After the disappointment of the Wii U – a clever and innovative console that failed to release many games or shift many units – you'd be forgiven for thinking Nintendo might be ready to go the way of its old rival Sega and bow out of the console market completely.
But if there's one thing you can say about Nintendo, it's that it always seems to have another trick up its sleeve. In March this year, it released the Switch, perhaps its most game-changing console yet...
A brief history of Nintendo
First, a quick history lesson. In the early days of the console wars (1980s-early 1990s), Nintendo was king: the NES, SNES and Game Boy were the best-selling consoles of their generations, and only Sega came close to competing.
But in 1994, everything changed. Nintendo had contracted Sony to develop a CD drive for its next-generation platform, but following a series of disputes, Sony decided to release the tech by itself – and the PlayStation was born.
It was a bold move, and one that paid off big time for Sony. Things heated up even more when Microsoft's Xbox entered the market, and Nintendo and Sega began looking like yesterday's news. But while Sega eventually bowed out of the console race altogether, Nintendo clung on - and eventually reinvented itself with the Wii.
Nintendo Wii and Wii U
The Wii was a hugely popular console that, like Nintendo itself, was devoted to doing things differently. While other platforms sold themselves on gritty shooters and online competition, the Wii was all about bright, colourful, family-friendly fun. With a focus on motion controls and quirky games, it proved a big hit with the casual audience.
However, the Wii U wasn't so lucky. Despite some amazing titles – Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon among them – there was always a sense that there just wasn't enough there, especially as Nintendo had curiously ditched the hugely popular Wii controller in favour of an all-new GamePad with a built-in screen.
After years of disappointing sales, the Wii U finally ceased production in January 2017, but not before Nintendo made two announcements that would see its fortunes change again. The first was a brand new way to play one of its best-loved series of all time; the second was an enticing new console called the Switch.
Pokemon Go and Nintendo Switch
Pokémon Go was a bona fide phenomenon that dominated headlines throughout the summer of 2016 and catapulted Nintendo's struggling share prices to a six-year high. While not strictly a Nintendo title, the mobile-based augmented reality game has an estimated 750 million downloads to date, making it one of the most popular apps ever.
Surfing on this success, Pokémon Sun and Moon was released for the 3DS to rave reviews, just before the Switch was announced. With its dual-function wireless controller – a home console pad in one configuration, a tablet-like handheld in another – it looked every bit as exciting and futuristic as the Wii did when it launched in 2006, and captured the imagination of gamers across the globe.
As Nintendo's seventh home console, The Switch went on to be a massive hit, with most retailers selling out on pre-orders alone before the console could even hit shelves. 2.14 millions units were shipped in the first month of release, while flagship game tile Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild received universally glowing reviews.
That Nintendo magic
Nintendo's approach has always been an unusual one. Rather than creating the hardware and letting third-party game developers do the rest, as Sony and Microsoft largely do, Nintendo's biggest titles are always developed in-house.
On one hand, it's helped preserve (and profit from) that famous "Nintendo magic": the sheer joy of series like Pokémon, Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda. Nearly everyone agrees on Nintendo's almost supernatural ability to consistently deliver great, innovative games for both new gamers and the affectionate retro market.
It's a great time to be a Nintendo fan, with the company currently enjoying the momentum of rejuvenated success. The Switch is comfortably outselling the competition (when people can get their hands on stock) and Nintendo recently announced its highest share prices in nine years. It's also pushing further into the mobile market, with hit apps like Fire Emblem Heroes and Super Mario Run.
If Nintendo can keep the Switch's success rolling – and the recent crop of upcoming titles, including Splatoon 2, Redout and Super Mario Odyssey also deliver the goods, there's every reason to expect longevity from the Japanese giant's return to form.