The New Year has begun, and after a 2015 that was considered reasonable by a number of Nintendo Life readers, the hope is that 2016 can be a blockbuster year for the company. Less 'not bad', and more 'holy moly that was amazing'.
The exciting thing is that it could go either way. This is going to be a 12 month period that brings new hardware into the light, see Nintendo launch new services and smartphone apps, and also hopefully deliver on one of the most anticipated experiences of this generation. Not only are delayed projects finally going to arrive, but the unexpected will also be part of the year's narrative.
Well, there are a few tentpole announcements and releases that should come this year, so to get us all warmed up we've outlined key examples below.
Nintendo NX - The Reveal (and release?)
One thing is for sure, the Nintendo NX will be revealed this year, and we'll know just what Nintendo is bringing to the market in an effort to seize momentum and perhaps lead the industry again. After domination with the DS and Wii it's been a case of consolidation with 3DS and survival with Wii U; the Wii brand will be dropped, for one thing, and there's every chance that Nintendo will raise eyebrows.
Many questions remain, of course, with plenty of rumours both feasible and ridiculous pinging around the web. Our instinct for a long time, based on past comments by former Nintendo President Satoru Iwata and other sources such as patents, is that this could be a unified system incorporating home console and portable elements. Some patents also point to Cloud resources being a big part of the system's armoury, perhaps to boost its capabilities beyond what's in the box. Beyond that patents for portables with free form screen technology are also intriguing.
Of course, the NX release window will also be an interesting point to follow. Considering the respective market positions of 3DS and Wii U we feel a Holiday 2016 release should ideally be the target, but whether that's on the cards is something else entirely. Also, we're hoping to get a good look at the sorts of games that'll make up an NX launch library; does Retro Studios have something in the works, will fan-demand help deliver games like Super Mario Galaxy 3?
Time will tell. Finally, we're curious to see what the hardware will be called; NX has already been ruled out (thankfully), so it'll be fascinating to see what branding is chosen.
The Launch of Nintendo Account / My Nintendo
It's easy to be blasé about it now, but the Nintendo Network and Nintendo Network ID were a big step forward on 3DS / Wii U, bringing user services closer to those expected on Sony and Microsoft hardware. Combined with promotions these accounts have worked quite well, though the reward programme Club Nintendo was always out of touch and isolated.
With that service being cancelled in 2015, its replacement of 'My Nintendo' accounts - which will exist under a broader 'Nintendo Account' infrastructure - ended up slipped from a planned Fall 2015 release to March this year, making this one of the earliest developments for Nintendo fans to watch closely.
The service has been developed closely with DeNA, which has expertise in online infrastructure, and sounds full of promise. It'll be possible to login with social media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook, and it's set to track not only game purchases but also play time, with the prospect for rewards of various types - physical, DLC, eShop credit and so on - for various activities. Talk of each account being heavily personalised and catered, along with future compatibility with theme parks and other external events, point to a system tied not only into gaming systems but also our smartphones and tablets.
Going Mobile With DeNA, Miitomo and Pokémon Go
Much of the above is being led by DeNA, as mentioned, and we'll also see the first smart device app from that partnership in March 2016 - Miitomo. It's a social, message-based app that'll utilise Mii characters to enable friendly and supportive communication with friends. The intention seems to be to take social media ideas, yet apply structure, Mii characters and controls to encourage positive conversation through 'Starters' generated by the app. So, for example, your profile may say you like Tennis, friends will see this and can join in and chat about the topic.
Miitomo, as a concept, has been rather divisive. Some argue that it has the potential to be a huge success, especially if Nintendo successfully monetises the free-to-download app with outfits etc, while others think it'll fail to sustain a userbase away from established alternatives like Facebook. The truth is we won't find out until March, but it'll be intriguing to see.
Of course, Pokémon Go is also due this year, in development by Niantic and potentially delivering a fun AR-based experience for the iconic franchise.
Beyond that we can expect to see and perhaps play one or two more smartphone apps from DeNA. Whether these will be app-like experiences or games will be a key talking point as the year progresses.
The Legend of Zelda for Wii U (and NX?)
Nintendo has been emphatic on one key point - the next major entry of The Legend of Zelda will come to Wii U; whether it'll also come to the NX, straddling generations as Twilight Princess did with GameCube / Wii, is something altogether different. TP, of course, is also getting the HD remaster treatment for a March release.
It's been intriguing to follow the development and delays of Zelda Wii U, partly because of the secrecy around it and the bold ambition shared in those infrequent updates. Series producer Eiji Aonuma has spoken about shaking up the formula of the series, creating a large and dynamic open world and giving players freedom in their approach. Talk of that freedom also raises questions around how the narrative will be structured, and whether this is an entry that'll adopt conventions seen elsewhere in terms of character creation and flexible story-telling.
The ambition is clear, and at some point this year Nintendo will need to be clear and explain when the game is coming (it's expected this year, but some have doubts) and what form it'll take. Frankly, the sooner the better, as fake (probably) videos and 'leaks' are already popping up; we'd prefer that Nintendo get ahead of the chatter before it goes too far.
2016 is, of course, a 30th Anniversary year for the franchise, so we hope for big things.
An E3 on the Front Foot, With Anniversaries to Celebrate
In terms of how Nintendo approaches E3, we're big fans. The structure of a smaller pre-E3 'Direct', a live event of some kind, a Digital Event and the daily Treehouse streams has worked well over the last couple of years. The approach is fantastic, and allows fans around the world to enjoy all that E3 has to offer, short of actually playing the demo builds.
While the structure is strong, the content needs to be there too, and we don't think it's unfair to say that 2015 was a rough year. Rightly or wrongly, as it's all about opinions, last year's showing prompted a negative reaction in some parts of the web, with some particular reveals sparking near mutinous responses. It wasn't a strong year, overall, and Nintendo needs to get back on the front foot this year.
It should have all of the tools to do that. Some of the points we've highlighted above, particularly NX, could give Nintendo all the material it needs to have a significant impact at the event; let's not forget that this year is also the 20th Anniversary of the Pokémon franchise, in addition to the the aforementioned Zelda landmark. If Nintendo can wow the crowds and mainstream media, while still doing things the 'Nintendo' way, then it could be a special event.
Let us know in the comments what you think of the reveals and releases we've highlighted above, and what you expect to be the decisive moments for Nintendo in 2016.