Has Nintendo Already Lost this Generation’s Console Race?


Nintendo launched the “next” generation of video game consoles with the Wii U last November. I know, many gamers don’t consider the next generation to have started until the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One have launched. Ready or not, the next generation is here thanks to Nintendo. The question is, is Nintendo ready for it?

The Nintendo Wii U isn’t exactly tearing up the sales charts. Nintendo has to be let down a little, given their own high expectations. You’ve got a company that printed money with the Wii, but they burned a lot of bridges with the hardcore gaming community during that time. Now that Nintendo has a console that can cater to that type of gamer crowd, Nintendo has found themselves lost with few customers to pull in.

The Wii U has attempted to become what the Wii should have been, a console that brings in casual and hardcore gamers alike. The system is the best of both worlds, melding the Wii’s motion control games (using the new GamePad) into the Wii U’s ability to run games like Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Assassin’s Creed 3. These games launched on the Wii U last year, when the console did, and that’s a hell of a launch lineup, excluding the fact that many of the third-party games had been previously released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

In fact Nintendo didn’t push out any big first party heavy hitters at launch because of their supposed strong third party lineup. Mario would debut on the system, but even that wasn’t as big deal because it was essentially a port/update of the New Super Mario Bros. series seen on both the Wii and Nintendo 3Ds. Recently, Nintendo has finally launched their Virtual Console and has announced a number of first-party games coming to the system in the near future.

Still, very few people are jumping on the bandwagon.  They system’s technology puts it on par with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but what happens later this year when Microsoft and Sony release their new platforms?  There was also concern over the system’s branding; Nintendo recently launched a campaign to clarify for casual buyers that the WiiU is not an add-on for the Wii and that it is, in fact, its own console worthy of your money!  So the question got asked back in January, were we ready for the next generation? Certainly Wii owners were ready for a system that could do more, and at the least run better looking games. Those Wii owners who weren’t just casual gamers wanted something more, and here they got it. So what happened? Were people just not ready to upgrade?

While the WiiU has the new GamePad experience (it is a tablet controller) and a free online component, price as well as a lack of revolutionary titles were issues also.  To date, Nintendo has not announced a price cut for the console. With the WiiU’s library today, they really shot themselves in the foot with gamers. They catered so much to the casual crowd last gen that the hardcore crowd moved on, and they don’t seem to be coming back anytime soon.  As publishers decline to release their games on the WiiU (like EA Sports), the divide will grow even further.

Back in 2007 (the system released in late ’06), Nintendo gave casual gamers a ton of games to play on the Wii, before finally coming out the with goods for hardcore gamers in 2008. Games like Mario Galaxy, Smackdown Vs. Raw, Resident Evil 4, Guitar Hero, Super Paper Mario, Ghost Squad, Mario Kart all took what seemed like forever to launch for the system.

Finally, the hardcore crowd got their games, but the next year or two was all about casual gamers. The Wii Fit came out, and then the shovelware (read: crappy games) started hitting. The Virtual Console even slowed down releasing it’s games. The Virtual Console (where old NES, SNES and other retro titles were available) was the one place that you could go to hold yourself over until a good Wii game came out. By the time Nintendo pushed out a new Metroid, Zelda, and Mario game (the ones people waited for), gamers had moved on to the now lower priced Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

That’s not to say Nintendo is going anywhere, as their own familiar franchises will carry the system as they try to get their footing.  The company has been here before; the Nintendo 64 was a big hit and the GameCube wasn’t.  The Wii was a monster  hit, and so far the Wii U hasn’t been. Nintendo will look to buck this historical trend but the deck is truly stacked against them.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and Sony have a chance to secure a big time lead in this new console race, leaving Nintendo to play catch up. It’s odd saying that when you consider the Wii U has been out for seven months, and the other two consoles have yet to even get an official launch date.

I hate to say it Nintendo, but I think you’ve lost this round.