Happy 121st Anniversary, Nintendo. Reasons why they’re #1 and how to ensure future success.

ByPaul Gale

Sep 16, 2010 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nintendo Koppai
The Nintendo Playing Card Company: The company that was founded this week in 1989, on September 23rd, by Fusajiro Yamauchi in Kyoto, Japan, began as a playing card company. Who knew how it’d evolve over the next 121 years.

Nintendo: The logo that would come almost 100 years later, and become one of the most recognizable around the world for the next 30 years.

How come other video game companies could be around for as long as Nintendo (not counting their 1889 debut), but none quite as popular or successful? It could be magic, it could be a time machine, or it could be that they just have all of the right componets into not only staying around for all these years, but staying up top.

Nintendo Entertainment System
Nintendo Entertainment System: The father of modern gaming, the system that single handhedly relaunched the videogame industry into a successful market, and the birthplace of the biggest stars of today.

Nintendo first did things right with the NES, by developing a more modern looking system (for its time) and having an intuitive D-Pad/B/A button placement and developing characters that would eventually be icons: Mario, Link, Samus, Donkey Kong. It also helped that Nintendo had Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, Mega Man, and Castlevania from 3rd parties, but the NES will forever go down as the start of the video game industry turning into something huge.

Game Boy
Game Boy: How many electronic devices do you know, that no matter how obsolete their technology, can last for 11 years before seeing a true successor? Truly a figuratively and literally speaking, resilient juggernaut.

Super Nintendo
Super Nintendo: 2D gaming perfected. Many franchises had “near perfect” titles on this one.

After the NES, came the Game Boy and Super Nintendo. The Game Boy line and its successors would last for two decades until its replacement, the Nintendo DS, finally took its place. Still, how did a four colored system, producing green, dark green, black, and dark black only images be so successful before its eventual colored siblings came to? The friendly design of the platform, the decent battery life compared to its competition, the handheld sequels to NES hits, and clever marketing are the biggest to thank in my opinion…oh and a little game that’s still one of the most existing around: Tetris.

The Super Nintendo was just a very intelligent system by both design and functionality (the introduction of a four button layout on the sytem’s face still exists today). Sony has been using it for three generations now, plus on the PSP, Microsoft tried coming up with something different with the first Xbox controller and then made the Type S which is more like the SNES’ face, Nintendo 64 controller went with 6 buttons and had mixed results, the GameCube controller had a unique layout with mixed results as well, and those happening made Nintendo go back to the SNES format with their Classic Controller.

The Super Nintendo also had brilliant games made by Nintendo, including Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Super Metroid. Those three sequels to their NES brethren prevailed in a big way. Plus the introduction of Star Fox, Pilot Wings, and Mario Kart, certainly helped. Don’t forget about the 3rd party explosion with Street Fighter II, Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and 2nd party offering: Donkey Kong Country. Nintendo really knew what they were doing with the SNES.

Virtual Boy
Virtual Boy: The Black and Red sheep of the Nintendo family that at least proved that Nintendo was a very “forward thinking” company.

Don’t think that just because the Virtual Boy was a flop for Nintendo, that it doesn’t hold its own importance in Nintendo history. Though this console/handheld hybrid only sold a million units, it showed the world, including video game developers, gamers, and the media, that Nintendo is always future thinking and is bold when it comes to thinking outside the box. It’s this same bold attitude that Nintendo had with Virtual Boy, that would lead them to create the DS and Wii. After totally failing as a result of trying to do something new, many companies would probably be discouraged from going outside the norm, but Nintendo didn’t let that stop them…instead, they perfected “different yet successful.”

Nintendo 64
Nintendo 64: Truly “The Fun Machine” as it was the first system with four controller ports from the start, emphasizing multiplayer enjoyment.

If the NES to SNES was an “evolution”, then the SNES to Nintendo 64 was a “revolution”. Technically, 3D graphics were used before the N64 came out, but only after Super Mario 64, did video games truly become “3D” in gameplay. Nintendo was really the first company to successfully explode in this new world and did so with games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Star Fox 64, Mario Kart 64, and Wave Race 64 to name a few. It also helped that Rare backed up Nintendo big time with hits like Goldeneye 007 (that is seeing a 13 year later remake) and Perfect Dark. The N64 was also a very approachable machine because of its slick contours and its innovative controller. Say what you will about the 6-button layout, but the invention of the analog stick and Rumble Pack would become two things once again, used to this day in all controllers. Plus, the Z-Trigger paved the way for all future trigger buttons.

Did Nintendo make any mistakes this time around? Well, they did drop to #2, to Sony with their first attempt of a system: PlayStation, so yes. They should have had more 3rd party software support from the likes of Capcom, Konami, and Activision…to name a few. These companies were still around, but many of their titles that were so impactful on N64’s predecessors, never saw a 64 suffix. The loss of SquareSoft (now Square-Enix) meant no more Final Fantasy series, which decided to really take off and go mainstream on the PlayStation. What too would have happened back then if Nintendo 64 was a CD based system? We’ll never know…

Game Boy Advance
Game Boy Advance: The hardcore portable that modernized the handheld.

Nintendo GameCube
Nintendo GameCube: Who are you? If you’re playing it, you’re one of Nintendo’s faithful.

That brings us the Big N’s 4th console entry: Nintendo GameCube. By now, Nintendo dropped to #2 but was still very relevant because the Game Boy Advance was around for a year and held a great dominance in the handheld market, plus the introduction of the Pokemon series in the late 90’s kept the money flowing and helped Nintndo out in a big way. In fact, one of the things that seemed like you could always rely on was Nintendo handhelds. The GBA had no problem reachings its audience and with 32-Bit power, it saw a significant boost in power over the original Game Boy and brought in new console gamers into the portable market, whom originally were turned off because of the relatively low quality graphics in comparison to the home systems. How did the GameCube do? Purists of the system will say that it held some of Nintendo’s best work ever, with games like Metroid Prime (by Retro Studios), The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Pikmin.

You’ll hear the fans talk about how the face button layout was actually superior to the normal, diamond shape created for the SNES, how the L and R buttons featured the first depression-into-click technology, and how the handled was so vital (ok, just kidding about that one), and how the WaveBird once again showed that Nintendo understands the evolution of technology…because it was after all, the first truly accurate and great wireless controller. On the other hand, where Nintendo did good, they yet again made a few mistakes. Their 3rd party support was better than on the N64, but still not as solid as the SNES. Furthermore, due to the smaller sized discs (which were great since being propriety like they were, it was harder for people to illegally copy), they also held less data than Xbox and PS2’s DVDs. Also, since DVD players were still fairly new in the early 2000’s, having the ability to play movies on your gaming system was a plus. The kiddy image of the system launching purple didn’t help either, and though technically GCN launched in black too, most gamers saw ads as they were: a purple lunchbox. Still a successful system, but dropping to #3 in the world, hurt.

Nintendo DS
Nintendo DS: Truly a Developer’s System…yet also one for the masses, because everyone knows how to use a pen.

Wii: The motion machine EVERYONE can understand. Yes, “Wii would like to play” all 74 million and counting.

Step into 2005 and 2006 and up comes the powerful duo of the Nintendo DS and Wii. The DS was originally introduced as a “third pillar” to GameCube and Game Boy Advance, but after being outsold by its predecessor for several months, it quickly became the monster you know today that has sold over 132 million units world wide and is now very much its own entity. A truly astonishing feat for a system that introduced touch screen gaming, dual screen gaming, a microphone, and an air pressure sensor (though not often used), and the smart ability to play backwards compatible Game Boy Advance games…a feature not present in the DSi and DSi XL models unfortunately. Plus, DS was the system that brought games like Brain Age and Big Brain Academy to the table, capitalizing on a very non-tradional gaming market…the elderly, as well as showing that educational gaming is possible to be fun. Nintendogs, a mega popular game that founded a new generation of girl gamers was also first introduced on the DS.

In the console world however, Wii was the new king, and Nintendo quickly regained its #1 spot. Recap:
NES to SNES = evolution
SNES to N64 = revolution
N64 to GCN = evolution
GCN to Wii = revolution

After two generations of taking 2nd even 3rd seat to Sony and then, Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo knew that they needed to change certain things. Rather than going the expected route and making a vastly more powerful console than the GameCube (what they did do in the past), they made the Wii slightly more powerful, but focussed all of their money and knowledge on coming up with a new way to play games: motion control. It’s certain games that impact the industry too, in such a profound way, that really tell a story of the era. Nintendo, in my opinion, has done this three times:
Super Mario Bros. introduced amazing 2D gameplay to the world.
Super Mario 64 introduced amazing 3D gameplay to the world.
Wii Sports introduced understandable motion gameplay to the world.

The fact that Wii had Wii Sports bundled in with it was the smartest move Nintendo might have ever done, as it’s probably the biggest reason for Wii’s success, at least for certain, early on its life (though I to this day I still hear stories of people playing Wii Sports for the first time at a friend’s party and then buying one for themselves). Yes, that Wii Remote was Nintendo’s magic stick. It, along with the Nunchuck, introduced the idea of motion controlled gaming thanks to gyroscopes and accelerometers. The name “Wii” also brought so much attention (lots of it negative early on) to Nintendo, especially since the Wii at one time was being called “Revolution”. Ineed the Wii was still a revolution in itself, but the ease of the name, the clever design of the ii looking like two people (head and body) playing with each other or two remotes side by side, the implication of “we” playing together (at least in English), and the small, compact design, are all reasons for the console’s success. Add to that the precision of the Sensor Bar for laser-like pointing, and you had yet one more unique function in the system.

The Wii didn’t stop there with good moves, because every Wii also encouraged its users to create their own Mii. Miis became incredibly popular, with creative fans out there making celebrities, objects, famous people throughout history, and more. One of the other great things that Nintendo did right was Wii Fit and its Balance Board. If you wanted a game that could get you in shape, this was it, and over 32 million Wii owners have this duo. Wii Fit for Wii was what Brain Age was for DS, and it meant one thing for Nintendo: Massive Expansion. Don’t forget about great hardcore titles from Nintendo like Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, Metroid Prime 3 and Metroid: Other M (developed with Team Ninja), The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and the promising looking, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and good 3rd party titles such as Muramasa: The Demon Blade, World of Goo, and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. The DS and Wii both have a strong outlook, with the DS seeing its successor pretty soon and Wii yet to see the release of its Vitality Sensor, which could be the next Balance Board.

Wii, like Nintendo 64 and GameCube before it, isn’t without its faults, however. You could argue that “it doesn’t really matter, because they’re still #1”, but they’re going to have to fix some things for their next console. For starters, Wii being so graphically underpowered compared to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 made it loose plenty of 3rd party gems like Street Fighter IV, Final Fantasy XIII, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Batman: Arkham Assylum to name a few (not to mention the dozens of other “good” games only on the HD Twins. If you look back at GameCube, it actually did a pretty good job in comparison to Wii at landing the big 3rd party games for the most part and it was considered the “kid’s console”. If Wii were as strong as its competition AND had motion controls, it could have become the best console ever…assuming the majority of the 3rd party blockbusters came out on it, because with them and the likes of Wii Sports and Wii Fit, what wouldn’t Wii have?

Next up was the paltry 512Mb “hard drive”. Plain and simple, this “store some fruits in the refrigerator and when you want more, go out to the ice chest in the garage, grab a fruit, put it in your fridge, but only after taking something out of your fridge and putting it in your ice chest” philosophy (my analogy of the Wii’s storage space to SD Card transfering system) only hurt Nintendo’s own Virtual Console and WiiWare system, because I guarantee you that more games would have sold if storage on the system was never an issue.

Not having an immersive online gaming network (though better than GameCube’s handful of online games), hurt Wii a bit as well…and no thanks to their safe-yet-tedious Friend Code system. How could Nintendo pioneer split screen gaming with Nintendo 64, two generations prior, and emphasize that playing with others is fun (even look at their Pokemon Leagues around the world where gamers meet and play each other) and be so behind in the online world of gaming? They want to make their environment a safe one, that’s why, and at the end of the day, it’s respectible.

No voice chat and no type of universal point system would have helped (moreso the former), but even without these few things and being able to play DVDs, Nintendo has created its most successful system yet, and if they can learn from the few mistakes, their Wii 2, Wii HD, or whatever the next Nintendo console is called, will be amazing. Oh and Nintendo really should launch their next console with a traditional controller and a Next Gen Wii Remote, because there still is a tremendous audience out there that likes playing it old school. I have good faith that Nintendo will make their next console one that every type of gamer will enjoy, because even with the Nintendo 3DS, they’re already improving its predecessor’s shortcomings, namely, 10 year old specs (now 15).

Nintendo 3DS
Nintendo 3DS: The first 8th generation video game system and first device to produce 3D popping-out visuals from a screen without the use of glasses.

Paul Gale playing two Nintendo 3DS units at once at E3 2010
Paul Gale: The first person to play two Nintendo 3DS units at once.

I was one of the first hundred people in the world (perhaps outside of Nintendo’s own employees and probably some key 3rd party people) to play with the Nintendo 3DS at E3 2010 and let me tell you this, I’ve been in the video game industry for a decade now and I just know when something is hot. This platform with its two outward facing 3D cameras, forward facing camera, gyrosocpe, accelerometers (tilt sensors), slide pad, beautiful top screen, increased Wi-Fi capabilities, powerful 3D graphics engine, backwards compatibility, ability to produce awesome 3D popping-out effects without the need for glasses, and some more surprises I’m sure, is going to be the #1 most sought after item when it comes out and it will remain that way for a very long time.

I personally believe that on September 29th, 2010 (Nintendo 64’s 14th Anniversary in the United States), Nintendo will annouce that the release date for the 3DS will be on November 21st, 2010 (that’s Sunday, so mark your calendars), for $249.99, come packed in with a game (which will either be some compilation package of creative 3D mini-titles like what Wii Sports was to Wii or a more traditional game like Paper Mario 3DS), be available in extremely limited quantities that won’t suffice the demand, and see a “before March 31st, 2011” release in other markets. The pricing, release date, and details are my own speculation, but the rest about the 3DS being a success are all facts.

Nintendo Power Volume 259: October
Nintendo Power: Perfect proof of not just surviving as a magazine in today’s world, but ever-improving…thus the reason for surviving.

With a fanbase since July of 1988, this magazine knows how to connect with its readers (whether published by Nintendo or Future US). 22 years later, it’s going to be stronger than ever as Volume 260/November will have a special 25th Anniversary Celebration for Super Mario Bros. Also, in either Volume 260 or 261/December, there will be a special spread in the Community Section, featuring me and a story about my 12 years worth of carving video game themed pumpkins.

Satoru Iwata, Paul Gale, and Shigeru Miyamoto at E3 2005
Satoru Iwata, Paul Gale, and Shigeru Miyamoto: The Triforce that will bring forth the next big Nintendo game to millions around the world. The President, The Master Apprentice, and The Immortal Designer.

Paul Gale and Charles Martinet at E3 2010
Paul Gale and Charles Martinet: The “Mario sound-alike” and Mario himself.

Reggie Fils-Aime
Reggie Fils-Aime: One of the most popular and fan-connected Nintendo reps, ever. He is “The Regginator”.

Eiji Aonuma and Paul Gale at E3 2010.
Eiji Anonuma and Paul Gale: “Creating some of Zelda’s finest” and “Playing some of Zelda’s finest”.

Paul Gale and Koji Kondo at E3 2006.
Paul Gale and Koji Kondo: He who sings to His amazing tunes.

Nate Bihldorff, Paul Gale, and Rich Amtower at E3 2009
Nate Bihldorff, Paul Gale, and Rich Amtower: Nintendo’s employees love their jobs (I’m not am employee, but I respect their work).

The purpose of the including those past several pictures of different people from the world of Nintendo and me, is to show what kind of company Big N is. It’s one thing to create captivating characters like Mario, Link, Pikachu, and Donkey Kong, that millions of gamers around the world love and that a couple billion actually recognize, and it’s a completely different thing for the people behind those games to get not just credit, but mass fame and popularity for their work. Nintendo actually has superstars, real celebrities, and that’s something that has been rare for decades in the video game industry. It’s only more recent that Jerry Lambert who plays PlayStation’s Kevin Butler in the line of PS3 commercials and Microsoft’s Larry Hryb, who’s more well known as Major Nelson, became popular and well known, so you really have to give credit to Nintendo in knowing how to reach out to their fans and simultaneously be a gaming giant and your friend.

Overall, Nintendo knows what they’re doing. If you add up all of the positive marks and compare them to the negative ones, the company has flourished far more times than it’s fallen. And sometimes, it needed to fall in order to get up again, stronger, look at itself in the mirror to find out why they fell, and do what they can to get better. It also helps that they have a very hardcore, highly devoted, fanbase (with plenty of fanboys and fangirls) that wil always stick by their side. Nintendo isn’t going anywhere but up and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they have in store in the years to come. Happy 121st Anniversary, Nintendo. Thank you for the many fond memories. Play It Loud, Forever!

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