Feature: Nintendo in 2012 - Part One

3DS fought back, hype mode was engaged

Not so long ago it could be argued that Nintendo was having some relaxing times, with DS and Wii systems flying off shelves and console rivals rushing to the platform in order to hop on the motion-control train. Of course, technology and the gaming industry evolve, and in 2011 Nintendo found itself trying to revive a struggling new handheld, just as Wii started to gasp for breath. Nintendo's tasks for 2012 seemed clear: get the 3DS into the game with serious sales, build excitement for Wii U, and try not to let anyone notice the gradual abandonment of Wii.

Just like last year, we're going to split our yearly review into two parts of six months each, picking out stories that hopefully represent some of the most interesting happenings that occurred in the world of Nintendo. The first half of 2012 was mostly about 3DS, with a bonanza of marketing noise and big announcements culminating with E3 in June. So, let's begin at the beginning.

January

It's good to start a scary New Year — full of daunting challenges — with some humour, so a fan-produced and rather entertaining Zelda timeline was a nice start, which included the era of Excuse ME Princess, among other things. Less pleasing news for Nintendo came in the form of Wii piracy figures that showed millions of illegal downloads being made of games, a problem that the company has been working hard to avoid on its newest systems. Some more grisly news followed with confirmation that Konami was dissolving Hudson Soft — though the brand partially survived — while Icon Games broke its NDA (non-disclosure agreement) with Nintendo to publicise its rather modest sales figures for WiiWare. It was told to withdraw the information, prompting a spat that resulted in the developer suggesting that Nintendo's policies on WiiWare threaten jobs and livelihoods. Not a happy public debate around the flatlining service at the time.

There was better news as hype started to grow around high-profile 3DS releases that were on the way, while the Kid Icarus: Uprising 3DS stand was revealed to the world along with news that a new 2D Mario was on the way to the handheld. White and pink 3DS consoles arrived on the scene in the UK, adding some colour to store shelves, while demos dropped onto the 3DS eShop — a simple addition, but one that was gratefully snapped up by Nintendo gamers. The Circle Pad Pro also arrived in all of its ungainly splendour, amusing some and proving rather useful to others.

On the games front the biggest arrival in stores was Resident Evil Revelations on 3DS, which thankfully took a step back from the relentless action-focused home console entries, combining some bullet-heavy sections with genuine survival horror; it also pushed the handheld's graphical capabilities. The 3DS eShop had two early download game of the year contenders with Mutant Mudds and Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword both arriving in North America, while Europeans grumbled at the delayed arrivals in their territory. The fact there were at least some good games in January was, on the face of it, a very good sign.

February

Now that business was up to full speed, a number of major announcements and quirky happenings occurred in this month. To start with news that doesn't matter but, nevertheless, pushed our buttons as gamers, some Mario sneakers emerged as possibly the best thing ever. There was enormous interest when a new SNES game was announced, a physical release of an unreleased title of the mid-90s, while much derisive snorting could be heard when it emerged that Capcom had printed a lot of copies of Resident Evil Revelations with a typo on the box. Resident Evil Revelaitons must be quite a collector's item.

In more serious news that was actually important to Nintendo, it was confirmed that the 3DS hit five million sales in Japan, with the sales of the handheld being excellent in the company's home nation for the whole year. Nintendo also purchased MobiClip, a company that specialises in high quality video compression in games such as the Professor Layton series, which seemed like a good business move. Nintendo's caution in terms of avoiding controversial games was reinforced, meanwhile, when it rejected The Binding of Isaac — from one half of Super Meat Boy's Team Meat studio — for publication on the 3DS eShop; this was likely due to the religious content, but nevertheless disappointed some mature gamers. Oh, and there was the small matter of Pokémon Black and White Version 2 being confirmed for DS — delight at a new game met with surprise that it was on the older system, but it's sold so many copies since that few people still care.

On the games front there was a fair bit of action on 3DS — Tekken 3D Prime Edition and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D were both solid releases, despite their annoying inclusion of 3D in the titles, while Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games started the hype for the real thing early and sold consistently well on 3DS and Wii for a number of months. Perhaps the biggest arrival was on Wii, however, with The Last Story landing in Europe, much to the delight of JRPG fans that doubted the day would come. North America's turn would come later in the year, and while it's since been overshadowed by another 'Operation Rainfall Trilogy' entry, it was a welcome arrival on the ageing system.

March

March seemed to steal ahead of April Fools with some rather bizarre stories that, if we'd made them up, would have certainly been dismissed as utterly ludicrous. Sick of hiring celebrities that weren't doing the business, Nintendo turned to Uggie, famous from oscar-winning movie The Artist, to be a "spokesdog" for Nintendogs + Cats; unfortunately he did scratch his 3DS touch screen, as his lack of thumbs prevented the use of a stylus. Meanwhile, Konami kept it classy by hosting its press event for the Japanese launch of Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D at a Hooters restaurant, while there was an incident with a Pokémon team, a hotel corridor and poo that gave the Video Game Championships a stench of controversy. Far more palatable was the gorgeous tale of a marriage proposal via Swapnote, which surely only the most cynical would find anything other than charming.

In other news, Nintendo of America confirmed that the 3DS had sold 4.5 million units in the region, easily outpacing the original DS Phat's equivalent sales.The 3DS eShop welcomed some Game Gear games on its Virtual Console, though a number of games did disappear from the European Virtual Console service on Wii, not helping the general sense that the Wii Shop was slowly dying. There was bad news in UK retail too, with GAME Group Plc going into administration and prompting the closure of 277 stores, leading to the loss of over 2000 jobs in one day. The specialist retailer was bought out and has had a relatively steady year since, though challenges for High Street retailers are still plentiful.

March saw a few high profile game releases, with the most prominent undoubtedly being Kid Icarus: Uprising, which had been highly anticipated since it was teased way back at E3 2010. It delivered a memorable experience on the handheld that dominated the month, though Wii did see the arrival of Mario Party 9, which was a title that saw development move away from Hudson Soft after its previous troubles. Inazuma Eleven 2 arrived in two distinct flavours in Europe on DS, bringing its own brands of crazy football/soccer moves to the the RPG genre.

Turn to page two for the arrival of a new 3DS model, the E3 extravaganza and LEGO Zelda dreams.

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