Nintendo’s New Philosophy And A Return To Prominence

I’m not really sure what’s going on here.

Fan-requested games are being localized. A less-than-stellar console reveal is being re-done. Enhanced digital capabilities are a future endeavor.

What’s gotten into Nintendo?! Notorious for their stubbornness, Nintendo has become the one company who completely listens to their gaming public.

First, they listened to Operation Rainfall, a group looking to end a “drought” of Wii games, by localizing Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story, two previous Japan-only RPGs. Next, after a highly-criticized unveiling of the Wii U at E3 2011, Nintendo announced that they would be re-introducing the system at this year’s E3, including the final version of the console technology and the full launch line-up. Finally, in a financial briefing last night, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata announced that 3DS games would be available both in retail stores and on the 3DS’s online eShop starting with New Super Mario Bros 2 in August, with the Wii U doing the same thing from launch.

That last one is the most surprising: Nintendo has been behind the online 8-ball since Xbox made online consoles popular. They’ve taken a proud, stubborn approach to their philosophy of innovation before everything else. While that was profitable for a long time with the Wii and the DS, it’s no longer true. Nintendo posted their first-ever loss in a fiscal year in 2011. This is a company that one hundred and twenty two years old; posting a loss for the first time EVER is a big deal. Nintendo is realizing that they need to keep up with the Joneses in the online world, not just pass it off as nothing.

If nothing else, this embracing of digital distribution should be a major relief to those doubting the Wii U. The online capabilities of the system must be significant if Nintendo wants it to support digital downloading of full retail games. Nintendo might actually be embracing an online system on the same level as the PlayStation Network or Xbox Live, and if that happens, the other console makers will need to be put on notice.

Some of you are reading that and thinking “come on now Jason, you stupid putz, there’s no way Nintendo can beat Microsoft and Sony’s online capability. You’re being stupid, stop being stupid.” I say to you that they don’t necessarily NEED to beat them, just release something that compares well. Why? Because if they do, they take away the most important advantage the competition had on them.

Think about it: when you think about the best games on the 360 or PS3, most of them are games that can be enjoyed online through Xbox Live and PSN, two potent online services. Most of Wii’s top games are single-player, and the ones that are online don’t exactly have a smooth digital experience. Games lag, friend codes are cumbersome, the list goes on and on. If Nintendo can remedy this with the Wii U and offer a similar online experience, fans will come flocking back to the system, without question.

The same lot of you that think I’m stupid are NOW saying “but what about graphics? Wii U won’t be as powerful as PS3 or 360, and even if it was the new systems are due out in a couple of years.” I say this to you: I don’t think Nintendo cares about visual comparison. For years Nintendo has been all about creating unique gaming experiences through how the game is played, not how the game looks. That’s why they came up with things like the Wii Remote and a portable with a touch-screen, they want to change the way gamers play. Aesthetics can only take a game so far: a pretty game isn’t as pretty if it plays like a clunky pile of garbage. That focus on improving gameplay might be The Big N’s saving grace.

I’ve done a lot of speculating here, but I’m holding true judgment on the Wii U until Friday, June 8th, while I fly home from Los Angeles and look through all of my notes, photos, and videos. I’ll know then whether or not Nintendo is ready to play with the big boys. For now, I’ll just sit back and enjoy Nintendo’s increasing willingness to compromise with their fans. It’s a side of the company I wish had been around for far longer than it has been.



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