Even with the massive success of the Wii, it’s impossible not to realize that Nintendo has struggled in the home console market over the past few generations. Starting with the Nintendo 64, it seems like Nintendo has consistently missed what consumers are wanting. You could even argue that the Wii found most of its success with non-traditional gamers (both my parents and my in-laws had one; their last console prior was an Atari). This is, admittedly, exactly what Nintendo wanted to do, but it seems that it gave them a false impression of their own audience when it came time to unveil the WiiU.
The WiiU is the culmination of Nintendo missing their mark. It is a mishmash of bad decisions: launching mid-generation, producing another under-powered console, failing to secure third party support, mis-communicating the use of the gamepad, believing that the Wii brand would be enough to bring consumers on board. I’ve written before that Nintendo fell into the trap of believing their own hype. It seems to run in the industry and both Sony and Microsoft have been guilty of it as well, but this post isn’t about them.
All bets are still off on Nintendo’s next console, still known only as the NX, but regardless of how it performs, there is still one area that Nintendo handles well, and knows how to market.
About a month ago, Nintendo unveiled the NES Mini (officially the NES Classic Edition). A small NES replica containing 30 classic Nintendo games, including a replica NES controller that can be used for Virtual Console/eShop NES games on the Wii/WiiU. Now, Nintendo has enough first party titles that they could have crammed the NES Mini half and half with great titles alongside mediocre ones, but they didn’t do that. Instead, they included their own classic titles (Super Mario Brothers, Legend of Zelda, Kirby, Metroid, Kid Icarus), but also included some of the best third party titles to appear on the NES (Castlevania, Mega Man, Ninja Gaiden, Double Dragon, Bubble Bobble, Final Fantasy, Startropics). Honestly, I know I’m a bit of a Nintendo fanboy, but you’d be hardpressed to find more than two or three titles that the average person doesn’t like (personally, I’m looking at Ice Climbers with skepticism).
This is where Nintendo still excels. They know how to market their classic catalog. And keep in mind that this isn’t a one off. When it was first revealed that the Wii would have a Virtual Console that would allow you to purchase digital copies of games from the NES, Super NES, N64, Sega Genesis, Master System, Commodore 64, and Turbo-Grafx16 systems, it was unlike anything else on the market. No other company had explored such an avenue with their catalogs. It’s easy to point out that neither Sony nor Microsoft can compare to Nintendo’s catalog, but neither explored securing games from Sega or Hudson Soft. Nintendo, somehow, knew that a market still existed for those games, and it was a major selling point for the Wii. It allowed Nintendo to introduce “new” games weekly. It was also a way to obtain those extremely rare games without paying the $75+ Ebay was demanding. I don’t think calling the Virtual Console a revelation is an overreaction. It was, in my personal opinion, truly a game changer.
Nintendo continued to leverage their catalog with the WiiU and 3DS, adding Gamecube and Wii games to the eShop on the WiiU, while keeping the original Wii virtual console fully intact and accessible on the WiiU via the Wii Menu. I downloaded Castlevania III just last week. It’s still there and functioning perfectly. I’ve no doubt that the NX will continue this trend. It’s all positive. No negative.
For all their missteps, and all the things they’ve done to aggravate their loyal fans, Nintendo still finds a way to shine through from time to time. The NES Mini wasn’t hinted about, it wasn’t asked for, it wasn’t expected, but Nintendo, in some ways, does still know who their most loyal fans are, and sometimes they come through in ways we never expected or saw coming. As I pointed out above, they could have packed the NES Mini with their own titles, and most of us would have bought it, but they went above and beyond, adding games that show up on virtually all NES Top 10 or Top 20 lists. Nintendo deserves kudos for that. It’s all fan service, and fan service done well. They may have faults when it comes to handling their last few home consoles, but when it comes retro, Nintendo still does it well.