Title image courtesy of ChetRippo of DeviantArt
E3 2013 was certainly a unique one as far as Nintendo went. For the first time in as far back as I can remember, Nintendo bowed out of the age-old tradition of having a pre-E3 press conference to announce their new titles and strategies. Instead they threw away the pomp and circumstances to simply present a prerecorded video message directly to the fans. While there’s some je ne sais quoi about having a formal press conference with all the trimmings, having a Nintendo Direct outlining all of the major releases and goals wasn’t a bad strategy. It presented all of the same announcements, checked all the same boxes, and more or less revealed everything that we had been wanting to know.
And, like many of you, I didn’t go home disappointed.
Let’s get the elephant out of the room first, though. Nintendo wasn’t exactly the belle of the ball this year around. That award goes to Sony for very, very obvious reasons that don’t need repeating. The Twitters and the Facebooks and the press reaction have clearly spoken, and while I don’t really believe that “winning E3” actually has any lasting impact in the long term, the console that the public is most excited about is the PlayStation 4. At least for now. Whether that will translate into sales later on this year is another question; it might end up hobbling its first year and not meeting expectations just like the how the Wii U has, of yet, disappointed Nintendo’s execs, but that’s not something we’ll be able to judge today.
But let’s go back to Nintendo, the reason why you and I are here. Just how well did Nintendo do? That mainly depends upon what your relationship with Nintendo was before E3.
If you were a Nintendo fan coming into E3, if you were loving the things Nintendo was doing up until this point, then there’s plenty to be excited about. The 3DS, now seemingly solidly on its feet, has a good number of games coming to it as well. We’ve got a new Zelda game (which we already knew about, but more footage is always welcome!), more solid details about the upcoming Pokémon X and Y, another Mario & Luigi RPG coming out, another Yoshi’s Island title, and (to my surprise) a 3DS version of the upcoming Smash Bros. title to be released on Wii U.
More importantly, the Wii U finally is going to have a wide array of first-party titles that are bound to whet the appetite over the next 12 months. We finally have a 3D Mario (complete with a playable Peach, something that seriously needed to have happened), a brand new Mario Kart title (one that might just un-sour me to the series after I swore it off back with Mario Kart Wii), an HD remake of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (which, even though the original still looks good, is absolutely gorgeous!), and of course the aforementioned new Smash Bros. game (complete with the long-wanted Mega Man gracing its newcomer list). There’s of course many more titles not mentioned, among them Monolith’s X, a new Donkey Kong game, Bayonetta 2, Pikmin 3, and so on.
In short, it’s a good day to be a Nintendo fan.
There is one thing missing from this equation though, and it’s a surprising omission from a developer that’s struggling with sales momentum. What’s missing is the obvious attempt to branch out beyond the existing fanbase in order to strike new blood amongst the presently unconverted gamers. With the exception of The Wonderful 101 and X, both of which not developed by Nintendo incidentally, there’s no new IP anywhere to be found. Practically everything put out onto the table this year, whether it was via the Nintendo Direct or shunted away to YouTube or the Nintendo website, is a sequel of an existing Nintendo-only title–Bayonetta 2 excepted, though it’s nonetheless a sequel.
In short, on the console side of the equation, this essentially means that this year’s E3 message goes out exclusively to those who have already purchased a Wii U or who were just shy of buying a Wii U and have simply been waiting for the long overdue windfall of games.
Yes, there was some vague amount of time in Nintendo’s Direct spent upon third-party titles such as Batman: Arkham Origins and Rayman Legends and the like, but beyond a brief mention of Ubisoft, Sega, and a few other developers that Nintendo seems fond of, Nintendo was absolutely mum about the offerings of the rest of the world. And certainly, it’s not like that is all the third parties have to offer for Wii U. Just this week, Call of Duty: Ghosts, the sequel to one of the biggest franchises in gaming history, was announced for the Wii U, but Nintendo left that announcement to Activision’s discretion. Nintendo simply doesn’t feel the need to go out of the way to mention the long list of developers making games for their console, and that seems rather unfortunate. And rather short-sighted given that the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One will be competing with Wii U later this year.
In fact, Nintendo seemed to eschew any sort of direct parallel to either Microsoft and Sony, and it’s not that hard to see why. Compared to the One and the PS4, the Wii U is perhaps a half of a generation behind the curve technologically speaking. While it’s got some unique features and quirks therein, it simply can’t offer the same level of fidelity that some games might require. (Granted, Nintendo has always been good about doing more with less, thus making it questionable whether it’s truly “needed” or not, but cross-platform games enable and invite such direct comparisons.) And really, Nintendo isn’t trying to go for the same audience that Microsoft and Sony are courting, which isn’t any surprise. Nintendo seems to revel in its happy-go-lucky at best or quirky at worst attitude; they seem overjoyed to be making games that appeal to younger gamers and older gamers with a strong sense of nostalgia, and I don’t say this in an entirely bad way. In a world where every other game seems to be a first-person shooter, it’s refreshing to see something that isn’t. And Nintendo always gets my attention whenever they make an announcement because I can’t help but pay attention to them, for better or worse.
But it nonetheless is curious to see Nintendo, despite its heaps and heaps of promises to work more closely with third parties on its consoles, consistently fail to put the ring upon their fingers and advertise their games, thereby potentially courting gamers outside of the Nintendo wading pool in.
Maybe that’s really just some desert mirage that we’ve been trained to see though. Maybe Nintendo doesn’t actually need those folk. It is wholly possible, if Nintendo sets their expectations accordingly, that they could–to the exclusion of the rest of the market–make and tailor games to their millions of preexisting fans and sell consoles and portables exclusively to them, all while making a profit. And maybe that’s what Nintendo is really trying to do here. Maybe they’re looking at fans like me, fans who’ve been putting off purchasing a Wii U because the right chords haven’t yet been struck, and telling us, “Hey, we know how deeply you really do feel about us, and now this is our love letter back to you saying that we miss you.”
And I know eventually, one of these days, once there are enough games out there, that I will be unable to resist their Siren’s call and click that button on Amazon that will magically deliver a Wii U to my apartment. Zelda U, anybody?
Nintendo is as Nintendo has been; for someone who’s been a fan of Nintendo for any length of time, I imagine you’d find someone who disagrees with that premise. They don’t seem to change that much; they still love their quirky input devices and their cast of characters from their history. They don’t feel the need to assault the “hardcore” market or to necessarily come out as number one because they seem to find profit and success even in last place. Just look at the GameCube. They seem to be totally content to be the second console in “the mainstream’s” homes, to make video games that make people smile, and to give their converted fans more of what they have always loved. And maybe, just maybe, there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s a good day to be a Nintendo fan. All we can do is hope that there are enough of us out there to throw gold coins into Nintendo’s coffers.