Feature: Looking Back at Nintendo in 2013 - Part One
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
We're already looking forward to the coming year here at Nintendo Life, picking some of our most anticipated Wii U and 3DS of 2014, while hoping for good times and another year of excellent gaming. Yet still, part of looking forward is understanding what's happened before, and as is our yearly tradition we'll sift through the 2013 archives — archives can be merely days old on the web, not like those dusty real-world equivalents — and remind ourselves of the biggest stories of last year.
It's safe to say it was a mixed 12 months for Nintendo, with impressive highs and some terrible lows. We'll try and pick out some of the most important stories, and others that are just a little bit of fun — let's get started.
January can typically be a quiet month in terms of new games, but in the case of Nintendo in 2013 was rather busy and packed with news. To start with reveals, two major Nintendo Direct broadcasts set the tone for exciting games on the way. Pokémon X & Y were announced in a special Nintendo Direct, confirming a new generation of the iconic franchise for the 3DS; in a first, it was announced that there'd be a co-ordinated global release in October. Not long after that we had a barnstorming Wii U Direct — this looked ahead to games coming later in the year and beyond, with confirmation of The Wind Waker HD, a Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem mash-up and Monolith Soft's X being revealed; we also learned that new entries in the Mario Kart, Mario and Super Smash Bros. franchises would be shown at E3. We now know what those games are, of course, but there was an exciting air of mystery at the time.
It was a busy month for Nintendo as a business, too, as it prepared to reveal its latest sales figures and was still within the rather lengthy Wii U "launch window". In an intriguing move the company unified its handheld and console divisions, with an all-new building in the plans.
Nintendo President Satoru Iwata spoke of the company considering free-to-play and various pricing options. Iwata-san address a number of subjects throughout the month, stating that at the time the Wii U was "selling steadily", while also admitting that the company would continue to explore alternative game models — free-to-play, "cheap-to-play" and DLC were all confirmed as ongoing possibilities with the company considering the best moves for various franchises. When the quarterly financial results emerged at the end of the month they made disappointing reading, with sales targets missed — most tellingly for the Wii U — and Nintendo continuing to make an operating loss; exchange rate conditions helped the company to squeak a net profit, however. It wasn't what the company would have had in mind, though a happy landmark was reached — the 3DS passed ten million sales in Japan.
Away from such serious matters there was the pleasing confirmation of a Fire Emblem: Awakening hardware bundle in North America, will the title hitting the region well ahead of Europe. We had confirmed March release dates for Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on both 3DS and Wii U, though the rather sad news that the end of April would bring the closure of the Monster Hunter Tri Wii servers. There was troubling news that the financially insolvent THQ would be sold off one IP at a time, while the Twitter Master himself, Hideki Kamiya, reminded fans to stop asking him for the original Bayonetta on the Wii U — that's down to Nintendo and SEGA and, to date, not happening.
A particularly interesting set of poll results emerged, meanwhile, with the Nintendo Life community answering our detailed survey and sharing opinions on the Wii U. It was also a month with its share of strange, WTF moments. There was a Sonic fan-film that had distinctly mixed reactions but the praise of Mr Sonic himself, Yuji Naka, while the ESRB rating for 3DS title Castlevania: Mirror of Fate humorously stated that "a male werewolve [sic] character appears to have an appendage/genatalia between its legs". Hm.
New games were few and far between, but the 3DS eShop had a notable and peculiar arrival with Tokyo Crash Mobs, while the Wii U was particularly quiet aside from Zen Pinball 2 and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge arriving in Europe.
Nintendo maintained a consistent run of Nintendo Direct broadcasts over the course of the year, and kept up the momentum with a 3DS-focused broadcast in this month. It unveiled details and release dates focused around the Year of Luigi, for one thing, letting us know when Mario & Luigi: Dream Team would arrive, along with platforming DLC with New Super Luigi U. Mario Golf: World Tour and Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D made their début appearances, while a lovely Fire Emblem: Awakening XL hardware bundle was confirmed for Europe, perhaps making up for the wait to its April release — North America had the aforementioned alternative standard-model bundle; Animal Crossing: New Leaf was also dated. The arrival of the Circle Pad Pro XL was triumphantly confirmed, for those that wanted to test the limits of their portable's, erm, portability — joking aside, it's particularly useful for Monster Hunter fans.
In commercial success news, Nintendo reported that it was on course for the financial year to be its most successful in download sales, with the 2012 emergence of retail downloads — New Leaf's Japanese release was a particular eShop success — at the forefront. On a smaller but also notable scale, Gunman Clive on the 3DS eShop outsold the Android version, and would go on to outsell both the Google platform and iOS sales combined; it was a pleasing success story for the platform. More sales success followed for Super Mario 3D Land and possibly irritated some 3D Mario enthusiasts, as the 3DS title showed stronger sales momentum in its first 13 months than the much-loved classic Super Mario Galaxy on Wii.
This would also be a month, to be replicated throughout the year, where there would be disappointing news for the Wii U. Reports of hardware sales plummeting in early 2013 were countered by the announcement of a ZombiU Wii U bundle, but the determination of EA to shun the system was emphasized by the new Tiger Woods skipping the console. There was a frustrating Fire Emblem: Awakening shipping delay in North America, with very limited early stock, and there was a baffling delay to Scribblenauts Unlimited in Europe — it would finally arrive in the region in December. Less depressing news came with iconic developer and Nintendo subsidiary Brownie Brown becoming the aptly-named 1-UP Studio, while we could chuckle at the prospect of Wii Mini coming to Europe... because it's the Wii Mini.
In terms of new games, it was all about Fire Emblem: Awakening on 3DS in North America, the fantastic strategy RPG that also saw Nintendo pushing the boat out with DLC. A highlight on the Wii U eShop was the initial soft-launch of the Virtual Console in the form of Famicom Anniversary discounts, with F-Zero available for less than a chocolate bar. Elsewhere on the 3DS front, North American gamers could enjoy Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan, while NightSky finally arrived in Europe.
February also brought us this...
After a relatively busy opening two months of the year, Nintendo unsurprisingly didn't produce too many earth-shattering reveals in this month, but there was still plenty for fans to consider. There was a reveal for Flipnote Studio 3D, big news at the time that has lost relevance due to its continually delayed arrival in the West and the closure of the Friends Gallery functionality in Japan. On a more positive note we had a 3DS system update that improved background downloading options in the 3DS, while opening month sales for Fire Emblem: Awakening in the U.S. were the best in the series' history.
Elsewhere in the world of Nintendo, a frustrating European Wii U eShop policy that restricted details and downloads on 18-rated games to small, late-night windows was lifted. It also emerged that Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, announced in the previous month, was being produced by Monster Games — the studio ended up doing an excellent job porting Retro Studio's Wii title. 3DS owners in Europe could also rejoice that Etrian Odyssey IV, a recent arrival in North America, was confirmed for localisation to the region. There was cause for some optimism, too, with the formation of Yacht Club Games from former staff at WayForward — the company is currently working towards the release of Shovel Knight on Wii U and 3DS.
This was also a month packed with unconventional news. A pleasing find was that F-Zero AX can be accessed from the F-Zero GX disc on GameCube; it's not super-easy to setup, but it's welcome for fans of the arcade iteration. There was the heart-warming tale of a father overcoming gender-issues in Donkey Kong, so his daughter could play as Pauline. Capcom also began its own "Year of Mega Man Irony", as we'll call it, releasing anniversary goodies that didn't include a new game in the series; these Mega Man Ultrabook designs and usb sticks were to be joined by plenty of other bits-and-bobs throughout the year.
March did brings a host of games to both Wii U and 3DS, drawing to a close a drought on the home console. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and LEGO City Undercover were major arrivals on the home console, while Need For Speed: Most Wanted U was a high quality port. Capcom's Monster-slaying epic was also on 3DS, while the portable's stand-out was arguably the fantastic Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, a game that elevated Next Level Games to the big-time. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow — Mirror of Fate was a divisive entry in the series from Konami, while Nano Assault EX and HarmoKnight lit up the handheld's download store.
So that was Q1 of 2013. Check back tomorrow for all of your Q2 shenanigans.