For Nintendo 2014 was a fantastic year. And no one expected that to be the case. It was a year where next generation gaming should have dominated, moving their struggling Wii U further into irrelevance. But amazingly that didn’t happen. We already started re-telling the tale of how Nintendo came to steal 2014 last time, this time we’ll finish that story, starting at the Holiday period.
During 2014 in the run up to the Holiday period Nintendo had a relatively quiet year. Don’t mistake a quiet for a bad however, between January to August Nintendo had managed to bring two Game of The Year contenders exclusively to their console. Their first hit of the year was Mario Kart 8, the latest in Nintendo’s crazy popular racing franchise was the best installment in years sporting eye popping colorful HD visuals, online play beyond anything Nintendo had managed in the past and the ever present addictive local split screen. Mario Kart 8 was Wii U’s first killer app. Indie gem Shovel Knight followed cultivating a serious following of admirers from retro-lovers. A love letter to the NES era of gaming those with a taste for nostalgia adored it; even without cashing in on said nostalgia Shovel Knight would have been a great game.
With rivals Playstation 4 and Xbox One having a quiet first half of the year too Nintendo’s successes were noticed, even among big hitters like Titanfall and Infamous: Second Son. Holiday was now fast approaching, and to stand out in such a busy period ripe with the best next-gen had to offer Nintendo was really going to have to deliver. With a heavy dependency on exclusives, and a lack of third parties looking to develop for Wii U the consoles problem was garnering a quantity of quality games that could compete with the big boys in town. Knowing third parties had chosen to stay away Nintendo had launched an ingenious scheme, they would loan out their first party franchises to third parties they felt could deliver something unique with their brands. It was September where we’d see the fruit fruits of these partnerships.
When Nintendo revealed plans to partner with Tecmo-Koei to create Hyrule Warriors no-one really knew what to think. Based on Tecmo-Koei’s popular Dynasty Warriors series Hyrule Warriors would see Link and numerous other Legend of Zelda veterans battle through hordes of Hyrule’s monsters like chaff – a far cry from the slower paced dungeon based game-play Zelda fans were accustomed to. While Hyrule Warriors wasn’t critically lampooned it was hardly adored either. At the very least Hyrule Warriors gave Nintendo had something to put on the shelves in September that was distinctly theirs. It would pad out their game roster and give core fans something to chew on for a little while. Whatever Nintendo could have done this month would have been in vein, the Xbox One and Playstation 4 got their Juggernaut in September: Destiny.
Bungie’s first new series since Halo was pegged to be the next big thing. Part shooter, part MMO Destiny was set to be big, and it was. Bundles for Xbox One and Playstation 4 flew off shelves; Destiny became the biggest game of the year selling millions upon millions, everyone was talking about it. But the twist that no-one had expected was that Destiny talk wasn’t all positive. It turned out that next generations first flagship title of the holiday was not only divisive, it was critically average. Players argued that story was missing, the combat was repetitive and certain builds were at a clear advantage in PvP. Regardless of the issues Destiny built an impressive community, one that follows loyally today. Next-gen’s September tent-pole may have been bigger, but like Nintendo’s it was decidedly average.
In October Nintendo was once again reliant on third parties it had brought to Wii U under partnership. This time it was Platinum Games whose game was coming, but it was no Nintendo property, but their own: Bayonetta. The cult favorite had a dedicated fan-base on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 but failed to shift numbers worthy of a sequel. Nintendo decided to make fans dreams come true exclusive on Wii U, and hopefully lure some of those dedicated players to Wii U. As the name implies cult classics audiences aren’t significant, Bayonetta 2 didn’t shift consoles, but it did garner critical acclaim. Tagged as one of Platinum’s best games ever and a stellar beat ’em up Bayonetta 2 earned some Game of the Year nomination love, giving Nintendo their third GoTY contender in 2014. Next generation however was not resting.
While Playstation 4 was dependent on multiplatforms like Middle-Earth: Shadows of Mordor Xbox One was delivering impressive exclusive software of it’s own. First up Microsoft released the Master Chief Collection, an impressive bundle of all four numbered Halo games remastered for Xbox One. Halo 2 Anniversary was the jewel in the crown, a fully remade version of the game exclusive to Xbox One. Starting a trend that many were unwittingly destined to follow Master Chief’s online suite didn’t work at launch – spectacularly. Over on PS4 Driveclub had launched, a disappointing racer whose issues were exacerbated by online infrastructure that failed to work. Weeks after launch both games online systems weren’t fully repaired, fans were understandably annoyed. Even on Xbox One the fabulous Sunset Overdrive failed to garner much goodwill in the face of the problems – even though it worked fine.
Suddenly Nintendo’s years long defiance of adopting complex online infrastructure had worked to their advantage. All of their games worked, and would continue to do so with their next big Holiday game: Super Smash Bros Wii U. Delivering more than it’s portable counterpart Smash Wii U was applauded by critics and fans alike. The latest series installment was considered by many (myself included) to be the best yet. Running at a silky 60FPS and looking gorgeous Smash Wii U was yet another GOTY contender for Nintendo, and it’s minimal online worked. Nintendo found much success with the launch of their new collectible figurines Amiibo too, although their purpose had not been clearly defined they were selling like hotcakes.
For Playstation 4 and Xbox One things were about to get worse. Assassins Creed Unity had launched, not only was it received pretty poorly, and home to an unsatisfying story; it also didn’t work. Assassins Creed Unity suffered from glaring technical problems, ranging from hilarious glitches like characters missing faces, to more across the board design problems like running at less that 30 frames-per-second almost consistently. It was now becoming front page news that games were simply not working. Thankfully games like Dragon Age Inquisition and Far Cry 4 were working, and were great experiences in their own right. Regardless of their contribution the perception was more games didn’t work than did. For next generation the year was one of games not working, and missing blockbuster titles.
One companies games were working, Nintendo’s. Throughout the holiday the had delivered fantastic games, and been immune to the controversy of failing online infrastructure and improper quality assurance testing. Standing at the edge of 2015 the mad toy-maker had brought four GOTY contenders to it’s Wii U: Mario Kart 8, Shovel Knight, Bayonetta 2 and Super Smash Bros. A healthy amount by any estimation. Their console and games had worked without a hitch. They may not have sold millions, might not have created huge online communities or even made the most revolutionary games, but they had started to overcome their third party issues, released a successful toy line and dominated the local co-op market. Nintendo ended 2014 better than they had started it, which is more than Sony or Microsoft could say, and that is how Nintento came to steal 2014,