2014 was to be the year of the next generation. After eight years the longest console generation ever came to a close in 2013, and the next generation began. Sony released their Playstation 4, and Microsoft their Xbox One. A market hungry for new consoles snapped up the latest systems faster than ever before. Sales went through the roof dispelling growing fears console gaming was dying. Even now PS4 sales outpace the Wii. New consoles in hand the community anxiously waited for 2014 when the next generation would truly start. But things didn’t go as planned. Instead of a seamless online social experience we had online functionality that failed to work on some the years biggest releases – even Halo: Master Chief Collection succumbed to issues. Instead of awesome new experiences we had a holiday season full of games that simply didn’t work. And what released was only half what we expected after many of the most anticipated names like Arkham Knight and The Order 1886 were delayed to 2015.
It was to this backdrop of disappointment that one company flourished, completely unexpectedly – Nintendo. Since the release of it’s latest iteration of home console hardware, Wii U, Nintendo had been almost unfairly discounted from the console race. Uninterested in matching it’s peers in hardware power or online capabilities Nintendo had retreated to the basement embracing their role of eccentric toy-maker, a kooky third wheel in the console race. It was a tactic that had once worked well for them. Last time they energetically burst through the basement door and excitedly slammed down their latest creation on top of the families breakfast they were met with wonder. The Wii was a revelation, it put Nintendo on the map in the mind of demographics rarely interest in gaming: Older folk, middle aged women and to a certain extent girls in general. They expanded the market beyond what anyone was used to, they had revolutionised the console space.
In 2012 however, when the Wii U was thrust onto the families breakfast they slowly raised their collective heads unimpressed. What was this device that looked so familiar, but now had an archaic looking tablet attached to it? The market who Nintendo introduced to gaming had left them, moved on to phones and tablets; they no longer cared for the absent toy-maker fiddling away in the basement. With Wii U sales scarcely worth mentioning; dwarfed by the sales of Playstation and Xbox, Nintendo’s home console looked pushed into irrelevance. Third parties wouldn’t touch it, its’ last generation hardware made it unappealing to just about anyone and every casual observer thought it was just a Wii add on. Wii U looked doomed. Then 2014 through hard-work, and appealing to fans, Nintendo changed their stars.
Whenever new consoles launch they almost always experience content drought. PS4 and Xbox One experienced this during 2014, thanks to a considerable amount of AAA holiday games being pushed back to early 2015. Wii U itself was no stranger to content drought, for the first year of its life the volume of offerings was embarrassing. So when the new generation was finding it’s feet Nintendo was preparing a battle plan, a master strategy to fight into relevance in the last window they had before PS4 and Xbox One hit their stride. 2014 was the first year Nintendo really brought content to the Wii U, hard. Nintendo got behind their failing home console; committed to providing consumers with as many reasons to buy a Wii U as humanly possible. Their efforts have paid dividends, the Wii U’s library is now more vibrant than ever but this was an uphill battle; one that started way back in January.
Nintendo started the year on a solid, if quiet note. Wii Fit made the jump to Wii U in January bringing the popular fitness franchise to the next generation was sure to grab the attention of casual fans. Seemingly though Wii Fit U failed to recapture its audience. The final piece of evidence casual fans were gone? Come February Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze arrived on the system marking the first big AAA game for Wii U in 2014. Received positively across the board Tropical Freeze helped capitalise on the interest in Wii U following Super Mario 3D World’s release into critical admiration during Holiday 2013. March saw nothing of note come to Wii U. In this time Sony and Microsoft both fired their big guns. Infamous Second Son came to PS4 and Titanfall to Xbox One. Both performed well, but were viewed by their community as disappointments, they had a lot hype to live up too and didn’t fully deliver. As early next generation titles rarely do. Nintendo got lucky, their quiet start wasn’t written off as it might well have been
Moving in to April-June the big games for Xbox One and PS4 were Watch_Dogs and Wolfenstien. Watch_Dogs was poised for nearly two years before its release as the definitive next generation game; the reason consumers needed a new box. With such high expectations it’s not surprising the game failed to live up. By no stretch a bad game Watch_Dogs was very good, but not the Masterpiece we expected. An earlier announced delay of the game for Wii U now didn’t seem to matter, Nintendo wasn’t missing out on the best game of the year. Wolfenstein too was good, but came and went with little fanfare. PS4 scored Transistor from Super Massive Games on the indie front, but it failed to reach the levels of success that progenitor Bastion had years ago.
With the next generation line-up being good, but unable to meet unrealistically high expectation Nintendo had a chance to seize some respect. And they did just that. Starting April with NES Remix 2 Nintendo began attracting more interest from fans of retro gamers. But that was not the reason for their success – it was Mario Kart 8. With the last instalment selling over 35 million copies on Wii MK8 was set to blow up the install base of Wii U up by millions. Which it didn’t. Wii U sales rose, but not by millions. Mario Kart 8 did sell millions of copies to those who had already adopted Wii U’s and became one of the tent pole releases of the year. We even named it Game of The Year 2014. MK8 was a fantastic game, and since everyone had been focusing on their new systems that came as a surprise. People began to pay attention – Nintendo had the best game of the year so far.
Then in Summer, from June – August Nintendo went silent. Nearly nothing was released on Wii U. During this time PS4 and Xbox One continued steadily expanding their libraries. Last generation games made their way across as HD ports at a maddening rate: The Last of Us Remastered, Diablo III Ultimate Edition and Minecraft all made the jump to next generation. A few new games that didn’t receive massive critical success released too including: Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare, Valiant Hearts and Transformers all came out. They weren’t mind blowing releases, but Sony and Microsoft were releasing more than Nintendo. One game alone saved Nintendo’s summer: Shovel Knight. The love letter to retro gaming staggered many, for some it was game of the year. Now Nintendo had managed to produce two GoTY quality games for their platform, and the battle for the year was just beginning.
In September the story really begins, so to avoid text overload you can check out part two here – once it’s ready.