The Console Wars: Nintendo’s Future is no Guarantee

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Published February 20, 2019
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Since its launch in March 2017, the Nintendo Switch has had record-breaking sales. Photo courtesy of Nintendo

Nintendo held another one of its traditional “Nintendo Direct” presentations where they revealed some of the upcoming projects fans can expect in the future this past week. The presentation, aside from the disappointing lack of news or updates on franchises, like Animal Crossing and Pokemon, was a mostly satisfying affair.

The Nintendo Switch-exclusive “Marvel Ultimate 3: The Black Order” is certainly a major release. If you did not know, anything Marvel-related tends to sell decently well, plus the announcements of “Super Mario Maker 2” and a remake of “The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening,” the latter of which looks devastatingly adorable.

However, Nintendo was not exactly in a desperate situation, considering both the sales of the Switch were some of the highest through one year of any console this generation and the massive success that “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” which launched this past December, has obviously been. While it is true that Nintendo has made tremendous strides forward and can seemingly do nothing wrong to upset the gaming audience at large, something can often be at its most vulnerable when at the height of its powers.

While fans of Nintendo have been satiated aplenty and would resent the idea they could be in trouble, there are still some fair criticisms to leverage against them.

For starters, their main competitors, Sony and Microsoft, are clearly gearing themselves up for a launch of their new systems. When the two companies inevitably reveal what they have been working on, there is the possibility the next generation could make the Nintendo Switch feel antiquated. After all, the Switch, which struggles to run a game like “Fortnite” that can even be played on a cellphone, is not capable of the same technical prowess of the Xbox One or PlayStation 4.

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This screenshot is taken from the upcoming “Super Mario Maker 2,” which is set to release this summer. Photo courtesy of Nintendo

The counter, of course, would be that Nintendo is not trying to compete with PlayStation and Xbox on that level, but instead being the counter-programming that casual gamers would better favor. Still, at what point does something become so primitive that even the most casual of gamers begin to give in to more advanced and cinematic experiences?

Will there still be the same level of interest in franchises like Kirby, Animal Crossing or Metroid in comparison to the potential that projects like “Cyberpunk 2077” have exhibited? These are fair questions to ask.

The other observation, which has been the narrative surrounding Nintendo for a while now, is whether or not it is important that they put more stock into developing a major new franchise.

Nintendo franchises and characters are largely recognizable by even the most casual of fans, but that does not mean they can be financially lucrative. Of course, mainline Mario and Zelda entries will always be relevant, but can they carry your system? It is difficult to say, especially when you look at their competition.

Sony’s PlayStation brand is as strong as ever, with exclusive titles like “Spider-Man” that will certainly have a sequel and “God of War” that were some of the best selling games of 2018, as well as a war chest of studios. These include Bend Studios, who are currently working on the upcoming “Days Gone” title releasing next month; Guerilla Games makers of “Horizon Zero Dawn;” San Diego Studios, the folks behind the “MLB: The Show” series; Naughty Dog, the masterminds behind the “Uncharted” series; and “The Last of Us,” who might be arguably the best developers in the entire industry.

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This screenshot is taken from the upcoming “Yoshi’s Crafted World,” which is set to release on March 29. Photo courtesy of Nintendo

In terms of Microsoft, the Xbox brand is not nearly as prolific as PlayStation’s right now, but franchises like “Halo” and “Gears of War” still carry some weight, albeit significantly less now than before. Most importantly, Microsoft has been making moves to acquire other studios and talent as well as starting their own brand new studio from the groundup called “The Initiative” in order to make more of an impact down the road.

The point of all this should not be to say that Nintendo is in bad shape. They are doing quite well when you consider where they were just a few years ago.

However, the next generation of consoles combined with their lack of a substantive new franchise might mean they are due for some regression in terms of the whole “console wars” narrative. It is good to see Nintendo make a comeback, but it might take some time before we know if they will remain in the spotlight for good.

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