First Click: The return of Nintendo


Nintendo will finally reveal its new console — codenamed NX — at 10AM ET today. It's been a long and arduous wait for fans, who first caught wind of the company's Wii U successor in March last year, when late president Satoru Iwata mentioned that Nintendo was at work on "a dedicated game platform with a brand-new concept." It was a glimmer of hope after the commercial failure of the Wii U, but since then, trade shows, press presentations, and community events have come and gone without concrete details, forcing people to sift through patent applications for hints at what the NX will actually be.

It's been a frustrating process for me, and many others who just want to know what the deal is, but longtime Nintendo gamers will know this dance well. The company has a weird history with its console announcements, historically confirming the existence of new machines months or even years in advance, then dragging their reveals out for as long as possible. It did it with the Wii U, releasing a statement confirming that an HD-capable successor to the Wii existed months before it showed the machine off at E3 2011, a full year before its eventual launch in 2012. It did it with the GameCube, too, finally confirming that the enigmatic machine codenamed "Dolphin" would be squeezed into a colorful plastic case in 2000, ahead of its launch in late 2001.

The wait for the N64 was interminable

But this practice was best illustrated by the launch of the Nintendo 64, a drawn-out process that makes the wait for the NX seem almost trivial. Picture the scene: it's 1994, and Sony's PlayStation is already on the market, but Nintendo's own machine is still years off. The company could rush production on its new console, which had been codenamed "Project Reality," or keep quiet and let Sony take an easy win. Instead, Nintendo took a different approach, selling its new console — then called the "Ultra 64" — with an ad that specifically pointed out that it wasn't available yet. "You can't buy this," the ad exclaimed in bold text, ending with a command to "wait for it." It was an audacious tactic, and one you'd think gamers wouldn't appreciate, turning instead to the PlayStation rather than waiting for a pie-in-the-sky console at an unspecified point in the future.

But it worked on me. I vividly remember finding the ad in a UK kids' soccer magazine (the venerable Match) some time in 1995 and being captivated. Already wowed by the incredible* graphics my friend's brand-new PlayStation was capable of, my young mind could scarcely imagine the technical capabilities of Nintendo's machine. 64 bits! That was double the bits of Sony's machine! I was nine years old, and had no idea what bits actually were or how they correlated to computational power, but I knew one thing — 64 was a bigger number than 32, and that meant the Ultra 64 would be better than the PlayStation.

So I resolved to stop bugging my parents for a PlayStation, and wait for Nintendo's miracle machine. That wait was a tough process for a nine-year-old, made tougher by the harsh realities of geography. The Nintendo 64 was first released in Japan in June, 1996, and arrived in the United States three months later. But I didn't live in Japan or the United States — I lived in the UK. That meant that, due to Nintendo's wacky release schedule, I had to wait until March of 1997 for the console, a full two years after I saw the Ultra 64 ad.

It's hard to hold on when you're nine

Granted, it's a lot easier to wait for a new console when you're nine, and the only disposable income you have comes in coin form and is spent immediately on Panini Premier League stickers, but I still see that three-year wait for the N64 as a formative experience. It helped me weather the wait for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launches in Japan, my current country of residence, where the consoles arrived nearly five months after they did in the UK — an ironic reversal of the N64 release schedule that pained me so much as a kid.

Sometimes I wonder if, as the world's best creator of kids' video games, Nintendo adopted its baffling announcement practices deliberately to teach children about patience. Or maybe they're simply the actions of a prestigious and proud company used to going its own way. Whatever the reasoning, try to savor today's NX reveal — it's been a long time coming.

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So, is that a scratch?