So, after last week’s announcement that Rayman Legends was no longer a Wii U exclusive, and yesterday’s report that the Wii U had a drastic drop in units being sold during the month of January, it’s understandable to feel wary the Wii U’s future. Various news sites already seem to have written off the Wii U as an also-ran, arriving late to the HD party while the big kids are getting ready to hit the “after hours” scene. Some of the more audacious sites have even likened the Wii U to a post modern Dreamcast!
I’m going to go against the grain and assure everybody that Nintendo is going to be alright; the Wii U is going to be just fine as well. History repeats itself often, even in the gaming industry. You can easily change 2013 to 1996, replace the Wii U with the N64 and find an eerily similar situation.
In 1996, Nintendo, having dominated the market during the NES generation and coming off a hard gaming cycle pitting the SNES against Sega’s Genesis, released the Nintendo 64 to the masses. The promised launch lineup promised games to satisfy even the most discriminating gamer. First party launch titles included Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64 in addition to a few third party offerings, most notably Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, and that was it for a while. Then third party support for the system dried up quickly, surprising no one. In this instance, it was directly attributed to Nintendo’s decision to forgo the increasingly popular and cheaper CD-ROM media to go with proprietary carts. Indirectly, Sony’s Playstation, launched a year prior to the N64, proved to be extremely popular. This led to many developers dropping Nintendo and their heavy licensing fees to publish their games on Sony’s machine instead.
Publisher after publisher skipped the N64 altogether and Nintendo lost the support of long time developers who had previously only published for Nintendo. Publishing houses like Square, Enix, and Konami showed little to no software support during this, and the subsequent GameCube era. I will not delve into much detail regarding why developers soured on Nintendo during this period, that history is extremely well documented throughout the internet, however, I will comment on how Nintendo reacted to the adversity it faced during this time because it provides clues as to how Nintendo will deal with the challenges the Wii U is now facing.
The N64 era is arguably remembered for the plethora of quality first and second party releases that graced the system. Games like The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Super Mario 64, Goldeneye 007, and Banjo-Kazooie are remembered as some of the greatest games of the 90s, if not, of all time. The common thread amongst them is that they were all made directly by Nintendo, or one of its subsidiaries. For the most part, Nintendo is known for making great games, seldom releasing a subpar game, but the games it produced for the N64 had an extra level of polish in my opinion. Does this really surprise anyone? Think about it, Nintendo lost the support of companies that provided some of the biggest hits of the NES and SNES eras, you have to fill the void somehow, and Nintendo did so admirably. Nintendo did what it had to do to survive. In doing so, Nintendo ensured that it had enough in-house content to satisfy those loyal fans who did not jump ship, and those newcomers who picked up an N64 and did not return it.
I see the same thing happening now with the Wii U, a lackluster launch, followed by a dramatic drop in sales and publishers “re-evaluating” their support for Nintendo’s home console. And how does Nintendo react? The same way it did during the N64 era: by showcasing what it has planned for the future! The two most recent Nintendo Directs – which seemed to be direct rebuttals to the negativity and vitriol found on the internet towards the Wii U – showcased games from Nintendo and those developers who still have games coming for the Wii U. This was a tactical move on Nintendo’s part, wave after wave of negative Wii U news was in danger of permanently branding the Wii U as a failure. Both Nintendo Directs addressed many of the pressing Wii U matters relating to OS performance, game releases, and support from third party publishers to give fans some tangible hope after the deluge of negativity.
The reality is that the Wii U is still facing several challenges, third party support is still weak and sales are at a critical point, but there is hope now. In my completely biased opinion, I think Nintendo will be just fine. I may be loyal, but I’m not naive to the fact that I will miss out on a lot of great third party content that will grace the other home systems, but I’m OK with that. Yes, the loss of Rayman exclusivity was a setback for the Wii U, but not an insurmountable one. A bigger blow would have been if Ubisoft cancelled the Wii U version completely. Think about that for a minute. I’ve experienced these third party droughts before and look forward to the efforts from Nintendo and its second parties that will help fill the void. As Nintendo fans, we’ve been here before and know what to expect. Everything’s going to be alright!