April 18, 2013 at 3:30 PM ET
A slew of new products and a much-needed system update for the Wii U console were announced Wednesday during the Nintendo Direct address. Most of the new games unveiled were mobile products for its handheld console, the Nintendo 3DS, later this year. But many were more nostalgic than new.
Nintendo once again rolled out a host of games centered around time honored franchises like Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong. And judging by the comments appearing on Twitter and Nintendo Direct's own feed, the titles that gamers were most excited about were just upgrades or sequels to two of its nineties-era classics — "Earthbound" and the legendary "Zelda" title "A Link to the Past."
Both "Zelda" and "Link" are widely regarded as two of the greatest games of all time, after all. But the game industry of 1991, when "Link" was first released for the then-current-generation Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), was a very different place than it is in 2013. Nintendo is currently sitting on a brand-new home console that analysts and critics have all but written off as dead on arrival. So with competition from Sony and Microsoft looming on the horizon and the mobile console market being steadily chipped away by smartphones and tablets, is a link to the past enough to carry Nintendo through the next generation?
"That's the million dollar question," Melissa Otto, an analyst for TIAA-CREF, told NBC News. "We've been pretty cautious about that, I'm not 100 percent convinced it really will."
Otto doesn't doubt the power of Nintendo's legacy. Mario, Luigie, and Donkey Kong are the most iconic and beloved characters in the history of video games, after all. But for all that prominence, she is a wary about one Italian plumber's prospect for carrying an entire company without new content to lend him a hand.
"They need to come up with the next Donkey Kong, the next Luigi," Otto added.
Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, doesn't think that Nintendo necessarily suffers from a lack of viable franchises, but is still stuck in the past in terms of its overall console strategy.
"They really have a lot of IP," he told NBC News. "I think they're doing fine with the 3DS, I think that they're supporting it well, I think that it's priced right, the market is still very strong for that."
The surging market for other mobile devices, however, is trumping whatever position Nintendo has been able to achieve in the mobile console market in the past.
"They lost a lot of market share to phones and tablets," Pachter said.
"It's impossible that they'll sell 30 million hardware units a year," he added, citing the impressive sales numbers that the original Nintendo DS console was able to achieve after it was released in 2004. "That's just never coming back."
Market share aside, Nintendo is facing a larger problem than its current 3DS or Wii U sales: losing the entire so-called "touch-screen generation." While standalone game publishers like Electronic Arts or Activision have begun to produce games for iOS and Android, Nintendo, being a hardware developer in its own right, has remained stubbornly fixated on producing content for its own devices.
"This has been a huge criticism by shareholders," Otto added. "Why isn't Pokémon on the app store? Why won't Nintendo make its IP available? They're the clear IP winner. They should be dominating these platforms, but they're nowhere to be seen."
This makes sense for a company that wants to attract third-party game developers to its hardware, but both Otto and Pachter agree that it risks losing an entire generation of young gamers in the process.
"They definitely understand what the consumer wants, which makes this whole mobile thing baffling," Pachter said. "Because if the consumers want it, they have a way to reach that many more consumers, why not give it a shot?"
All Nintendo is left with, in the meantime, are the older gamers whose nostalgia for the "Mario" and "Zelda" games of yore might keep them as loyal customers.
But even those fans "aren't as hardcore as they claim to be," Pachter said.
"How many people over 12 are hardcore mobile gamers?" Pachter said. "Some, the guys who play Mario are. But not millions of them!"
It's unclear why, exactly, Nintendo has been so wary to bring its games to other mobile operating systems. But if this week's announcements are any indication of its overall business strategy for the next generation, the company isn't planning to change this anytime soon.
This perceived stubbornness on Nintendo's part leaves analysts like Pachter and Otto with cautious predictions at best and grim foreboding at worst.
"The problem is: I really think the CEO sucks, and I think he genuinely thinks he is a great CEO," Pachter concluded. "So there's a mismatch between what I think his ability is, and what he thinks his ability is. Until he has a humbling moment, I don't think he's changing his strategy."