Reflecting on Nintendo's 2015 isn't a simple task. There has been great sadness and disruption due to the passing of Satoru Iwata, and the company has been in a general holding pattern for large parts of the year.
Let's consider the key releases or updates that have fallen back to 2016, in no particular order. Most prominent is NX, yet that was always going to be revealed next year. The Legend of Zelda for Wii U was delayed, and then the anticipated festive arrival of Star Fox Zero also got pushed back. A number of other major game reveals came with 2016 windows, and following the excitement around the DeNA partnership announcement early in the year Nintendo's first app - Miitomo - and Club Nintendo replacement - My Nintendo - both fell into 2016 too.
If both of those Wii U releases had arrived as per their original release plans, along with Miitomo and My Nintendo, then the current vibe around Nintendo's 2015 would be very different. Perhaps hardware sales would have remained modest for Wii U, but the buzz around the company would have increased a great deal. It's excitement that's merely deferred, however, and as a result 2016 could be one of the most intriguing years for the company in recent memory.
So what of 2015? Keeping our focus on games - we've already written a little about the New Nintendo 3DS and its launch this year - we refer you to our headline. Nintendo's served up a mix of new ideas, twists on convention and some safe choices. Our sense is that, overall, some are rather disappointed with the final collection of 2015 releases across Wii U and 3DS, though enough gems have arrived to give us some reason to smile, at least.
One of the biggest stories of the year was undoubtedly Splatoon, Nintendo's most successful new IP launch - it seems - since it devised Miis and started featuring the characters in waggle-friendly Wii games. Created by a young team and with a limited amount of content at launch, it's flourished off the back of its terrific third-person shooting gameplay, capturing a sizeable audience around the world. It's achieved impressive momentum in Japan - a territory where consistency is key - and likewise in the West, shifting plenty of copies and getting plenty of mainstream media attention. The level of content has grown substantially through frequent - and free - updates, and it's certainly been Nintendo's shining light this year.
Then we have the old, but reborn, with Super Mario Maker. Any weary over-familiarity that was following the 'New' series of 2D entries has been swept away by the creation tool, with its quirky possibilities and - like Splatoon - regular updates. It was the tentpole release for the Super Mario 30th Anniversary, and we're hoping that a significant (or greater) impact will be felt once Nintendo unveils its full Legend of Zelda plans for the year.
There have been some reliable sequels, in addition, which have achieved mixed success. We're curious to see how Xenoblade Chronicles X performs in terms of sales, even accounting for its niche status, while Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam hasn't had the sales impact we'd have hoped to see in Europe for what is a quality entry for its series. Both could be considered victims of the boom and bust realities of game releases on Nintendo hardware at present, in which they achieve lift off in the nature of a game like Splatoon, or stall and struggle.
There have certainly been flops, in one case potentially ending a franchise. Chibi-Robo!: Zip Lash was declared to be a last chance for the cute little robot to find an audience, with the logic being that a fun platformer would give the character its best chance. Yet indications are that it's tanked rather badly, struggling to make a dent in the charts; that was even despite having an accompanying amiibo.
Ah yes, amiibo. In some cases it's a bankable idea that can't fail, yet it doesn't always save accompanying games. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. was developed by Intelligent Systems and supported Fire Emblem amiibo figures, yet its concept, gameplay style and early issues - painfully evident in its demo - with load times seemed to be critical to its chances. It goes down as another title to have struggled at retail, and amiibo couldn't save it. That also applies to Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival, it seems.
To say amiibo Festival was poorly received by fans following its E3 reveal is an understatement. Though we think the end product is outright average, in any case, the fierce criticism from some fans to its reveal was more a reaction to what it isn't. It's not the HD Animal Crossing game that so many fans wanted, and the end result seemed ill-suited to most audiences. Fans didn't seem interested in it, and it arguably lacked the killer hook to rope in less enthusiastic bystanders; throw in a Nintendo marketing push that could be described as low key, and it's been proof that you can't just throw amiibo at a game and expect sales. No doubt the figures released to support the game are far outselling the software itself.
Yet Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer has managed to achieve some success for Nintendo, particularly in Japan but also to a degree in the West. It brought amiibo cards to the table, a level of collectability that is surely just a dress rehearsal for the apocalyptic scenes we'll see at retail with a Pokémon-equivalent range in the future. If Pokémon amiibo cards aren't part of Nintendo and Game Freak's plans for a big 2016 product, we'll be amazed.
Away from high profile Nintendo successes and failures, there have been other games that have generated their own storylines. Atlus and similar publishers have kept the 3DS well stocked in quality RPGs, while Devil's Third seemed to provoke feelings among Wii U owners way beyond its merits. Hyped as an enticing Wii U exclusive at E3 2014, the game that emerged was rather buggy and disappointing, in this writer's view, scraping to mediocrity courtesy of an ambitious multiplayer component. It came out earlier in Europe, and Nintendo of America couldn't have marketed it less in its region without asking Google to hide all evidence of the game online. Copies even shifted for silly money on eBay courtesy of the extremely limited stock that NoA produced; the subsidiary published the game, but didn't seem to want the privilege.
From Nintendo's perspective, it must be tough to analyse what fans want. E3 reveals like the aforementioned Animal Crossing titles and Metroid Prime: Federation Force were savaged as many demanded conventional series entries; spin-offs weren't exactly embraced. In 2014 Intelligent Systems had complained when the announcement of Code Name S.T.E.A.M. was met by enquiries of why it wasn't Advance Wars, and then saw it flop in stores. The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes seemed like a game from a team told to make a Zelda multiplayer game, whether it was the best use of their time of not, and has had a mixed reception. Shrugs of disinterest accompanied the likes of Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, and though its fortunes at retail have likely been better it feels like the wonderful Yoshi's Woolly World would have been more warmly welcomed in terms of sales had it arrived in a year with less delays and disheartening announcements.
Yet there's Splatoon, the fresh, new IP that has asserted itself as an important brand for the future. Following the success of the game, its rapid inclusion in hardware bundles and its ability to win plaudits on a struggling system, it's likely to already be in the company's plans for a sequel. It's succeeded where other new IP or twists on established ideas have failed, and amongst the chaos and unpredictable reactions to the various games above Nintendo will surely be pinpointing what made the shooter 'work'. It's a rare case of an online-centric game that isn't called Mario Kart or Smash Bros. seizing the day, and will surely be a template for future projects across various genres.
Looking back on the year, we have a degree of sympathy for Nintendo when considering some of the titles that have struggled. The company takes much blame itself, of course - too many games were delayed or disappointing upon arrival, while the spin-offs and placeholder releases have arguably missed the mark on a few occasions. It's been a year when more Nintendo games have fallen from being great to being 'good', or perhaps worse, and we're just pleased that a few excellent games helped gloss over a number of by-the-numbers releases that could, perhaps should, have been better.
Yet our sympathy remains, simply due to the fact that at times we, as fans, have been contradictory or blinkered in our response to games. In some cases, like with the Federation Force announcement, thousands vent their fury before they've even seen much of the game, and in other examples sequels and more of the same are received with a shrug. Sometimes we demand repetition, and in another breath reject it. Applying logic to the range of reactions to 2015 announcements and releases won't be an easy task.
Perhaps, ultimately, Nintendo won't bother doing that. It may simply just continue to make the games it thinks are the most fun and see what happens - it worked with Splatoon, after all. We may not like some of its experiments, and have been critical of plenty this year, but it's that blinkered self-reliance of Nintendo that makes it exciting. We don't know whether the next game from the company will be a focus-tested New Super Mario Bros., sequel, or something entirely unexpected and exciting.
It'll be fun to see what the big N brings us in 2016.