I’ve been meaning to write an article like this for a while now, and with E3 having just happened, I think I can finally get started now. As my past articles may give some ultra-subtle foreshadowing of, I am quite happy with how the Switch has been received so far. After at least four years of almost unrelenting negativity towards Nintendo’s console division, someone finally flipped a switch and turned the light back on. The Switch has recreated the phenomenon of the original Wii’s launch, an even more impressive feat considering it launched in March instead of November. With Nintendo seeming to have finally fulfilled their longstanding goal of a launch year without droughts and an incredible E3 that featured a healthy mix of 2017, early 2018, and far away but ultra-exciting games, Switch’s future looks very bright. So with Nintendo’s four most recent consoles alternating between explosive success and market failure (no, you having nostalgia for GameCube doesn’t mean it sold well, it was closer to Wii U in sales than it was to Nintendo 64, and that didn’t even win its generation), is there any way to make sense of this pattern?
Well, let’s look at the goal behind the four consoles in the most general terms. The GameCube and Wii U had a focus on attaining something that Nintendo’s competition had in the previous generation that they lacked (disc based software and HD graphics, respectively) and bringing Nintendo back to getting the biggest third-party games and controlling the traditional gaming demographic again. Both systems also suffered from something of an identity crisis, having drawbacks that stopped them from achieving true parity with their competitors (GCN’s smaller disc space and Wii U’s limited power compared to competing systems) and having stylistic features that conflicted with the goal of winning over the competitor’s fanbase (GameCube’s general “kiddy” image, Wii U’s tablet inspired controller). After showing a lot of promise at launch, both systems quickly fell behind in market share and third-party support, becoming solid but niche systems you bought for Nintendo’s games.
Now let’s look at Wii and Switch. They actually don’t seem to have fixed the problems I mentioned above, you could even argue they got worse. Was Wii any less “kiddy” than GameCube? Is Switch a powerhouse that obliterates or at least matches PlayStation 4 and would be giving PS5 a run for its money if the generations hadn’t gotten completely de-synced? Did/will either one get all the AAA third party multi-plats that PlayStation/Xbox/PC share? The answer to all those questions is no. So why did things work out for these systems, but not their predecessors?
Because Nintendo didn’t half-try to be something they weren’t, they embraced what made them different and turned those weaknesses into strengths. They flipped things around and succeeded at things their competitors weren’t even trying. The Wii may have been at least as “kiddy” as GameCube, but it appealed to middle aged parents and senior citizens just as easily, it genuinely was for all ages. The Switch may be only marginally more powerful than Wii U, but take it out of its dock and it’s a technological marvel as a portable system. Nintendo solved their problems in ways that their competitors never would have attempted, and unlike trying to copy the other systems, this approach has been rewarded.
Of course, that doesn’t mean GameCube and Wii U didn’t contribute anything to Nintendo’s future. Remember GameCube’s bizarre controller layout and various gimmick controllers (bongos, the Game Boy Advance)? I’m sure you remember Wii U’s attempt to get people excited to play games on the controller’s screen. Neither of these features caught on, but Wii and Switch managed to evolve these ideas into a functional, wildly popular form. The Wii had a new way of controlling games that got a huge amount of mainstream attention, and it being included with every system allowed it to thrive. Wii U’s ability to stream games to its controller at a limited range turned into Switch being a true hybrid that allows you to take complete console games anywhere you want. Instead of giving up on these ideas, Nintendo believed in them and turned them into something hugely successful.
Now this section is a bit of a leftover from one of the earlier incarnations of this article, but since I’ve compared Wii and Switch so much, I think it’s worth addressing. Some may ask if we really want Switch to turn into another Wii. Was its success actually good for gamers?
Yes, it absolutely was!
It’s time to get over the delusion that Wii was nothing but Nintendo lazily making mini-game compilations and third parties badly copying the aforementioned mini-game compilations. Yes, the Wii ___ series and shovelware that all market leaders attract existed, but you could and can ignore them, and there is a diamond mine hidden under them. Nintendo made some of their best games on the Wii, and I don’t just mean the Super Mario Galaxies and Xenoblade. Punch-Out, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, Wario Land Shake-It, Metroid Prime 3, Sin and Punishment 2, Pandora’s Tower, games you should give a genuine chance like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Zelda: Skyward Sword, Nintendo absolutely did not just focus on gimmicky mini-game compilations during the Wii’s lifespan.
But the lack of attention those games get is nothing compared to the third-party hidden gems on Wii. Zack and Wiki, Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands, Muramasa, Madworld, No More Heroes 2, Dead Space Extraction, A Boy and His Blob, Rabbids Go Home, Sonic Colors, Epic Mickey, Lost in Shadow, Red Steel 2, Trauma Team, House of the Dead Overkill, Goldeneye 007, Medal of Honor Heroes 2, Boom Blox Bash Party, Rodea: The Sky Soldier, there are so many third party Wii games that may not have been super hyped AAA budget games but were the type of quality mid-ware that people thought died in the seventh generation. Switch turning out like Wii would indeed be a good thing, and fortunately, there are already signs of its portable ability bringing back some of those mid-ware style games.
So in conclusion, I think the moral here is pretty obvious. Nintendo systems with one syllable names do better, end of story. In seriousness, I think it’s safe to say that Nintendo does a lot better when they focus on their strengths instead of trying to attain the strengths of others. Directly competing on their competitor’s turf doesn’t work, and with the console generations being out of sync between companies now it is barely measurable (I defy you to find a way to compare Switch and PS4’s success that doesn’t require waiting 5+ years to judge). While it would be nice for Nintendo to achieve the third-party dominance they had with the NES and SNES, I don’t think it’s practical right now and both Nintendo and their fans will have a better time if they focus on what worked for Wii and Switch instead of trying to bring SNES back with one fell swoop. Wait a second, if you pronounce them “Ness” and “Sness”, those systems are also one syllable… that IS the key!