As we quickly approach the next generation of video game consoles we are all anticipating what PlayStation and Xbox have in store for us, but one player in the video game market that has been going a little unmentioned in all of this is Nintendo.
As support for the Nintendo Switch only strengthens. there is no reason to believe that they will be releasing a new console anytime soon. At least not one that isn’t just an enhanced version of the current Switch. This in itself is fine, but it’s odd to see Nintendo actively take a step away from the console wars and focus on doing their own thing and strengthening their current fan base. It’s a move that most video game companies wouldn’t make. But then again, Nintendo doing the unusual feels pretty standard at this point.
Rarely has a video game company bucked tradition the way Nintendo seems to. As other consoles make beefier, more powerful consoles, try to deliver incredibly artistic stories, and fill their boxes full of Mature rated games, Nintendo continues to maintain that they want to make games for everyone. Whether you are 6 or 60, Nintendo wants you to be able to play video games and have fun doing it. Franchises like Mario, the Legend of Zelda, and Animal Crossing will always follow this belief system. All of their first-party titles will really. Fun matters above everything. This allows them opportunities for experimentation, but it also severely limits them. They also choose to limit themselves in extremely odd ways.
One of them is their refusal to adapt to the modern internet. When you buy a new console, it is going to have internet connectivity at this point and the Switch does have that. Games update with patches and you can purchase them digitally on the eShop. If you want to play these games with your friends, however, then buckle up. That is going to be a process of exchanging friend codes, hoping the game you are playing supports multiplayer, and then hoping that the game itself has a functional multiplayer mode.
Let’s use Animal Crossing as an example. The latest version on the Switch is the second-best selling Switch game to date. A huge aspect of the game is visiting your friend’s islands. This is what the process of visiting looks like.
— Chris Barnewall (@ChrisBarnewall) September 27, 2020
And this is only a snippet. To reach this point I had to first have a friend on my Switch friend list so I can add them to my Animal Crossing friend list who then has to open up their Island gate so I can run over to the airport, and then tell this cute Dodo that I want to fly to an island. I have to go through this process every single time. This doesn’t even get into what it’s like if someone is visiting your town. When someone is visiting an animation plays, and then you get a little airport arrival loading screen. This plays every single time no matter how many people are visiting. So if you are inviting nine people over, then every time someone is visiting this animation will play out.
Getting together with a friend can take up to five minutes and it becomes exhausting after a little bit. You can say that this is part of the charm of Animal Crossing, and in a way it is, but it’s an example of how Nintendo just doesn’t embrace the ease of online multiplayer that other games do willingly. In most games, it’s a far more seamless operation to link up with your friends online. You send an invite, you get connected, and you’re on your way.
On top of the difficulty of getting to your friends online, sometimes you get a game where the online multiplayer function feels very half baked, such as the Mario Maker 2 multiplayer that was plagued with poor servers and major lagging. This has been an issue for some major online Nintendo games ever since the Wii, but on Switch, you are paying for these internet services, which makes it far less excusable.
So the internet on Nintendo games isn’t always great, but not many people buy the Switch for multiplayer gaming. If there is something we can expect from Nintendo, it’s a library of incredible titles that are unique to them, and that drives gamers to their systems. They almost always deliver on that and the Switch is no different. Titles like Super Mario Odyssey, Breath of the Wild, and most recently a collection pack of Mario’s greatest 3D hits with Mario 3D All-Stars give gamers characters they know and love, with a modern-day spin. Nintendo has a willingness to give players what they want, right up until they decide they don’t.
Nintendo has decided it wants to be the video game version of Disney and give their collection of old games a limited release before returning to the proverbial vault. It is only available until March 31, 2021, and that’s not just the physical version. Digital will only be available for that period of time as well. This is a truly befuddling decision for a video game company to make. It creates a false limited supply on games that existed on other consoles for over a decade. It makes no sense, it costs $60, and many people who have played the game say it’s not much of a port in terms of improving upon the previous games. It’s just a straight up collection pack of games and for some reason it is limited.
While odd, it tracks with Nintendo’s history of having sparse production in their products. During the peak of the pandemic, Ring Fit Adventure was insanely difficult to find — as were Switch consoles in general — and Amiibos on the Wii U were notoriously difficult to get at their peak due to limited production. There’s a business argument for making a set number of items to lower production costs and ensure you don’t have overstock to maximize profits and limit spending, but there are times where it seem Nintendo purposefully isn’t coming close to meeting the full demand of the market. Illustrating just how strange that is for a gaming company, Microsoft is intentionally taking a loss on the Xbox Series S to try and ensure they get it in living rooms and reach as many people as possible.
Nintendo may operate with a completely different mindset than their gaming counterparts, but it’s a system they’ve found to be very successful and likely won’t change anytime soon. They are the richest company in Japan and that financial stability means they won’t be making any sweeping changes to their approach. Fans of Nintendo love them and will defend every single decision they make no matter how infuriating. Switches are still flying off shelves and that brand loyalty means the gaming giant has little incentive to join the console wars that consume Xbox and PlayStation.
It’s going to be interesting to watch the next console generation, because as the two major titans fight it out we’re probably going to continue to watch Nintendo do their own odd thing. Are they ever going to embrace modern gaming, or will they continue to be the black sheep of the industry? As long as they’re pocketing cash it’s hard to see them ever changing how they operate. They seem to actively oppose the way modern gaming works and so far that hasn’t done a thing to dent their standing in the market. Maybe one day that’ll change, but for the foreseeable future, Nintendo will continue to zig when everyone else zags.