Will Nintendo Screw Up a Good Thing Again?

 

snes-classic

The internet is aflame with buzz over the official announcement and launch date of the Super NES Classic Edition (Sept. 29), Nintendo’s predictable follow-up to their massively popular but scarce NES Classic, which was released last holiday season but was more difficult to find than a pristine copy of Earthbound. (Not really but you get my point)

The retro micro-console, like its predecessor, will come pre-loaded with a smattering of titles, most of which are genuine 16-bit classics guaranteed to make vintage and retro enthusiasts drool like Homer Simpson in a donut shop. The packed-in software includes:

  •  Contra III: The Alien Wars
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • EarthBound
  • Final Fantasy III
  • F-ZERO
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Mega Man® X
  • Secret of Mana
  • Star Fox
  • Star Fox 2
  • Street Fighter® II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Castlevania IV
  • Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts®
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Punch-Out!! ™
  • Yoshi’s Island

Earthbound-Wallpaper

There’s really no overstating just how ridiculously amazing that lineup of software is. Truthfully, there isn’t a bad game on that list and most are legitimate masterpieces representing the very best of the era. To further compound the awesomeness, Nintendo is including Star Fox 2, which was never released in any market, foreign or domestic, during the SNES’s storied run. (Leave it to Nintendo to debut a 22-year-old exclusive)

This is of course fantastic news. Yet, as we all move outside to dance in the streets and usher in the launch of one of the best entertainment-related values of the fiscal year, storm clouds are forming, threatening to rain on our parade. Ironically, the source of this potential torrent of negativity is the very same entity that first brought us the sun: Nintendo.

clouds

 

IGN reports that Nintendo released the following statement regarding the production of the SNES Classic:

“Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super NES Classic Edition is currently planned to ship from Sept. 29 until the end of calendar year 2017. At this time, we have nothing to announce regarding any possible shipments beyond this year…”

As you might know, the NES Classic was a HUGE seller for Nintendo and its success caught the company entirely off guard, selling out consistently. I personally never saw a single unit on a retail shelf. At the same time, the micro-consoles were consistently being sold far above market value on sites like eBay. Nintendo, in response to this overwhelming success, did what any smart company would do when they have a hit product on their hands: discontinue it entirely while also giving scalpers the greenlight to start charging people the equivalent of a small nation’s GNP for a newly rarified product.

Nintendo clearly viewed the NES Classic as a one-and-done product but regardless, a considerable amount of money was left on the table when they cut the production run short and bizarrely, it looks like they intend to do the same thing with its successor.

To be fair, Nintendo has insisted they are going to ramp up production in contrast to the NES Classic but what mystifies me is their decision – at least tentatively – to publicly announce limited production on a product that clearly enjoys mass appeal. As slick and neat as the NES Classic was, the SNES Classic is infinitely better because of the software alone; precisely the type of product that could dominate the sales charts this holiday season because it possesses that truly alchemic combination of affordability, nostalgia and branding.

Yet Nintendo – simultaneously brilliant and stupid – seems ready and willing to once again snatch defeat from the jaws of an easy victory.

Nintendo has always been odd and surprisingly inept in regards to how they handle their older but still incredibly well-loved and valuable IP’s. When the Wii launched back in 2006, it carried with it the promise of the Virtual Console – an Apple Store type e-shop that would offer gamers a robust catalog of Nintendo classics running the full spectrum of their consoles in a centralized, easy-to-access hub. Unfortunately, Nintendo released those games at a trickle and the original promise of the Virtual Console never fully materialized on either the Wii or its successor, the Wii U.

Broken

 

And it’s currently conspicuously absent on the Switch.

Sincerely, the NES and SNES Classics – like the Virtual Console – is a no-brainer. There’s a frothing, rapid market for this software, even with most of these games widely available as illegal ROMS that can be easily accessed on free, legal emulation software and run on practically anything that draws amperage. Clearly, people want to play these games and they want to experience them on a console that looks like a SNES so the obvious question is this:

Why is Nintendo getting in their own way in regards to selling these products?

aoj9473_700b
A concise summation of Nintendo’s current business strategy.

What’s maddening is that this decision is entirely the opposite to what Nintendo needs to be doing on the heels of the successful debut and ongoing popularity of the Switch, which has been a resounding hit both critically and commercially. After stumbling with the Wii U, the Switch has put Nintendo back at the forefront, with a console people want and software that has the masses – both casual and hardcore alike – buzzing with interest. Even when acknowledging that the SNES Classic isn’t the primary thrust of the company, it nonetheless is the equivalent of a goodwill ambassador; a modestly priced, well-intentioned device that seems downright generous in what it delivers to the consumer.

The problem is, when those consumers can’t reliably get the product, goodwill sours and “rare” becomes a synonym for “annoying.” Even if Nintendo can somehow justify this short window of product availability, announcing that the SNES Classic is, essentially, limited-time merchandise merely ensures scalpers will clog physical and online retailers, lapping up every preorder they can scavenge in hopes of selling these little machines for triple the value. The whole thing feels like a tease and I can only speculate on just how many people are once again going to be left out in the proverbial cold when the bulk of the stock evaporates before it has a chance to hit the shelves.

Of course, this is all speculative. If Nintendo produces a larger volume of inventory this time around, the saturation of product could drive down grey market prices and ensure all of us get one for the SRP, which would be a refreshing change of pace. However, Nintendo has always played it conservatively when it comes to manufacturing and it seems more likely that by the time they wind down SNES Classic production, plenty of us will still be looking to buy one and will either have to settle for inflated, egregious prices or go without.

Nintendo has done so much right these last few months that it’s a shame to see them revert back to the type of behavior that leads to an unsatisfied consumer base. The SNES Classic looks to be a great product and an exceptional value and if Nintendo doesn’t have enough sense to get one into the hands of every consumer who wants it, that’s on them.

I hope they get it right this time.

(And I really hope I can get one.)

Happy Hunting.

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