Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. In today's edition, editor Dom recalls Nintendo's darker days, how it was written off during Wii U's era and how Switch typifies its independent spirit to a tee.
Picture the scene. Wii U has been out for a few years and the prognosis isn't great. First there are murmurs, which turn to whispers, which blossom into full-blown think-pieces and editorials galore. "It may be time for Nintendo to make games, not consoles" muses Forbes in 2013. "Dear Nintendo, please top making home gaming consoles" pleads The Daily Dot in 2016. The headlines keep flowing, and clicks keep clicking. Nintendo's for the scrap heap, if all these column inches are to be believed. And all the while, Wii Us round the world gather increasingly thicker layers of dust beside their Wii forebears.
As dramatic as some of those responses in the tech, games and mainstream media were back then, the thinking itself wasn't entirely without merit. Wii was undeniable hit, a pop culture phenomenon that conquered the mainstream like only Nintendo can, but, like all crazes, it had a shelf life that wasn't destined to last forever. When Wii U dropped in 2012, it simply didn't stand a chance. Arriving exactly a year before the beginning of a new generational leap, Wii U's lack of power or any kind of head-turning innovation was an imperfect storm that left casual players and Nintendo diehards alike with an unmemorable piece of hardware.
Writing off Nintendo was an easy go-to response. Sony and Microsoft were stood where Nintendo and Sega had once been in the late '80s and '90s, trading blows with titanic rival machines. The Big N, much like The House That Sonic Built before it, had found its traditional values and first-party franchises locked in stasis while the rest of the industry went bonkers for framerates, resolutions and VR. Maybe it really should just make games.
But Nintendo wasn't dying. It wasn't licking its wounds while its competitors pushed for higher clock speeds and processing grunt. It was focused almost entirely on the Wii U's legacy, learning from the missteps that led to its downfall, using its failure as a test-bed for what was to come. Motion controls? Playing on both a TV and a separate screen? Isolated, these features weren't enough to sustain a console. But together, blended through the prism of Nintendo's simply inimitable R&D process, something truly special was brewing.
Of course Nintendo had every faith in Wii U. It had some unique quirks and some genuine classics in the software department, but that doesn't mean its myriad problems derailed Nintendo in the process. In short, Wii U's prolonged demise helped make the console that became Switch even stronger. With one eye on the indie embracing, screenshot-happy antics of its competitors, Nintendo took its unrivaled knowledge in handhelds and worked some serious black magic.
And it's a turnaround we've seen before. Nintendo's success with Switch parallels Sony's own journey to PS4 and its storied success. Sure, PS3 was no failure in the long run, but an astronomical price tag, a late launch date and components that were woefully unaccommodating to developers made its battle with Xbox 360 a lopsided affair. By the time PS4 rolled around, Sony knew where it went wrong and innovated in all the right places. Nintendo may walk to the beat of its own drum, but we all know it must have taken note of PS Vita's fate and realised building a platform that was attractive to all developers was the key to thriving in the industry of today. First-party titles sell you on a console, but its often the more numerous third-party ones that keep it there in the meantime.
Here and now in 2018 and Switch continues to go from strength to strength, pulling in sales records thick and fast, but that doesn't mean Nintendo has seemingly had its relevance reaffirmed. The firm has never played by the same rules as its competitors; that's the very reason Nintendo has endured and dominated multiple generations in over three decades. It's why its stepped away from traditional keynotes and E3 and other big press events, instead opting to host Nintendo Directs and other reveals on its own terms. Nintendo doesn't follow trends, it ignores them, often setting its own in the process. It's true not every risk or decision works, but Nintendo's presence and relevance have rarely faltered.
It’s an ethos of independence in an industry where the two other major platform holders now trade blows over mid-generational upgrades and multiplatform DLC exclusivity. While Sony and Microsoft tussle over the same experience, Nintendo went against the grain. It could have delivered a straight up competitor, a vanilla home console geared towards 4K output, VR support and every other passing buzzword. So what did it do? It produced a console with less processing power. While Sony abandons handheld gaming, Nintendo doubled down on it.
Of course, there's no denying Switch's timing formed a perfect storm, offering a fresh experience with a USP that actually justifies its ports. Who else could launch a platform and eight months later support a port of Skyrim - a six-year-old game - and still managed to make it seem appealing purely by being in handheld form. Much like its plucky new hardware, Nintendo has been written off but it's clear neither is going anywhere for a long time to come.
What do you agree with Dom's opinion on Nintendo and its naysayer defiance? Will Switch continue to be a success in 2018 and beyond? Let us know below...