In 2012, Satoru Iwata faced a problem.
He still faces a problem - the same one, in fact: the Wii U is not lighting the industry on fire, and at this point it’s unlikely it will. What it can do is gain momentum, and as Nintendo’s investors re-elect Iwata to his position as President of Nintendo with a crucial boost to his approval rating, as sales for Mario Kart 8 fly past two million, as public opinion settles on Nintendo’s E3 showing being “pretty goddamned great,” it’s not a hard case to make that that momentum is coming back.
The Wii won last generation by making the consumers who aren’t us think that it’s a boatload of fun, and for them, it absolutely was. Comedian Chuck Nice said of the thing that he hates video games, but loved Wii bowling. He loves bowling, he said, and this way he didn’t have to wear bowling shoes.
Hardcore gamers - god, how are we not sick of that term by now - writhed in agony as the successor to a console boasting Metroid Prime, The Wind Waker, Resident Evil 4, Eternal Darkness, Killer 7, and Viewtiful Joe became the go-to console for half-assed ports and cash-ins for the “average consumer.” Did you know there was a game based off of Gordon Ramsay’s show Hell’s Kitchen? I don’t know how it works either. But it exists, and it was par for the course for most of the console’s lifespan.
The Wii U is, from the standpoint of forming widespread appeal, a catastrophe. The branding is so confusing and stupid that its debut deserves a place in video game history for not making it clear to anyone what they were actually debuting. Once you work out what the thing even is, it’s still riddled with puzzling decisions. Tying an entire console to a peripheral that lacks any software to make a compelling case for its existence is a triumphant example of observing the Kinect’s catastrophic failure and deciding to use that same strategy on a bigger, riskier scale.
Sure, it was a fucking stupid idea to force Kinect 2.0s with the Xbox One, but developers could release games on the Xbone without using the thing - a developer can’t just pretend the Wii U’s tablet isn’t what the players are holding. Nintendo can’t back off and say “well okay now we’ll try releasing Wii Us without the tablet.”
The tablet needed a consistent stream of games to justify its existence. It still doesn’t really have any, either on shelves now or coming down the pipeline. So Nintendo has wisely set out to conquer the larger issue of the console needing a consistent stream of games to justify its existence. And this is where things have finally started to go their way.
You see, Nintendo doesn’t need to do what anyone else in the industry is doing. They’ve never been considered on the same platform as Microsoft and Sony for a handful of reasons, and the biggest mistake so many armchair analysts make is assuming they ever will or ever should. They don’t even need this console to do well - Nintendo has ten billion in the coffers and unlike Microsoft and Sony, this is their primary industry. So I say screw ‘em, Nintendo. Do what you want.
It is Nintendo’s dedication to fun above all that that has given them a second wind, from toying with the Luigi Death Stare or the walking meme generator that is Reggie Fils-Aime while combining that with an E3 showing that brought us announcements and footage of Xenoblade Chronicles X, Zelda U, Super Smash Bros, Bayonetta 2, Splatoon, Hyrule Warriors, Devil’s Third, and a ton of other games - many of which are exclusive.
Their 2014 looks good. Their 2015 looks even better. And for the company’s outlook as a whole, it’s hard to claim things aren’t a far cry from doom and gloom.
So, Iwata, take that boost in an approval rating. It may be a boost of only three points, but it’s intensely meaningful. Just as his ratings declined from 2012 to now, so did Nintendo as a whole; and now, the pieces may be coming back together, even if it’s slow.
But seriously, it’d go a lot faster if you’d just announce a new Metroid.