This article is a collaboration between Alex B. and Mike D., with a tip of the hat to Omar T.’s post on the NE forums, which helped define the direction our discussion took.
Nintendo has always struggled with software droughts. Our forums’ Big Daddy Matt C. wisely said, “he who lived through the N64 era can live through anything.” And he’s absolutely right: the N64 game droughts were probably the worst in the company’s history. One would think that Nintendo would have remedied the problem by now, yet droughts have remained a problem for later consoles.
You know the script. The Wii U launches – great fanfare precedes what is expected to be a Nintendo console launch fit for the history books – into a battle to win the holidays. It was to be a decisive engagement: Nintendo would lead the charge on the holiday season with New Super Mario Bros U, while Ubisoft and EA would provide volley fire with Rayman Legends, Zombi U, and a number of ports to help Nintendo by breaking the ranks of the holiday soldiers. In actuality, Ubisoft decided to save most of their arrows for later, and EA eventually retreated from battle altogether. Nintendo was mighty, and they broke through the front line of the enemy, yet the holiday soldiers remained steadfast and maintained rank, and Nintendo soon had to retreat again.
Holiday sales were fine, but after that, the Wii U couldn’t sell jack. They may have won the battle for the holiday launch, but were not prepared for the longer war of attrition to follow.
This happened in part, it stands to reason, because the Wii U simply had very few games. Great exclusives were promised (MonolithSoft’s X, Bayonetta 2), and some would arrive quite soon (Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Lego City: Undercover, and Wonderful 101), but how was Nintendo supposed to fill the gaps in between? Nintendo has long had a poor relationship with western third parties, and after being left at the altar by EA (and Ubisoft’s Rayman Legends), they didn’t seem to be in a rush to reach out for a helping hand. Nintendo had a lot of money, however, so why not use it? In a different land, after all, Microsoft was paying (as estimated by the court jester Michael Pachter) $50 million to secure Titanfall as an exclusive. Sony’s bid was no doubt only slightly smaller, but that money probably went to secure other exclusives instead. But Nintendo chose to do none of that. It just wasn’t in their nature; maybe it’s just not their culture. Perhaps it’s a philosophical difference in doing business (third parties want more support from hardware manufacturers, while Nintendo would rather spend money on making their own games).
So have the suits in Kyoto doomed their new console to the fate of its predecessors? Not so fast. This is the part where we should all take a moment to remember that Nintendo has a history of collaborating with outside developers. Why not do that again? Our own Matt Costello has already argued that Nintendo should look to their fellow Japanese publishers and developers to withstand the might of the western media conglomerate corporations’ oligopoly. Well apparently the clues were all there, it’s just that the rest of us weren’t seeing them.
Nintendo’s history of third-party collaborations goes way back, further back than we’ll even bother to mention here. We’ll start with the first relevant item: Capcom. Nintendo handed over the Zelda franchise for Capcom to develop two simultaneously-released portable The Legend of Zelda games, Oracle of Ages, and Oracle of Seasons. This relationship then carried on for the sweet-but-short The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap for the GBA.
Meanwhile, on the home console front, Nintendo partnered with SEGA’s Amusement Vision to produce F-Zero GX on the GameCube, as well as F-Zero AX for arcade.
The Wii console saw its own share of collaboration games, such as Treasure Games’ Sin and Punishment 2, Ganbarion’s Pandora’s Tower (Ganbarion later went on to help with Wii Fit U, by the way), and Mistwalker’s The Last Story. And we certainly can’t forget Nintendo’s largest software collaboration yet, Metroid: Other M. We don’t care what you think, that game is awesome.
Cloaked in plain view, it was becoming more commonplace for Nintendo to collaborate with, or otherwise secure, third-party games for their systems. Personally, I’ve come to see Nintendo SPD (Software Planning & Development) as the oil that lubricates the third-party exclusives machine for Nintendo.
As of late, however, this kind of collaboration seems to have ramped up considerably. In less than 3 years of the Nintendo 3DS’ life, we have already seen such collaborations as Grezzo’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (they went on to develop the Four Swords game on 3DS as well), Q-Games’ Star Fox 64 3D, Tecmo-Koei’s Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir, TT Fusion’s Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins (they also developed the Wii U game), and, among many other unmentioned titles, a variety of 3rd party or 2nd party-developed DLC for the Nintendo 3DS StreetPass software.
Furthermore, Nintendo has forged many relationships on the Wii U side. Among them are Platinum Games’ Wonderful 101 (our own choice for best Wii U game of 2013, Super Mario 3D World excluded), and Bayonetta 2; Atlus’ Fire Emblem x Shin Megami Tensei crossover game, of which we hope to see more soon; Namco’s Smash Bros U (along with Smash Bros 3DS); and finally, the recently announced Tecmo-Koei game Hyrule Warriors (which we think is a great idea).
All this, and whatever Nintendo has yet to announce, will have come in the first two years of the system. So it seems that, while it’s true that the Wii U’s first year’s great games were punctuated by software droughts, such fate doesn’t seem likely to befall the console’s following years.
Does this mean that Nintendo is finally at an arm’s length of overcoming one of their greatest curses, software droughts? Perhaps not quite yet. There is still work for them to do, and obvious room for more collaborative relationships to grow. But is there any question as to this console generation being less painful to live through as a Nintendo fan? We don’t think there is any. Even for those who can only afford to buy a Nintendo system, and nothing else, this generation is poised to be the busiest since the SNES era.