I am not alone in being raised on Nintendo consoles. Many have waxed nostalgic on their particular mastery of console gaming throughout its earliest stages. In recent times, however, that lightning in a bottle — so impressively captured time and time again — might’ve missed its mark.
I learned of a supposed leaked controller design of the “NX”, Nintendo’s latest entertainment platform. Details are still hazy, but my first reaction (although it was later proven the leaked images were fake) was, “This is exactly something Nintendo would design, and I don’t like it.”
Trying to make sense of my bewildered trepidation with Nintendo took me back to another time in gaming. Specifically, the year 2001 and the discontinuation of the Sega Dreamcast. It’s remembered as the first major competitor in the sixth console generation and the last piece of conventional video game hardware produced by Sega.
The Dreamcast was released just 4 years after its predecessor, the Sega Saturn. It boasted innovative features for its time: an internet connection, a web browser, the VMU — one of the first forays into a multi-screen experience that now defines Nintendo’s living room real estate. It had much beloved titles: Shenmue, Sonic Adventure, and Jet Set Radio. Yet, despite all this, it was discontinued not even a full two years after its launch. The long-time rivalry between Nintendo and Sega fired its last report.
My mind saw this collection of events, splashed in some Gestalt psychology, and all of a sudden, I saw Nintendo with the Wii U walking its proverbial mile in Sega’s now decrepit shoes: The early competitor in a new console generation; innovative console design celebrated by some, bemoaned by others; fantastic new entries in beloved franchises, and experimentation turned excitation in new ones.
But it wasn’t the games, it wasn’t the peripherals, it wasn’t the console itself that doomed Sega’s swan song of a console. The environment around the Dreamcast sounded its inevitable death knell – and today, perhaps, the same conditions are the beginning of a tricky dance for Nintendo.
The Dreamcast suffered from poor third-party support. While it produced some of the more innovative games at the time (à la Space Channel 5), many developers were wary of supporting it after its previous generation’s shortcomings. In 2001, the Dreamcast’s competitors all released now-revered games: Halo: Combat Evolved, Grand Theft Auto III, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. (And the multiplatform gem it was too late to the party for: SSX Tricky).
Barring catastrophic oversight, the NX can avoid the glaring piracy problems the Dreamcast had. Much to Nintendo shareholders’ chagrin, however, the new console will be brought into an era of entertainment in flux. Mobile gaming is booming, virtual reality is looming, and the specter of upgraded consoles lies heavy.
Sony and Microsoft have put tremendous effort into showcasing their consoles as something beyond gaming systems. Streaming, original programming, live broadcasting, social elements — whether these elements are crucial to the console experience or not, Nintendo has to play ball. Nintendo should wholeheartedly embrace multiplatform gaming, examine the true value of idiosyncratic peripherals, and earnestly implement online gaming. Let me be clear:
For the NX and Nintendo, anything that isn’t a clear and decisive step forward is a step back.
I’m weary of what might become of the fallen king of consoles. As the Dreamcast before it was crippled by a lack of support and ideas perhaps too innovative for its time, Nintendo might be forever on the outside looking in.