Nintendo sparked a backlash in March by following through on its promise to kill off its Super Mario Bros. 35 battle royale and discontinue sales of Super Mario 3D All-Stars. While those and related moves were justified as a way of making limited-edition releases feel special, many players saw the removal of games or features as needlessly punitive. After all, how does that benefit players?
But this is Nintendo. You know we can't stay mad at them!
The controversy around Mario was only the latest unforced-error-turned-PR-fiasco that is seemingly inevitable in the industry. Revelations about dormant Bluetooth functionality for the Switch, beloved franchises like F-Zero being kept in mothballs and aggressive enforcement of intellectual property rights are just a few examples of recent negative publicity.
Some critics point to these missteps and will go so far as to say it's evidence that Nintendo hates its own fans. (Granted, nowhere near as much as Sony hates its fans, but that's an issue for another column.)
Sure, mistakes get made -- looking at you, Virtual Boy -- yet, Nintendo built an empire on taking a contrarian position in the industry. And, historically, whenever the mob starts to scrutinize the company's strategy, it's usually time to buy stock.
Read more: Top 5 Nintendo franchise games on the Switch
The U.S. release of the NES came in the wake of the video game crash of 1983, when the entire market had been left for dead. Years later, when every other form of technology was already transitioning to disc drives, Nintendo produced a cartridge-based N64. When Sony and Microsoft continued pushing out traditional consoles, Nintendo went all-in on the Wii and its motion-play gimmick. While Sony and Microsoft continue building roided-out, state-of-the-art machines, Nintendo is enjoying a strong following with its comparatively underpowered but more convenient and accessible Switch.
For better or worse, Nintendo has always operated with a bit of a defiant streak. Its distinctive approach has played a part in cultivating a rabid following that, some 35 years after the NES dropped, shows no signs of fading -- even if the company does drop the ball on occasion.
Whether or not Nintendo is your cup of tea or you've been disappointed by some of their decisions, legions of loyal fans will continue to love and support the company for these reasons.
Nintendo keeps innovating
At this point, Sony and Microsoft are engaged in a full-on technology arms race. They might dabble in innovative platforms such as PlayStation VR or Xbox's ill-fated Kinect, but the meat and potatoes of their console business is old-school, controller-in-hands gaming.
Nintendo isn't merely dabbling with innovation, though. It's constantly pushing the industry in new and different directions, especially since the launch of the Wii in 2006. In fact, the company hasn't released a "traditional" console in nearly 20 years, since the GameCube hit shelves in 2001.
There is some overlap, but the case can be made Nintendo isn't operating in the exact same market space as its competitors. Sometimes that works -- the Wii sold over 100 million units, and the Switch appears poised to eventually match or eclipse that mark. Sometimes it fails spectacularly -- sandwiched in between these two, the Wii U didn't approach 20 million. Regardless, gamers can count on Nintendo to try something unique and interesting.
The leader in handheld gaming
Nintendo has pretty much cornered the market on handheld gaming for the last three decades. Its last strictly portable device, the 3DS, sold over 75 million units. That's more than some major home consoles, like the Xbox One, while Sony's answer, the PlayStation Vita, didn't reach eight figures. And, as we all know, the Switch doubles as both a traditional home console and a handheld one, a feature that's played no small role in its success.
Handheld gaming isn't for everybody, but the numbers are undeniable. There's a huge audience for it. The Switch is likely expanding the market for handhelds, too, because even if it wasn't a selling point, once the option is available, people are inevitably going to use its mobile functionality.
The ability to play any game in the Switch's library on the go, without interruption, is incredibly convenient. Nobody can touch Nintendo here.
Image credit: Nintendo
Fun for all ages
Switch is by far the most family-friendly console on the market, but it's not simply a matter of publishing a plethora of software designed for younger audiences. Many Nintendo games have such broad appeal, they are truly able to be enjoyed by anybody, regardless of age.
Even if you're a person who appreciates massive worlds, difficult goals and stunning graphics, sometimes it's nice to sit down and play a game with a straightforward premise, where you only need to know a few buttons to master. That's not to say deep, challenging games aren't available for the Switch, but you kind of know what you're getting when you fire up a Mario title. It’s an accessible platformer that's big on fun and low on confusion and frustration.
Yes, PlayStation and Xbox have accessible titles, too. The audiences skew more adult though, so naturally their game libraries tend to offer more complex titles that veer toward more serious or darker subject matter.
Iconic gaming franchises
The only reason there was such a fervor around Mario 35 and 3D All-Stars in the first place is because people love Mario. They love Donkey Kong. They love Legend of Zelda. They love Metroid. They love Pokémon. Mario Kart. Smash Bros. Animal Crossing. The list goes on.
The bottom line is people can't get enough of Nintendo's franchises, and any angst the company causes its customers pales in comparison to the countless hours its most ardent fans spend with these iconic characters and worlds.
Obviously, Nintendo isn't perfect, but there's still plenty it gets right. The Switch is a neat console that provides gamers with an immense amount of options with regard to both the library of software and how to play it.
But, in truth, as long as the company remains the sole way to play Mario and many of the best franchises in gaming history, there will always be plenty of love to go around for Nintendo.
Lead image credit: Nintendo