I hold the mid-to-late 2000s era of Nintendo close to my heart. It was the time I first got into video games, and where my love for Nintendo was kickstarted by the Wii and augmented by the DS Lite (eventually the DSi too). It was when Reggie Fils-Aime started his reign as Nintendo of America’s legendary president, and in the middle of Satoru Iwata’s iconic leadership of the company back in Japan. Nintendo console sales were at their peak, gaming masterpieces and near-masterpieces were seemingly being released every other day, their consoles had unique and refreshing designs and details that transcended the concept of a gimmick, their marketing was a breath of fresh air in a sea of sameness…at least, that’s how I remember it.
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, for better or for worse. It can create fond memories we hold dear to our hearts for our brains to revisit in times of darkness, but it can also wickedly skew our perception of things that happened years ago. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether it’s your nostalgia goggles making something seem better than it is, or if it was really that good. And that’s a question I’m constantly asking myself when I find myself frustrated with Nintendo’s current strategy for its brand image.
We live in a constantly-moving world where everything is evolving at rates that sometimes we humans cannot even keep up with, and I’m thinking maybe that’s what happened with me and my perception of Nintendo. While new companies are pulling off the clean, modern, millennial-style corporate look like it’s nothing and I’m continuously falling for it, Nintendo’s attempt to do just that is simply not convincing me. Is it the execution? Not really. It’s moreso the idea, for lack of a better word.
My closest memories of Nintendo are associated with the Wii and DS era, a time where Nintendo desperately had to experiment and stand out from the rest of the market in an attempt to revive the company after middling sales of the GameCube. In the age of Playstation, the sales figures of Nintendo’s previous consoles had looked puny, and so did their hardware. It seemed as if the GameCube was their attempt to introduce a more hardware-forward console, but it just didn’t work – the PS2 outsold it over seven times over, and crushed it from a performance standpoint.
So Nintendo was forced to think outside of the box, and thinking outside of the box they did. The Wii combined a truckload of weird and unique qualities unlike anything the competition was doing – motion controls, a TV channel-styled user interface, a simple sports game as the console’s flagship pack-in, and perhaps most important of all: advertising to everyone, not just the current audience of so-called “gamers”. And it worked.
The Wii found itself on the top 5 list of the greatest selling consoles of all time, making it Nintendo’s best-selling home console to this day. And it wasn’t just the console itself that made it such a hit; there was practically an onslaught of phenomenal first-party titles for the system like Wii Sports (including Resort), the two Super Mario Galaxy titles, Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, two flagship 3D Zelda games, Metroid Prime 3, Animal Crossing: City Folk, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Super Paper Mario, and so many more.
But above all, it was really the company behind the games that topped this all off. Nintendo had finally pulled off a brand image unlike any other company; playful, youthful, creative, experimental, accessible – for everyone. Not only did they let this brand image bleed into the products they created, making sure to add distinct and intensely creative traits to them that would stick with people for a long time to come, but how they acted and advertised publicly always used this same angle. While Sony and Microsoft took the more edgy “for the gamers” angle, Nintendo offered something completely new and different, and that was what made them so amazing to me.
I just don’t get that with today’s Nintendo. I feel like they’ve significantly sanitized and cleaned up their brand image to fit in with the current trend instead of taking a chance to go against the grain, and that’s not what I remember Nintendo for. And it’s not just how they market themselves – I already wrote how the Switch was just completely bland and boring as a console, an opinion I still stand by today; game releases have felt noticeably slower and more spread out to me (although I’m not sure if they really are), there’s not much outside of their games that’s interesting that Nintendo has to offer (remember Club Nintendo?), and they’ve been caught in the crossfire of modern controversial business practices like charging for an online service plagued with major issues that remain unaddressed indefinitely.
Don’t get me wrong. I still love Nintendo, and I will continue supporting them until the day I die, but it just hasn’t felt the same lately. Maybe I’m looking through the Nintendo of last decade with rose-tinted glasses, or maybe my analysis of them happens to be completely correct. But whatever it is, something just doesn’t feel right. And I hope I’m not the only one who thinks this.