No NX until March 2017. No NX at E3 2016. Zelda officially bumped to an (eventual) NX release, which will very probably lead to the Wii U version to being a 2017 release as well. Doom. Such doom, and additional gloom, and fair old dash of gleeful spite. Because Nintendo has fucked it, right? After a year that saw tentative NX excitement start to slowly, steadily grow from the cold, dead ground of the Wii U’s grossly curtailed life, Nintendo has just told you damn gawking kids to get off its lawn, concreted over the garden, gone inside, and pulled the shutters down, yes?
No, Nintendo is being really, really smart right now, and doing exactly the right thing.
You see, the period between the Wii’s old age and the Wii U’s stumbling infancy has been a clattering shambles. We saw the rapid – yet strangely lingering – death of a console that sold to the masses as a profitable fad, but failed to sustain itself with the favour of the loyal once the transient crowd had hit and run to the next party. We saw a rushed, ill thought-out, confusingly presented follow-up that seemed desperate – yet strangely over-confident - in its attempt to snag the same, casual audience for a second time while also catering to the die-hards its predecessor had eventually spurned.
The Wii U was a machine that initially felt purposeful, yet confused in its purpose, and entirely out of touch with what anyone in the real world wanted or needed. Nintendo seemed to have lost track of why its output – for the trend-driven Wii audience or its long-term fanbase – had resonated in the first place, having misplaced its direction in the fog of hype and unexpected success. It looked disorientated, and subsequently lurched along multiple paths in the hope that each might be the right one. Handheld hardware revisions with branding equally ambiguous to that which had muddied the 3DS’ messaging at launch, and straight murdered the Wii U. Last-ditch attempts to justify the Wii U’s control scheme by using it to ruin games that never needed it. Claims that it was never going to do mobile games, before doing just that.
All of these happenings tumbled out of Nintendo’s doors like brooms from an overstuffed closet. Throughout, the company’s comprehension of the bigger picture seemed to be running five minutes behind everyone else’s, each obvious mistake catching up with the one before it by way of a pace that felt as breathless as it felt like a slow-motion car crash. In short, the industry’s most celebrated house of ideas was behaving like a dog that had long-since forgotten why it had started chasing its own tail in the first place, and badly needed to be sent to its bed for a time-out.
But it seems that that’s exactly what’s happening now. The NX reveal is not being rushed to fulfil arbitrary expectations, and neither is its release. The full games line-up is staying quiet during the period that the rest of the industry shouts the loudest, and will drop when there are more people to listen and properly understand. Financially and logistically, Nintendo can easily afford to wait, and so wait it will, until the circumstances are right to open a clear discussion of what increasingly feels like a fresh start. That’s fine by me, Nintendo. Take your time. Get this one right. I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say. But many people seem to think this is the opposite of a positive thing, and that makes very little sense to me.
The thing is, this certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen such a pattern in the behaviour of a major platform holder. It isn’t even the most prominent or egregious example we’ve seen recently. The first year of the Xbox One’s life was fuelled by misdirected hubris, intended to power a strategy that served neither Microsoft nor its audience well. The 180 degree back-track from beloved home of eclectic gaming to undesired, unnecessary TV platform – an idea dated into obsolescence as soon as Netflix took off – was pursued doggedly until the negative PR and ground lost to Sony became a roadblock that no amount of denial could assail. But then Microsoft took a step back, wiped away the dirt it had picked up along the way, and recharted its path with humility. And we praised the company for it.
Sony, from 2006 until the moment it wised up, pushed the over-priced, under-performing PS3 with arrogance and a resolute lack of charm, seemingly happy to deal with the reality of its situation with blinkers alone. But eventually, the game quality went up, the price came down, and Sony turned around its fortunes by simply shutting up and letting the ever-increasing value of its console do the talking. By the end of the last generation, sales had evened out, the company was synonymous with unique games and critical plaudits, and it smoothly launched its next console into an ocean of goodwill.
So why do we think it’s going to be any different for Nintendo? Why, in fact, do some of us not seem to want it to be different, responding to the news of a 2017 NX with resentment and no small amount of eye-rolling at how ‘typical Nintendo’ the move is - when in reality it’s actually rather a considered departure from the ‘typical’ we’ve seen over the last few years?
Partly, I think it’s simply because the internet quickly forgets the good, acting all too fast to vilify the bad. It rushes to the hate parade, finding any in-road it can to celebrate its own ego by damning those who disappoint it. That’s no great revelation, of course. The long-standing behavioural trope was bound to flavour the initial response. But I think there’s more going on here.
I think another factor may be that, rather than maintaining one, long-but-consistent screw-up, as its competitors have in the past, Nintendo’s erratic behaviour and run of inconsistent moves has led a lot of us to forget what it’s like when the company is focused. It’s led us to forget how good it can be. It’s a lot easier to compare an undesirable present to a much-loved past – thereby remembering said past all the more distinctly - when there’s a clear, direct comparison to be made. And to make simplified sense of the current, complex situation, the internet has unsurprisingly turned it into a broad-strokes meme. “Nintendo is disappointing and crazy” is an easy way to encapsulate things, certainly, but it’s also an easy way to erode one’s knowledge of what else it can be.
Because that’s the obvious - but often ignored - truth about disappointment: it’s only ever the product of hope subverted. And the NX really is a reason to be hopeful about Nintendo. Probably a bigger reason than we’ve had in the best part of a decade. If it does turn out to be the handheld/console hybrid that’s expected – which looks increasingly likely given the news that the Wii U’s Gamepad-equipped Zelda game will be ported – then it will immediately solve Nintendo’s long-standing problem of split development resources and inadequate rates of software output. And if it turns out to be as powerful as rumoured – word is that Nintendo is stepping back into the current-gen ring with processing to rival both the Xbox One and PS4 – then it could turn the industry on its head.
And all of this is amplified by the fact that historically, Nintendo is always at its most exciting when it’s rebooting. That tends to only happen when the company’s back is undeniably against the wall, but it also tends to be when Nintendo thinks hard, digs deep, and brings its A-game in the most unexpected yet thrilling ways. See the 2005/2006 period that introduced us to the DS, the ‘Revolution’, and Reggie Fils-Aime, three concepts that seemed equally infeasible yet reignited the company with aplomb.
It feels like we might be close to another one of those events. So who cares if Nintendo executes it at E3 – a show that several big publishers have already left this year, rightly raising questions about the importance of the show, not the companies in question - or elsewhere, later down the line? Are we really going to demand that Nintendo reveals the off-kilter, Wonka-style creativity that we so love on a strict, industry mandated schedule, based on rules that no-one really made, based on tradition that exists just because? Are we going to claim doom because Nintendo seems to want to do its next era justice, starting it at the right time to give it the chance its predecessor never got?
Apparently some of us are, but I’m certainly not.