Nintendo Today

Nintendo Today
It has become apparent that the Nintendo Company is being faced with one of its most challenging periods ever in their involvement in the video game industry. They, and their competitors, are experiencing new challenges and developments in technology, and the market. These challenges have provided new and unique opportunities for Nintendo to meet these problems head on. It is time for a Revolution, and Nintendo have stated clearly and confidently that they are far from finished, and that Nintendo will be around for a long time yet. But what must Nintendo do in order to please the masses?

Nintendo have had recent success with the GameCube with increased sales in North America and Europe. Upcoming titles such as Donkey Konga, Pikmin 2 and Metroid Prime can only add to the success. Not only this, but Nintendo have proven that they can turn a profit fast from losses. Announcements just last week stating that sales are at ¥22 billion, double that of sales from the same time last year are examples. Things are looking up.

Anyone outside of the US and Japan knows what it’s like about Nintendo and advertisement. I have learned from dozens of threads within the Cube-Europe message boards that Nintendo of Europe are absolutely slack when it comes to advertising, and from my own experiences, I can say that the efforts here in Australia are in no way better. However there is change.

Nintendo is underway in the UK with the Konga Beach Road Trip, to make people aware of Donkey Konga, and many other GCN games, with pods of GCN units and promotions for those who attend. This is a fantastic effort for Nintendo. Donkey Konga is a fantastic game, I had the opportunity to play it on Sunday at one of Nintendo’s wonderful, and much needed efforts here, in Australia.

Nintendo Australia is really non existent. Not much to do with the international scene, with only one glorious time in history, hosting the world Pokemon Championships in Sydney in 2000, as well as the premier of Pokemon 2000. Other than this, I would say NAL is more pathetic at advertising than NOE. However, Nintendo Australia is currently holding the Nintendo Superchallenge. This competition allows Victorians (and all Australians prepared to travel) the chance to be named Victoria’s Greatest GameCube player, an event that allows Cubers to compete against fellow gamers, on cinema screens, in games like 1080°: Avalanche, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and F-Zero GX at one of six cinemas in Melbourne. Along the way, competitors can win Tribal edition GBA SPs, games and vouchers.

Efforts like these are welcome, but are too few and far apart. However, Nintendo is making an effort, and with continued promotions such as these, Nintendo can only see improvements in their sales.

Nintendo is very focused with innovation. Nintendo has demonstrated their devotion to this with examples like connectivity between GCN and GBA, the GBA wireless adapter, and although connectivity hasn’t proven a major selling point, games like Crystal Chronicles and Four Swords Adventures are highly entertaining with multiple people, when you have the necessary equipment.

But Nintendo have showed innovation in other ways. No one would have expected that The Wind Waker’s Hyrule would be an oceanic world, of which would be traversed by a boat. Or even Pikmin, where a space traveller had crash landed on a planet filled with plant like creatures of which would help him to make his departure. These games are vastly different to anything else, but are at the same time, the high quality that is expected of Nintendo.

The DS is a prime example of Nintendo’s devotion to innovation. The DS, no matter what is said by the developers, is going to be viewed as direct competition to the PSP, and yet, graphical capability was most definitely not Nintendo’s main focus, but instead a variety of capabilities were, like WiFi, microphone, stylus and touch screen, duel screens and processors. This is something that has never been incorporated into a handheld gaming machine before, as Nintendo have stated. Not only this, but Nintendo have also suggested that the DS is a preview into what the Revolution will be.

But there are also interesting developments on the possibilities of the Revolution. In 2001, Nintendo invested money in a company called Gyration Inc. The deal would see Nintendo utilise Gyration technology. Gyration are in development of gyroscope sensors that have a ‘tenfold performance increase over accelerometer tilt sensors’ as well as having the ability to sense ‘yaw as well as pitch’. This opens a multitude of possibilities about the way in how games will be controlled. E3 2005 couldn’t come sooner.

The GameCube is a very impressive piece of hardware, one that is appealing to a wide number of developers, and, if it had been marketed in the correct way, could have been appealing to all gamers. So what went wrong? I don’t believe the argument that the system was labelled a ‘kiddie console’ before it was released was the main factor. It certainly contributed, but was not the primary factor.

A lot had to do with image. The GameCube is, in the eye of the mainstream gamer, a lunchbox. It has a lid, and a handle. With indigo as the primary colour didn’t help much either. Had Nintendo removed the handle, perhaps offered the Cube in more ‘cool’ colours at launch, such as silver or even red, the GameCube would be in a more desirable position, instead of directly competing with Microsoft’s Xbox, perhaps around 10 million consoles ahead. Even if it were only available in black, there is no ‘other colour’ that could give people an excuse to knock the Cube.

Despite the image that is perceived of the GameCube, the console has managed to remain on par, and in front of the Xbox. Nintendo has achieved this with many good strategies. The main one is the price advantage. Even before the GCN was released, it received a price cut due to the slashing in price of the Xbox. The second is attractive bundles of the console with games and accessories, including Metroid Prime, which included a name plate, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, including Ocarina of Time: Master Quest and a Platinum GCN, the Game Boy Player bundle, which was the same price as a stand alone console and the Mario Kart bundle, which included The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition disc.

Nintendo is on the improve, and it is indicative by these promotions that Nintendo is prepared to make sacrifices in order to push it’s products, and with forthcoming competition from Sony, with the PSP, Nintendo is on the right track to retain their high penetration into the handheld market.

Games are also an indicator of what the machine will see in its lifetime. Nintendo had made the effort to get developers on board to produce wide varieties of games, whether they were ‘mature’ titles or family titles, including the exclusivity of Resident Evil 4, as well as the rest of the ‘Capcom 5’ (Resi 4, Viewtiful Joe, Dead Phoenix, Killer 7 and P.N.O.3), and also collaborations such as Game Zero by Zoonami, Giest by n-Space and F-Zero with SEGA. There were also games like Super Smash Bros. Melee with HAL and Super Monkey Ball by SEGA at or close to launch.

However, none of the aforementioned ‘mature’ games were released at launch and the family games, although are excellent games, are often viewed as ‘kiddie’, because of their ‘cuteness’, or, simplicity. It’s unfortunate, but it is in many cases, damning of the image of a console.

The GameCube, however, still has a highly promising future, with Killer 7 and RE4 from Capcom still to come, as well as Viewtiful Joe 2 (and possibly 3), Metroid Prime 2, Mario Tennis, Donkey Konga, Tales of Symphonia, Pikmin 2, Star Fox, Advance Wars, Fire Emblem and Nintendo’s E3 unveiled The Legend of Zelda GCN. There is also the matter of the mystery GCN peripheral and, *crosses fingers* Golden Sun GCN.

Nintendo was able to keep the price of the GCN to minimum for some very interesting reasons. Number one was the exclusion of DVD functionality. The GameCube, although does have a DVD drive, and includes MPEG playback capabilities, is not a dedicated DVD player. Nintendo also had no inclusion of a hard drive, or modem/broadband adaptor, which add at least 20% to the value of the console. This has allowed Nintendo to maintain a much lower RRP, while at the same time, still able to make a profit. Microsoft is loosing millions of dollars on the Xbox, and while the losses aren’t as great, Sony is making no profits on the PS2 either.

There is also the small matter of online play. Nintendo has more experience with online gaming than any other video game company. Nintendo had well established the Famicom Detective Club in the early 90s where players and subscribers would download new information off the detective ‘net’ to their home consoles in order to solve crimes. For those non familiar, have a glimpse at the Ayumi Tachibana trophy in SSBM for a short description.

Yes, there is Phantasy Star Online I, II and III, but Nintendo hasn’t embraced the technology for their high profile games. And the philosophy that Nintendo uses in their defence I agree with 100%. When a consumer purchases a game, the costs must end there, especially with $100/€60 games. Nintendo believes that the consumer should incur no more charges. If I have to wait for online console gaming in order for Nintendo to devise a structure that allows for free access, then I’m all aboard the idea.

However, even though the GCN can’t play DVD videos, or go online in a large scale, it doesn’t mean that it can’t perform. The Game Boy Player is a marvellous device; I absolutely drooled when I first watched the brilliance of Golden Sun on my television screen. The particle effects were even more pixelated than the GBA, but for Golden Sun, it suited. Psynergy and critical hits were glorious, and summons were absolutely gorgeous. It was like playing my Super NES all over, but better. I have always said that Golden Sun could be Nintendo’s Final Fantasy, and people will disagree, but I stand by it.

And coming back from a tangent, the Cube is, without a doubt, the best 4 player unit. Smash Bros., Mario Kart, F-Zero, Super Monkey Ball, Crystal Chronicles, Four Swords Adv. The 64 was given a name as a ‘party machine’, due to 4 player support, as well as the multitude of multiplayer games. The GameCube is in the same boat. When I go to parties, my friends always ask me to bring my GCN, even the PS2 and Xbox owners. Why? It comes back to Nintendo’s very own philosophy, simplicity. Smash Bros., Mario Kart and SMB are all simple to play, but still provide a challenge, even for the most experienced of gamers.

This is Nintendo’s functionality. It is a different kind of functionality, innovation plays a large role, and it is what Nintendo has been doing since Donkey Kong in 1980. I would suggest Nintendo add in the functionalities that the mainstream gamers want, like backwards compatibility, DVD playback and the like, but only if it wouldn’t sacrifice the essence of Nintendo, innovation. For those who are sceptics, Nintendo does listen. The embracing of optical media is an example.

Nintendo gets top marks for effort when it comes to company relations, at present anyway. Nearly ten years ago, when Nintendo shocked the world and said that proprietary cartridges would once again be the medium for the N64, Squaresoft abandoned Nintendo, claiming that the cartridges were too constraining, too limited. (To a point, I agree, but look at Ocarina of Time…) The then president of Nintendo Co. Ltd. Hiroshi Yamauchi didn’t make things easier, slamming Squaresoft, and suggesting Nintendo didn’t need the Final Fantasy series to be successful. Well, true, but Nintendo would be in a much better place had Square remained.

Zip to the present now, and Nintendo is making deals left, right and centre. Companies like Namco, Capcom and SEGA, as well as Electronic Arts have all played significant roles in the GCN life. Not only that, But Square-Enix is now developing games for the GBA and NDS. But the real special game is Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Look past the demanding structure, the liner storyline, there is something much more deep. Fund Q. Set up independently by Hiroshi Yamauchi in 2002, was a fund of ¥20 billion, the reason: finance companies to develop games that would utilise GBA-GCN connectivity. Square was interested, but due to Sony’s 20% or so possession of Square at the time, was unable to apply without a lot of red tape, thus the Game Designers Studio was formed. A subsidiary, on paper, that would allow Square to develop games using Yamauchi’s Fund Q.

Nintendo and Square had begun to set aside differences, and Crystal Chronicles is symbolic of even the most damning of grudges being defeated. Nintendo published CC, as well as Final Fantasy Tactics: Advance and Sword of Mana in the US as well as Europe and Australia. Now, Square-Enix and Nintendo have made up, and with NDS and GBA titles underway, perhaps there are chances of a GCN title. Maybe even a traditional Final Fantasy title on the Revolution. Nintendo’s efforts are paying off.

Nintendo in the Future
Nintendo has stated over and over, they are to remain in the console business. Satoru Iwata has stated that ‘the day Nintendo stops making hardware, is the day Nintendo stops making games’ so no chance of being a third party, and that’s the way I like it. Nintendo has my uttermost respect and belief. Nintendo has shown countless times in the past that they are willing to fix problems, and the Revolution will be another chance for Nintendo to make amends for mistakes in this generation. I believe it is time for a Revolution and Nintendo is the company to do it. The day Nintendo departs from the Video Game world is the day I no longer associate with video games, and I’m not ready to stop playing games, and neither is Nintendo.