After watching last week’s Nintendo Direct Mini and seeing all the amazing games coming out on the Switch and 3DS-family, I sat there in awe. Not too long ago, all everyone was talking about was the battle of Sony vs Microsoft while Nintendo quietly sat on the side-lines, dominating the handheld market with their Gameboys and DS-series. But nowadays, the Japanese giant is in the game and they’re stronger than ever. How did they get here?
Did you know that Nintendo started out in 1889 as a playing cards company in Kyoto, Japan? I sure didn’t. But it’s right there, on their site. It wasn’t until 1975 when Nintendo got into the video games market in co-operation with Mitsubishi, to develop their first games system called electronic video recorder or EVR and released their first game: EVR Race. Not too long after, in 1981, Nintendo had released this one game on coin-operated arcades called Donkey Kong, not sure if you’ve heard of it. It became one of the biggest selling arcade cabinets at that time.
Two years later, they started development for their first ever home console “Family Computer” (Famicom) which was released in Japan, then in 1985 it was renamed the “Nintendo Entertainment System” (NES) when it was launched worldwide. It was also the year we were introduced to everyone’s favourite Italian plumber: Mario in the first Super Mario game. By the end of the 80s, Nintendo launched possibly two of the greatest consoles in the history of gaming: the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and the Game Boy in Japan while the rest of the world got their hands on these two consoles at the start of the 90s. The SNES went to sell over 46 million units worldwide. It seem to be going all uphill from there. Nintendo 64 in 1996, Game Boy Colour in 1998, Nintendo DS in 2004… The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario, Pokémon, Metroid all becoming household names. For some time after the release of the N64, Nintendo had only concentrated on the handheld market.
Then came Nintendo’s comeback to consoles in 2006: the Wii. Its revolutionary motion controls brought action into household gaming. Actually turning a ‘wheel’ while playing Mario Kart or swinging the controller to hit that tennis ball in Wii Sports. But as Microsoft and Sony continued to push for better, hyper-realistic graphics and immersive gameplay chalk-full of storylines, Nintendo struggled to keep up. Their downfall came with the release of the Wii U. Poor marketing, inconsistent title release, lack of third-party support. The Wii U sold only 9.4 million copies, while the PS4 beat it in the dust by selling 22.3 million within their first two years. Miyamoto said in an interview with NPR that he believes the high price tag was also a deterrent. Its selling point: the Wii U tablet was said to be a bit too late in the game as tablet gaming had become popular way earlier. It wasn’t long before the Wii U’s that anyone owned just started to collect dust and Nintendo continued to concentrate on the development of the 3DS family.
Fast-forward four years to the first quarter 2016, Nintendo announces that they’re coming back into the home console game with what they dubbed “Project NX”. Let’s be honest, everyone was skeptical. Could they really bounce back into our hearts and homes after the flop that was the Wii U?
Come October 2016, the world was watching as Nintendo showcased their latest edition to their console family: the Nintendo Switch. A perfect blend of handheld and home-console, with their Joy-Cons becoming smaller, better updates to the Wii controllers with its improved motion and HD rumble. Within the announcement itself we saw confirmation of new additions to the Zelda, Super Mario and Splatoon series, and in the months leading to the worldwide release of the console, Nintendo finally did everything right. They weren’t boasting the best graphics or amazing hardware, they’ve marketed what should have been done with the Wii U: honesty – fun for the family and for the casual gamer; they even opened the gates to partnerships with third-party developers. And it has worked! The Switch has now sold about 8 million units worldwide within the first 10 months, surpassing Wii U sales and it has been projected that its first year of sales could even surpass the sales of the PS4 and XbOne.
With more games lined up for release in 2018, Nintendo really looks to be like they’re back in the game and that they’re going nowhere. They never were and never will be direct competitors to Sony and Microsoft though honestly, they don’t need to be. Nintendo holds their own special place in everyone’s hearts with their incredibly entertaining titles and great storytelling directly to you. I hope Iwata-san is proud of the Switch’s achievements and may his brilliant soul rest in peace.