Nintendo refuses to acknowledge the existence of rivals and even third-party publishers. It can never “win” E3 is if it doesn’t take part, argues Rob Fahey.
“Nintendo didn’t even acknowledge existing in the same universe as Sony or Microsoft. It barely even acknowledged the existence of third-party publishers, let alone other platforms.”
Coming to E3, Nintendo looked like the company with the most to prove. The WiiU hasn’t sunk, as the recent success of Splatoon demonstrates, but god knows it hasn’t stopped taking on water either. The 3DS remains a bona fide success, but sales have slowed – it’ll likely never reach the lofty heights of the DS’ installed base – and Nintendo is sufficiently worried about its handheld future to risk sticking its toe into the shark-infested waters of F2P mobile development. So sure, Sony and Microsoft needed to wow the crowds, but Nintendo needed to do so much more to score an E3 “win”; it needed to show the world that it’s still relevant, at least in these murky in-between years before the NX becomes a reality. It faced a tough challenge. An uphill struggle.
Here’s what Nintendo did instead: it refused point-blank to play the game. Hell, Nintendo refused to even pretend to be playing the same game as its platform rivals; it put together a presentation so utterly different in tone, in content and in style that it didn’t even acknowledge existing in the same universe as Sony or Microsoft. It barely even acknowledged the existence of third-party publishers, let alone other platforms. This isn’t how you do E3 presentations. It just isn’t. It’s insanity.
It’s just insane enough to have convinced me all over again of just how much the gaming world needs Nintendo, actually. But I’ll come back to that in a minute.
Let’s put it out there from the outset; this was a disappointing event. After the crowd-pleasing Xbox event and the absolute bombast, mic drop after mic drop, of the Sony event, Nintendo was low-key and showed nothing terribly unexpected. 14 games made it into the presentation, precisely half on WiiU and half on 3DS, but to be blunt, if you don’t already own a Nintendo console (or have one on your to-buy list), there was nothing here to convince you otherwise.
Looking at the Wii U first of all, Starfox Zero looks great and seems to make good use of the Gamepad, and was a good place to lead off. Xenoblade Chronicles X is stupendous (but you already knew that – it’s out in Japan, and the rest of the world will follow later this year) and Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem, seemingly heavily music themed and set in an alternate world version of Shibuya, looked entertainingly bonkers, although the lack of even cursory subtitles for the trailer made me wonder if it’ll ever see an international release. Then there was a new Animal Crossing game that appears to be an Amiibo-focused board game, the utterly charming Yoshi’s Wooly World, a new Mario Tennis game and Super Mario Maker. If you own a Wii U already and enjoy it, there are probably a couple of titles in there you’ll want to buy. If you don’t own a Wii U yet, and hadn’t planned to get one for Xenoblade Chronicles X, you won’t be swayed in the slightest in your decision by that line-up.
It’s much the same story on 3DS, where Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes looked like brilliant co-op fun, Metroid Prime Federation Force looked like a very average multiplayer game with the Metroid brand stuck to it for no good reason, and Fire Emblem Fates looked like Fire Emblem. There was a new Animal Crossing (where you appear to play as an estate agent, a profession which I’m not convinced can be rescued from its reputation even by Nintendo’s legendary talent for sweetness and light), further confirmation that Japanese smash-hit Yokai Watch is on the way west, and the rather lovely looking Mario & Luigi Paper Jam, which is a mash-up of lots of aspects of older Mario RPG and Paper Mario ideas with a new 3D style.
Again, that’s a good line-up. No question. But it’s a straight-shooting, right down the middle Nintendo faithful line-up. Wonderful if you like that sort of thing. Easily dismissed if you don’t. It won’t sell very many consoles.
Maybe Nintendo doesn’t care. Maybe they’ve given up on E3 as a place to sell consoles, and maybe they’ve got a point; maybe a company so deeply in the underdog position is better off waiting until the E3 hype wears off so it can show off its future in a digital event over the summer, when the news isn’t swamped left, right and centre with Fallout and Shenmue and Halo and Uncharted and Doom and Final Fantasy and god knows what else. Maybe, for a company that’s still all about family entertainment, at a show that’s increasingly about monetising the nostalgia of thirty-somethings, the only way to win was not to turn up.
What Nintendo didn’t show was as telling as what they did show; there was no sign of the Wii U’s Zelda game, and Miyamoto confirmed in the Treehouse segment after the main broadcast that the various Wii U gamepad “experiments” he revealed last year are in development as full games but weren’t on display. In fact, Nintendo made a point of showing nothing that won’t actually be released in the next 12 months; a marked contrast from Sony, in particular, whose stunning E3 performance is deflated a little by the realisation that so many of its titles are years from launch. Some internet sages are already nodding oh-so-wisely and taking this as an admission that Nintendo’s Wii U launch list, in particular, doesn’t go past mid-2016, but that’s a big stretch; NX won’t be unveiled in any form until next year and won’t be launched until some time in 2017, most likely late in the year. Wii U software support will continue through 2016, at least; I think Nintendo’s statement that it just wanted to show off games that you can actually play within the coming months can be taken at face value.
“It takes a tough heart not to appreciate the spirit of fun and the sheer respect for creativity and joy that the company displayed in the face of such expensive, whooping bombast from its rivals.”
Like I said at the outset, that’s not how you do E3. If you’re playing by the rules of E3, it’s insanity; but then again, so is making your senior management into muppet characters and relentlessly making light-hearted fun of them throughout the presentation. So is spending so much of your airtime getting developers to talk, in-depth and passionately, not about how great their games are, but about how they made them, what inspired them and what the creative process is like. It’s hard not to love Nintendo for taking that approach; it takes a tough heart not to appreciate the spirit of fun and the sheer respect for creativity and joy that the company displayed in the face of such expensive, whooping bombast from its rivals. Videogames need this, too; it would be a terribly sad day if this kind of whimsy and gentle, thoughtful craft was lost to us.
Even if your heart loves what Nintendo is doing and how it’s doing it, though, your head ought to tell you that Nintendo “lost” E3. It didn’t do anything to change the fact that the Wii U is in third place and losing ground. It didn’t do anything to sway the unbelievers. It didn’t even do all that much to convince the faithful. Ranked against Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo “lost” – I just don’t know how much that word means, when the truth is that Nintendo just refused to play.