Feature: Nintendo in 2011 - Part Two

Disaster and redemption

Following on from Nintendo in 2011 — Part One, it's time to look at the latter half of the year.

The gaming world quickly moves on, as the 3DS enjoys positive sales and the Wii U hype begins to build. It’s easy to forget that the tail-end of 2011 was particularly dramatic and eventful for Nintendo, leaving us with plenty to consider as we round off our review of the last 12 months. This may take a while, so get comfortable.

July – News

During this month a great deal of focus went towards Operation Rainfall, an online fan-driven campaign – particularly in North America — to request localisation of three prominent Wii titles developed in Japan: Xenoblade Chronicles, Pandora’s Tower and The Last Story. At this stage Xenoblade Chronicles was confirmed for Europe, while gamers in North America faced the prospect of missing out on all of these titles; particularly frustrating in light of the incredibly thin Wii release schedule. The movement had started prior to July, but it was arguably at its highest profile in this period.

The 3DS, meanwhile, endured one of its toughest months. A high profile cancellation of the anticipated Mega Man Legends 3 was a disappointment, with rumours spreading around the internet that this, along with other delayed game releases, was a sign of trouble for the 3DS.

After encouraging launch day sales, it was confirmed that the 3DS had only sold 710,000 units worldwide between April and June, truly abysmal figures.

On 28th July the scale of the issue, and Nintendo’s response, became immediately clear. After encouraging launch day sales, it was confirmed that the 3DS had only sold 710,000 units worldwide between April and June, truly abysmal figures. Nintendo’s financial report confirmed a loss for the quarter, and it was announced that there would be a drastic 3DS price cut – of roughly a third – in a bid to boost sales. Satoru Iwata accepted responsibility and major figures in the company received a sizeable pay cut, while those who bought the 3DS at full price became eligible for 20 free downloads as part of the Ambassador Programme to be released by the end of the year, comprising ten NES and ten Game Boy Advance titles.

There was some Wii U talk prior to these financial reports, with major Nintendo figures talking-up the console’s future prospects. Major developers such as EA, meanwhile, spoke about working closely with Nintendo to ensure that the Wii U would deliver a robust, solid online experience to match the HD consoles.

July – Games

It was a relatively quiet month of new games on Nintendo platforms, though one exceptional title appeared on the evergreen DS: Solatorobo: Red the Hunter was a Japanese action-RPG full of charm and addictive gameplay. Like other DS releases earlier in the year, it highlighted the strengths of the handheld and provided a fun, engrossing experience.

The 3DS was light on major retail releases, with Pac-Man & Galaga Dimension proving to be a decent, if unspectacular addition to the console’s small library of titles. Let’s Golf! 3D became the first third party 3DS-exclusive download, with 3D Classics: Xevious and DSiWare title Zoonies – Escape from Makatu providing some download highlights. Anticipated WiiWare action-platformer ANIMA: Ark of Sinners proved, ultimately, to be a disappointment.

August – News

After the dramatic 3DS price cut and announcement of the Ambassador Programme, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata took the opportunity in early August to write an open letter of apology. Mr Iwata said sorry to early adopters, while explaining that dropping the retail price of the 3DS was necessary to build a user base and encourage third party support. The 20 free games being provided didn’t appease all, but the letter nevertheless represented a striking moment of humility and honesty from the Nintendo boss.

The price cut did bring a welcome boost in sales later in the month, with confirmation from Nintendo that Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 would be released in time for Christmas, helping to build some hype around the handheld. Nintendo also confirmed that it would be supporting paid downloadable content (DLC) on the 3DS and Wii U, a development that showed a willingness to adjust digital strategy.

There were a couple of notable stories around the Wii, with confirmation that The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower would both be released in Europe in 2012: the lack of North American release details frustrated followers of Operation Rainfall. Meanwhile, Ubisoft’s Just Dance 2 became the 8th Wii game to sell five million copies in the US, the first third party title to reach the milestone.

Two major anniversaries also passed in August. The Metroid franchise celebrated its 25th anniversary, while the Super Nintendo enjoyed its 20th birthday.

August – Games

The highest profile release this month was Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii. It proved to be an exceptional Japanese-RPG, with an enormous game world, intriguing story, deep customisation and action-packed combat. It drew attention because it was a rare example of a major Wii release for the year, but also because it was released in Europe and not North America. Gamers across the Atlantic could only hope for strong sales, therefore forcing Nintendo of America’s hand.

On the DS and 3DS, this month was painfully short of prominent retail releases. There were, however, some interesting downloads on offer that helped to ease the boredom. DSiWare boasted the light-hearted Go! Go! Kokopolo!, while 3DS owners could indulge in two creative Game Boy titles through the Virtual Console: both Gargoyle’s Quest and Avenging Spirit were two overlooked gems added to the Virtual Console vaults. 3D Classics: Urban Champion, on the other hand, was the strangest release of the month. Quite why Nintendo chose a mediocre, little-loved NES title for the 3D treatment is still mystifying to this day.

September – News

This would prove to be a busy month for Nintendo, with plenty of big reveals and distinctly mixed reactions from the gaming community. The biggest news, arguably, was the unveiling of the Circle Pad Pro – as it would eventually be called – a peripheral which would add a second Circle Pad to the 3DS. First leaked in a scan of Famitsu magazine, alongside a reveal of Monster Hunter 3 G, it was an add-on that attracted a fair bit of initial ridicule due to its appearance. Once the dust settled, the practical purpose of the device, alongside words of encouragement from third parties, made it seem like a worthwhile addition to the 3DS.

Nintendo held a 3DS press conference later in the month, in which the Circle Pad Pro was formally confirmed alongside a healthy range of upcoming game releases. First party titles were unveiled or confirmed, with Mario Tennis joining the likes of Luigi’s Mansion 2 and Animal Crossing as expected 2012 releases. Third parties were also strongly represented, as well as confirmation that video recording was on the way in a future update. All of these announcements contributed to a sense that, after a difficult July and August, the 3DS was embarking on a comeback.

In other news, Satoru Iwata reiterated once again that Nintendo would not be moving into smartphone gaming, despite pressures from investors and industry analysts. Professor Layton fans in Europe, meanwhile, were disappointed to learn that their copies of Professor Layton and the Spectre’s Call would not include RPG add-on Professor Layton’s London Life, with Nintendo Europe citing potential release delays as their reasoning. It was also yet another month of major anniversaries: the Nintendo 64 reached 15 years, with the Game Boy Advance and the original Luigi’s Mansion both reaching their 10th anniversaries.

September – Games

This month boasted a fairly robust number of solid releases on all major Nintendo platforms. Star Fox 64 3D arrived on the 3DS, with a smooth frame rate and enhanced graphics bringing new life to the on-rails action. North American fans of the BIT.TRIP series could enjoy both BIT.TRIP SAGA on 3DS and BIT.TRIP. COMPLETE on Wii, with the home console version including a healthy amount of new content.

The DS once again nudged its way into the frame with Kirby Mass Attack and Aliens: Infestation, two excellent and diverse releases. Three notable download titles also arrived: puzzle racer Motoheroz earned a prized 10/10 in our review, while escapeVektor: Chapter 1 was another superb WiiWare title. Nintendo also provided The Legend of Zelda: Four Sword Anniversary Edition as a free DSiWare download, with this version including new content and local multiplayer.

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