It was two years ago on this date, 11th July, that Satoru Iwata passed away. It reflects the impact he had on the gaming industry that it was a day with a very real emotional impact on so many of us. The majority of his admirers never met him in person, but his unique style of leadership and his vision connected with gamers of all types. That was his gift, redefining what it is to be a gamer. He fostered a world where gaming isn't about 'core' or 'casual', it's simply about fun for everyone. From epic quests with Link or Mario to swinging a Wii Remote, balancing on a Wii Fit board or tacking brain training on a DS, Iwata-san led a Nintendo that brought us all together.
It's a surprising reminder of how quickly time passes that we're now two years on from his passing. I wrote at the time, and a year later, about the extraordinary and unique impact of Iwata-san. He was more than a company executive; he was a visionary with a twinkle in his eye and an inherent instinct for fun. Looking back over some of the content we shared about Iwata-san when he passed and a year later, those same feelings have certainly been emphasized for me. After all, it was Iwata's Nintendo that made me love gaming again over a decade ago, and which still brings me the greatest joy to this day.
- Editorial: Satoru Iwata Embodied the Playful Brilliance of Nintendo, and His Legacy Will Ensure
- Feature: A Year On - Satoru Iwata and His Enduring Legacy
Legacy was a keyword in those cases, and it seems entirely appropriate. We are now living through Iwata-san's final gift to gamers, a concept that he believed would transform our gaming lives - the Nintendo Switch. When he passed, and even a year later, it was still called the 'NX'. It was an idea, rooted in hints and teases, with some leaks and rumours to spice them up. Through 2016 it was in many cases predicted to be a hybrid device, but the questions remained - how would it work? Would the public want the system? Would it bring Nintendo back into the game, continuing the good work of 3DS and moving beyond the struggles of Wii U?
If you cast your mind back to the original teaser trailer in October 2016, the answers were already emerging. People talked about the Switch, and plenty were interested. Members of my family and acquaintances that had shown little to no interest in Wii U were fascinated, excited even. Then it was fully revealed in January this year, and worriers like me clutched pearls and stressed over its price point, the weirdness of games like ARMS and whether the public would be interested in the system. Then it arrived and sold out. Restocks sold out. Interest remains high, and Nintendo continues to excite gamers of various kinds with upcoming games like Super Mario Odyssey. We don't know the long-term prospects of Switch, but right now it has momentum and positive vibes.
As a representation of Satoru Iwata's final vision for gaming and its power to bring people together, it's a perfect device. Like his greatest success stories it's more than the sum of its parts. You can deconstruct the hardware and be critical - it's a tablet with a 2015 Tegra GPU. Detachable controllers aren't a new idea. You can plug it into a dock and connector to play on a TV, but is that a big hook? Where are the HOME Themes, where are the streaming apps? You don't need to go far online to see people sharing those views, and they're absolutely valid in saying those things. And yet. It's an oddly magical little device, one that makes believers out of many and makes some developers positively bright-eyed with enthusiasm. You see, it's not just a tablet - it's a Nintendo gaming machine that can be played and enjoyed in so many different ways.
It's about sharing the experience with others. As technologies like Virtual Reality encourage us to wear headsets and disappear into our own worlds, and in an era where so many play games with others online that they've never met in person, Iwata-san went the other way. His concept was for players to have fun together, to enjoy gaming with others whether at home, travelling or simply visiting a friend. Prop it up on a table, take a Joy-Con each, or sit side-by-side with your own consoles. Pop your Switch into a friend's dock to show them a game you picked up, or an item you found that they just have to see.
I am in a family where we all have a Switch. For a while in the last generation I was the only Wii U owner, for the record, and really the only one that paid it attention over its lifespan. Yet the Switch has embedded itself in my family unit. We play in various configurations, we compare progress in games, we carry them around when we visit each other's houses. It's been a source of bonding, sibling rivalry (of a playful nature, I'd add) and an opening of minds to how games are played. It delivers gaming that is perfect for console gaming on the TV, and at the same time I can bring those experiences with me wherever I go.
Iwata-san's design philosophy is fused into the Switch, and indeed in how Nintendo still operates. Look at the Joy-Con, remarkable little controllers that can do so much. Motion, amiibo scanning, even an IR sensor, and of course HD Rumble. Isn't it typical of Nintendo to put so much effort into HD Rumble, a feature relatively low-key yet so impressive. Whether rolling around virtual marbles or feeling a buzz swoop from left to right through the controllers, it's easily missed yet oddly indispensable when it's done well. Utterly unnecessary yet delightful. Iwata-san forged a company culture where features like this matter, not because they are huge selling points that get units off shelves, but simply because they make games better.
I've written in the past that Satoru Iwata's legacy will live on, that his presence will always be felt for as long as Nintendo retains its identity. The Switch, and much of the humour, vibrancy and creativity that Nintendo still brings us with that system and the 3DS, is a reminder of Satoru Iwata. He always strove to delight gamers, to make it a hobby that can appeal to all and enrich their lives in different ways. He encouraged the company and its staff to innovate, to try exciting ideas with IPs old and new, to focus on a creative vision rather than raw power and statistics. He spearheaded consoles and portable systems to deliver on those goals - culminating in the Nintendo Switch.
Satoru Iwata's legacy is still felt every day through the Nintendo he helped to build. His place as a fearless and innovative corporate leader, as a talented developer, and most importantly as a passionate and kind-hearted gamer, will forever be secure in gaming history.