Why Nintendo needs to keep making console hardware
Nintendo are going through a bit of a rough patch at the moment. There's no sugar-coating the situation. The Wii U is under-performing and while it's still selling it's clear that many developers and publishers have opted to steer clear of developing for the console because they believe that there simply aren't enough Wii U's out there to make developing a Wii U game an acceptably profitable venture.
Many have compared Nintendo's woes with the Wii U to SEGA's departure from the console market after the Dreamcast, which was a thououghly excellent and innovative console, tanked. In fact, just this weekend at the Future Of Gaming panel at Game In Scotland, developers and journalists alike were suggesting that Nintendo should shed the 'dead weight' of their hardware division and become a software-only company as SEGA successfully managed to do over the last ten years.
There is a lot of merit to their arguments. Nintendo's ability to create uniquely innovative high-quality games year on year is unparalleled and they have a vast catalogue of well-loved characters that could provide them with a long a profitable life as a thrid-party publisher/developer. The real question is would it feel right playing Pikmin on the iPhone or chasing your mates down in Mario Kart over Xbox Live? For me, someone who grew up on a diet of SNES and GameBoy classics like Zelda: A Link To The Past, Super Mario Land and Tetris it just wouldn't feel right to play Nintendo games on a box that din't bear their distinctive logo.
The whole 'do a SEGA' argument is bit of an unfair comparison as well given that over the last ten years Nintendo has fared somewhat better than SEGA did in the ten years prior to the Dreamcast. For SEGA the Dreamcast really was the last roll of the die. They had invested in s string of misfires from the MegaCD and 32X add-ons for the Megadrive to the ridiculously mishandled launch of the Saturn SEGA had been in decline since the Megadrive' golden years in the early nineties.
Nintendo has walked a different path altogether. While their home console performance has been patchy the GameBoy, GameBoy Advance and subsequently the DS and 3DS have done superbly for them over the last 15 years especially and the Wii was the clear winner of the last console generation despite it's clear lack of processing power when compared to the Xbox 360 and PS3. They may be heading for a third straight year of loss but they still have money in the bank from the good Wii years and the 3DS is still by far the most popular dedicated gaming handheld around.
Since the N64, Nintendo has striven to offer gamers something a little different to that of its competitors. The N64 can be credited with finally bringing FPS gaming to the console market with GoldenEye. The GameCube, while it underperformed saw a myriad of innovative timed-exclusives like Suda51's bizarre and thoroughly addictive Killer7 to the now-legendary Resident Evil 4 – a game that has just been remastered with a 60fps framerate and new HD textures for release on the PC after seeing release on the PS2 and Wii as well.
The Wii and the DS were truly groundbreaking. Motion controls opened up a whole new way to play games and opened up home console gaming to a completely new audience while the DS with games like Brain Training and Art Academy again opened up those that maybe thought gaming wasn't for them to the possibility that video games might be something they enjoy after all.
The Wii U is seen as the greatest millstone around Nintendo's neck and it really shouldn't be. It is the first of this console generation to bring second-screen gaming and, when it is used to its fullness in games like Pikmin or the frighteningly atmospheric ZombiU it is an incomparable experience. It is a also much more reliable experience than the PS4's PS Vita Remote Play feature as it doesn't rely on the quality third party Wi-Fi routers and much more playable as Microsoft's SmartGlass which forces players to switch between their controller and their tablet in order to make sue of the second screen.
The joys of being able to play Wind Waker HD while streaming video at 1080p through Amazon Prime Instant on the PS4 (using a wired connection) are immeasurable, especially seeing as my broadband Wi-Fi router is incapable of coping with the demands of the PS4's Remote Play for any longer than around five minutes before breaking connection.
With a little bit of time and care developers can build something truly special on the Wii U and Nintendo needs to come around to the idea of convincing the developent community as a whole that it is effort worth expending.
Were Nintendo to bow out of the console hardware market the games industry would lose one much of its creative and innovative edge. Sony and Microsoft haven't really innovated with the PS4 or the Xbox One.
The PS4 is arguably a step backwards for Sony (in a good way), in terms of the the fact that they have looked back at their heritage and created a console that captures the same spirit that the original PlayStation did back in the nineties (it's also worth noting that the PlayStation began it's life as a CD add-on for the Super Nintendo).
With the Xbox One, Microsoft essentially took everything that the Xbox 360 does just now, took it apart and put it back together in a more integrated way with a more powerful processor achitecture behind it.
Neither platform has innovated much beyond including very similar sharing features like Twitch streaming integration and sharing of clips and screenshots to social networking sites.
There's no denying that Nintendo probably has some ways to go before it can make up for the issues that the Wii U has caused them but to call for their departure from the console market is a folly that would leave the game industry much worse off afterwards.
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