As I'm somewhat reliant on Nintendo success to put food on the table and amiibo on the shelf - the clue's in the site's name - I sometimes ponder and get genuinely concerned about the company. I think Nintendo will be 'fine', courtesy of its talented staff and billions of dollars in the bank, so my concern centres around its place in the dedicated gaming system markets. Nintendo will potentially make a lot of money from smart devices and, with the aforementioned resources at its disposal, can sustain itself and evolve as a business with such comfort that it can afford bumps along the road.
So, my thoughts centre around Nintendo as a game console manufacturer, including its portable products. The Nintendo NX could be the company's most important gaming platform ever, potentially, as it's coming off the back of Wii U struggles and the 3DS heroically achieving success somewhat against the odds, surrounded by tablets and smartphones. The survival and relative flourishing of the 3DS is to Nintendo's immense credit, but repeating the trick will be hugely challenging. A shrinking dedicated handheld market with a home console that has failed to succeed at a mainstream level - yeah, that puts a lot of pressure on the NX concept.
Part of my concern, though, is that Nintendo's lost some of its appeal, cool-factor or whatever you want to call it. By the time the GameCube rolled around the big N was losing the market that revolves around triple-A high-end big-budget experiences, and happily gave up that battle to brilliantly forge new audiences with the Wii and DS. The trouble is that after creating a new wave of gamers, Nintendo lost many of them in an unwinnable battle with smartphones and tablets. If touch-based and cheap gaming is the bread and butter for many, a number are happy to get their fix on a device they own and always have handy - their phone. Add to that the diminishing love for motion controls, and Nintendo has been in a tough spot.
The Wii U will likely hit about 12 million lifetime sales by the end of March 2016, which certainly brings a conclusion that a significant portion of those are dedicated Nintendo fans - ie those that want any and all Nintendo systems. The problem has been attracting broader audiences, and the Nintendo NX will need to appeal to existing Wii U and 3DS gamers, but also have a concept that - like the Wii and DS - grabs the mainstream by the hair and demands its attention.
We don't know what NX is yet - my money is still on a portable / home console hybrid, which is a fairly common view - but it'll need both a key unique selling point and enticing games. It'll need them early, too, as a slow start is a scenario not even worth contemplating at the moment, as retailer faith will need to be rewarded. Minds turn to Mario platformers, Mario Kart and Animal Crossing when looking at guaranteed hits - based on software sales in the past two generations - but I'm only just realising how vital an early Smash Bros. could be in drawing in gamers of various types.
This past weekend I went along to Rushdown Edinburgh's Armagedinburgh event in, yes, Edinburgh. Primarily a fighting game tournament, but also in this case with a range of fun established and new multiplayer games in a 'casual' area, it caught me out in terms of how well attended it was. It's a community that's clearly growing.
In any case, while games like Mario Kart 8, Rocket League and Nidhogg were going down well in the casual room, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U was a starring attraction alongside Ultra Super Street Fighter IV and Mortal Kombat X in the main room. I've watched my share of Evo and Nintendo of America's official Smash Bros. comps online, but when at an event and seeing the competitive and enthusiast scene first-hand it struck me just how valuable Smash Bros. is to Nintendo.
Now, I've already blabbed in a previous article about competitive gaming being vital for Nintendo in the future, with the hope of a growing Smash Bros. scene and a stronger presences for games like Splatoon and more. Yet I'm only just getting out of my bubble of mediocre Smash Bros. skills - earning me some beatings online - to realise how important this game truly is. It's simple enough that I can teach my brother how to play off the cuff and we'll have fun fighting as Ryu vs Zero Suit Samus, yet advanced enough that it can be incredibly exciting to watch two competitive players duking it out. As seen at events like Armagedinburgh and similar-sized occasions, or in the sizeable halls of the main tournaments like Evo, it's blockbuster entertainment.
I'm rambling a little, but will get to the point. Nintendo could benefit significantly with a Smash Bros. experience as a lead title on its next hardware, even if it's an Ultimate Edition / Director's Cut offering. It's good enough for the Street Fighter series to have occasional stop-gaps, and an enhanced version of Smash Bros. Wii U on new hardware with NX-related features, all previous DLC on the disc and an extra mode or two could be key. Give it enough new content to tempt an upgrade, though without the unreasonable development demands of an all-new entry, and you have a strong early runner to accompany the hardware. Part of the Wii U's problem, and the 3DS come to think of it, was that both lacked titles to excite dedicated fans but also more platform-agnostic gamers.
Smash Bros., like Mario Kart, has the gimmick of combining familiar and recognisable mascots with winning gameplay. When you add in third-party iconic names like Pac-Man, Mega Man and Ryu, you establish a bit of a behemoth, and sales figures show that - over the last decade - Smash Bros. has been among Nintendo's strongest performers. It can reach across the lines to a broad audience, too, with the title being the 10th best selling retail game in the US (Wii U and 3DS sales combined) for the first six months of this year, solid sales a number of months after launch hype. It's one of those evergreen products.
I accept I'm setting myself up for a fall proposing an early remaster or ultimate edition for NX. It'd break the tradition of the series having one all-new game per system, while some would consider it a cheap move to flesh out the early NX library. My answer is, yep, there's no denying they would be valid arguments and perspectives.
Yet this sort of policy can be a vital weapon. Sony used The Last of Us Remastered to sell systems, Microsoft got sales for Halo: The Master Chief Collection; one was an excellent re-release with all DLC and nice visuals, one was a bit pants with notable online problems. Either way, it's a modern-day strategy, and plenty joke about the glut of remakes we've seen on PS4 and Xbox One. Joke we may, but they must be selling reasonably, and Nintendo has its own track record of going back a couple of generations for Wii U and 3DS library fillers. We're just talking about succumbing to a more rapid, timely turnaround to match circumstances.
Further considerations naturally revolve around series creator and lead Masahiro Sakurai. The creative force of the franchise seemed to be disenchanted immediately following the release of the Wii U version, yet has since expressed enjoyment in producing DLC and new fighters with a smaller team. Sakurai-san may want to move on to other projects once DLC is wrapped up - probably - by the end of this year, so perhaps would have to be a reduced-role consultant of another team working on an expanded edition. That seems like a potential sticking point, considering the degree of control and expertise that Sakurai-san has over the entire process.
With those hindrances it's perhaps fantasy to hope that the early days of Nintendo's next system will have a re-release and expansion of the current Super Smash Bros. Time isn't necessarily an issue (I still think late 2016 / early 2017 is the earliest we'll see NX), but there are a lot of ifs, buts and maybes.
Ultimately, I think Smash Bros. can be vital for Nintendo's hopes of an early, notable impact at the launch of its NX platform. The system itself needs to have a winning formula, there need to be a number of key releases to scratch the itches and win the attention of varied gamers from across the whole mainstream spectrum, and issues such as pricing need to be right.
Super Smash Bros. is a game with the potential to excite gamers that are both relaxed and hyper competitive, and all in between. It can be as big a draw as Mario platforming and Mario Kart in the coming generation, and perhaps convention and tradition should make way to capitalise on its potential. We can always have a 'New' entry years further down the line.