I'm buying my kid a Wii U
Mario Kart 8 performed admirably, showered with love by fans and critics, selling 2.82 million copies worldwide. That accounts for 60% of the Wii U’s software sold during the quarter, and now stands at a 42% attach rate with the console. And yet, Nintendo still posted a $97M loss for the first quarter of this new fiscal year.
Wii U sales were up 160,000 over the same quarter last year to 510,000, but the relatively low install base of the console limited Mario Kart 8's sales pretty heavily. 3DS sales were down about 600,000 over last year, dropping from 1.4M to 810,000.
I knew these articles would start appearing. When MK8 came out everyone jumped on the bandwagon and started saying how it would 'save the Wii U'. A few weeks later, now it's cool to bash Nintendo again.
In reality, MK8 did very well for the Wii U and Nintendo as a whole, brought a lot of consoles into homes and set up a platform for the next few quarters. One game was never going to flip the Wii U around, but this console has only good things to look forward to, and has successfully avoided the drama and constant battling of the other two machines.
Well done Nintendo.
Most media sites now make their articles based on headline trends, so it's pretty easy to predict what everyone's going to say before they say it since it's being written with the intent to be against what other people are saying. Then everyone jumps on and says the same thing.
"Wii U released!"
"Off to a modest start"
"Momentum fails to pick up"
"Nintendo, the juggernaught of gaming, is failing!"
"Nintendo's back after E3 and is the only console worth buying"
"Nintendo hype hype hype hype, buy buy buy"
"I'm going to be a contrarian and say Nintendo doing well right now isn't enough for Nintendo to do well" (Where we're at now)
"Nintendo's now failing again"
"Hyrule Warriors selling surprisingly well on the failing console"
"Hype hype, buy buy"
"Hyrule Warriors failed to save Nintendo because selling well isn't enough"
"Nintendo dead in the water"
"Bayonetta 2 unexpectedly doing well"
"Nintendo's back for the holidays, hype hype"
"Nintendo's dead for the holidays, contrarian contrarian"
"Smash drops, the gaming world shakes"
"Why [X] Console really won the holiday season"
"Why [X] Console really didn't win the holiday season and is crap no one should look at"
Whether or not the Wii U continues to do well, most gaming news now is provocative crap. Even reviews have turned that way and become pointlessly negative to get clicks. Reminds me of when Huffington Post turned into TMZ. There's usually one kernel of an article idea that comes out first, and everyone then latches onto it to be lazy, so it always looks like there's a grand consensus when really it's just lazy journalism.
And that's too bad. If I hadn't heard nothing but bad things about the Wii U for the first year or more about it, I'd likely have gotten one sooner. A lot of the games I'm playing now have been out a while, but everyone just took a crap on the lot of them.
I feel bad for Microsoft, as they seem prime to take a crap over the next year too with all their layoffs -- which are reasonable because they bought Nokia and unrelated to the Xbox, but still there to be played on in headlines.
I don’t know exactly when I became disinterested in Nintendo. I only know that at some point in late 2010 I realised my Wii was never without a death shroud of grey dust. It ended up in the back of my cupboard that year, along with the guitar I hadn’t touched since 2008. These relics sit there to this day; a reminder of a time when I could still fumble my way through Bush’s ‘Glycerine’.
My disinterest never evolved into cynicism. When Nintendo started to publically struggle after the release of the Wii U in 2012, I didn’t smirk at the memes casting it as the loser nerd to Microsoft and Sony’s capable jocks. I just felt the publisher had nothing left to offer me as a person who plays video games.
And then, the week after I got back from E3 this year, I bought a Wii U.
My colleagues asked me why, and I’ll be honest: I struggled to answer. Why did I shell out for a new system after a four year sabbatical? Wasn’t I saving for a gaming-dedicated PC, so I could access a wealth of amazing underground indie content? And aren’t all of Nintendo’s great games coming out next year? Was I that much of a sucker for a great E3? Let's talk it out.
For many of us who grew up when I did (I was born in 1983) Nintendo was our first introduction to video games. It was for me. Although my first home console was a SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis, it was the Nintendo Game Boy that I played before anything else, curled up in the dark corners of the home I grew up in during the early ‘90s. It’s no secret that Nintendo draws heavily on this; nostalgia is the publisher’s MO. We continue to be drawn to Nintendo because it reminds us of the past; Nintendo continues to iterate on that past because we insist that it does.
It’s a deeply personal relationship. When Nintendo doesn’t release enough of the games we want, we feel neglected, like a child would in response to an absent parent. When we see Nintendo struggle, we want to tend to its wounds. In his recent article “Why Do We Relish Nintendo’s Crises So Much,” Ian Bogost makes the point that Nintendo acts as a ‘hinge’ between our childhood and adulthood, and therefore pulls us in two directions.
“We want them to persist like all good classics persist,” Bogost says of our memories of Nintendo, “partly to combat the encroachment of finitude growing older brings. Yet we also want to overcome our childhoods. We want to dispense with Mario, to forsBy 2010, I had, metaphorically-speaking, ‘forsaken Link.’ The state of Nintendo at that time hadn’t made the decision difficult for me. The Wii was firmly a family brand, its balance boards and glut of party game shovelware synonymous with wholesome fun, white-washed couch parties. It was catering to a demographic I didn’t belong to, and I felt my bleating for the old Nintendo franchises that I love but also maybe new ones but mostly old ones was falling on deaf ears.
These desires were nebulous, of course. In truth, I didn’t know what I wanted. Was another Kirby or Mario game the answer? Did I want to continue to warm myself in a blanket of nostalgia at 26? I found myself increasingly focused on Nintendo at its most old-fashioned; on its nuclear family-pitched advertisements, bumbling E3 stage presentations, and clumsy grasp of the online landscape. I felt increasingly drawn to games on other systems that promised to treat me like an adult, games with mature themes and sensibilities. Had I simply outgrown Nintendo?
In 2010, I convinced myself that I had. With my eyes fixed on what I deemed a more adult future to be found on PlayStation and Xbox and Steam, I decided to, as Bogost puts it, overcome my childhood.ake Link.”
That was four years ago. Between then and now I’ve looked for my adulthood, seeking it out in games that promise ‘gritty’ and ‘dark’ content; games that might speak to me as a person who has grown up emotionally since my Game Boy days all those years ago. I’ve occasionally found it - last year’s The Last of Us being a prime example - but such discoveries have been uncommon.
The video game industry is still youthful. Games that cater to our adolescent fantasies are still ubiquitous. In the mainstream space, we see the same sorts of stories, featuring the same sorts of highly athletic, young, white protagonists, built upon the same foundations. That’s not necessarily a problem. If they’re well made - and so often they are - these games can be a lot of fun and make money. But in truth, I’ve found no more depth in a Call of Duty game than I have in a Kirby title. I‘ve been taught nothing by Ezio Auditore da Firenze that Yoshi hadn’t already taught me. Nowadays, I feel no more moved by a digital battle-soaked warground than I do looking at Mario Kart’s Mushroom City.
At this year’s E3, I came out of Sony and Microsoft’s presentations feeling beaten over the head with sameness. Technically, both publishers had great shows, but there was little new there to excite me on a personal level. I saw the same six figure salarymen introducing the same sort of guitar-backed shooter trailers with the same tenuous grasp of forum-speak: “If I use the word ‘epic,’ they’ll think I’m just like them.” The same stiff-shouldered jokes, the same focus on the grim and the gritty.
Nintendo’s digital presentation was different. From the moment that Nintendo presidents Reggie and Iwata started beating each other up, it was joyful, and playful, and bucked against expectations. Nintendo’s Amiibo project and Mario Maker showed off smart new uses of existing ideas, while Splatoon, Nintendo’s new weirdo ‘shooter,’ was unlike anything I’d seen before (“why not make them squids?”). With its open world, even the new Zelda went off-script.
These were colourful games that kids could enjoy, sure, but - unlike the Wii, which wound up being exclusionary in its insistence on bringing new players into the fold - they were also games that cut across age and gender lines. Crucially, these were games for gamers - regardless of whether they were 'casual' or 'core'. And even more importantly, “there’s nothing wrong with having a little fun,” Reggie quipped... and a dusty light-bulb went off in my head.
Since then, I’ve played in boozy Mario Kart 8 tournaments with my friends that have lasted for hours. I’ve whooped with unabashed joy when I’ve won the crown in Super Mario 3D World, or tossed another player off the side of the level because I’m a dick like that. I’ve thrown pigs in Wind Waker HD and got lost in the Great Sea. I’ve loved every minute of it. And because Nintendo is inextricably linked with our powerful sense of nostalgia, I've felt at home.
I spent years assuming that video games “grow up” by delivering mature themes and experiences that I can relate to as an adult, and that Nintendo, with its family-focus and never-ending iterations of colourful kiddie properties was languishing too stubbornly in the past.
That, however, is to deny why we played games in the first place: because they're fun. Even those of us who clamour for maturity - who want the industry and its output to grow up in countless areas - can revel in fun for its own sake.
And as long as Nintendo stays honed in on that effervescent fun factor, I'm coming along for the ride.