The Highs And Lows Of Nintendo’s 2016

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2016 will go down as one of the most divisive and despairing years in recent memory, and our site’s favorite game company Nintendo was not free from the highs and lows of the year. For every triumph, there was a stumble in the company’s year. As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back at the highs and lows (the best and the worst) of Nintendo’s year. It’s everything that mattered, caused a stir with the public, and all things Pokémon.

The Highs

Pokémon’s 20th anniversary: Pokémon’s original Japanese launch was 20 years ago, and Nintendo and The Pokémon Company celebrated the occasion in style. Throughout the entire year, fans could download Mythical Pokémon to their games, revisit the classic trilogy that started it all, experience Pokémon Go bringing the creatures to the ‘real world’, and watch special anime shorts that retell classic moments in Pokémon lore, all in the name of celebrating one of gaming’s most storied franchises. Pokémon Sun and Moon, the latest proper entries in the series, capped the anniversary off in tremendous style. It’s safe to say that those rascally Pokémon ran away with 2016.

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Pokémon Go is a social phenomenon like no game before it: Speaking of Pokémon, the Augmented Reality game Pokémon Go finally launched around the world in July, and blew up like no mobile game before it. The prospect of ‘catching’ the original 150 Pokémon in the wild with a mobile phone was a can’t-miss prospect for millions of fans. People young and old rediscovered the franchise thanks to Pokémon Go, leading to unprecedented financial gains for Nintendo and increased sales of legacy titles (and Sun and Moon later). It was a treat for Pokémon fans to watch the world fall in love with the franchise again, like it was 1999 all over.

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Zelda: Breath of the Wild captures eyes and ears at E3 2016: The long-delayed, highly-anticipated Legend of Zelda for Wii U finally made its public debut at E3 this June, and it was surely worth the wait. Officially subtitled Breath of the Wild, everyone took notice of the game’s expansive scope and scale, and its open-ended exploration that took Zelda fans off the training rails for the first time in years. It was the sole game at Nintendo’s E3 booth, which was just enough to win BotW multiple Game of E3 awards and become the most-anticipated Nintendo game in ages.

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Nintendo’s mobile efforts off to a good start: After much pomp and circumstance, Nintendo’s initiative in mobile apps finally kicked off in March, with the launch of social app Miitomo. The real story however was the surprise reveal (and subsequent launch) of Super Mario Run on Apple’s stage in September, bringing Super Mario onto your smartphone at last. Players may gripe at Mario Run’s price, but the auto-runner has been a definitive success for Nintendo. Together, these apps could generate a solid new pillar of Nintendo’s business. All eyes look forward to 2017 and the upcoming Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing apps.

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Nintendo Switch gets positive pre-release hype: At last, Nintendo’s mysterious NX was unveiled in October as the Nintendo Switch. In contrast with the puzzled reveal of Wii U in 2011, the Switch has garnered a much more positive reception. The simple appeal of a home console that can be fully taken on the go feels like what the Wii U should have been from the start. With more details about launch to come in a January live stream, we could be seeing a lot of players trying to have a good time come March 2017.

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Nintendo partners with Universal Parks and Resorts: Much like with Nintendo’s mobile games, the company’s collaboration with Universal Studios was positive news that enticed old and new fans. While announced in 2015, this year marked the first solid news of Nintendo’s vision for the attractions planned. Super Nintendo World, filled with the promise of Nintendo games brought to theme park life, will open its gates at Universal parks worldwide by 2020 (in time for the Tokyo Olympic Games). Better get your tickets now.


The Lows

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Nintendo kills off fan games: AM2R. Pokémon Uranium. No Mario’s Sky. They and many others had one thing in common: they were shut down by Nintendo’s DMCA notices. If 2015 was a rough year for YouTube creators wanting to cover Nintendo, this year was a galling one for fans to express their love of Nintendo IP through self-made games (some games taking almost a decade alone to finish). Not even an online upload of old Nintendo Power magazines was safe from Nintendo’s legal eye. Nintendo is within their right to protect their properties, but the brute force with which these fan creations were removed was disappointing nonetheless.

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Pokémon Go has a rocky launch window: While Pokémon Go may have captured the world’s attention, the period in which it blew up was plagued with a few, ahem, problems. We’re talking about server overload kicking players out of the game, freezes and bugs, the trouble with a tracking system, cheaters and bots: the list goes on. Developer Niantic took forever to fix the worst problems, all while introducing painful compromises to the core gameplay (disabling Pokémon spawns while in a car, even as a passenger, being an egregious example). As of December, Pokémon Go has shaped up to be a much better performing game than when it first launched, but at what cost of its player count?

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The Wii U dies a slow, painful death: After the first half of 2016, Nintendo has pretty much abandoned their current home console. The only first-party release of note in the latter part of the year was Paper Mario: Color Splash in October, leaving the Wii U without a big holiday tent pole release to follow, and leaving its userbase feeling rather empty. Far from becoming another Wii-sized success, the Wii U will be cemented as Nintendo’s worst-selling home console ever. The company’s silence on the system’s future, and their decision to stop manufacturing the console this year, speaks volumes about what they think of the Wii U: not much. At the very least, they have a sense of humor about the failed system.

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Nintendo shortages, especially the NES Classic Edition ruin a lot of Christmas’: So Christmas is Christmas, and there’s always that one hot holiday item to buy. More people than Nintendo ever imagined wanted the NES Classic Edition micro console, but it was nigh impossible to find in stores anywhere. Making matters worse, the New Nintendo 3DS, 2DS, and the Wii U were completely wiped out from stores this Christmas. Nintendo hardware became impossible to find across the entire country, something almost never seen in previous holidays (the Wii exempting).

Whether this was intentional on Nintendo’s part to artificially increase demand or a means to clear out their inventory (in order to produce the you-know-what in time for next March), we have no idea. These shortages did achieve their job to ruin many a Christmas morning for Nintendo hopefuls.

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Zelda: Breath of the Wild gets delayed…again: ‘Tis the story, morning glory, you’ve heard before: Zelda gets delayed a lot. The Wii U chapter in the Legend of Zelda series was originally announced at E3 2014, slated to launch in 2015. That never happened as Zelda Wii U got pushed into 2016. Cut to April this year, Nintendo delays Zelda a third time, now with an added Switch port (NX at the time of announcement). As if the Wii U wasn’t dead enough, it will never have it’s own exclusive Zelda adventure.

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Star Fox Zero divides the fans and critics: The long dormant Star Fox franchise made its return in a new game after a decade’s absence (discounting remakes), and the results were a mixed bag to be sure. While some loved it, most players and critics disliked the game’s combination of motion controls and dual screen views between the TV and Game Pad. In contrast with the critical highs of Star Fox 64, Star Fox Zero has been called “unintuitive“, “a turd“, and even a “disaster“, not exactly the triumphant return most were expecting. With lower-than-expected sales, the fate of Team Star Fox hangs once again in limbo.

No cross-buy for Super NES games on New Nintendo 3DS: Perhaps as a measure to make the New 3DS more desirable to consumers, Super NES games launched exclusively as a New 3DS Virtual Console-exclusive. While playing these games on the go is great, Nintendo critically neglected to offer those who already purchased those games any incentive to re-buy them all. Even if you had purchased Super Mario World with the same NNID on Wii U, you still have to purchase it on New 3DS at full price. Hopefully this sort of cross-buy is fixed with the Switch, because in 2016, there was no excuse to gouge loyal consumers like this.

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Metroid’s 30th anniversary marked with crickets: While Pokémon got all the love in 2016 (and some for Zelda too), another prominent Nintendo franchise, Metroid, did not. The classic sci-fi series marked it’s 30th anniversary with…not much beyond Metroid Prime: Federation Force. The first Metroid release in six years didn’t even do well, posting low sales worldwide and reinforcing the neglect Nintendo has shown towards the Metroid series.

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Leaks, leaks everywhere: Nintendo’s mascot Mario may be a plumber by trade, but he’s sure been unable to stop the fast pace of leaks coming out of Nintendo HQ this year. Through multiple sources, we learned the secrets of the Nintendo Switch, the new Paper Mario long before its announcement, and some Pokémon Go events before they went public. Of course, there were plenty of fake rumors designed to capitalize on the hype of starved fans, but the batting average of rumors that turned out to be true was unusually high for a company as secretive as Nintendo.

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Still no Mother 3 in the west: 2016 marked the 10th anniversary of Mother 3, the Japan-only conclusion to the Mother trilogy, aka Earthbound in the west. We got the original Mother on Wii U in North America last year, and rumors made it seem for sure like Mother 3 would be available for purchase in the west this year. Needless to say, that did not happen. Oh well, maybe 2017? Until then, fans will have to settle for the fan-translation.

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About The Author

Editor-in-Chief

When he's not writing about or playing all the great Nintendo games, Alex Irish works by day at a local book emporium, and the rest of the time, he illustrates and writes online. His favorite video game franchise is Pokemon, but his favorite video game is Resident Evil 4. He also can tell you everything about animation history, from past to present.