Back in 2001, Nintendo released the critically acclaimed Paper Mario and laugh-a-minute Conker's Bad Fur Day for their N64 game console in the early winter months of the year, and then seemingly abandoned the platform as they tried to build momentum for the yet-to-release Gamecube system, coming out that following November. Notwithstanding a couple of watered-down ports of Playstation 2 games, there was nothing ever meaningful to buy again for the N64 after the February, 2001 release of Conker's Bad Fur Day. N64 owners and fans had been abandoned by the company and, whether they were shopping for games for the N64 or the Gamecube, over a year went buy without any compelling software to emerge from the house of Mario.
Flash forward to 2006. It's a transition year much like 2001, and Nintendo is set to release another new console this coming November. They're coming off a less-than-stellar 2005 as far as first-party software is concerned and a big reason for that was the delay of its flagship AAA title, Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess. The game was delayed until the spring of 2006 on account of it needing more refinement. You'll get no problem from me there, as this industry would be a much better place if more game publishers had the good sense to know when a game could stand a bit more time in the oven. But late last week it was announced that the game would not come out in the spring of 2006, but rather has been delayed again till the fall.
While I have no doubt that the game is going to be worth the wait (provided it doesn't come with a Toys-For-Tots difficulty curve as the series' last installment did) I have a problem with this delay for many reasons. First of all, there's something really fishy going on when Nintendo's cash cow and much-lauded "greatest series of all-time" needs a supposed additional year of balancing and fine-tuning on top of the three years it's already spent in development. Either there is massive internal fighting about the direction of the game or this second delay was purely strategic and the supposed "Gamecube" game is actually going to become the Revolution console's signature launch title.
In either situation, we the gamers who have supported Nintendo, lose again. The reason is because without a spring release of Zelda we will be forced to undergo an entire year without there being one quality title released for the system -- from fall of 2005 until fall of 2006. It's one thing for people to ignore the Gamecube in favor of the Playstation 2 or Xbox, but it's another for Nintendo to ignore the gamers.
This is the number one reason why Nintendo continues to lose marketshare and why, in their rookie debut, Microsoft was able to sell more Xboxes than Nintendo did Gamecubes. Microsoft not only had quality software releasing for the Xbox right up until the launch of the Xbox 360, but they continue to support the elder system and are believed to be preparing to lower the price of the machine come E3, for one last sales push. Nintendo, on the other hand, appears totally incapble of supporting two consoles at once -- even when one of them is still in development.
The life expectancy of a game console these days is five years. Period. If you factor in the slow start that all of these consoles get in terms of software and then factor in what is now a track record of abandonment by Nintendo in the final year, you are basically buying a Nintendo console for three years of enjoyment. And even then the software pickings are far slimmer than on the other consoles (albeit the fruit often juicier). And people are starting to finally wake up and notice. Yes, their console is cheaper. That's because it won't sell at all if it isn't. But that still doesn't mean the poor shleps who buy it deserve to be left high and dry for two-fifths of the console's life cycle. Or is it that when people refer to the Zelda and Metroid franchises as "system-sellers" they are being quite a bit more literal than I thought. Do you really buy a Nintendo console just to play 2 or 3 specific games?
This is what this industry has come to. Even this once dominant company, perceived by many still to be the one that cares the most about the gamers and the joy of playing videogames, is just too wrapped up in the race to the next-gen that it can't bother supporting the current. It's time Nintendo makes a major decision: either give up on the home video console and restrict themselves purely to handhelds, or follow Sega's lead into the world of third-party software publishing. Nobody minds when a quality game publisher struggles to release more than one good game every two years. Unless of course that company also sold you a console on the promise of a healthy library of options. Nintendo needs to take their fans as serious as the fans do them, and exit the console side of the business.