The Wii U will have a good Christmas, that’s my prediction. It has taken some time, but the console now has a decent, if slender, library of games. The recent price drop and Wind Waker bundle have given the system a lift, and Super Mario 3D World now looks like a game to be genuinely excited about. I doubt that the console will provide serious competition for the PlayStation4 and Xbox One, but I’m sure it can be successful on its own terms.
The irony is that Nintendo is one of the most prolific developers and publishers in the industry. The roster of games released by them this year, across 3DS and Wii U, is hugely impressive both in quantity and quality. But it’s a significant task for one company to sustain two hardware platforms with new software at such rate. (Although they kind of have to.)
Meanwhile, third-party support continues to evaporate. Even Ubisoft, who have genuinely tried to use the console to its full potential, seem to be gradually backing away with exclusives becoming multi-platform and DLC stripped from certain titles. Maybe in recognition of this we have seen Nintendo turn to the indie community for support with a range of initiatives to encourage Wii U and 3DS development. Whilst this is a refreshing approach, and exciting to see, these titles alone will not make the console a roaring success.
So maybe the path to success is to look to the past and make the Wii U an unashamedly proud Nintendo nostalgia box.
I’m not talking about flooding the virtual console with old games (although they should be kept coming) but about cultivating the love that exists for Nintendo’s history and IP and curating a selection of considered updates. The success of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker have proved the worth of doing this. Both games shine on the their new hardware, allowing them to live up to the rose-tinted memory of the original experience in a way that an N64 signal shoved on to an HD screen can’t do. And as bona-fide classics they are also bringing in new players through their combination of reputation and modern flair.
Nintendo’s top tier teams, and the likes of Retro Studios and Monolith, should continue to work on the flagship brands (and new IP too) but aside from that, why not make a concerted effort to trade on Nintendo’s past. If Nintendo could work with decent 3rd party studios to upgrade and enhance classics like Super Mario Sunshine, Wave Race and Super Metroid, the Wii U could become the ultimate Nintendo time machine.
There is a near endless array of games that could flesh out the most anaemic of rosters. What Nintendo fan (or fan of great games in general) could resist an HD version of Super Mario World from the likes of WayForward, or a new edition of Super Mario Galaxy that brings those awe-inspiring levels into pin sharp glory?
The original versions of these games could be included for purist,s along with original artwork, production notes, commentaries, all displayed on the Wii U game pad while you play. With a little thought and care these releases could be genuinely special.
There is a danger in looking to the past, and it’s certainly a risky proposition to base your hardware strategy so completely on such a model, but a focus on ‘Heritage’ from Nintendo seems perfectly natural. The nearest comparison would be Disney. Both companies have a large portfolio of well-loved IPs that appeal to a broad family audience. Disney continue to create popular new product to a high standard, but still trade on their past glories in a way that is, for the most part, respectful.
For Nintendo this approach could reinforce their history and supplement their new titles with some context. Unlike film, games are so hardware dependant that preserving their experience can take considerable effort. Nintendo are in a unique position in that they have completed control over their history and hardware. Miyamoto famously said that a “A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever”. Nintendo’s good games are more impressive than most, and it would be great to see them kept alive and treated with respect.
Nintendo has an ethos and past to be proud of. Maybe the time has come for them to embrace it. And maybe sell a few more Wii Us to boot.