You probably raised an eyebrow when you read that title just now. “What on earth does he mean by ‘another Nintendo console’? It’s made by Nintendo! Of course it’s a Nintendo console!” Is my assumption of the thought that just ran through your head in any way accurate? I would hope so. With that said, what exactly do I mean when I say “another ‘Nintendo’ console?”
You don’t have to be any kind of gamer guru to know that Nintendo has always been different from the rest of the gaming companies. When they emerged in the 80s with the Famicom, they came with a clear objective in mind: they weren’t going to be another Atari — they weren’t going to allow the gaming industry to crash and burn again. Instead, they saved it and propped it back up on all fours, and afterwards, became the new kingpins.
When Nintendo swooped in, a lot of other gaming companies were faced with a choice; challenge them or die. While Atari continued to try and gain a hold in the industry, SEGA made a grand entrance and took the fight right to Nintendo’s doorstep. Despite their efforts, though, Nintendo no doubt was the true superpower in the industry. Every third-party company knew it, and at the same time, they didn’t like it. But why?
In order to make sure they didn’t follow Atari’s bad example, Nintendo placed a special seal on all the titles that came to their systems — the Nintendo Seal of Quality. Getting your game stamped with the NSoQ was, at that time, like the President signing off on a new government document. It was important: very important. When your game got that seal, that meant that it was evaluated by Nintendo personnel and met the standards to earn the privilege to be featured on their system. Yes, that’s the kind of company that Nintendo was, and to an extent, still is.
Now let’s be real here — nobody likes being told what to do or how to do it. Everyone likes to do things their way; how they want it, when they want it. When Nintendo took hold of the industry, third-parties companies no longer had a free-run of things. Unlike Atari, Nintendo was keen on pushing quality control, leaving third-parties to be forced to make decent titles in order to have an opportunity to make a profit. While Nintendo meant well, third-parties weren’t enjoying these restrictions, but seeing that Nintendo was top dog, they’d be fools to try and turn their noses up and away. That all changed in the early 90s.
Believe it or not, Nintendo is the reason why Sony’s PlayStation brand exists today. At one point, Sony was collaborating with Nintendo to create a CD-ROM based Super Famicom. However, the deal fell through. Enraged by this, Sony decided to created their own console, which as we all know, is the original PlayStation. When Sony broke into the industry, third-party companies immediately took notice. Sony was already an electronics giant, so consumers were attracted thanks to the brand name alone. Knowing this, it didn’t take very long for the third-parties to flee Nintendo’s camp in busloads. Here is where the ‘Nintendo console’ phenomenon truly began.
The PlayStation became a breeding ground for new, exciting experiences. Its CD-ROM capabilities alone had developers far and wide smiling from ear to ear. Despite the fact that they wanted to make a CD-compatible game system before, Nintendo ultimately decided to go right back to cartridges. Thus, the third-parties were less enthusiastic to develop for Nintendo’s competitor to the PS1, the Nintendo 64. Nintendo’s new path was becoming clearer and clearer. It had been just over a decade since they entered the industry, and just like that, they were kicked to the curb by the very same companies that had the honor to develop for their systems. Despite this unfortunate turn of events, the N64 went on to have some great games in its lifetime, including critically acclaimed classics like Goldeneye 007, Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie and the biggest of them all, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Even so, despite its high-scoring library, the N64 sold far less than Sony’s newcomer. The seal of taboo had been broken; Nintendo was no longer the King of Consoles.
Nintendo was determined to continue with cartridges, and they paid for it by losing out to another competitor for the first time.
Let’s move onto the 6th-generation, where even more chaos ensued.
After a continuous series of rushed and ultimately financially-terrible consoles/add-ons, SEGA had no choice but to bow out of the console race and become a third-party developer when their final console, the Dreamcast, sent them straight to the land of bankruptcy. Nintendo’s former arch-nemesis became their new ally. However, while they gained new franchises, they also gained a new adversary. After assisting SEGA with the DC, Microsoft made their formal entry into the console-making business with the release of the XBOX. Now, third-parties were really excited. Once again, there was yet another (more trustworthy) console-maker in the business, and one more reason to side-step Nintendo’s offerings. Why? Because again, Nintendo made the decision to go against the norm. With the GC, they finally made the jump to discs, however, they opted to use mini-discs instead of the bigger DVDs that was found on the other two systems. In the end. the Gamecube went head-to-head with the XBOX and the PS2, and things did not end as any Nintendo fan would have imagined. Just as it was pure taboo to see Sonic on a Nintendo platform, it was even more-so to see a Nintendo console sell the least of the bunch. The Gamecube tracked well behind the young XBOX, and even more so, was completely eclipsed by the record-setting PS2.
Now, let’s look at the 7th-generation: pure madness.
With the Gamecube holding the title as the lowest-selling home console for Nintendo, you’d think they’d finally try and buckle down and get on the good side of the third-party companies, right? Well, that’s what some of us would have hoped. This time, Nintendo didn’t go off the common path. This time, they made a new one. By this time, they had already shocked the gaming-world with the unorthodox DS. Now, it was time to get even weirder. Enter the Wii.
With the Wii, Nintendo decided to reinvent the way players play. Instead of focusing primarily on the ‘common gamer’, they instead focused on making everyone a gamer. The Wii was designed to be simple enough that anyone can play, but fun and intuitive enough so that it would provide a rich playing experience. How? Motion controls. Forget analogue sticks — it was all about the body this time. While Sony and Microsoft focused heavily on multimedia features, HD graphics and online ecosystems — Nintendo was literally all about ‘fun and games’. The Wii’s hardware showed very little progression from its predecessor, and was far behind Sony and Microsoft’s offerings. However, things played out much differently than the last two generations. This time, Nintendo came out on top. From the first time since the SNES, a Nintendo console was once again the best-seller. The Wii skyrocketed well above its competition, achieving near-PS2 levels of success. The Wii became a worldwide phenomenon, so much so that even Microsoft and Sony decided to spin off of its success by creating add-ons for the XBOX 360 and PS3 that also focused on motion controls. Here, Nintendo’s stubbornness to set itself out from the rest paid off. But, could it last?
Here we are — the present. The 8th-gen has been going strong for quite some time now and by looks of things, the situation is only going to get more exciting. How are the Big 3 doing? As it currently stands, the 6th-gen is repeating itself. Sony is once again kicking butt, while Microsoft is trying to out-do them as best they can. Meanwhile, Nintendo is off in their own little corner, minding their own business, not really focused on their two ‘competitors’. Sony and Microsoft have done little to change the image of their new systems from their predecessors, except for the leap in horsepower. In fact, the PS4 and XBOX One are arguably the most identical competing systems in gaming history. However, Nintendo has once again opted to do their own thing. With the Wii U, their desire to ‘dare to be different’ is quite obvious. While a progression in horsepower is there, the Wii U is still based around the one general idea that Nintendo has always stuck to: making great, well-polished games that provide hours upon hours of fun.
Over the years, Nintendo has always opted to stick to their own path. Never once were they really doing what their competitors were doing.
In the beginning, with the NES and SNES, quality control was a must. They tried their best to preserve and nurture the damaged industry. When Sony came in, they simply worked with the N64 and continued making their games to the highest quality they could, an objective that carried over to the Gamecube. With the Wii, they completely veered off to their own path. They were determined to re-kindle the fun, imaginative side of the industry by using unorthodox technology as the headliner. This too, poured into the Wii U, which they’re using to open a new dimension of console gaming that previously wasn’t even there.
That’s what a ‘Nintendo console’ is. It’s not simply a ‘video-game console’. While the others seek to out-do each other tit-for-tat, Nintendo has always shown a differentiating factor.
Many have criticized them for this over the years, and it has yet to stop. Gamers, developers, analysts: all of them, time-and-again. Yet, Nintendo has stuck to their guns and never wavered in pushing their objective to focus on creating great games. They don’t make hardware to play their games on, they make their hardware for their games. That’s why time-and-again, Nintendo’s top-tier releases reel in major scores. That’s why, despite all the criticism, Nintendo consoles have remained profitable. That’s why their IPs are still relevant, despite the age on the majority of them. Nintendo consoles are meant to be different: fun, functional and fascinating. They’re meant to provide an experience that you’re not going to get anywhere else, with franchises you’ll only see on their own platforms.
So with all that said — what on earth can we expect the NX to be like?
It’s hard to say. Nintendo is too secretive and too vague to ever follow step-by-step. When you think they’ll go left, they go right. When you think they’ll play ‘Card A’, they play ‘Card X’. All we know about the system is that Nintendo wants to “surprise” us, as Mr. Iwata himself said. They’re good at doing just that, and their history backs them up: the N64’s cartridges, the GC’s design and mini-discs, the Wii’s motion controls and lack of HD graphics, and the Wii U’s tablet-controller — all have been major surprises. There’s no telling what exactly this new surprise will be. People have asked questions like: “Will Nintendo once again have a system that’s completely different from the rest?” “Will it have another ‘gimmick’?” “Is it really coming out in 2016?!”
There are a lot of questions, more so than there are answers. One thing is for sure, though. When that signature Nintendo magic hits us at the NX’s reveal — it’s going to be one truly groundbreaking day.
Surprise us, Nintendo. We’re waiting.