No one much cared then: will they care now?
And speaking of portable gaming, ever since 2004 Nintendo has sold 120 million units of the DS, its successor to the Game Boy. The DS’s defining feature is a two-screen set-up, with one a touchscreen. Same exact thing as the Wii U. This might be a positive, because game designers have had eight years to figure out how to design games using that set-up. (Early Wii games were legendarily terrible, since few understood how to incorporate movement into a game without making it a cheap gimmick.)
But for 30 years people have undervalued Nintendo. Donkey Kong, its first hit, was done to save face after a flop. The Nintendo Entertainment System was toxic to US retailers, who refused to stock it. Its Wii was considered a toy more than a video game, but that “toy” got snapped up by people who would never buy a “real” game system.
One of Nintendo’s biggest franchises is the Legend of Zelda series, with a brave elf named Link facing down big bad opponents to save a princess. Super Mario is also about saving a princess, although its games are totally different. Same goal, two very different executions.
Similarly, Nintendo and its rivals goals are the same – ka-ching! – but they go about it in different ways. Microsoft and Sony are electronics companies, with games as one of their business channels. Nintendo is just games: it doesn’t even consider itself an electronic company, but instead an “amusement” company. That differing philosophy is how something like the Wii U gets born. And it’s also why no other tech company can do that Nintendo does.
But as with razors, as with Link’s weapon of choice, there’s a double-edged blade to all this.
Nintendo asks gamers to leave their comfort zone and try something new each time around. It’s usually worked for them, but not always. Gamers may choose not to follow Nintendo to the Wii U. But Nintendo is the only gamemaker who unfailingly asks gamers to do something new.
They may not succeed forever at it, but they’ll have lived — and one day died — innovating.
Jeff Ryan is the author of "Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America." He blogs at www.supermariobook.com, Twitter
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