Feature: Nintendo in 2011 - Part One

An important year begins

It’s now 2012, which promises to be an eventful year for Nintendo. We’ll be giving our thoughts soon on what to expect in the coming year, but it's now time to look back at a dramatic 2011. There were plenty of major headlines and game releases, and we’ll pinpoint some of the key moments that defined the year. We'll divide this feature into two parts, so keep an eye out for part two later in the week.

January – News

The year kicked off with landmark news for the DS ‘family’ of consoles, which were about to be usurped by a flashy upstart in the handheld market. It was confirmed that the DS was the highest selling console of all time in North America, as well as topping the UK hardware chart in 2010. Considering the ageing technology in the DS, to sell in significant numbers late in its lifespan was an impressive feat.

Much focus was, of course, on the upcoming launch of the 3DS. One area that attracted a lot of press was the suitability of 3D visuals for young gamers. Nintendo stated that the 3D setting was unsuitable for children six years and under, while some doctors even claimed that viewing the stereoscopic visuals would actually benefit young children. Regardless of personal opinion, it was an issue that was distracting focus from the launch itself, and perhaps caused the public to have doubts about the technology.

Nintendo did counter such doubts with a major press event in Amsterdam, as well as various hands-on opportunities that allowed the public to try out the new handheld themselves. Previews of many of the launch titles began to surface, though doubts remained whether there was a ‘killer app’ to boost early sales. Confusion also reigned in terms of functionality, with conflicting news reports on whether the eShop would be ready for the console’s launch. Overall, games were announced and previewed, hype developed, but some were uncertain about the launch software and the all-important 3D screen.

It was a fairly quiet month for the Wii, a trend that would continue for most of the year. Kirby’s Return to Dreamland was announced, there was still no release date for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword despite the ‘finishing touches’ being applied, and Japanese RPG fans were irritated when Nintendo stated that there were ‘no plans’ to bring The Last Story to western markets: that story would come back with a vengeance later in the year.

January – Games

There was a gem on the DS with the arrival of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective... It was a perfect example of the qualities that made the DS such an enormous success.

As is typical, January was fairly quiet on the new game releases front. This was hardly a surprise, with the 3DS on the way and the Wii showing early signs of being side-lined. There was a gem on the DS, however, with the arrival of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, a puzzle game with a difference. It was a perfect example of the qualities that made the DS such an enormous success.

February – News

February brought more 3DS hype and anticipation ahead of its worldwide launch in March, with the launch line-up being announced. There were 16 titles in North America’s list (18 when including each Nintendogs variation), a decent number, though with doubts over whether there were enough big-hitters to draw consumers into a day one purchase. That said, the console hit Japan on 26th February with much fanfare and press coverage. The region-locking of the console did mean that the vast majority held off from picking up a Japanese import, casting envious glances all the while.

Away from the 3DS, there was good news for two of Nintendo’s oldest franchises. Super Mario Galaxy 2 received four nominations for BAFTA’s British Academy Video Game Awards, including the Game of the Year award, while on 21st February The Legend of Zelda turned 25, making some members of the Nintendo Life team feel very, very old.

February – Games

February brought two major releases on the Wii. Mario Sports Mix was another outing for the Mushroom Kingdom gang, indulging in activities such as basketball and ice hockey: a reasonable if unspectacular effort. The WiiWare download service did receive a welcome boost with BIT.TRIP FLUX, the sixth and final part of the venerated series. It was a fitting finale and a standout on the Wii, download or retail.

The DS, meanwhile, continued its golden farewell with Kingdom Hearts Re:coded and Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation. Dragon Quest VI, in particular, was an impressive re-make of the SNES original, with extra content and improvements expanding on wonderful foundations.

March – News

There was only one major story in town this month: the 3DS. Before we get into that, though, we’d like to direct your attention to this live text feed, giving blow-by-blow details of an epic battle over the Donkey Kong world record. The world record remained in place despite the efforts of prominent DK masters Dr Hank Chien, Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe. This ‘Kong Off’ serves as a fun reminder of the delights to be found in retro gaming.

Headlines throughout this month revolved around the 3DS in a few different ways. The 3DS had made a positive start in Japan and Nintendo made plenty of statements about the upcoming worldwide release, with announcements ranging from teasers of upcoming titles to declarations that digital content would not be priced in direct competition with smartphones. There was much debate about an interview given by Reggie Fils-Aime stating that Nintendo’s download services weren’t interested in working with ‘garage developers’. Taken in context this was an attempt to reassure gamers that independent studios of sufficient quality would be supported rather than amateurs, though it certainly prompted plenty of opinions on the definition of 'indie' developers.

When the new handheld did hit at the end of the month it performed rather well, stopping just short of selling out in the final days of the month. In good news for the Wii, meanwhile, it became the fastest selling console to hit 35 million sales in North America: an impressive statistic that further reinforced the successful legacy of the console.

March – Games

March was a month dominated by the 3DS on the games front, though its predecessor deserves a mention for three excellent titles. The Pokémon series continued with Pokémon Black and White, while Okamiden also arrived in stores, a sequel to the rather wonderful Okami. It was a technical marvel on the ageing DS hardware, with stylus controls perfectly suited to the artistic gameplay. A DSiWare version of Plants vs. Zombies also arrived, only two months after a full retail release. This was a welcome cut-price opportunity for DS owners to enjoy one of the finest games to make the transition from smartphones to a Nintendo handheld.

Our launch game buyer’s guide laid it all out, with a sense amongst some that the 3DS launch line-up had been competent, but unspectacular.

Meanwhile, it was an exciting time at Nintendo Life as we began the process of reviewing all of the launch titles for the 3DS. Although Mario, Zelda and Samus were all absent, we did class five titles as ‘must buys’, with Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and, surprisingly, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars 3D both being awarded impressive scores of 9/10. There were a number of middle-of-the-road releases, along with a few that were far from recommended. Our launch game buyer’s guide laid it all out, with a sense amongst some that the 3DS launch line-up had been competent, but unspectacular.

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