s castle), which would be a perfectly fine inclusion were it not for ‘Station Square’; a city populated with humans and featuring a train station. Other than Robotnik (who is very much a caricature) humans had never been a part of this universe before, but that all changed with Sonic Adventure.

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Most importantly, disregarding some poor design decisions on Sega’s part, it is the gameplay that should keep players hooked. Going back to play ‘Emerald Coast’ (the first zone in Sonic Adventure) I realized how little interaction there is in this stage, with very few enemies, and a very linear path to the goal. The stage looks quite nice, but due to Sonic’s high speed, the player misses most of its beauty, and has no real reason to slow down to appreciate it as the stage is fairly linear with a general lack of enemies and obstacles.

Part 2: The Console Fiasco

When a new console is released it is generally four or five years until a successor is released. This allows developers to get to grips with the new tech and work on building a franchise. Developers start to understand the limitations of a platform and are in a much better position to release a sequel or two utilising the same engine and tech. Consumers also benefit from these life cycles as they generally end up with better quality games as a result. Buying a new console can cost hundreds of pounds and consumers can be reluctant to upgrade. Both Nintendo and Sony have released every new home console at least five years after their last flagship machines (there was a four year gap between the original Xbox and the Xbox 360). Sega on the other hand have had a very troubled release schedule.

The Master System debuted in 1987 and aimed to compete directly with the NES. By this time however Nintendo had already dominated the market. For the next generation the Genesis arrived two years earlier than the Super Nintendo, giving Sega a much-needed boost. The Genesis firmly cemented Sega as an established brand, and not wishing to fall behind again, Sega quickly began working on new consoles. They were perhaps a little worried that Nintendo might follow up and beat them to the market with their next generation console, which would eventually be the N64.

What happened over the next decade would lead to Sega retiring from the console market and focus solely on software. Between ‘89 and ‘99 Sega would release six new home consoles (along with the 32X there were also Mega-CD 32X games which required both a Mega CD and a 32X), plus provide continued support to the Master System. On top of this Sega also released hand held consoles and updated existing models (Mega Drive II). Compare this to Sony who openly announced that their consoles have a ten year life cycle.  The new PlayStation becomes Sony’s flagship system for five years, and then the company spends a further five years supporting the system as the budget older brother to the PlayStation 2, strengthening the user base for their latest console. There is nothing inherently wrong with this logic as Sony only supported two home platforms simultaneously, not seven!

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Now arguably the Mega CD and the 32X (along with Mega-CD 32X games) were add-ons for the Mega Drive, as neither could function without being connected to a Mega Drive. The idea was quite innovative, essentially keeping a base console relative for years to come while upgrading it with extra units rather than abandoning it in favour of the latest system. Keep in mind however, that these were full price systems retailing at approximately £250[10] for the Mega-CD and £150[11] for the 32X at release. Nintendo implemented this same concept several years later but in a much more user friendly way by offering customers the ‘Expansion Pak’, which increased the N64’s RAM. The Expansion Pak retailed for a fraction of the price of the 32X and was even bundled free with Donkey Kong 64 for a time. So therein lies the problem. It’s not that fans went off Sonic itself, but for the most part they lost interest in Sega as a brand. Nobody could keep up with the sheer about of systems Sega was selling, and for that matter who would want to?  The 32X library consisted of thirty-four games while the Mega-CD 32X library consisted of only six (some of which were duplicates of 32X games); quite a price to pay for such a limited selection.

Sega followed up with yet more bad decisions. The Saturn was slated for a September 1995 release but four months before the launch date, Sega surprised fans when the console shipped early at select retailers.[12] Due to the surprise launch there were only a handful of games, none of which were from third-party developers. Sonic didn’t even make an appearance on the console after Sonic X-treme became stuck in development hell. Four years of poor sales passed until Sega released what would be their final console, the Dreamcast.  In terms of shipped units, the Dreamcast only scrapped around 10 million, just slightly more than the Saturn.[13] Both the Xbox and GameCube sold about double that amount although they were not considered to be massive successes when compared to the mammoth PlayStation 2 sales; a console which has gone on to sell an estimated 150 million units. For reference here are SEGA’s home console releases in chronological order:

Master System (1987)

Mega Drive (1989)

Mega CD (1992)

Pico (1993)

32X (1994)

Saturn (1995)

Dreamcast (1999)

Part 3:  In Conclusion

There is not a simple explanation as to why both Sega failed as a hardware developer and Sonic failed as a flagship franchise. Sonic’s fall from grace seems to be attributed to the culmination of bad design decisions to both hardware and software. With failing hardware a franchise cannot survive, but would Sonic have fared any better had the Saturn or Dreamcast sold as well as the PlayStation 2?

During the 1990’s many franchises were evolving and Sonic had to compete to stay fresh and relevant. Sonic Team seemed to struggle to evolve Sonic in a way that would remain true to the franchise. Perhaps Sonic should have remained a 2D platformer and found new ways to innovate within that design space; after all, in recent years 2D platformers have enjoyed a resurrection and have been well received. Mario and Sonic have returned to their roots with New Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog 4 respectively, as well as many new and unique platform style games such as Braid, Limbo and Super Meat Boy populating the downloadable space. In the meantime though, Sonic has been placed in increasingly unfamiliar situations. There has been 3D platforming in Sonic Adventure, the high-paced, almost racing like Sonic and the Secret Rings, and morphing into a werewolf in Sonic Unleashed:  none of this content ‘feels’ like a Sonic game should.

Sonic remains a reminder of a bygone era of classic platforming action in the golden age of gaming. Unfortunately he has never been able to move on and evolve in a way that both improves the core mechanics and remains relevant.

1. Kent, Steven L, The Ultimate History of Video Games (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001), p. 428.

2. http://uk.retro.ign.com/articles/965/965032p1.html

3. http://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/library/historical_data/pdf/consolidated_sales_e1106.pdf

4. Kent, Steven L, The Ultimate History of Video Games (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001), p.434

5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mFs2v7XM4o&feature=relmfu

6. http://dreamcast.ign.com/articles/160/160140p1.html

7. http://www.gamepro.com/article/reviews/385/sonic-adventure/

8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6D9h-4vQUHM&feature=relmfu

9. http://blogs.sega.com/2010/01/15/project-needlemouse-character-countdown-finale-and-concept-art/

10. http://www.captainwilliams.co.uk/sega/megacd/megacd.php

11. http://www.captainwilliams.co.uk/sega/32x/32x.php

12. http://uk.ign.com/articles/2008/05/02/the-sad-legacy-of-the-saturn-launch

13. http://web.archive.org/web/20080905175406/http://www.gamepro.com/article/features/111822/the-10-worst-selling-consoles-of-all-time/

Edited by Arthur Salt