If we were to summarise Nintendo’s year so far, we’d say that it’s been having a tough time. There have been moments of brilliance that have reaffirmed the faith of loyal gamers, but there have also been a lot of mis-steps, mistakes and bad publicity, some of which has been unjustified. In fact, despite the release of a brand new handheld with glasses-free 3D visuals, much of the year so far has been spent on the back foot tackling complaints about high prices, lacking software and the perceived abandonment of the Wii. Even the unveiling of the Wii U at E3 2011 received a surprisingly mixed response amongst gamers and the media.

The year so far has, in some ways, represented an important period in the developing maturity of Nintendo. It may seem strange to say that about a gaming company with an un-matched legacy and level of experience but Nintendo has learnt, the hard way, that methods and tactics that brought immense success with the DS and Wii no longer work. They’re now competing against gaming rivals who are embracing motion-controlled experiences, while also facing the threats of smartphones and tablet devices. Nintendo has started to react with an aggressive 3DS price cut, a strong line-up of software titles and planned improvements and innovations to the device’s online capabilities. There are also some efforts to revive the Wii, let’s not forget.

They’re now competing against gaming rivals who are embracing motion-controlled experiences, while also facing the threats of smartphones and tablet devices.

At a recent investor’s meeting, the embattled company President Saturo Iwata made it clear that Nintendo would work hard to once again rule the gaming roost. We’re going to cast aside any doom and gloom and outline some of the upcoming attractions and announced plans, which promise to get the famous company back on track.

A final flourish for the Wii

It can be said with a degree of certainty that the Wii has been in decline for most of 2011, with a limited number of ‘must have’ titles being released. In one high profile case, Xenoblade Chronicles didn’t even see a release in North America, while titles such as Mario Sports Mix did little to satisfy the appetite of many gamers. There is, however, hope that the Wii will have one more fling with success before standing down in favour of the innovative Wii U.

A major boost for the console, and Nintendo gamers in general, is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. A new Zelda adventure is always big news, but this is the first title in the venerable franchise developed exclusively for the Wii, and many childhood fantasies will be realised as Link’s sword will be wielded accurately with the Wii MotionPlus. It’s arriving very late in the Wii’s lifespan, but is generating buzz through orchestral concerts, active marketing by virtue of the series’ 25th Anniversary and, well, it’s Zelda. On top of that, there’s a new Kirby title to enjoy, still to be released in Europe, and 2012 carries the promise of Western releases of The Last Story and Nintendo’s own Pandora’s Tower. Experienced gamers in particular have some exciting titles to look forward to, so it’s not time to pack away that little white box yet.

The new version of the Wii, with GameCube compatibility removed, also comes at an exceptionally low retail price. With family-friendly bundles being marketed at such a small cost, the Wii may enjoy one final sales boost this Holiday season. Overall, the console that established a whole new market in motion gaming, not to mention some top-notch titles, is having a reasonable final hurrah. Nintendo has even spoken about the Wii continuing to sell as a budget machine beyond the Wii U, in a similar manner to the PlayStation 2: time will tell on that front.

3DS gamers rejoice

While the Wii is winding down, the 3DS is just beginning its lifespan. We’ve spoken about price-cuts and a difficult start for the handheld in other features, but now it’s all about looking forward. Even pessimists must surely acknowledge that the 3DS has exciting software on the way, and Nintendo’s hopes for the console rest on these titles convincing gamers that the 3DS does offer experiences that they cannot miss.

The obvious big hitters due for the Holiday season are Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7. They’re the first 3DS retail releases with Mario in the title, and they also look like titles to excite a variety of gamers. While our preview of Super Mario 3D Land was justifiably reserved in its initial judgement of the title, there is little doubt that it will be an enjoyable slice of handheld gaming. Mario Kart 7 may not be full of surprises but does promise new gameplay twists, not to mention what appears to be the most expansive online component of any 3DS release. Not only will enjoyable experiences be presented in 3D for the first time, but Mario Kart 7 shows early signs of Nintendo’s desire to finally join in with the concept of substantial online gaming.

If these releases are well scheduled and deliver on the hype, the 3DS will have a substantial library of titles that are compelling and, in many cases, exclusive.

An important point to make about these titles is that they promise to be top sellers way beyond the impending shopping season. Mario Kart DS, New Super Mario Bros and their Wii counterparts have consistently sold in huge numbers, at full price, for a number of years. By bringing these games in reasonably early, Nintendo will hope that they will be system sellers in the long term, as well as immediate hits. There are also plenty of first and third party titles on the way: Luigi’s Mansion 2, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Paper Mario, Mario Tennis, Resident Evil Revelations, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D and Monster Hunter 3 G are only a few examples. If these releases are well scheduled and deliver on the hype, the 3DS will have a substantial library of titles that are compelling and, in many cases, exclusive.

The 3DS is modernising

The functionality of the 3DS on launch was arguably underwhelming, once the novelty of the 3D screen and AR games began to wear off. The potential of the device is slowly being realised with subsequent updates, and those who purchase a 3DS towards the end of this year will have a lot of functionality to enjoy. In addition to the eShop, the update scheduled for late November will bring notable enhancements: 3D video recording, an improved eShop experience, additional StreetPass content and improved ‘friend list’ functionality. All of these changes show that Nintendo is starting to understand, and act upon, areas where its online service has been left behind. While some early-adopters may feel that this has been a frustrating and slow process, new 3DS owners from December onwards will have this functionality right out of the box, and it will surely give their shiny new handheld extra sparkle.

DLC may not be desirable to all gamers, but it is a means of extending the lifespan of a game for enthusiastic buyers.

There are also key enhancements coming to the 3DS in 2012. In terms of online functionality, Nintendo has stated that 3DS titles, both retail and digital, will have the option of offering and selling DLC (downloadable content). This has been a major part of Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC gaming for a few years, and this announcement shows that the big N has realised the importance of these downloadable extras in the modern market. DLC may not be desirable to all gamers, but it is a means of extending the lifespan of a game for enthusiastic buyers.

Another major addition which is similarly divisive is the Circle Pad Pro, as it’s likely to be called in European and North American markets. It’s a controversial peripheral in terms of its appearance and timing of release, but beyond those issues it will provide a valuable extra control option, especially in genres that necessitate aiming and camera control. Resident Evil Revelations is out early next year and Capcom has developed a control scheme specifically for this add-on, with a number of other major titles set to do the same. While opinion does vary it undoubtedly boosts the 3DS control options, which may in turn lead to further third party support.

Don’t write Nintendo off

The recent announcements and briefings from Saturo Iwata in particular make one thing clear: Nintendo is determined to make up for mistakes and take on the competition. The 3DS in particular is, through a concerted effort and level of investment, being given every chance of succeeding. There is little doubt that Nintendo face major challenges to achieve its targets for the 3DS, and the Wii U will also face stiff competition. If recent announcements and future plans are anything to go by, however, Nintendo is willing to evolve in order to survive.

What do you think? Will you still be playing your Wii in the New Year, and do the upcoming titles and enhancements on the 3DS bode well for the future? We’d love to read your comments below.