Nintendo is in a bad place.
Promises have been made to make more out of the GamePad -- the console's touch-screen controller -- on the Wii U and also to put Nintendo DS games on the Wii U. And, even, to enter the health entertainment market; not necessarily a bad idea considering what a phenomenon the Wii Fit was several years ago.
But Nintendo, as a gaming presence and as a hardware company, feels like it's evaporating. This despite having, in my opinion, the best little handheld game system in 2013 with some pretty fantastic games. Yes, 3DS, I'm talking about you.
Can it all be fixed, or does Nintendo have to resort to mobile, an area that the company steadfastly insists will just be used for "marketing apps"?
I wrote about five ways Nintendo could rescue itself last May. Things have gotten worse since that time. So, I'll shave that list down and make it even simpler. If Nintendo's serious about success, there's a path to success that hasn't been taken yet.
Make a new 3DS that doubles as a better Wii U GamePad
/ To date, Nintendo has sold 42.75 million 3DS systems since the console's debut in early 2011. In comparison, 5.86 million Wii U systems have been sold since the Wii U launched in late 2012 -- and sales have only stagnated as competition ramps up from the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The Wii U needs help from 3DS owners. Nintendo needs to find a way to get 3DS people to think about the Wii U. It's not rocket science.
Nintendo's efforts should be focused entirely on convincing Nintendo 3DS owners to adopt a Wii U, and the best way to do that is to make the two systems cross-compatible.
Sure, everyone's been saying this. I said it over a year ago. Rumors are flying about Nintendo pursuing exactly that idea. And the GamePad, the touch-screen tablet gimmicky innovation that's the centerpiece of the Wii U, needs a complete do-over. The pad is large and clunky, battery life is terrible, and it can't be used without being paired with the Wii U in a very narrow wireless range.
The 3DS and Wii U GamePad have similarities: both have touch screens and a stylus, both have a microphone and a camera, and both have gyro motion controls. The GamePad lacks a second screen, unless you count the TV.
Look to the recent Nintendo 2DS for inspiration on how a new GamePad/3DS would look: it's flat, feels more like a tablet, and fits two screens into what's actually a single panel behind the plastic construction.
Nintendo has made a new handheld game roughly once every two years for as long as I can remember: 2DS, 3DS XL, 3DS, DSi XL, DSi, DS Lite... and so on. Making a new type of Nintendo 3DS that folds in Wii U compatibility (and extra analog pads) doesn't feel like a stretch at all.
Turn Virtual Console into the 'Netflix of games'
Nintendo sits on a gold mine of old retro games that seem to have amazing staying power, and boy, does the company know it. Marios, Zeldas, Metroids, Pokemons -- all sitting locked away in some virtual vault and dribbled out like manna every time a new console is released...for 5 bucks a pop. It's maddening, it's stupid, and it turns off true fans.
Nintendo should also open up tons of those old Virtual Console games -- and more -- to a subscription-based monthly gaming service. It doesn't need the latest hits, or even the last few consoles. Just put the really back-catalog stuff on there. You know, make it more like Netflix. Or, more to the point, do something similar to what Sony is doing with PlayStation Plus. That service -- which costs $50 a year, or about $4 per month -- is quickly becoming one of the best values in gaming.
Would Nintendo lose out on sales? Listen: Nintendo's losing out on sales already. This is triage. And, I don't know how many $5 NES games people plan to buy in a year...likely not that many. A subscription service for $5 or $10 per month would probably put more money in Nintendo's pockets.
Make all games work on all current hardware
Now, as with Netflix, make that Netflix-like subscription service work across the 3DS and Wii U. One subscription should let you play these games on both. A SNES game will appear on the Wii U and not be available on the 3DS, which is absolutely awful.
Any game that's been purchased once should be downloadable again on the other hardware, whenever possible. Sony, again, has already gotten the message and done this on the PlayStation Vita and its PlayStation 3 and 4 hardware with Cross-Play titles.
I could bring up mobile, but I won't. Nintendo doesn't seem interested, beyond some "marketing apps." Some dabbling with Virtual Console games on mobile devices wouldn't be a bad idea -- sure, Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong on the iPhone would be cool -- but mobile would be a concession; a surrender, the beginning of a downsized Nintendo.
Still, that mobile path might need to happen if the rest of Nintendo's game businesses can't be fixed. Somebody should wave an iPhone in front of Satoru Iwata: if the Wii U and 3DS can't be smartly merged, Mario's going to end up on a phone or tablet sooner or later.