The Japanese video-game giant Nintendo has had a rough decade. Ten years ago, the company was riding high on the commercial and cultural success of the Wii, its physical-controller console, and the DS, its popular handheld. Nintendo’s stature—and its stock price—climbed to record highs by 2007. But flailing Wii remotes around in the den proved to be a short-lived trend more than a lasting lifestyle. The 2012 high-definition follow-up, Wii U, disappointed critics and consumers, and the company’s value had dropped by 80 percent by late that year.
Things haven’t gotten much better since. Nintendo’s part-interest in The Pokémon Company gave it some lift after this summer’s Pokémon Go phenomenon, but by Halloween the game had already shed 60 percent of its users. As winter approached, the stock was trading at 2000 prices, and the company was again considered a third wheel to Microsoft and Sony in the video-game sector.
This month, two new Nintendo products offer insights into the state of the company, its work, and its legacy. One looks back, the other forward. Both anxiously.
* * *
In the 1970s, video games proliferated as a slightly hokey accoutrement to seedy, adult nightlife. Arcade games were found in taverns and bowling alleys, the hopeful computational successors to pinball, pool, and darts. When video arcades arrived, they were considered no less seedy than bars, even without the booze. Early home consoles like the 1977 Atari Video Computer System were first conceived as a way to let families bring arcade games home to the comfort (and safety) of the den.