Nintendo is riding high right now and with good reason. They shipped one of the hottest toys of the holiday season last November with the NES Classic and couldn’t keep the thing on store shelves (the jury’s still out on whether this was due to higher than expected demand or Nintendo simply not having enough supply), and now their home console fortunes seem to have changed for the better thanks to the early success of the Nintendo Switch. This return to form couldn’t have come at a better time for Nintendo, as the company has struggled in recent years to remain relevant in an industry that, in some ways, had started to leave them behind.
Of course, Nintendo has always marched to the beat of its own drum, for better and worse, and while the company has had many incredible success stories over the years, it’s also had its fair share of blunders. Nintendo is a company that I and many others who grew up with one of the company’s gaming machines in our living rooms want to see succeed, but at times it feels like Nintendo is its own worst enemy. At a future date, I’d like to highlight some of Nintendo’s best decisions but for today, it’s all about the bizarre and downright terrible choices the company has made.
12. Discontinuing The NES Classic
Might as well start off with the most recent blunder! The NES Classic Edition had been a hot seller ever since its initial release, but only five or so months later, Nintendo shockingly announced that they were halting production and wouldn’t be selling it anymore. In their defense, Nintendo cited the Switch as being the deciding factor, with Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime claiming that with the Switch being such a priority for the company, they couldn’t spare the resources to continue to pump out NES Classic systems. While this is a fair point, it doesn’t change the fact that Nintendo knowingly killed off an enormously successful product; a product, I might add, that many people were still trying to get their hands on months after its original release.
Although the system’s asking price was relatively low, Nintendo was clearly making a profit off of every single one sold, so why would they want to just shut off that revenue stream while it was still flowing? Yes, okay, they need to divert more resources to Switch production but come on, the NES Classic couldn’t have been too difficult to manufacture and it’s hard to believe that a company as big as Nintendo doesn’t have the manufacturing logistics at their disposal to keep pumping out NES Classics, while also making sure they’re putting out enough Switches. I’m not saying that Nintendo hates money but when they make decisions like this, you kinda have to wonder if maybe they do … just a little bit.
11. Wii U Branding
Nintendo wanted the Wii U, the successor to their enormously successful Wii console, to strike a balance between appealing to the casual crowd, who showed up in droves to buy the Wii, and to bring back the hardcore players, who had largely abandoned Nintendo somewhere between the Nintendo 64 and GameCube generations. The Wii U had a multitude of problems — it was underpowered, lacked much of the functionality of its competitors, had a stupid tablet controller that no one liked — but the Wii U’s biggest issue was arguably one of optics. Calling the console the Wii U was Nintendo’s first and biggest mistake, as the name failed to communicate to consumers whether or not this was an actual successor to the Wii or merely an upgrade/add-on.
The other major issue that hurt the Wii U was that it didn’t have clear messaging. The reason the Wii was such a mainstream hit was because people could easily grasp what Nintendo was trying to do with it, thanks in large part to the simplicity of the console’s motion controls and how much fun the console’s pack-in game, Wii Sports, was to play with others. In contrast, the Wii U had this tablet controller and early commercials for the console showed one person playing on the tablet while other people played against them using Wiimotes. Was this supposed to look fun? Evidently, it didn’t, as the Wii U sold a fraction of what the Wii managed to, despite having a much better lineup of must-have games.
10. Not Putting GBA Games On Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console
I’ve rung this bell a few times now in my various writings about Nintendo, but only because it’s something that still really grates on me whenever I think about it. If you’ll recall, when Nintendo gave the 3DS a significant price drop back in 2011, they introduced something called the “Ambassador’s Program” as a way to placate jilted early adopters who had paid significantly more for the handheld at launch. This program consisted of ten free downloadable games, including five ports of Game Boy Advance games. These titles were made exclusively available to ambassadors and weren’t put up for sale on the Nintendo eShop, which was an understandable decision on Nintendo’s part.
Unfortunately, these games have remained exclusive ever since, which just strikes me as a ridiculous decision on Nintendo’s part. Even worse, Nintendo never bothered to release any Game Boy Advance games on the eShop and there’s really no excuse for this decisions given that we know the 3DS is capable of emulating GBA games. Why doesn’t Nintendo want to take our money for downloadable version of games like The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap? Oh wait, they did … on the Wii U, a console that isn’t even portable.
9. Not Making The Wii HD
While Nintendo is very forward-thinking in certain respects, it sometimes feels like they are incapable of reading industry trends or simply don’t care about them at all. Case in point: the Wii — which to its credit was an enormously successful product — did not support high definition. Back in 2006, HD adoption was still relatively low, but most tech companies read the tea leaves and knew it was going to be the new standard before long, which is why both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 adopted it.
Sure, the Wii’s lack of HD did little to dampen its success early in its run, but by the end of its life cycle, people were so used to high definition that it was hard to want to go back to the Wii and its blurry standard definition visuals. And to be honest, it’s getting harder and harder to even hook up a Wii these days, as many newer TVs don’t even support analog A/V cables anymore. It’s hardly surprising then to learn that Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto admitted back in 2013 that the Wii should have supported HD, noting that HD started to become popular with consumers a full three years before his company expected it to.
8. Their Handling of Virtual Console in General
I’ve already talked about my issues with how Nintendo mishandled the release of GBA games on the 3DS, but the Virtual Console situation has been kind of problematic from the very beginning. In theory, Nintendo’s Virtual Console service has always been a fantastic idea. A digital platform where customers can purchase and download some of their favorite retro games from previous generations? This would have seemed like magic to our younger selves. Yes, in theory Virtual Console is great but in practice, it’s been mishandled at practically every turn. For one thing, the prices are too high across the board (there’s no reason a NES game should cost more than $3, tops), but the real problem is that Nintendo seems to be completely disinterested in making the majority of their back catalog, hoarding it like they’re a dragon sitting on a treasure heap.
Most of these games are just ROM files and shouldn’t be too difficult to emulate, but Nintendo seems to insist on releasing them at a slow drip. There’s also the issue of VC games carrying over across different devices, but it looks like Nintendo’s new Nintendo Account service will eliminate this issue. At least, one would hope it does, as the lack of Virtual Console support on the Switch so far means that we can’t really see this in practice yet.
Oh and before you start accusing me of unfairly targeting Nintendo for this, I know that Sony is guilty of the exact same thing with their PlayStation Classic service, which still lacks a staggering number of games. That being said, this article is about Nintendo; there will be time to criticize Sony later!
Nintendo has always been a fan of proprietary storage formats but unfortunately, this has resulted in some less than desirable results over the years. It all really came to a head with the Nintendo 64; whereas the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn had both adopted CD-ROMs to store games on, Nintendo decided to stay in the cartridge game. While it’s true that the N64’s cartridges had better loading times than CDs, they were also significantly more expensive to manufacture (which in turn made N64 games more expensive on average than PS1 or Saturn software) and also had much less storage space.
This made it more difficult for developers to include things like rendered cutscenes and voiceover, which demanded larger amounts of storage, causing publishers like Squaresoft to jump ship to Sony. Square would release the highly-ambitious RPG Final Fantasy VII in 1997 on PlayStation, where it would go onto become one of the console’s best-selling games and one of the most important games of all time. If Nintendo had gone with CD-ROMs like everyone else, they likely could have enjoyed that success themselves.
6. Mini DVDs
Nintendo did switch to digital storage for their next console, the GameCube, but again went proprietary with Mini DVDs. The problem with these discs is that even though they had the same read speed as DVDs, their 1.5 GBs of storage was only half that of a regular DVD. Nintendo claimed this was done to prevent piracy; an understandable concern, no doubt, but adopting Mini DVDs pretty much doomed the GameCube to lag behind the PS2 and Xbox, which could both be used as DVD players at a time when standalone devices were still relatively expensive. The GameCube was a great gaming machine, but its lack of DVD playback prevented it from being much of anything else.
5. Friend Codes
Nintendo has built quite a reputation as a company that is well behind the online gaming curve in comparison to their competitors and no one feature better illustrates this then their use of Friend Codes, which are both archaic and incredibly annoying. Unlike pretty much every other online network under the sun, every Nintendo system from the DS onward has made it unnecessarily difficult to find and add friends to your friends list. Instead of simply looking for a person’s name, you have to send them your 12-digit Friend Code in order for them to add you as a friend, and vice versa.
Nintendo’s original excuse for adopting this practice was that it better protected younger users against potential online harassment and gave users increased privacy, but now it just feels like the company has no idea how to do anything else, which explains why the Switch includes this unnecessary feature as well. In the grand scheme of things, Friend Codes really aren’t that big a deal, but they illustrate just how out of touch Nintendo is with the world of online gaming and judging by how much criticism this functionality has received over the years, is something that only Nintendo seems to see any benefit in.
4. Taking a Hardline Against YouTubers/Streamers
Like it or not, YouTube and streaming services such as Twitch are becoming increasingly influential platforms for consumer purchasing decisions, especially when it comes to video games. Most companies have embraced the idea of popular content creators sharing impressions of their games with their subscribers, but not Nintendo, who apparently hate the idea of their games receiving free publicity.
Ever since Nintendo started filing copyright strikes against YouTube videos using footage of their games in early 2015 — thus preventing content creators from monetizing these videos — it’s made things incredibly frustrating for both creators who make a living making gaming videos and for fans of Nintendo, who are being denied quality content because Nintendo is totally out of touch with concepts such as fair use. This in turn has led to many YouTubers and Twitch streamers simply ignoring Nintendo games altogether and made the company look extremely petty and greedy as a result.
3. Virtual Boy
When it comes to hardware, Nintendo actually hasn’t had that many outright failures, but the Virtual Boy definitely qualifies as one. Designed by the legendary Gunpei Yokoi, who is responsible for such innovations as the “D-Pad” on controllers and the original Game Boy, the Virtual Boy was a head-mounted virtual reality headset that delivered all of its games in a garish red hue. The Virtual Boy’s list of issues is vast, but the main problem with it is that the technology simply wasn’t ready for prime time.
In fact, Yokoi actually voiced this complaint to Nintendo executives, arguing that it wasn’t ready for market yet. The worst part is that they agreed with him, but released the system anyway, putting it out in 1995 without Yokoi’s knowledge. It would be discontinued less than a year later and quickly forgotten about.
2. Letting Rare Go
Nintendo has always seemed to have trouble playing nice with other development studios, but back in the 90s, their relationship with Rare seemed like a match made in heaven. During the Nintendo 64 era in particular, Rare was the most consistent publisher putting out games on the console next to Nintendo themselves, delivering a number of classics such as GoldenEye 64, Banjo-Kazooie, and Perfect Dark. In fact, Nintendo owned nearly half of the UK company by the early 2000s, so it was all the more shocking when they didn’t bother to buy Rare up outright and instead let Microsoft come along and snatch them up in 2002.
In hindsight, this represented a heavy blow to Nintendo’s ability to pump out games consistently on their consoles and to this day, even Rare co-founder Tim Stamper admits to not knowing why Nintendo didn’t buy the company, telling Nintendo Life in 2015, “I’ve no idea why they didn’t do that. I thought we were a good fit.” It’s certainly possible that Nintendo sensed that Rare was in decline, as the developer’s output since the Microsoft acquisition has been uneven at best and many would concede that the glory days of Rare are long over. Still, one can’t help but wonder whether Rare and Nintendo would have both been better off if they had stuck together and what kind of games they could have dreamed up.
In the early 90s, Nintendo partnered with fellow Japanese tech company Sony Computer Entertainment to create a CD-ROM add-on for the Super Nintendo called the SNES-CD. They would eventually show off the collaboration at the 1991 Consumer Electronic Show, where it received a very positive response, but only a day later, Nintendo announced that they were ditching Sony in order to partner with Philips instead. This would turn out to be one of Nintendo’s gravest mistakes, as their decision not greatly damaged their relationship with Sony, but actually pushed Sony to create a gaming console of their own, which would eventually become the PlayStation.
Things happen for a reason and I for one am grateful to Nintendo for their part in creating the PlayStation brand and all the excellent hardware and software Sony has put out over the years, but I can’t imagine Nintendo feels all that great about essentially spawning one of its fiercest competitors out of a business deal they backed out of.