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The Verge 2016 tech report card: Nintendo

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From years of watching E3 and knowing deep down that every cool game being demoed from Nintendo won’t be released for at least another year (or two), the company was a refreshing surprise this year. By capitalizing on nostalgia, Nintendo made 2016 the year it truly got our inner kids excited again — even if the thrill was temporary.

The Pokémon Go craze was cultural phenomenon despite the whole thing lasting about two months. Rarely do we see games that manage to get people outside and exploring the physical world with a sense of childlike discovery. With Niantic’s help, Pokémon Go turned augmented reality into something that finally felt accessible to the masses, applying technology in a way that made sense to just about everyone. Still, there were some frustrations with the game: the battle system is lackluster, you can’t trade pokémon with another player, and you can only catch so many Zubats in a day before fully quitting the journey to becoming a Pokémon Master.

Pokemon Go Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

These gripes aren’t necessarily Nintendo’s fault. In fact, Nintendo can’t claim ownership of the game’s successes or failures. In July, Nintendo shares plummeted when investors realized the company didn’t actually make the game — it only owns 32 percent of The Pokemon Company.

Nintendo had trouble keeping its own actual products in stock.

Right around the time Pokémon Go launched, we were introduced to the NES Classic, the $60 console that contained all classic Nintendo titles in one miniature device with an HDMI port. Proving that sometimes simpler is better, the Classic made it possible to relive your ‘80s childhood without hours of finding emulators and ROMs that won’t break your laptop. But despite its release at the start of the holiday season, Nintendo couldn’t save Christmas. The price tag and limited stock made it nearly impossible to get ahold of one. Those who looked to other Nintendo products for the holidays, like a 3DS system, also had little luck.

That’s not to say there weren’t fresher things this year: 2016 gave us Pokémon Sun and Moon, a digital paradise filled with sunshine, shirtless professors, and pokémon in aloha wear. We also learned more about the Nintendo Switch, a unique new product built for the mobile gaming society. It’s everything the Wii U wanted to be, but never quite accomplished. To close the year, it released Super Mario Run on iOS after a surprise appearance at Apple’s September event. Currently, the reviews appear less than stellar, and the $9.99 in-app price tag is an aggressive gamble. But at the very least, Nintendo has managed to grab our attention as it heads into the new year.

To keep the momentum going into 2017, it’s imperative that Nintendo stays on track of its product releases. After seeing Wii U games consistently delayed its challenges ahead are to make sure to deliver Switch in March as expected: finally release The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and send out the Android version of Super Mario Run before the hype disappears. Nintendo was always good at making our inner kids smile, it’s the failed delivery of its promise that often disappoints.

All in all, it was a good year for Nintendo commercially, but more importantly it helped us temporarily escape from the reality of 2016. In our search for that rare Snorlax or gathering friends over for a round of Pac-Man on the NES Classic, it was nice to remember what it’s like to enjoy the world around us and having a reason to come together in times where solidarity equals solace.

Verge 2016 Report Card: Nintendo

B+

2016 Grade

Gold Stars:

  • Big game releases across platforms
  • New Nintendo system!
  • Offerings that vary in price range, making them accessible to many types of gamers

Needs Improvement:

  • Faster updates to games before the buzz dies
  • Clearer roadmap to when products will actually be released
  • Master the whole supply and demand thing

A closer look at the Nintendo NES Classic