Let's face facts, dear reader – Nintendo is the reason video games are at all popular in America. After the market crashed back in 1983, if not for Nintendo's shrewd marketing of their Nintendo Entertainment System as more of a 'toy' than a 'video game', as many investors still thought of video games as a dirty word, we may never have recovered from the implosion of the home console market. Luckily, the NES was the right [ahem] toy at the right time and the American video game industry has been trucking along steadily ever since. And while Nintendo has seen its share of ups and downs just like every company ever, after the release of its new home system, the Wii U...things haven't been quite like Nintendo was hoping they would be.
Nintendo unveiled their Wii U console on April 25, 2011 and a great deal of confusion resulted which has plagued the system to this day. Many gamers were unsure as to whether or not this new system was an add-on to the previously existing Wii console, or an entirely new platform, and Nintendo's conference did little to clarify matters. The Wii U's primary innovation was the addition of the GamePad – a new type of controller/tablet hybrid, featuring a resistive touch screen in the center of the otherwise standard 2-analog stick and buttons layout. This touch screen, widely touted by Nintendo as their newest controller innovation after popularizing motion control with the Wii, allows for games to be played on both a full-screen TV and the GamePad itself when a game allows for it, or games could use it to display maps, radar screens, or puzzles without taking up valuable real estate on the television screen itself. Nintendo's focus on the new controller led many to believe that this was an add-on you could buy for an existing system and didn't help in the court of public opinion.
Otherwise, everything Nintendo announced was perceived by some as rather underwhelming – while it was a step up from the currently-available Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in certain ways, it still wasn't quite up to snuff with what many industry projections thought Microsoft and Sony's next systems would be capable of. This has resulted in many developers showing limited support for the system (if they show support at all), claiming the architecture is too complicated for previously existing games to be ported over (despite running on a similar PowerPC-based CPU to the Xbox 360), and at one point publishing giant Electronic Arts swore off the console entirely, despite going back on this claim eventually.
Nintendo is acutely aware of these concerns, and in a rare showing of honesty and forthrightness for an electronics company, has apologized on several occasions. When early adopters found themselves encountering a large set-up time, Nintendo of Japan CEO Satoru Iwata apologized for the confusion and lengthy first-time start-up procedure any people may have run into Christmas morning while trying to get their Wii U up and running. Earlier this year, creative head honcho (and Super Mario Bros. Creator) Shigeru Miyamoto spoke openly about the delays of many major game titles and chalked the slow adoption rate of the system up to consumer confusion regarding the system's capabilities. Iwata agreed in a later interview, stating he believes the issue can't be price as the cheaper of the two models (the Basic set, available for $250 with less storage than the $300 Premium version, and no pack-in game). Responding to the information that, between April and July of 2013, only 160,000 Wii U consoles were sold worldwide, Iwata chalked it up to a lack of quality software, stating that many of the huge titles Nintendo fans may be holding out for will be available starting the back half of 2013, and that Nintendo expects sales to pick up appropriately (which isn't a dissimilar situation to their slow-starting Nintendo 64 system from 1996).
So, does the future look as bleak for Nintendo as many doomsayers seem to think? Or, more accurately, is Nintendo going to find themselves in the same situation as Sega did with their similarly-functioning (and sadly doomed) Dreamcast? Nintendo had promised that the system's real big heavy-hitters would be available through the last half of the year, starting with the recently-released and absolutely stellar Pikmin 3, including first-party luminaries as The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD and Super Mario 3D World, and big-ticket third party titles like the hotly anticipated Call of Duty: Ghosts (the previous Call of Duty game being surprisingly well-received for Wii U, with at least one Destructoid editor saying it will make him “consider the Wii U my go-to console for first-person shooters”) and Batman: Arkham Origins. Nintendo systems in the past have typically relied on providing an experience you can't get anywhere else with their exclusive games; in recent years the focus has been shifted to both exclusive games and a unique control style. After more games come out that can effectively display how the GamePad works and what it can do for games, perhaps the naysayers and the curious will find themselves coming around. The Wii had a strange controller, but the masterful pack-in Wii Sports did a perfect job explaining how it all worked; the Wii U pack-in Nintendoland is fun enough but doesn't quite reach that same combination of appeal and instruction (and is only available with the more expensive Premium set). If Nintendo can do a better job explaining how the new GamePad works, what sets the Wii U apart from its predecessor, and finally turn the slow trickle of games into something more substantial, then the Wii U is sure to be able to turn around, much like Nintendo's other slow-starters.
And, if worse comes to worse, they always have the astronomically successful 3DS to rely on.