2015 was a perfect example of the roller coaster ride that is Nintendo, with the company at times achieving dazzling heights, yet also unfortunately affected by truly sad lows. But despite annual predictions of the Mario makers’ inevitable doom, Nintendo soldiers on, experimenting with the kind of bizarre and joyful creativity that both elates and frustrates their millions of fans all over the world. The successes and disappointments resulted in quite a memorable year, whether it was some incredible games leading the last heroic charge of the Wii U’s lifetime or the tragic passing of an industry legend. Here’s a look at both the good and the bad Nintendo’s 2015 had to offer:
Was there any brighter spot in 2015 for Nintendo than this strange new game involving half-squid/half-human kids running around covering the world in ink? Splatoon has gone from E3 curiosity to a place on many Best of the Year lists, trophies won for Best Multiplayer and Best Shooter at the Game Awards, and the start of an electric new franchise that has come out of nowhere and changed the rules of what a massively popular genre can be with some of the freshest ideas in years. Releasing at the May for a console with relatively low install base, Splatoon went on to shift more than a million copies worldwide within its first month, and to this date has sold north of 3 million, good enough for a spot in the top 10 best-selling SKUs this year, the only original IP to earn such a distinction. With loads of support in the form of DLC and organized tournament events, Nintendo has created a content-rich sensation that keeps players returning over and over again. Splatoon, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Poor Console Sales
While sales of the Wii U did increase slightly during the months its major games released, overall it was still a fairly lackluster year, with the console now lagging significantly behind its competitors despite a year’s head start. Over 11 million units have been moved off the shelves, leaving the Wii U in a distant third, and surely in its final days with the NX looming on the horizon. The 3DS also suffered weaker sales than the previous year, though that could be attributed to a weaker games lineup in 2015, and overall it has done very well across its lifetime. On the bright side, the software library’s attach rate for certain Nintendo titles has been astoundingly good, like with Splatoon, and in some cases has maintained an unheard-of 50+percent (Mario Kart 8). The Wii U was kept alive in 2015 by some amazing titles, but Nintendo probably can’t help but imagine what sales would’ve looked like with a larger install base, and will be looking to turn things around with its next machine.
In the mean time, Nintendo did what Nintendo does best, which is put out great games that sell. While overall sales were down a bit from last year, according to VG Chartz (not always spot on, but reliable enough for these purposes), software on Nintendo consoles occupied 20 of the top 100 best-selling SKUs this year, with newcomers like Majora’s Mask 3D, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer and Mario Party 10 making the cut alongside stalwarts like Super Smash Bros (for both Wii U and 3DS) and Mario Kart 8 showing fantastic staying power. Factor in that many of the overall top sellers on the list had multiple SKUs spread across many consoles, and as publishers Nintendo and its partners did quite well.
Super Mario Maker
Nintendo needed to demonstrate the utility and possibility inherent in the Wii U’s gamepad, and who better suited to the task than a gaming icon celebrating his 30th year since resurrecting an industry? Super Mario Maker is not only Nintendo’s gift to the gaming world, and a perfect way to showcase the appeal of the platforming plumber, but it’s also the perfect Nintendo product, designed by toymakers at heart. Easy and intuitive level-building via the gamepad’s touchscreen is the perfect combination of physical gadgetry and opportunity for endless imagination, making Super Mario Maker the gift that keeps on giving, an ocean of creativity exhibiting the weirdness of Nintendo and its fans. During the first month alone, players had concocted more than 2 million levels; trials by fire, perplexing puzzle stages, twisting mazes, annoying Rube Goldberg machines, and musings on the existential nature of a certain evil twin are just some of the kinds of fantastically inventive experiences available in the game’s online library. With over 2 million thus far in sales, Nintendo capped off 2015’s Mario party the only way the little guy knows how: in successful style.
Rest In Peace, Mr. Iwata
Unfortunately 2015 couldn’t be all celebration, and the saddest piece of news by far and away this year was the passing of Nintendo’s offbeat, endearingly charming, amazingly talented leader, Satoru Iwata. Known for his willingness to take risks on concepts like the dual-screed DS and the motion controls of the Wii, Iwata transformed Nintendo into an innovative powerhouse, a company not only committed to fun, but to relentlessly pursuing the new, and whether gamers like it or not, in the process pushing the medium forward. Mr. Iwata was the guiding force and face of the company, one whose contributions cannot be easily measured, nor whose open friendliness and popularity with both industry insiders and fans alike can be easily be forgotten. For more on this amazing man’s life and work, read Rick’s touching tribute.
Released at the end of 2014 to much speculation about the desirability and usefulness of such NFC figurines unaccompanied by a dedicated game, Nintendo has proven skeptics (like our own Aaron Santos) wrong and gone on to turn its Amiibo line into money-printing machines, leveraging its mascots’ enormous appeal and creating a sensation that has shut down entire websites. While their lack of availability and subsequent outrageous scalping prices has drawn some ire, the company stepped up its production to come closer to meeting supply, and the effort seems to have paid off. As of September, Nintendo stated it had sold a staggering 21 million units, producing a welcome healthy injection of cash into the company’s coffers. Amiibo are a gotta-have-’em-all collector’s nightmare, something hard to find that they absolutely must have- the ideal scenario for any business, and a perfect reminder of the power of Nintendo IP. With more to come in 2016, including Ryu and Bayonetta (!), Amiibo is one craze that doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon.
With unique and exclusive games like Affordable Space Adventures, FAST Racing NEO, Runbow, and Human Resource Machine, to name a few, along with a host of multi-platform indie darlings like Never Alone and The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, the Wii U had a standout year for downloadables, showcasing a string of quality and stabilizing itself as a console not only friendly to indies, but strong in them. The list goes on and on, and sure, maybe everyone in our podcast didn’t appreciate the qualities of a game like Typoman as much as I did, but no one can argue that the Nindies didn’t do at least a somewhat decent (and extremely welcome) job of filling in the many gaps between major releases, and in turn providing some of the best hours spent on the Wii U and 3DS.
The Nintendo World Championships
What started out as something less than exciting when I attended the NWC qualifiers in Maple Grove, MN turned into the biggest and best part of what Nintendo brought to this year’s E3. The 2015 Nintendo World Championships were a blast, putting some of the world’s best gamers through their paces on a trip through Nintendo games past, present, and future that culminated in one of the most jaw-dropping exhibitions of pure platforming talent, as John Numbers adeptly mastered four brutal Super Mario Maker stages cooked up by a torturous Nintendo Treehouse duo to win the title and receive his prizes from none other than Mr. Miyamoto himself. The Nintendo World Championships was a rousing success that had audiences cheering, and was an amazing way to kick off E3. Too bad the rest didn’t go as well…
E3 Falls Flat
Fans were primed, reminded of the glory days of Nintendo with the World Championships and expecting the company to follow up with a show that rewarded the faithful for their loyalty, but instead we got a less-than-impressive video of Star Fox Zero (which has since gone on to look much better), no Zelda U (on top of that, news that it would be delayed until 2016 hit like a sucker punch), and a massive outpouring of fan protests directed at the reveal and very concept of Metroid Prime: Federation Force, an outcry that has apparently sent the game into hiding, as it hasn’t been seen since. This clearly wasn’t the Metroid game people wanted, and the message came through loud and clear. The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes, while fun, didn’t exactly set the world on fire, nor quench the thirst for Zelda period, and with no big new surprise announcement, the presentation was devoid of any “wow” factor, sucking the fun out of the previous day’s triumph, and the charming muppet-like familiar faces of the presentation. Oh well; there’s always next year.
In all, 2015 had its ups and downs, its moments both high and low, and in that way it was a perfect representation of Nintendo itself. What will 2016 bring? We here at Goomba Stomp certainly can’t wait to find out.