We often talk up Nintendo's alternative and unique approach in the current games market, primarily that of generally focusing on colourful, fun games that often run at a silky smooth 60 frames per second; when it comes to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, we're even looking at a native 1080p resolution to round off the package. Whether accurate or not, it's common for devotees of the big N to look kindly on its actions and declare it a beacon of honesty and generosity, with the pricing of the Mario Kart 8 DLC double pack being a strong example.
Of course, that outlook isn't always entirely correct. Nintendo is a business, first and foremost, and a major corporation that suffered losses in consecutive years that's only now creeping back towards profitability. Following the phenomenal success of the Wii and DS era, in particular, the company is flush with assets and cash in the bank — we like to picture the executive board having cash fights — though it still has investors to please. Satoru Iwata's briefings in recent times have often acknowledged a need to return to 'Nintendo-like' profits, through gaming products and new platforms like the Quality of Life (QOL) sleep sensor.
We've also argued — not necessarily our most popular observation — that the amiibo figure platform has the potential to evolve from a rather benevolent original 'pitch' into a sprawling range giving the cynical Skylanders and Disney Infinity toys a run for their money. Yes, Nintendo's range supports multiple games in various ways, but the secondary functionality of the Smash Bros. batch is relatively minor at this point, with more series-specific ranges confirmed to be a future reality. The interactive toy market is lucrative and Nintendo is keen to make the most of it, even if it risks consumer confusion and discontent if the wrong moves are taken in the next 12 months.
We'll see how it evolves, but that range of 29 figures — that'll be available by the close of February 2015 — adds to the double whammy of Smash Bros. on Wii U and 3DS. It's clear that Nintendo, courtesy of technology and some clever planning, can finally make the most out of a franchise that, by its very nature, has a huge amount of potential to be a significant money-spinner for the company while also promoting a bevy of brands.
Though not quite in the Super Mario or Pokémon bracket, Smash Bros. has consistently shifted millions of copies and is a particular success in North America — the reaction to Super Smash Bros. Brawl in the US is testament to that. Its impact — in terms of maximising profit — has always been limited by a variety of factors, however, with the main one seemingly being Masahiro Sakurai. A perfectionist by nature that seems to take on much of a project himself — in terms of refining details, movesets etc — he's well-known for taking his time, which can certainly be a good thing for gamers enjoying the end result. His history with Nintendo goes back to the beginnings of his career, of course, but there's a degree of autonomy to his work, previously forming his own studio and developing the latest titles in partnership with Bandai Namco. That certainly eases the load on Nintendo's teams, but there's also the sense that Sakurai-san is very much his own boss with these projects and, undoubtedly, is happy to go at his own pace.
Of course, he's not a completely loose cannon, with Nintendo no doubt putting its foot down to ensure the new games arrived before the Holidays this year. The smart move to develop across Wii U and 3DS has given Nintendo double the impact, meanwhile, especially vital considering the comparatively small userbase on the home console. It's a happy coincidence of having portable hardware that's got enough power — even if it's clearly a tight fit on the original models — to deliver, while connectivity between the two versions provides some incentive to pick up both. It's happy timing, as releasing solely on Wii U would concern Nintendo in terms of the once-in-a-generation release not quite delivering as many millions of sales as hoped.
Another change in technology brings us the aforementioned amiibo, which has the potential — not yet proven — to become a major seller. The concept of NFC (near field communication) figures was barely a twinkle in an executive's eye when Brawl arrived in 2008, with the first Skylanders game catapulting interactive toys to prominence in 2011. The NFC chip in the GamePad is finally put to use, then, while the New Nintendo 3DS offers integrated support — older models are set to have a separate portal. It shows how rapidly the games industry moves that the argument's made that Nintendo is 'late' with amiibo, when in reality the concept was only first brought to mainstream attention three years ago.
All of this was highlighted by Satoru Iwata in his most recent President's Presentation to investors, in which he emphasized the potential impact of this generation's Smash Bros. releases:
As for bringing the “Super Smash Bros.” franchise into multiplatform format and releasing the Nintendo 3DS version first, there had been skepticism that each would end up consuming the demand for the other or it would weaken a key title for the Wii U platform. We now have a strong belief that our decision is giving the “Super Smash Bros.” franchise even more momentum. On the morning of October 24 in Japan, we released a trailer titled “Super Smash Bros. for Wii U 50-Fact Extravaganza.” A great number of people watched it online and we received a large amount of feedback.
The two installments of “Super Smash Bros.” are packed with elements that utilize the specific features of each platform. Before disclosing the “Extravaganza” trailer, people had been skeptical of whether we could actually have 50 new facts about the Wii U version. But as the trailer showcased the differences between the two versions, which seemed to surpass expectations, pre-orders for the Wii U version rapidly started to increase.
“Super Smash Bros.” is the most appealing when played together with others, and as the two versions have noticeable differences, they will not cannibalize each other. Rather, as more copies of the Nintendo 3DS version are sold and more people enjoy it, the momentum for the Wii U version becomes stronger.
...The amiibo figure lineup for “Super Smash Bros.” will continue to be released even after this year-end sales season, and we hope that this will help to update store shelves. As store shelf space is limited, some amiibo will remain stocked on the shelves as staple choices while some will be limited-time offers which will cede their positions to new ones once they are sold out.
With these offerings, I believe the Nintendo characters lined up on shelves, which usually only contain standard-sized boxes, will have an outstanding presence, and this means a lot to us.
Of course, an area where the franchise may not reap benefits is with paid DLC. We know that Mewtwo will eventually be paid DLC, yet the perfectionist's approach of Sakurai-san means this fighter is not due until Spring 2015, with no other paid DLC apparently being in development at this time. The independent nature of Sakurai-san, and his apparent dislike for retreading old ground too, makes a run of DLC rather unlikely, especially as we doubt he'd willingly allow others to tackle this without his oversight. On top of that we have the fact that, between them, the two new entries are packed with a huge amount of content, with online Tourneys already promised for the Wii U post-launch.
Nevertheless, there's certainly a unique opportunity — with cross-platform versions and amiibo — for Smash Bros. to truly reach its full potential in this generation. All that holds it back from being a truly monstrous hit is that these circumstances come a generation too late, in an era of the 3DS and Wii U rather than the giddy highs of DS and Wii. For fans, however, there's surely never been a better time to enjoy the brand, while its unique combination of IPs and manic action is at its most diverse. Newcomers can opt for portable or HD to see what the fuss is all about, and some of us in Nintendo Life HQ have already fallen into the spell of collecting amiibo to fight as our 'buddies' in the game.
Super Smash Bros. has always been a big deal, but it has a chance to play a particularly vital and definitive role for Nintendo in the next couple of years. For anyone with a even a passing interest in the big N or any of the featured brands, it's tough to ignore.