Blasts from the Past

How Nintendo uses the classics to sell its consoles.

In case you didn’t know, the Switch, and Nintendo as a whole, has been on a winning streak lately. The hybrid console has crossed the thirty million sold mark already and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. This is all happening after the rather disappointing sales of the Wii U. The question I found myself asking recently was how did Nintendo turn it around? And more generally, how has Nintendo managed to remain one of the most popular gaming companies over the past few decades? After watching the latest Nintendo Direct, I think I have found the answer. Or, at least, one part of the answer. Nintendo has endured over the years due to its ability to use the past to chart a successful future.

Now I know that some of you may be wondering what the heck I just said but hear me out. Nintendo, more than any other gaming company, has centered its strategy around using fan-favorite games to drive console sales several years or, in a few cases, dozens of years after they have come out. The company (and of course the people within it) have become masters at using this strategy.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this is one of the perks of Nintendo Switch Online. If you subscribe to this program, you get access to a growing library of NES and (the recently released) SNES games. Some of these games haven’t been seen or at least haven’t been readily accessible in a long time. Nintendo did release many of these games on past consoles in the form of the Virtual Console. In fact, the Virtual Console was one of the best features of both the Wii U and the 3DS. That handheld console in particular has a ridiculous amount of classic games on it. Side note: I would actually prefer being able to buy these games individually on the Switch instead of paying a subscription fee but I digress.

My point is that Nintendo is leveraging its massive library of classic games as a selling point for the Switch (and past consoles). And it seems to be working given the excitement I see about it in the comments online. Now, could Nintendo do a better job of releasing more titles on the Switch? Yes, it certainly could (*cough* GameCube games *cough*) but that doesn’t stop it from being a popular service.

Another way Nintendo is using older games to sell the Switch is through the large amount of ports that have come to the system. The Switch has had so many ports that it sometimes gets mocked for it. The most obvious ports in the first-party department have come over from the Wii U. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8, Pokken Tournament DX, Super Mario Bros. Wii U, and Tokyo Mirage Session #FE have received ports or will soon receive ports on the Switch. These games have all padded the Switch’s library and have made it an even more enticing proposition. At least for me personally since I have been out of the Nintendo loop for quite some time so it’s nice having the opportunity to play these games.

And those are just the Nintendo published games. The Switch has received all kinds of support from third-party publishers and developers. Many of these games haven’t been on a Nintendo platform in a long time or even at all. Some prominent examples include Devil May Cry 1 & 2, the Mana series (including Trials of Mana which was never released in the West before), Final Fantasy VII-XII, DOOM, several entries in the Assassin’s Creed series, and the biggest shocker of all; Deadly Premonition. Although many of these titles (let’s be honest, most of them) are on other systems, the buzz surrounding the news they would be released on Switch is substantially higher than it is around other consoles. The list I have provided here is not all-inclusive (if I did that then this post would last a hundred more pages) but it shows that Nintendo has been working hard at getting third-party content on the Switch. Oh, I almost forgot, Bethesda is releasing DOOM 64 on Switch in November which was a big surprise. I didn’t even know that there was a DOOM game on N64 but I’m excited to try it out when it releases here in a few months.

There are two titles that I want to specifically mention here before we move on that perfectly encapsulate how Nintendo uses the classics of the past to its advantage. These titles are The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and the recently announced Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. These two games are adored by fans and Nintendo is bringing them to the Switch. I mention them here instead of up above with the ports because these two titles will be much more than simple ports.

Link’s Awakening, for example, will sport a whole new art-style along with, I hope, new gameplay additions and changes while Xenoblade looks to have been totally remastered. People have even spotted new areas or at least ones that weren’t in the original game. Nintendo has been known to do this with older games in the past as well (again, look at the 3DS library). That is to say they re-release old games with a new graphical style or add new gameplay mechanics and features. These two titles demonstrate that Nintendo plans to continue re-releasing old games with new coats of paint on newer consoles.

Nintendo not only brings old titles to its modern platforms but it also iterates on these games with sequels. Nintendo’s franchises have been around for ages and people continue to buy these games in droves. Although each entry in a given series has similar elements or themes to those released in the past, Nintendo is fairly good (usually) at adding new elements or changing up the formula with new releases. A few recent examples are The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses. All of these games moved their respective series’ forward while also celebrating their past. In this way, Nintendo has ensured that these series’ will be successful and popular for years to come (at least I hope so).

This isn’t even mentioning all of the games coming out over the next couple of months that continue this tradition; Luigi’s Mansion 3, Pokémon Sword and Shield, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons to name just a few. Although no one really knows if these will be any good since they haven’t come out yet, chances are they will be well-received by the community since they are all part of long-running and well-established series’. These are all easily recognizable brands and Nintendo has done a lot of work ensuring that they stay that way.

Perhaps the ultimate (get it!) expression of this strategy is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. For those ignorant souls out there, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a fighting game that has to have the most diverse lineup of characters of all time (I haven’t personally verified this but I assume it’s true). And it doesn’t just contain Nintendo characters either. SSBU even has characters from a few of Nintendo’s old rivals (Sonic from SEGA and the soon-to-be added Terry Bogard from SNK) and companies which are currently its rival (Microsoft).

Even though many of these characters come from other companies, Nintendo takes great care when putting them into Ultimate. If you doubt what I’m saying here, just go and watch the recent video of the game’s director, Masahiro Sakurai, introducing the move-set and skills of Banjo-Kazooie. Keep in mind that these two characters are owned by Microsoft, a rival platform holder. The amount of detail in both the character design and Banjo-Kazooie’s in-game level is rather impressive. And this is true for all of the characters in Ultimate. Still don’t believe me? Well, just go and watch the reveal trailer for Terry Bogard. This is just a trailer revealing the character but Sakurai & co. put a lot of work into it. Now just imagine what they’ll do with the character in the actual game. Nintendo knows that these older characters can sell copies and thus has taken great care in treating them with respect.

Before I go, I must say that Nintendo, out of all the companies in the industry, is uniquely positioned to use this strategy. It is not only one of the oldest gaming companies still in existence today but it also has one of the most diversified first-party lineups of any of them. Additionally, it has had a close relationship, given its hardware history, with almost every other gaming company at one time or another. This gives Nintendo access to more games than any other organization. Sure, there are a few companies that are almost as old as Nintendo but Nintendo has figured out the best way to use classic games to its advantage. It is an interesting business strategy and it seems to be working just fine for Nintendo.



Thanks for reading! What other older games should Nintendo re-release on the Switch? Or which games should be remade like Link’s Awakening? Or do you just want to see new games in the series you know and love? As I said above, I would like to see Nintendo bring a few GameCube games over to the Switch. Let me know what you would like to see!

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