The brands of Nintendo consoles - The Lakitu Packet

The brands of Nintendo consoles - The Lakitu Packet

PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5. Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X. Nintendo 64, Nintendo GameCube, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Switch. It is enough to read these names in sequence to understand how much difference there is between the Nintendo nomenclature and that of the current competitors: in particular Sony, which in home consoles has always changed generation "simply" by raising the number associated with the platform of the moment.

Nintendo Switch OLED: the most recent Nintendo console It is certainly not a simple matter what we are going to face, and more than proposing solutions we will raise doubts. First of all it must be considered that Nintendo has been on the market for (at least) two generations before the competition; if they had considered the model of others more adequate, however, it would have been possible to reverse the course. But no: very often the Kyotese company, by changing console, has also changed brand.

It is a modus operandi, as we shall see, with pros and cons; a way of evolving which, among other things, will be increasingly difficult to adopt in the future. At first glance it would be easy to argue that Nintendo, whenever it faces a failure, or a lack of success, tends to change the identity - and the brand - of its consoles. Yet there are various exceptions; the most notable of which, without a doubt, is the Nintendo DS. An experimental platform, with two screens, a stylus and a touch screen, which replaced a historically winning and widespread brand, such as that of Game Boy (we write brand, but it would be more correct to say brand).

The name Nintendo has always been present in each of the consoles mentioned. But in most cases, exactly as with the Switch - or Wii - it was subordinated to that of the platform of a particular era. This, in part, means eliminating the past: throwing oneself into a new project, with a new identity, without fear of changing and innovating. Let's try to identify how many times this "reset" has occurred in Nintendo history, and when - and if - it will happen again.

Nintendo, Nintendo 64 and Game Boy

Nintendo: the logo of the company, unchanged for decades except for the color Let's start our report from the first actual Nintendo console, the Famicom, known in the West as NES (Nintendo Entertainment System). It would be interesting to investigate the difference between the Japanese name and the Italian one, but it deserves a special one apart; here we will limit ourselves to pointing out a fundamental divergence between the two publications. In Japan, the name of the platform (Family Computer) and not that of the company (Nintendo) was put in the foreground. In the West the opposite happened, with Nintendo in plain sight, and the Entertainment System in the background; it is no coincidence that vulgarly - in Japan - it went down in history as Famicom, and here simply as "Nintendo".

That console lifted the video game market and revitalized the industry, effectively creating a new one . As the undisputed dominator of the market, for the successor Nintendo chose a name in continuity with the past: Super Famicom in Japan, Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the West. It was not an iconic and synthetic "two", it was not an identical solution to what Sony would have adopted, but it was very similar. Nintendo also won that generation, but SEGA proved to be a serious and fierce contender, both commercially and qualitatively. Moreover, SNES sold much less than NES: it triumphed, but it marked a step backwards in terms of global hegemony and prestige.

NES: the first Nintendo home console, known in Japan as Famicom In the next generation, for the first once, there was a partial detachment from the past. Let's say partial because it wasn't drastic, but in any case Nintendo, perhaps sensing the three-dimensional leap as a new era, opted for a clear change of course. It would have been different if the Nintendo 64 had been named as originally intended, namely Ultra Famicom (in Japan) and Nintendo Ultra 64 (in the West). Famicom, Super Famicom, Ultra Famicom: the line would have been clear. But no: a number was chosen that indicated the bits, to underline the greater power compared to the rivals, and a very colorful logo (all the primary ones plus green), ascribable to the inside of a cube.

Con this platform, for the first time in the home console field, Nintendo gave a single name to its system: Nintendo 64 was such also in Japan. Leaving aside the term "Famicom", as owner of the market, was an extremely courageous and atypical choice: in the West "64" was chosen instead of the progressive "Ultra", in Japan the term Famicom was even set aside. To make you understand the scope of the decision, in Japan we still speak of "Famicom generation" to indicate those who were young at the end of the 1980s. Nintendo 64 didn't do as well as PlayStation, and in Kyoto they decided to vary more. We will talk about it in the next paragraph.

Between NES and SNES, at the sunset of the 80s, Nintendo had also released a portable console that would have achieved some success: Game Boy. Also in this case, given the prestige of NES, a less courageous solution could have been adopted: Famicom Pocket (and Nintendo Pocket), for example. We can hypothesize two credible reasons for the choice. The first is that the two platforms had not been developed by the same internal team, and at the time between the various divisions there was - by the will of Yamauchi (if you don't know who he is, we talked about it in this short biography) - a rivalry rather marked. The second, perhaps more plausible, is that if the Game Boy had failed it would not have affected the prestige of Famicom and NES anyway. The new brand proved to be a triumph, and would last for years.

Nintendo GameCube, Wii and DS

Nintendo Wii: one of the most drastic turning points in the company's history As we anticipated earlier , given the defeat at the hands of Sony, Nintendo tried to take a new path: the GameCube logo was still attributable inside a cube, but otherwise there was no evidence that this was the successor of Nintendo 64 The brand was more serious, the look completely different, the support (a mini DVD) also. The pad took a less extreme shape, and the characteristic and alienating tricorn of the Nintendo 64 was abandoned. The result, however, was even worse than in the previous generation, and Nintendo was also overtaken by the Xbox.

Meanwhile, the market laptop continued to give enormous satisfaction. Nintendo dominated in that area as much as Sony dominated in the home one. Game Boy built an entire line of platforms within its own brand: Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Color. Even at the moment of the generational leap, despite the enormous technological and morphological differences (we switched to a colored screen at 16: 9, with eight keys instead of four, and from a vertical to a horizontal format), continuity was rewarded. The successor to the Game Boy Color was dubbed the Game Boy Advance, which in turn dominated the market - essentially without major rivals - and had two brothers, the Game Boy Advance SP (more serious than the original) and the Game Boy Micro. There was no need, at the end of the generation, to alter a winning brand; yet, the dreaded Sony was about to invade this territory as well. Nintendo would not have been caught unprepared.

Nintendo Wii: golden edition, with Wiimote attached If there were so many possible paths in the portable field, in the home market Nintendo was in a tight spot: the path of progressive descent (every platform had sold less than the previous one) seemed unstoppable. Something strong and drastic was needed: Nintendo Wii separated clearly from its predecessors, but perhaps in no field did it stand out as in that of branding. Wii was a simple and intuitive name, as essential as the console it represented, and the Nintendo brand went completely into the background, even as regards colors (the typical red of the company was abandoned): the same commercials, of exceptional lucidity, focused on sell the product to middle-class families, to people of any age. Traditional gamers were only a small part, and not the main part, of the company's marketing.

When the Nintendo DS was announced, some thought Nintendo had gone mad. Leaving the ever-winning and world-famous Game Boy brand to throw oneself on a two-screen console (and with a stylus) seemed to some a delusional plan (and not without reasons). Iwata was wise enough to present DS as the "third pillar" of the company, which would coexist with the Game Boy and Nintendo GameCube: a project that never really existed, but which would have allowed us to return to the Game Boy without too many problems in case of failure (a a bit like in the days of Virtual Boy).

Nintendo: the company's signature red was abandoned in the Wii / DS era Well, Nintendo DS not only beat Game Boy, it became the second best-selling console in always (behind PlayStation 2). To paraphrase Steve Jobs, "if you don't eat yourself, someone else will eat you." Nintendo probably feared that Sony would conquer the pocket market exactly as it happened with the home market, and decided to dare: after a few months of hesitation, Nintendo DS found a very strong identity (also thanks to the release of the Lite edition). DS catered to casual gamers as much as Wii, and together they achieved a staggering 250 million consoles sold - something unimaginable, something probably unrepeatable.

3DS, Wii U and Switch

Nintendo 3DS: Robin Williams holds the console together with his daughter Zelda Nintendo won the two console wars of the generation: with Wii the home one, with DS the portable one. Both, however, were extremely difficult brands to carry on. Both because mobile gaming was booming, and was very effective in stealing occasional users from dedicated systems, and because migrating casual gamers from one platform to another was very, very complicated.

And indeed Nintendo went into total confusion, carrying on both brands in a chaotic and disordered way. The Nintendo DS successor was called 3DS, and based its marketing - at least initially - on the platform's three-dimensional glasses-free functionality. A very fascinating feature for nerds that however, until now, has never been able to impose itself on a large scale: even in this case, Nintendo changed gears only by lowering the price of the platform, and through exceptional publications (Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7). Despite never being able to hit the Nintendo DS numbers, despite initially unclear whether it was a successor or an alternative model, Nintendo 3DS still had impressive sales - especially in Japan.

Nintendo Wii U: The Least Selling Home Console In History Nintendo Wii U had similar but even more dramatic problems. Just like with 3DS, it was clear that Nintendo didn't want to abandon a successful brand, but didn't know exactly how to carry it out. Wii U had almost nothing in common with Wii, yet it was forced as its successor: in retrospect, it would have been wiser to break away completely. In any case, where Wii was cynical and lucid and consistent in proposing its offer, Wii U was chaotic and disorganized. Again, the mass at first did not understand if it was a new version of the console, a new generation of platforms or an alternative product to the previous one.

Nintendo Switch, for various reasons, represented the best possible choice but, at the same time, it was also a necessity. The differences between pocket and household products had become smaller and smaller, and by now they created only problems; in addition to this, Nintendo was no longer able, precisely in quantitative terms, to support two consoles at the same time. Unifying the two worlds was the only viable path: an obligatory path crossed in the best possible way. And that is with a clear aesthetic, a strong brand, a return to Nintendo red: Switch was a sum of everything that the company had been up to that moment, and within itself it paid homage to every previous platform. Including occasional market, which has not been abandoned, but has simply been overshadowed (we had talked about the current relationship with casual gamers in this episode of the column).

Nintendo Switch: the Nintendo hybrid released in 2017 In conclusion, Nintendo has faced the challenge of changing brands much more often than its rivals: sometimes out of necessity, following a failure, sometimes for courageous decisions (Nintendo DS in the first place). History tells us that the Kyotese company, in the moment of change, has not always been successful: however, it has always been better at launching new brands than at extending existing ones. SNES sold less than NES, Game Boy Advance less than Game Boy, 3DS less than DS, Wii U infinitely less than Wii.

For this reason the next generation of consoles will be a great challenge: Nintendo is unlikely to abandon, given the success and prestige, the Switch brand. Designing a direct follow-up, for the type of audience, is not as difficult as in the Wii (and DS) era: however, given the precedents, it still represents a risk. Is it time to follow the Sony model and, for once, limit yourself to a "simple" Switch 2? We will discuss this in the next few months.

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