The Gamecube was the last time Nintendo was truly a contender of the never ending "console wars." During that time it was a three-way war between Nintendo's sixth generation console, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. Each system shared third party support and had their own exclusives. Metroid was in its Prime, Super Smash Bros Melee was more popular than ever, even third party game Tales of Symphonia saw critical acclaim and a cult following. Not to mention the well-received GameCube Zelda titles Wind Waker and Twilight Princess.
With a more traditional controller, great games, graphics and processing power that improved upon its predecessor (N64), the GameCube left a legacy for Nintendo consoles.
Similar to the GameCube, the Nintendo DS was also step up from its predecessor, the GameBoy Advance. The DS was fun and easy to use with an abundance of amazing first and third party games—most notably a healthy dose of RPGs such as The World Ends With You, Final Fantasy III and IV, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. Across all genres the system had no lack of games to enjoy.
When it came to the second screen, the DS's touch controls felt natural and the timing of the release for the updated model, the DSi in 2008, aligned itself perfectly with the smartphone market starting to take off. The DSi accounted for roughly 41 million of the total DS units sold.
Overall, the Nintendo DS is the best selling handheld console in history – only behind the PlayStation 2 in terms of overall console sales by just less than one million units.
The success of the GameCube and DS is attributed to understanding three key components: hardware, support, and audience, each running in tandem with the others.
When it came to the hardware, both systems were the natural evolution of their predecessors. The GameCube was a powerful console with a modernized controller; the DS offered GameBoy fans something new with the addition of a second screen with touch control – a change that didn't alienate those familiar with it's predecessor.
With the hardware being something familiar to both gamers and developers, third party studios showed support and contributed greatly to the library of both systems. As a result of having both familiar hardware and support, Nintendo was able to draw in their regular hardcore gaming audience.
Initially, the Wii continued the pattern of estimable sales shared among Nintendo consoles with over 100 million units sold. Unfortunately, it was mainly just the sales and the included game Wii Sports that warranted any praise for the console. Any success beyond this was illusionary, as much of the Wii's life cycle would be spent struggling for the attention of both gamers and third party developer support.
If the DS and GameCube were the esteemed teachers, the Wii was a failing student. Rather than continuing down an already successful path, the Wii did the opposite, throwing a spanner in the works of a powerhouse machine.
The Wii's failure started with hardware that focused on motion control – a method of play that was not just unfamiliar to Nintendo, but any previous console. This new approach threw out the traditional "sit down and play" offerings of all previous hardware and replaced it with an untested play style. Ultimately, this would force developers to create games for foreign hardware or develop for other platforms. The consequence was a console with a lack of support.
Sure, Metroid Prime 3 and Super Smash Bros Brawl were excellent, but new third party titles remained largely absent. When the occasional third party game would see a release, rarely would it make proper use of the Wii's motion controls and in turn would receive poor reception, causing the number of developers willing to produce titles for the console to dwindle.
Nintendo didn't seem to mind any of this, instead placing emphasis on the system's backwards compatibility with GameCube titles, first party games, and the Virtual Console's plethora of retro titles. But all of their efforts left the heart of a yearning hardcore gamer empty.
Unfortunately, Nintendo failed to empathize with their previous core demographic and continued to push their marketing towards a casual gaming audience. Marketing often showing grandparents and kids playing some variation of Wii Sports together. Nintendo made the bold effort of trying to capitalize on a new audience, but neglected what had made them successful in the past.
Nintendo's strategy was insufficient and the response was felt with poor sales for the Wii U with just barely over 13 million units sold. There was no new Metroid, and the one new Zelda title coming to the console, Breath of the Wild, launches with a Collector's Edition exclusively for the Switch, and at the end of the consoles lifecycle.
With the Switch, Nintendo proved they learned what was necessary to make their consoles great again. As with majority of its predecessors, the Switch is innovative yet familiar; it combines the portability of the DS with the traditional home console play of the GameCube. Nintendo's shift in mindset is evident in the Switch reveal—the first time we see someone playing the console, they are sitting down rather than standing, a stark contrast to the marketing of the Wii. Having this as the first image makes the console immediately relatable.
The familiarity of the hardware not only makes it more appealing to gamers but also developers. At the Switch reveal event, third party support was at the forefront of Nintendo's mind. They demoed trailers for new games from Atlus and SquareEnix, and paraded representatives from EA and other companies coming out to show support for the system. Thankfully, a lack of third party games doesn't seem to be an issue this time around.
What's most interesting about the Switch is that Nintendo is showing that it recognizes a shift in the traditional gaming audience: more and more people are choosing to play games on mobile devices such as smartphones. People with busy lives are opting to play in shorter bursts on the go. The Switch not only acknowledges this but caters to it, with the portability of the console allowing gamers to enjoy a premium console experience wherever they go.
It took Nintendo the better part of a decade, but they finally realized what their console needs to be. While there's no guarantee the gaming giant will win back the full support of the hardcore fan base it neglected, this fact is clear: Nintendo has released a home console that is making the right Switch.