On paper, the short answer would appear to be yes.
These are trying, testing times for the Big N, and there are those in the dark, dank corners of the internet who are no doubt muttering 'I told you so' and tittering to themselves, mumbling things about how the company deserved a dip in fortunes after the runaway
betrayal success of the Wii, prophesying no small amount of doom and telling anyone who'll listen that the Wii U will be gimmicky, underpowered (by the time it releases) and will be a massive commercial failure and that the 3DS is best used as a door stop.
On that last point, they may well be right at the moment.
The 3DS is a big problem for Nintendo, as witnessed by the rather humbling tumblings in share prices, an aggressive price cut to try and stem the decline in sales and Satoru Iwata's shouldering of responsibility. Time was when Nintendo would have sealed up tight, raised the drawbridge and stood impassive against critical hysteria, implacably plodding on and doing their own things. Perhaps Iwata's brave public acknowledgement of mistakes that were made show a company finally prepared to accept, and have fully realised, the dangers posed by other emerging systems such as iOS.
With the 3DS, however, Nintendo got it wrong even before release, and there's a danger of them falling into the same trap with the Wii U. Marketing a new product, particularly one that you wish to portray as innovative and groundbreaking, invariably requires public demonstration. This was something that Nintendo managed particularly well with the Wii, something that Microsoft picked up on eagerly with Kinect too: letting people experience what it meant to embrace motion control - getting up off of your ass and having a really good time.
Nintendo had a very focused, very simple market strategy with the Wii: they wanted to be the second console in every home, taking themselves out of direct competition with Sony and Microsoft, and trouncing them initially in sales. They aggressively targeted a new audience, with marketing and advertising campaigns gunning for new types of gamers, from grannies through to their toddling grandchildren. They took the Wii on the road and it worked.
By contrast, the image put forth by Nintendo of the 3DS is confused, derivative and gimmicky. The entire focus has been on the 3D aspects, engaging in the odd bit of smack-talk with Sony and challenging consumers to check out the stereoscopic effects for themselves. But 3D, glasses-free or not, is really only a visual gimmick. It's a cool aesthetic feature, and that's about it. The vast majority simply figured that this new handheld would be a slightly chunkier DS, with a screen made from magic. To those unimpressed by 3D to begin with - and that percentage is large - why would they fork out £200 on this?
Normally, the answer to such a question is simple: games. But the 3DS doesn't have any. Actually, that's not strictly true, but Nintendo's handheld is still doing a damn good job of at least convincing everyone that it doesn't really have any games. Part of the reason for this is an overwhelming lack of original content. When Iwata said back at GDC that quality would be king, his words a direct challenge to both competitors such as Apple, and the more benign and underappreciated indie scene, we all got rather excited. Perhaps this would herald an awakening of Nintendo from its Wii-induced soporific creative slumber. Perhaps now we'd finally get some decent new games - and by 'new' I don't mean remakes or backwards glancing homages that serve only as a virtual self-pat on the back *cough*NewSuperMarioBrosWii*cough*.
The words 'fat' and 'chance' once again spring to mind.
There is a massive dearth of first party titles on the 3DS, over a third of a year after release. Even taking the second and third party games into account, the 3DS is still primarily a console of ports, revamps and remakes and that's just not what you look for in a new console. You'd think that the launch of a new Nintendo console would be pretty damn easy when it comes to it. All of the boxes are lined up already, we know how this song goes. Give us new Mario, give us new Zelda, give us Mario Kart and Smash Bros and we're pretty happy. The social nature of the console, another feature that lost its moment in the spotlight thanks to 3D hogging everything, is begging for the latter.
Even when Nintendo were being routinely spanked about the market by Sony in the N64 and Gamecube years, you could still point to the crop of first party exclusives and comfortably know that they were a selection of the best games around. Now Nintendo's mascots lurk about nervously in the shadows as we wait to see which one will be dropped into a non-threatening nostalgia trip next. Nintendo used to push boundaries, but the last couple years have instead seen a fair bit of laurel-resting and misty-eyed rehashing. We need something new, something original, something to remind us that Nintendo make the best games - and they so often used to - because as much love as there is out there for Nintendo, we need something to help us keep the faith a little bit. And by we I mean shaerholders, investors, publishers and public alike.
Of course, such issues are always the case with new console releases. There's always a period of sparse titles at the start. But there's almost always one killer app. For the N64 that title was undoubtedly Goldeneye, back when Rare were under the protective wing of Nintendo. For the Gamecube, well Ninty didn't do so well there, but it still had a quirky, and actually really enjoyable and underrated, first party title in Luigi's Mansion, and some excellent third party support on the day of release with Star Wars: Rogue Leader, Wave Race: Blue Storm, Super Monkey Ball and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3. The DS had an awful launch line up, but it was saved with Super Mario 64 DS, which did much more to the original N64 classic than simply up the polygon count, and WarioWare Touched , which still serves as one of the best games to show off the consoles then-new features. The Wii, redefining gaming for a new audience had the challenge of conveying exactly what the new motion-controls were all about and, although Wii Sports lacked depth, and the console didn't give us the precision we wanted until MotionPlus came along, I remember spending a good summer thrashing the hell out of Wii Sports and utterly loving it. It managed to perfectly encapsulate what the Wii was about, something Nintendo have struggled to do with the 3DS.
Pricing and services are both issues that need to be addressed too. Nintendo's online service is still woeful and this long line of uninspiring remakes could have been avoided had the dream of a proper Virtual Console been realised in the first place. The console price cut is a step in the right direction, but £40 is still too pricey for the games themselves. There are iOS and Android titles that offer diverse and, crucially, rich gaming experiences with comparable, if not better, graphics at a fraction of the price. Nintendo is going to have to put it's money where its mouth is, step up to the plate and deliver a bunch of unique experiences that cannot be found in the smartphone market. And that's going to be difficult, but not impossible.
Zelda 3D is an example of something you just can't get on iOS or Android yet and this is why I'm inclined to agree with Iwata when he states that the increase in buyers of smartphones and the decrease in interest in handheld systems aren't fundamentally bound together. But that can only hold true if the 3DS manages to match and exceed the level of content and service provision that its rivals can provide. Online access, online multiplayer, digital distribution and support are key areas that Nintendo need to look, and it will be pretty scary for them, I'd imagine. This isn't exactly an area in which they've excelled before.
They have, however, with Iwata at the helm in particular, shown themselves to be rather adept at survival. Jon has already posited that this generation of dedicated handheld consoles may well be the last, and I'm inclined to agree with him. But do Nintendo have the ability, the willpower and the creativity to burn brightly in a sector they have dominated for a couple of decades one last time? Christmas is looking up for them, handed something of a freebie by Sony backing the Vita out of the territories where Christmas can make a difference. But they need change, they need freshness in all areas, and they need to come out this winter firing on all cylinders.
An RPG or two wouldn't go amiss either!