Nintendo has once again bounced back to relevancy, the Nintendo Switch has been selling on levels rivaling and even surpassing the Wii, and a solid and consistent line up of first and third party releases keeps the system in at least some level of gaming discussion. But there was a time where for all intents and purposes, Nintendo may as well not have even existed. Those years were 2015 and 2016. Let's set the scene here. The writing was on the wall for the Wii U, by this point it was clear this Frankenstein mess of a console was a flop, it's failure costed Nintendo millions in financial losses, and with little to no third party support, and slow first party lineup, it suffered a form obscene software droughts, where the console often went months without a single noteworthy release. Meanwhile, the Nintendo 3DS was keeping the company afloat with its solid performance, but just barely, as it was also under attack by the popularity of mobile games.
2015 in particular was a painful year for Nintendo. Smash for Wii U bought the system a little more time on the market, but it was clear the console wasn't useful for much else. On the opposite side of the spectrum, 8th gen consoles were actually starting to pick up steam. The PS4 got its first big must-have exclusive with FromSoftware's BloodBorne, which rivaled DarkSouls in both sales and critical reception. The Witcher III released to Rave reviews and showed exactly what 8th gen can do for open world games. Sony's E3 conference was a cornucopia of Nostalgia with the announcement of a Shenmue III Kickstarter, and a remake of Final Fantasy VII, plus the announcement of Project Morpheus, later PlaySation VR as one of the first major forays into the VR market. Meanwhile new management at Microsoft's Xbox started to change course to a more gamer friendly direction with Xbox 360 Backwards compatibility, and a bigger focus on securing indie titles. And what did Nintendo bring to E3 that year? Puppets, a bland, slow-paced Star Fox with a gimmicky dual screen setup, Skylanders toys, more amiibo, games we've already seen a million times, A Mario Tennis with nothing to do in it, and a Handheld Metroid Prime spin-off nobody asked for. Nintendo also saw the popularity of the Let's Play fad on YouTube, and decided to cash in, in the most haphazard way possible with it's Creator's Program. A limited, rushed-out-the door mess of an MCN that showed Nintendo had no understanding of YouTube or the Gaming Community at the time. 2015, was a mess to say the least, but there were a few bright spots. Splatoon, a little shooter from the Animal Crossing team, became their most successful original game since Wii Sports, and gave the Wii U a little more time on the Market. Super Mario Maker proved to be a powerful creation tool for Mario fans. Nintendo's announcement of Mobile games and the then code-named NX, gave fans some hope for the future. And tragically at least, the death of the Late Satoru Iwata was met with a large mourning and a heartfelt goodbye at The Game Awards that year.
2016 was basically when Nintendo gave up. Star Fox Zero released after missing its Holiday 2015 launch to mediocre reviews, Tokyo Mirage Sessions was a censored, niche, mess of a crossover that had almost nothing to do with Fire Emblem or SMT. And basically the Wii U was all but discontinued in terms of Nintendo's support for the platform. Instead the Nintendo 3DS was tasked with keeping fans busy that year as the new NX console was still another year out. The little handheld that could did its best to make up for a mostly non-existent Wii U that year with the good, but divisive, Fire Emblem Fates, an excellent Kirby title, Metroid Prime Federation Force, which while not great, turned out better than what was originally expected, along with a port of Super Mario Maker and the newest Pokemon generation, Sun and Moon. Meanwhile, 8th gen consoles were now fully in the spotlight. Most developers finally moved on from 7th gen hardware by that point, and 2016 saw some important releases like Doom 2016, and Final Fantasy XV, which ended up being a rather divisive game. Sony once again blew everyone away with its E3 presentation showcasing the first reveals of God of War, Spider-Man, Crash N' Sane Trilogy, and a release window for Horizon Zero Dawn. It's safe to say that Sony showed everyone the PS4 was in full beast mode by that point. Microsoft also put a big focus on expanding the Xbox Brand with it's Play Anywhere initiative that married the Xbox One, with the gaming capabilities of Windows 10. Nintendo decided to forgo a full-fledged E3 showing that year to focus on one game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. After seeing a number of delays, the borderline reboot of the Zelda series was the one game that stole the show at E3 with its sheer scope alone. The NX was still not quite ready for prime-time, and nobody wanted to watch an E3 Direct with just 3DS games, so making that year "Zelda-Palooza" was in retrospect, the best thing Nintendo could've done at the time. While not as much of a disaster as 2015 was for Nintendo, 2016 was still a largely uneventful year for them. If it wasn't for Zelda and the reveal of the Switch, they may as well not have existed by that point.
It's hard to think of a year more depressing as a Nintendo fan than these 2. This was the period where Nintendo was the most lackadaisical, directionless, and just plain tone deaf. Nobody wanted a Wii U, nobody even knew what it was. The other two console were just getting good, and Nintendo's system was on its final gasp of air. Nintendo hardly did anything to keep the system in the public eye, and when they did, it was usually controversial. It reminds me of Sega during the final years of the Saturn. Things are much greener now with the Switch, and a more focused and competent Nintendo, but its hard for Nintendo fans to forget the dark days of 2015 and 2016.