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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

How Nintendo Got Its Groove Back

After years as an also-ran, a home-console pioneer is back in the game.



I remember the first time I played Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1980s. It was a birthday present and the game came free in the box with the console. After spending years on Pong and Atari, to have something in my house that was pretty close to playing a game in an arcade was amazing. Compared to gaming systems now, it’s a dinosaur but, in its day, it was revolutionary.

Of course, more revolutionary games would soon be on the horizon: the Sega Genesis, the PlayStation, PS2 and Xbox. And through that time, except for the Gameboy, there was nothing else ever new and different about Nintendo. It always seemed to be the slow kid in the race who came in after everyone else. The GameCube was and is inferior to its cousins the PS2 and the Xbox. It was a next-generation console made just so the company could claim it had one, but no one cared. So when the newest console systems were announced, everyone waited for the Xbox 360 and the PS3. Even if you figured Nintendo would come out with something, by and large, you probably didn’t care.

But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity: Nintendo introduced the interactive Wii, and it was no longer the also-ran. It went back to its innovative roots and introduced a product that people had to have. It hasn’t come out with anything in a long time that people wouldn’t have purchased from a $1.99 bargain bin, so to imagine them with a must-have product is a strange, but welcome, development.

The Wii uses hand-held controllers where game play is determined by your body movements. If you want to play tennis, then you have to swing the racket. How bad you slice the golf ball depends on your arms and hands'not just your thumb. Who knew gamers actually want to be active?

When you look at the numbers, it’s still a bit surprising. According to the Website, the Xbox 360 has sold the most consoles worldwide at almost 11 million. However, the 360 came out almost a full year before the Wii and the PS3, which launched within a week or two of one another. In this David vs. Goliath race, Nintendo is lobbing rocks like crazy at the PS3, outselling it by slightly more than two to one.

The success of the Wii is surprising given the hype surrounding the PS3. However, when you put them side-by-side, you can see why the Wii is winning. First, the Wii’s game play is innovative; it’s active and fun. The PS3 is also fun, but I don’t think it’s more than twice as fun as the PS2 and that’s what Sony wants you to shell out to get it.

Which brings us to the second reason: price. The PS3 is the most expensive of the trio. So when you add that higher price tag to the fact that you’re getting better graphics but not increasingly different game play, people are choosing the Wii and the 360 first. Now consider the Wii’s innovative game play at a cost of $250, and the question of why it’s storming to the top answers itself.

Who knows how it will play out in the long run? Hardcore gamers aren’t going to buy just the Wii; they are going to invest in the 360 or PS3 as well. However, they may also buy a Wii in addition to their regular console. If there’s a door for Nintendo to enter in this fight, they found a way to get in it.

The battle for the best-selling game console has a new frontrunner, and it got back on top by finally remembering how it got there in the first place.