There is little doubt that the gaming market is – thankfully – a very competitive place. Achieving total dominance over it is one daunting task, and – as it is being made clear by Nintendo’s recent struggles – a company that was extremely successful on a previous generation has no guarantees whatsoever that the favorable tide will behave accordingly when new platforms are arrive. Still, with all the delightful uncertainty that technological advances provide, there is something gamers can always firmly count on: Nintendo will always find a way to achieve utter dominance over the handheld market. Even with the Nintendo 3DS struggling right out of the gate due to total lack of software, and with the supposedly emergence of tablets and smartphones as portable gaming devices, Nintendo found a way to correct the ship’s course and sail through smooth waters.
Sometimes that dominance came in the complete lack of competent competition, but ever since Sony – a company whose successful Playstation brand is an unshakable proof of its capacity to create solid virtual entertainment – joined the fray, Nintendo’s recipe for success became obvious. While others, Sony included, treated the handheld market as a small-scale version of the more important home console battle, Nintendo has always handled it as a complete different animal. Where other companies’ handheld games were humble versions of full-fledged console affairs, Nintendo thrived in the creation of experiences that could only be had if customers purchased a portable system. It has invariably given the machines that are part of that line a personality of their own, and instead of a secondary platform, they have become as relevant as the company’s main console.
It is obvious that part of what allows Nintendo to so easily create two different animals with quirks of their own can be credited to their franchises. Through the years the company has created a vast number of characters and worlds, and out of each of those realms their developers have spun many different series of games that, sometimes, are so different from one another that it does not even feel like they belong in the same overall franchise. The result is an incredible multiplication of intriguing products that, later, get meticulously designated to each platform. A great example of that strategy is noticeable on the Mario RPG franchise, which has been divided into the – until very recently – console releases of Paper Mario and the handheld efforts of Mario and Luigi. They are two considerably different and quality experiences that can only be enjoyed if both machines are purchased.
Nintendo understands that such separation mutually benefits their two systems and it is a major part of the reason why, aside from very few instances such as both The Legend of Zelda and Mario Kart franchises, the two sides barely find a merging point. It is a strategy that has a sweet side, because series produced with a certain platform in mind gain a lot from the early grasping of what kind of game the team needs to produce, and – in addition – gamers’ regulate expectations according to the platform on which that franchise operates, which makes the games feel grand and complete on their own, instead of being small replications of home console experiences. However, that separation sometimes has a slightly bitter taste, which is evident in the form of the major Pokemon games, which are unlikely to ever migrate to the more expansive console environment as Nintendo sells astounding amounts of hardware by having it completely locked up as a handheld franchise.
The amazing effectiveness of that approach makes the upcoming Smash Bros. game one point out of the curve, and a very interesting riddle. If series and franchises barely cross from one side to the other, only doing so with major gameplay changes, a game that is released simultaneously in two platforms is one major oddity. Of course, as it has been previously pointed out by the game’s creative leader, Sakurai, there will be some distinctions between both games, such as the fact that the fighting arenas on the 3DS version will be focused on handheld titles, while the stages of the Wii U game will be based on software that has shown up on home consoles. Ironically, it is a difference that further illustrates how the story of both lines of Nintendo systems are unique and separated, and it shows that the differences between both games will most likely be punctual.
To understand why exactly Nintendo is releasing a game that will appear on two consoles we might not have to look too far. Not very long ago, the Nintendo 3DS faced enormous problems as it was naively released at a time where there were not many interesting games ready to hit store shelves and push hardware sales. Perhaps, after looking at the system’s initial lackluster sales and being fearful that the incredibly successful Nintendo DS would be followed by a failure, the company decided that one of the surest ways to draw gamers into purchasing one would be bringing a major console franchise over; preferably one that could make the transition smoothly and cause a considerable impact. As a workaholic that is not afraid to think big, it is not hard to imagine that Sakurai must have accepted the challenge with one huge smile on his face.
Stepping out of the realm of assumption, the fact of the matter is that Super Smash Bros will soon be hitting two consoles at the same time. Technically, as it has already been pointed out by the Nintendo community, there is a concern that the humbler powers of the 3DS may hold back the scope of the Wii U title, something that became almost a solid truth when Sakurai claimed they would have to control the number of characters more strictly due to the limitations of the 3DS. It is obviously unknown to what extent the 3DS game will limit the Wii U one, but after Brawl, which was a game that was able to cover so much ground and pack so much content, any considerable lack of growth on the size of that content between 2008 and 2014 will certainly raise a few eyebrows.
In commercial terms, the game creates an interesting situation for Nintendo. As of today, the Nintendo 3DS is doing very well and the Nintendo Wii U is the one that is seriously struggling. Super Smash Bros could be the game that will strongly boost the Wii U’s sales by alluring gamers who are not major Nintendo fans but love the uniqueness of the Smash Bros series into the system. However, with the game appearing on two platforms simultaneously, it is to be expected that the effect of its release on the Wii U’s numbers will be diluted. After all, with the game also being on the 3DS – a system with a stellar current lineup, great market perspectives and welcoming price – those who are loath to buy a Wii U may remain reluctant and embrace the 3DS version instead.
It is obvious that, as far as gaming goes, the slow reveals of what the next Super Smash Bros will feature are far more exciting to follow. But behind all the brawling and character announcements there is an interesting plotline unraveling. One that might or might not clearly show the validity of Nintendo’s decades-long strategy of handling their home consoles and handhelds as two completely independent platforms. And, worst of all, it might be a decision that will severely diminish the effects Super Smash Bros will have on Wii U hardware sales.