Playing with power: Why release the NES Classic now?

Nintendo is obviously in a very transitional phase.

When I saw the announcement for the Nintendo Classic, the first thought I had was: “This idea is coming about 10 years too late.” In 2006, if you told me an NES replica was being released with all of my childhood favorites pre-loaded, I would have wept with joy. Now? I have all of these classics on my Nintendo 3DS XL, and Wii U. Not to mention these games are readily available for anyone with an Android phone and ten minutes to kill. Not that I am condoning such piracy, but nevertheless, it is stupidly easy to do.

This begs the question: is the Nintendo Classic necessary? Sure, the system is very sleek, and attractive. I love the compact design. The controllers are clever, and it’s great that they are compatible with the Wii and Wii U, showing us Nintendo is still supporting its older consoles. In these ways, the Nintendo Classic, and its accessories, are a delight. On the other hand, this could also be viewed as a cash grab. How many times are we expected to pay to play Super Mario Bros. 3? In some ways, it makes more sense to simply buy the controller and play the classics you already own. Is nostalgia worth $60?

 

 

So why now? Why is Nintendo giving us something that we could have used years ago? There are a few possible reasons. Perhaps, even, the Nintendo Classic can give us clues into the company’s mindset for the future, and even what that future might look like.

The obvious answer to the NES Classic is the change in leadership: President of Nintendo, Tatsumi Kimishima. It is normal to have a pretty big shake up when a company comes under new leadership. We can see this change with mobile releases like Pokemon Go, and definitely with the NES Classic. As a first move under new leadership, it would make sense to do something that will generate revenue. Nintendo is, at the very least, capitalizing on consumer’s nostalgia, which is nothing new. Nintendo has always used nostalgia to appeal to consumers through their IP, marketing and merchandise. However, this is the first time Nintendo has actually re-released a home console.

Not only would a release like this be a sure-fire success, it would also spark interest in Nintendo’s legacy. Nostalgia is a powerful force, and the NES Classic is not the only recent official release that provokes this feeling. Right after taking down a non-licensed visual compendium for the NES, Nintendo announced their own official coffee table book. Called “Playing with power”, the book contains artwork, interviews, and advertisements all from an era when Nintendo was on top. The book itself looks like an NES cartridge. This product has, literally, been tailor-made to remind us of days past, before the Gamecube, Wii and Wii U, which are considered by some to be the start of Nintendo’s downward slope in public favor. This was an era before Nintendo became synonymous with gimmicks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what is the message here? Well, the past is certainly on Nintendo’s mind, and they seem to want consumers to know that. However, Kimishima has not given up on the Nintendo of the Satoru Iwata era either, as is evident with mobile apps like Miitomo. Honestly, it feels like Kimishima’s attempting an even split: Working towards the future, but honoring the past. Look at this quote from Kimishima during a 2015 Interview with TIME, when talking about Shigeru Miyamoto’s and Genyo Takeda’s primary roles as “Fellows” in the company:

“With respect to Mr. Miyamoto and Mr. Takeda, really what we want to do with the whole fellowship position in the organization is to leverage all of that knowledge and all of that experience they have, to really look at the future of Nintendo, to bring that creative force into crafting and developing what we are going to be in the future. And I’m not talking about just the next year or two, but the future, and you can hear the capital ‘F’ there I think.”

The future. That is a big stressor for Nintendo right now. What is interesting is how the future connects with the experience of Miyamoto and Takeda. They will be the company’s “creative force” going forward. Shigeru Miyamoto, obviously, is the father of Nintendo and is one of the most recognized figures in the videogame industry. He basically invented the 2-D platformer with the original Super Mario Bros. for the NES, and created some of our most beloved childhood memories. Takeda is equally impressive as the man who developed Punch-Out!!, the ability to save game-states within a Nintendo Cartridge, and the introduction of the analog stick to the Nintendo 64 controller.

Both men are responsible for important Nintendo milestones, steeped in company history, but are also in charge of crafting Nintendo’s creative future. Maybe this is crucial to understanding Nintendo’s present mind-set: Crafting the future by looking to the past. The two ideas seem, to me, intertwined right now, and it feels like Nintendo is trying to make that clear to consumers.

Another possible reason for all of the NES-centric announcements is to prepare us for the Nintendo NX. This is pure speculation, of course, but it is interesting to consider. Thinking about the NES Classic and a book shaped like a cartridge definitely makes me think of exactly that: Cartridges. As it happens, a pretty large rumor going around is that the NX will bring back cartridge based games. Is Nintendo giving us clues that the NX will be somewhat retro in form? Recently, specs for the NX leaked online, detailing a portable system, with two detachable controllers, that can also be connected to a TV. This would make sense for Nintendo to do: Marry their handheld market to that of their home-console.

However, the description for this system sounds a bit familiar too. The Nintendo Famicom also featured two docked controllers that could be attached and detached from ports on either side of the console. Nintendo is known to adopt features from older tech, as we have seen with Genyo Takeda’s dual-screen technology used in the original Arcade port of Punch-Out!!, which would later be used for the Nintendo DS. If Nintendo is using a design choice from the Famicom, and possibly cartridges, could we expect to see a system more retro in design? This would be the perfect marriage of past and present: A retro design and feel, reminding gamers of Nintendo at their best, all combined with a solid handheld, which are Nintendo’s meal ticket.

 

Of course, this is all just conjecture. I have no proof, and the current rumors could be just those: rumors. Will there be more calls to the past from Nintendo before the release of the NX? We will just have to wait and find out. Whatever the NX ends up being, it seems a sure thing that Nintendo is, once again, playing with power. That’s a good thing.