Feature: Nintendo in 2011 - Part One

An important year begins

April – News

Nintendo had been enjoying a high profile 2011 in the news cycle, and that was to continue in April. There was some bad news as a loss was recorded for the preceding financial quarter, tied in with 3DS sales for the month that were below expectations. There would be more headlines in this area later in the year but Nintendo were still optimistic, at this point, that profits and big sales were on the way for the 3DS.

The 3DS stereoscopic screen was also attracting plenty of negative press attention. There was some misleading journalism from one British tabloid newspaper in particular that took the complaints of headaches from a few and attempted to make it a full-blown crisis for the company. Nintendo were forced to clarify that issues with the screen were limited to a minority of consumers, while retailers quashed claims that a high number of consoles were being returned. The stories may have been inaccurate, but they were damaging nevertheless.

There was, despite this, some exciting news for loyal Nintendo followers. The eagerly anticipated The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D was announced for a June release, a much needed boost to a 3DS games catalogue struggling to excite consumers. Even more fascinating were internet rumours that Nintendo would unveil a new home console at E3, codenamed Project Café. Wild speculation began to rage about what this console would do to follow up the Wii, and there wouldn’t be long to wait to find out.

April – Games

This was a particularly quiet month for new Nintendo game releases, a worrying sign for both the 3DS and the Wii. Although launch titles provided some content for keen gamers to work through on the handheld, the Wii had very little to celebrate. Conduit 2 was perhaps the highest profile title in an uninspiring month, and it was a competent but flawed follow-up to the original title.

Download releases continued to flow, though with few standouts. Valet Parking 1989 was a rather strange but oddly endearing DSiWare title, while Mega Man fans in North America could finally celebrate the arrival of the glorious Mega Man X, though it’s yet to arrive in Europe.

May – News

As May got into swing there were two major news items for the Wii. Nintendo confirmed a price drop for the console, with some store deals ultimately equating to £99 for the little box, while an updated budget range of games was unveiled, including titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. There was much happiness for JRPG fans in Europe, also, with confirmation that Xenoblade Chronicles was on the way. At this stage no North American release was announced, which would prompt an online storm in the following months.

One of the stranger stories of this month revolved around Dead or Alive: Dimensions, with news that it was withheld from release in Sweden, Denmark and Norway due to child pornography laws.

The 3DS meanwhile, had confirmation of a June release for the eShop, along with rumours and Japanese details of the launch titles on the new digital service. Major retail releases were still few and far between, so there was continuing build-up to Ocarina of Time 3D, with some talk of Star Fox 64 3D also gathering pace. One of the stranger stories of this month revolved around Dead or Alive: Dimensions, with news that it was withheld from release in Sweden, Denmark and Norway due to child pornography laws.

Rumours continued to circulate regarding Nintendo’s next home console, with some claiming that it would not have a conventional hard drive for storing large amounts of data, and others stating that the new controller would include a camera. Confirmation that Nintendo would be hosting a live stream of their E3 presentation solidified opinion that a big announcement was inevitable.

May – Games

Much like the preceding month, May was very quiet in terms of major game releases on Nintendo consoles. On the 3DS, Dead or Alive: Dimension was enjoyed by those outside Scandinavia, with LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean arriving on both 3DS and Wii. Highlights on the download front were the RPG classic Chrono Trigger on the Wii Virtual Console, and another slice of Wayforward DSiWare fun with Mighty Milky Way. Overall though, they were slim pickings.

June – News

June was the month of E3 and the unveiling of the Wii U. Much like the unveiling of the ‘Revolution’ – which became the Wii – in 2005, Nintendo truly caught many by surprise with the new console. The concept video seemed to prompt a combination of excitement and confusion, with the tablet controller undoubtedly stealing the show. Nintendo was typically tight with details, but it was clear that the Wii U was far more powerful than the Wii, featured support for Wii RemotePlus and Nunchuk controllers alongside the tablet, with a substantial online component also promised. A combination of videos and concept demos did generally gain positive press, with a 2012 release likely.

The 3DS also received plenty of coverage, with a range of new releases outlined to reinforce the long-term appeal of the handheld. The ‘Holiday’ release periods for Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 – though they weren’t named at this point — were particularly intriguing, with 2012 releases such as Luigi’s Mansion 2 and Paper Mario also whetting the appetites of 3DS owners.

The issue wasn’t the re-packaging of a console add-on as a full retail title, but the fact that there was only a single save file that could not be deleted.

Beyond E3, there was controversy for the month’s major 3DS release, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D. The issue wasn’t the re-packaging of a console add-on as a full retail title, but the fact that there was only a single save file that could not be deleted. Although this was an arcade-style score-based title and this had happened before, the high-profile of this release meant that there was a significant PR storm surrounding the issue. Much debate was had about the merits of this policy and its effect on the second-hand sales market, and ultimately Capcom stated that it wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

In more positive 3DS news, the eShop finally arrived, with the same update also including a web browser. As well as including the DSiWare catalogue the eShop started, albeit very slowly, to release Game Boy Virtual Console releases, as well as all-new 3D Download titles 3D Classics: Excitebike and Pokédex 3D being provided for free.

This month also celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog, a major celebration for the mascot that was once Mario’s nemesis.

June – Games

For most Nintendo gamers June was dominated by one major release, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. It was a masterful re-release of the N64 classic and enjoyed critical acclaim. The 3DS didn’t fare too badly with other new titles either, with BlazBlue: Continuum Shift 2 bringing classic 2D brawling gameplay into the third dimension, while Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D was a major title, albeit with plenty of controversy.

The launch of the eShop also brought some extra gaming joy to 3DS owners, with the free releases being joined by popular Game Boy Virtual Console titles: retro-Zelda was well served by The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX, and popular mascot games such as Kirby’s Dreamland also made an appearance.

For the Wii, however, this was a particularly dismal month. The Virtual Console release of Mega Man 5, though it failed to appear in Europe, was as good as it got.

That’s the end of part one of our review of 2011. The second part is on the way, which will cover a number of dramatic developments for the 3DS and the continuing swansong of the Wii.