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How can Nintendo save itself? Through the power of cartoons!

This past weekend, I sat through an hour of Pokémon GetTV--a Japanese television show that hosts a rerun of the Pokémon anime, followed by half an hour of absurdity. It was everything you've been trained to believe that Japanese television is: a carnival of marketing absurdity and seizure-inducing wackiness. Every few minutes the hosts would take a break from showing an adult in a pink jumpsuit rummaging around a child's house looking for hidden Pokémon toys to show you that--yes--Nintendo is still selling merchandise. Near the end they took a few minutes to promote Pokémon Battle Trozei and then showed like, twenty seconds of footage from Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. It was absurd, sensational, and the best chance Nintendo has to salvage the Wii U in America.

You already know that Nintendo is struggling. You know it posted record losses, and that its system is on its way to outright failure unless something drastic happens within the next year or so. And you likely have your own idea as to how Nintendo can save itself. Cut the price? Maybe. Release a ton of games? Obviously, but easier said than done. Ditch the system and make a new one? Not in the cards.

The solution, the real solution, is in licensing, and a ton of it. And from the sounds of it, that's exactly what Nintendo's going to do. Iwata recently confirmed that the company is looking into "possibilities in licensing character IP in areas Nintendo has never worked before." When he said that, no one really knew exactly what he was talking about--but after watching GetTV, I think I'm starting to get it. Nintendo's clearest path to victory is doing in America what is already did 15 years ago: create an abundance of demand by promoting the hell out of its brands.

Walk into a Toys 'R Us, and you'll be met with entire aisles of things that aren't as popular as Mario. There are entire sections dedicated to Ninja Turtles and Minecraft; huge aisles of Tiny Birds figures that no one seems to ever buy. Hell, the average store has more Rabbids than it has Metroids--but that could all change if Nintendo plays this right.

If Nintendo were to launch cartoons, movies, or other entertainment products based on its many beloved licenses would help it in every way possible. The shows themselves might be profitable, giving the franchises expanded life, and the success of the TV brands would bolster the success of the brands in general. A successful Mario show airing on Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network could easily beget a newfound demand for Mario games--same goes for Star Fox, Metroid, Zelda, and just about every major Nintendo franchise.

Why am I so sure this would work? Because it already has once before. Without the Pokémon television show, there's a good chance that Pokémon Red and Blue wouldn't have been the juggernauts they were in America. Sure, the quality of the games helped a lot, but it's safe to say that Pokémania wouldn't have hit critical mass if not for the TV shows, marketing, toys, and everything else that served to remind kids that they absolutely needed to Catch 'em All™.

And sure, none of the brands Nintendo would be promoting would be as successful as Pokémon is in Japan, but that's the point. If Nintendo plays big with its franchise, and lures people to its games through a massive amount of licensing, there's really nothing stopping them from success. There's room for Mario and Link to flourish beyond the latest game releases, if only Nintendo would take the chance.

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19 comments

  • FoxdenRacing - May 13, 2014 9:56 a.m.

    How can Ninty save itself? First and foremost, they can stop pretending that Ouya was a good idea with a bad execution. It was a bad idea with a bad execution, a solution in search of a problem...combining all the disadvantages of phone + console, without getting the advantages of either. DS games are so compelling on a DS because they can be started up instantly, played in 10 minutes of boredom, and suspended right then and there. That kind of play isn't worth the trouble of changing inputs on the TV, booting the console, starting the game, etc. For the U to succeed, it has to be more than an overgrown DS. It has to use second-screen in new, interesting, living-room appropriate ways. Being able to let wives/roommates/etc have the TV or use it on the crapper is a good start, but isn't enough to set it apart from the juggernaut that is the DS. Also, the internet is not a barely-relevant curiosity. I applaud them for not going down the 'Squirt it out, patch it later', 'This shouldn't be DLC gouge-fest', and similar routes, and for being the last stronghold of one-couch multiplayer...but at the same time, get with the program guys! There's no reason that this long after the launch of the original Xbox Live, that their system is still awful compared to that 'best we had at the time' relic. Next, quit screwing around with Mii Dating: HeterosexualZ and stuff that would be more highly ridiculed than $15-new shovelware if it were made by anyone else, and go back to the basics. Reliable release schedules for head-turning first-party games that don't need 'blockbuster' budgets to be just as good, just as skill-testing, and just as critically-acclaimed as the rest. Break the chicken-and-egg cycle of 'no install base means no 3rd-party games, no third party games means no install base'. Moreover, quit pretending that they can exist in a bubble. Yes, it's laudable that even in a day where everyone else is pushing for game systems that do what a dozen other devices in the house can already do, but worse than a specialized device, that they're focusing on being a great games system first and foremost. But it's time to face the music: the Wii was a fluke. A clever, entertaining [especially when drunk] fluke, but still a fluke. They'll never hit that kind of resonance again, for as long as the people who made that resonance hear "An all-new system from Nintendo" and think "That's the same one I have, right? I have a Nintendo!" Very importantly: Leave the DS alone. They're rocking it in all the right ways, though taking the fight to Vita to get some of the Nippon Ichi style RPGs would be a great bonus. Lastly: You don't need to render games in all 4 colors of the dirt spectrum, packing them full of brutality and explosions to lure dedicated gamers. But you do need games that will test their reflexes, coordination, and overall skill to the absolute limit. Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, Metroid (and not that 'Strong silent lead becomes blubbering submissive with daddy Issues' Other M crap), fighting games, even stuff like Split Second or Borderlands...those are the games who will lure the people who don't have fire flower or triforce tattoos, but still want to be tested when a controller is put in their hands. Embrace "Nintendo Hard" for a swath of the library. Be proud of it! And while we're at it: Take the fight to Sony. They're not going to win over the Xbox guys...too set in their ways, too addicted to western FPS and ridiculous amounts of machismo...but if the big N gets back in the saddle, they've got a real shot in Europe. Court A- and B-grade developers, hard. The AAA devs aren't going to bat an eyelash, too obsessed with performance specs to even consider it. [Granted, 'Dead Rising Wii: Fight Zombie (just one) in a mall' didn't help] Oh, and one last hint, guys: Quit milking the past. It's amazing that we've got the same company who can give us Paper Mario / Mario Galaxy / Twilight Princess, the same company who can define the childhood of an entire generation, be so far off-target on this. When I can walk into my local game store and get a 25-40 game 'classic collection' [everything from Namco to Sega Genesis] for $20, paying $5/pop for NES games I have to re-buy to play on a different system [even if it's the same model, replacing a broken one] just isn't cutting it. Doubly so when my NES still works, and in a lot of cases can get the actual carts for less! When the most compelling reason they can give me to buy the new Mario platformer is 'Now you can dress up as a cat! So cute!', that's not cutting it. I can see the U's potential as being the one most likely to get second-screen on consoles right...but c'mon guys, call your doctors and schedule a recto-craniectomy already. I would love to have that system in my home, but you have to give me a handful of games I'll treasure for years to come to make it worth the expense.
  • Relzen - May 13, 2014 1:01 p.m.

    What the hell does the Ouya have to do with Nintendo?
  • FoxdenRacing - May 13, 2014 1:14 p.m.

    One of the big ways the U is struggling to justify its eccentricity [even though it has the best second-screen setup on the market] is that developers are treating it as 'A DS for the living room', the same way the Ouya was designed to be 'an android phone for the living room'. Problem is, the potential audience of people who would spend standalone machine prices to play portable-paradigm games on their TV is incredibly small.
  • ryanjohnson - May 13, 2014 8:13 a.m.

    WELL EXCUUUUSE ME, PRINCESS!! It had to be said. The Super Mario Brothers Super Show is on Netflix. My sons watch it all the time. It's hilarious to see Cindy Lauper doing a missing persons APB for Captain Lou Albano. The only thing that irks me is, no matter how bad it was, they left the previews for the Zelda show in it, but to my knowledge you can't watch that on Netflix.
  • GOD - May 13, 2014 12:39 a.m.

    I feel like a Starfox show would probably make the most sense for a kids cartoon, but it would also mean that they'd have to make a new Starfox game.... Maybe they could work a deal with Platinum to make a Wonderful 101 show? That would be extremely perfect for this kind of situation.
  • Vonter - May 13, 2014 11:22 a.m.

    Star Fox should embrace some of the 80s cheesiness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyKI1CHPMNw
  • bobob101 - May 12, 2014 9:11 p.m.

    If we are getting an anime of a Nintendo property, I have something I specifically like to see. Can we get a re imagining of Star Fox as a space opera like a Space Pirate Captain Harlock or Space Battleship Yamato? Also, am I the only person who understands this reference?
  • GOD - May 13, 2014 12:37 a.m.

    That's too high concept for cartoons made to sell products. And I've had a tab open with Harlock in it for about a month and have yet to hit play.....
  • bobob101 - May 13, 2014 8:10 a.m.

    Maybe it wouldn't sell a lot of merchandise, but both Harlock and Yamato (both created by Leiji Matsumoto, though I personally like Galaxy Express 999 the most) have been continuing to be major Japanese franchises for over 30 years. Nintendo is a company that exists largely by creating something amazing, then remaking and refining it over the years. That is the same for Harlock and Yamato. When you think of it like this, it does make a lot of sense, no?
  • Sinosaur - May 13, 2014 8:26 a.m.

    Except a Star Fox cartoon to be more like Bucky O'Hare or SWAT Kats.
  • mothbanquet - May 14, 2014 9:29 a.m.

    Aw, someone beat me to Bucky O'Hare...
  • Shayz - May 12, 2014 8:34 p.m.

    You do realize that nintendo games are a million times better than any game based on a TV show, movie, or other kids toy. Cartoons are not the solution, actual games ARE. When's the last time we saw an F-zero, Starfox, or Metroid game? I'm a huge nintendo fan and I still don't have a Wii U. Why? MK8 isn't even out yet. We have our main mario games, but the games that us HARDCORE gamers want aren't here, so there's no reason for us to buy a console.
  • FemJesse - May 14, 2014 6:18 p.m.

    Sounds like you made up your mind then. You should learn about brand reinforcement through television and toy lines. It is what made Pokemon the franchise it is today.
  • J-Fid - May 12, 2014 8:24 p.m.

    This is one of the few times I have actually agreed with a "How to save Nintendo" type article, just make sure it's done correctly. Kudos to you, Coop.
  • Shigeruken - May 12, 2014 8:18 p.m.

    The problem is the same one Nintendo has with all of their products; they make no effort to cater to anything outside the largest market. If Nintendo's systems weren't the only current consoles that are region locked, smaller games like Shin Megami Tensei 4 and Cave Store + would have been available in smaller markets. Nintendo has revenue sitting behind this arbitrary restriction.
  • shawksta - May 12, 2014 4:54 p.m.

    Your basically asking Nintendo to do what they did in the past. They had Zelda cartoons, they had a ton of Mario shows, and lets not forget Captain N. Would doing it modernly be a good start? Im not against it, why the heck not. Maybe, just maybe, the NFC is just the beginning to something huge because we all know Nintendo is still a toy manufacturer, as you guys said in podcast with toylines, Nintendo has those, they just dont market them outside their own personal stores, i went to Nintendo World last Thursday and it had a shit ton of stuff, it had plushies, it had board games, it had monopoly, it had Lego/Megablocks-esque series toys, wallets, shirts, candies, they have a bunch of em. So its not like Nintendo isnt already in line for it.
  • Vonter - May 12, 2014 5:44 p.m.

    Well, that was a long time ago. I think they could give it another shot. It'll just have to give creative liberties because and also be aware of what they're cooking. Like how Sakurai was involved in the Kirby cartoon, which IMO was faithful to it's source material. Especially having Kirby not talking. I really don't know but I hope they go all out and not focusing just on Mario and Zelda, bring Metroid figurines, F-Zero cars, Pokemon obviously, but also some niche franchises like Star Fox or dare I say Mother. The trivial question for me right now is; do they go with anime studios for their licensing or western studios. East or West that's the question.
  • theguyinthecloset - May 12, 2014 6:34 p.m.

    Heads or tails? it's always heads.
  • shawksta - May 12, 2014 9:04 p.m.

    Whatever they did with that special 3DS exclusive Kirby right back at Ya and Kid Icarus Uprising movies, those were good, now if only Nintendo can actually continue those.

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