In 2014, two years after the release of the Wii U, Nintendo had its biggest financial loss in history, only it wasn’t Sony and Microsoft who were their biggest competition. Mobile gaming had become the latest craze.
Nintendo had been reluctant to make mobile games for fear of a business model that was too radically different, but the financial gain was eventually too good to pass up.
Before Nintendo president Satoru Iwata died in 2015, he was able to secure a deal with Japanese mobile provider DeNA to develop mobile titles based on Nintendo franchises.
Nintendo’s first mobile game was an app called Miitomo, which allowed you to communicate with friends by answering various questions, and allowed Twitter and Facebook integration. It was only available through Nintendo’s servers, and it was similar to Nintendo 3DS game Tomodachi Life.
More popular was Super Mario Run, the first mobile Mario game, which was so popular that it cemented the company’s future with mobile gaming.
After the 3DS and the Wii U, Nintendo would move on from the DS and Wii family and create a brand new experience, which was announced in 2015 as Codename NX.
In 2016, the NX was revealed as the Nintendo Switch, a hybrid console that allowed you to play on your TV or on the go as quick as a flash.
The system consisted of a Switch Console, a Switch Dock, and two Joy-Con controllers. There were three different play modes: TV, tabletop, and handheld. The Joy-Con controllers could transport the tablet-like console from its dock at any point during gameplay, allowing you to start out playing on a television and continue the game on the tablet in another room without your game being interrupted. An irresistible concept that was completely new and proved extremely popular.
The Switch was released in March 2017 amidst an ambitious marketing campaign that included the Super Bowl, NBC’s The Tonight Show, and significant ad time on Nickelodeon, Adult Swim and Comedy Central. During the months before the launch, Nintendo ran Switch demonstration events across North America, Europe and Japan, and even got into major events like South by Southwest to make sure people knew everything about the new console. The confusion about Wii U had taught them how important this was.
When people finally got their hands on the Switch, they loved it, and it became Nintendo’s fastest-selling console in history, aided heavily by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which many are calling one of the best Zelda games, due to the fact that it is one of the biggest and most choice-driven video games ever created. This was clearly a brilliant choice for a launch title.
As I write this, the Nintendo Switch is celebrating its one-year anniversary, so the best may still be yet to come, but so far it has impressed with its library of games, which look to be attempting to rebuild the gap between casual gamers and hardcore gamers that got widened by the DS and Wii.
Indeed, Nintendo has courted third-party developers like Square Enix, Bethesda, Ubisoft, Sega, Capcom and Rockstar Games for the Switch, and excellent franchises like Dragon Quest, Sonic the Hedgehog, Mega Man, Resident Evil, Wolfenstein and The Elder Scrolls are just the first phase of Nintendo’s partnership on the new system. Even indie game developers are attracted to Nintendo’s hardware.
Among Nintendo’s own games, some of which are still in the works, are the incredibly fun platformer Super Mario Odyssey, fighting game Arms, and entries in the Mario Kart, Splatoon, Xenoblade Chronicles, Yoshi, Kirby, Metroid Prime and Pokémon series.
The Nintendo Switch is so popular that Nintendo plans to keep it in production longer than their other systems, which should give gamers more time to seek it out.
Something the Switch does not have that the 3DS and Wii U do have is the ability to buy and play old Nintendo games through the online Virtual Console channel, something that goes back to the days of the Wii, but this is alleviated by another recent success from Nintendo: the NES Classic Edition (2016), which comes with 30 built-in NES games. Its success led to a Super NES version, and even a Genesis version from Sega!
For now, the future of Nintendo’s path in the video game industry is unknown, although they are said to be looking into virtual reality as a possible route of interest.
One thing looks to be certain: Nintendo will expand its reach beyond just video games. Universal Parks & Resorts has been in development of a Nintendo-themed park for years, and it is said to open in Japan in 2020. Opening dates in other parts of the world are currently unknown, but Europe and America will likely get a Nintendo World some time in the next decade.
Because of Nintendo’s relationship with Universal, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and Illumination founder Chris Meledandri have crossed paths, which led to a friendship that eventually led to a collaboration.
Nintendo had lent its franchises to Hollywood before, most notoriously in 1993 with the ill-advised, live-action Super Mario Bros. which was nothing like the video game, so they were reluctant to go back to the movies, unless they had more say in how their series would be used. It was under these conditions that Nintendo had decided to team up with Illumination on an animated film starring Mario.
Of course, this is not the first time Mario had been a star of animation, as evidenced by The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! from DiC (Inspector Gadget, Heathcliff) but this animated film from Illumination may be the first time he stars in a film worthy of the quality of his video games.
If not, Mario can always go back to his video game roots. I’m sure they will knock it out of the park as usual.