During Nintendo’s latest Direct presentation today, the company detailed several games for the console, both announced and previously unknown. The games were just the period to an already powerful exclamation point: Nintendo president Satoru Iwata began the presentation by apologizing.
Though we already knew this to be the deal, it still sounds pretty horrible to new console buyers, especially to a company that could fall pretty short of its goal of 5.5 Million consoles through March.
Nintendo isn’t known to apologize, but has now been forced to over two years and two major product launches (3DS and Wii U). Iwata’s poignant comments were both an acknowledgement of failure of planning, and a slight glimpse that maybe they’re starting to get it. At least, we hope.
And so, if there was ever a time to get fans interested again it would be right now after a relatively soft launch. For those that haven’t invested in a Wii U yet, this Nintendo Direct was crucial. And the best way? Blockbuster announcements of games in the company’s biggest and most popular franchises, checking every box for Nintendo that we’ve come to expect. It’s an absolutely expected bit of news, as we’ve all pretty much known that these games were coming in some form or another. It’s almost enough to consider it a non-announcement for Nintendo. For all we know it’s essentially “Another Mario Game”.
In fact, the revelation of these games didn’t cause the uproar on Twitter. No, it was the little tidbit of information that came along with each game announcement that got people excited.
Mario U and Mario Kart U
Registered excitement because: Previously unannounced, but will be playable at E3
Though New Super Mario Bros U is actually a very good game, you wouldn’t know it by the reaction by pessimistic fans who are burned out by the 2D Mario series and haven’t bothered to give it a try. “Where’s my Mario Universe?” is the cry heard by the same fans, looking for something on a grander scale.
Well, it’s now officially coming. Iwata announced that EAD, the premiere studio within Nintendo behind the excellent Galaxy games and Super Mario 3D Land, was behind the endeavor. Though EAD had a hand in the NSMB games, the games were handled by vets of 2D level design and a Mario Cram School. That left the designers of 3D Mario games to work on this latest entry instead of wasting away in 2D worlds.
Again, that’s Nintendo’s premiere development staff working on the game. This is the Mario game everyone has been asking for.
Nintendo is (surprise!) also working on a new Mario Kart game. Iwata reiterated that there have always been Mario Kart games in development early in Nintendo console cycles, and this should be no surprise. Mario Kart 7 was released last year and has been wildly successful. Each time, the racer has improved over previous installments with new concepts and courses, most recently including racing communities online.
Will this be any different? Probably not by much. Sure, it’ll include multiplayer in ingenious ways and motion controls with the tablet screen, but it’ll only potentially be as big a leap as previous Kart games have. But Mario Kart a system seller to both dedicated gamers and casual fans, which is what the Wii U needs.
The exciting aspect for both of these isn’t that they’re new games in the series. We know they’ll be fun, entertaining, deep games. Our interest was piqued when the words “playable at this year’s E3″ were said by Iwata. “Playable at this year’s E3.” That essentially means that at least one — if not both — of these games will arrive this Fall. THAT’S the exciting part; these are relatively near-term NEW RELEASES in big franchises that will be forced to go up against the next Xbox and Playstation consoles. Nintendo needs these quickly to turn over fans who were on the fence about buying a Wii U soon or holding out and saving up for a new Xbox.
Mario Kart, the system-seller for expanded audiences, and Mario U for the core Nintendo fan.
First Smash Bros U (and 3DS) images coming at E3
Registered excitement because: Previously announced, but first images at E3
When it was announced at E3 2011, Smash Bros for the Wii U (and 3DS) was nothing more than text on a computer screen. Perhaps it wasn’t much more than that to its developers, either. There has been no news of the game since we were told last year that Namco was the developer behind it. We were also told not to expect anything anytime soon either. With the Smash Bros series (and Zelda) Nintendo and producer Masahiro Sakurai seem to enjoy excruciatingly prolonged development cycles. It still perplexes us that we heard a name drop almost as soon as Sakurai himself did, and we wonder why the company even continues to mention it so early in development.
Playstation All-Stars pulled a coup and out-did the game by being announced and released in between Smash Bros revelations. Capcom continues to put out great fighting games within that time span. Namco and Tecmo as well. We were told that we’ll be seeing the first screens of the game at E3 this year — which many were happy to hear — but if the past has told us anything then the game could still be a year or two away, and that’s a pretty discouraging point.
Wii U Party coming in July
Registered excitement because: Previously unannounced, it might fill a hole in an empty July. Oh who are we kidding, no one is excited for it.
Nintendo sure loves minigame collections. Game & Wario and Wii Fit U fall in that category already, but the company knows that it can pump them out at a quick pace. Case in point: Wii U Party (tentative) has been announced for a July release. It’s another collection of games that may or may not sell. The original Wii Party didn’t do that well, and Mario Party and Fortune Street faired even worse. So why keep pushing them?
Simple: gap fill. July is typical an empty time of year for software releases, landing at the beginning of Q2 when most companies are preparing for Fall and consumers are enjoying Summer weather outdoors. Wii Party U may just be providing easy sales when nothing else is being released, much like Wii Sports Resort did to immense sales results. Couple that with affordable development — party games don’t require AAA teams to work on them — and they provide quickly injected profits.
Frankly, we’d much rather see the games come as themed DLC for NintendoLand to get us to come back to the game after our that first week. But again, it’s a game that’s coming soon to a console that needs games.
Zelda U acknowledges issues with series conventions
Registered excitement because: Previously unannounced, rethinking what it means to be a Zelda game, looking at Zelda’s visual past
When we first saw the Zelda HD Experience at E3 on 2011 we were blown away by the quick proof of concept demo at what the Gamepad was capable of. Since then, there has been a lot of work done on the next Zelda game in the series… but we won’t see it for a while. Sound familiar? Zelda development cycles are perhaps the most notoriously lengthy of all of Nintendo’s franchises. The company teases us now and again with slight details and images, concept art and short demos, before it finally releases a game in the series.
Though Zelda U won’t be much different in that respect, there were some important takeaways from the Nintendo Direct that did manage to excite fans.
One of the biggest criticisms for Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess were their adherence to traditional Zelda structure. With this latest game, Zelda team director Eiji Aonuma and his crew are “rethinking the conventions of Zelda”. In today’s Nintendo Direct, two of those conventions mentioned were the static dungeon order (Dungeon A, then Dungeon B, then Dungeon C) and playing Zelda games alone. While that’s all that was mentioned, the Internet promptly began throwing out excited exclamations like “open world” and “co-op”. The words chosen were very intentional, and meant to create conversation on the web and in Nintendo circles.
Another point of contention was how Zelda would be visually designed. Would it be more realistic, like the HD Experience? Aonuma surprised fans by stating that through the game’s design process they had been looking at how previous iterations in the franchise could translate into HD, even announcing a Wind Waker HD port. The study of styles is exciting, as HD can provide incredible visual innovation and flexibility that the series did not have in the past.
Nintendo laid many of its franchises on the table for the Wii U. In fact, it’s as if the company had been reading NeoGAF since E3 and planned around it. Sure we’re missing new F-Zero, Earthbound, and even Wii Sports installments, but the company seems to suddenly be front loading game announcements, whether out of necessity to stay relevant when new consoles are launching or to showcase that it’s picking up development at an accelerated rate.
In any event, the back half of 2013 suddenly seems crowded, and we know that there will be many more announcements forthcoming in June. Can Nintendo keep pace? If history has shown us it’s always been the franchises that will carry it, even if they are minor updates to series conventions.
Like clockwork, Nintendo relies on its stalwart franchises. But never all at once.