Allow me to say what everyone’s thinking: Nintendo’s E3 2012 was the same as Nintendo’s E3 2011. The show as a whole this year had a different drive to previous years, with Sony and Microsoft veering off in separate directions, but Nintendo has been forced to stick to its Wii U guns, resulting in a keynote with nothing special to add. Save for a healthy smattering of Mario, that is. The question: is that enough?
E3 2011: Nintendo jumps ahead of the pack and unveils its new console. The Wii U, with its giant slab of a controller and separate screen, was an interesting new direction for Nintendo. We all looked at it, played about with it, decided it had the potential to be lots of fun and then wandered off to let Nintendo cook up a storm in time for this year’s show.
You see, the Wii U does have a lot of potential, but those of us not making the games need to be shown exactly what that potential is. Last year a whole host of top studios popped up in Nintendo’s announcement video to say that they were on board, but it was still very early days, so the wider gaming world just left E3 buoyed, if a little confused.
Scoot on back to 2012, and you can understand the sort of pressure being heaped on top of Nintendo’s stand. This all on top of the fact that Nintendo posted its first loss in 30 years this year. Something amazing had to happen – we needed to be shown that the Wii U really was the future. But it didn’t, and we weren’t.
Nintendo’s E3 was an eerily similar showing to its last; Nintendo America’s head boy Reggie Fils-Aime took to the stage to show off the Wii U almost as if for the first time again. “When you play it you begin to understand the integrated second screen,” he said, perhaps feeling the vibe that people still aren’t entirely sure what any of it does in practice.
And with a Nintendo console, what better way to do so than to throw some Mario in the mix? New Super Mario Bros. U was the ace in the hole, here – a side-scrolling platformer that will no doubt be force-fed plenty of the usual Miyamoto innovation, but otherwise looks fairly similar to the current Wii offering. ”Just like Mario has always been, but better,” said Fils-Aime.
It was joined by two other Mario titles, albeit both for the 3DS: New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Paper Mario: Sticker Star.
The question is: is that enough? Ninty may think so, but then it may also be putting too much confidence in Mario’s ability to float a console to success. That may have been the case a generation or so back, but I’d question whether Mario’s mind-melting colours and happy-clappy universe is quite the gaming crack it once was, especially when Nintendo’s also having to push more core games like Arkham City.
Nintendo’s consoles need more than just Mario to succeed. At this stage, where we’re getting closer by the day to the Wii U launch, a general public that doesn’t really know what it is you’re selling them needs some compelling reasons to buy.
A Mario game by itself – and a 2D one at that – is risky. Yes, Nintendo also unveiled a new Pikmin game, but what it should have done was bombard the Wii U with top-name franchises. Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Starfox, a Smash Bros. game are all needed to get anyone but the hardcore gamers interested. Or if it is just a Mario game, it needs to be as new, impressive and grandiose as Super Mario 64 was.
Largely, the Wii U offering was underwhelming. SiNG, which is a horrifically embarrasing-looking karaoke game, and MiiVerse, a plinky-plonky social chat hub, are hardly worthy headliners. On any other console they’d be also-rans, but Nintendo still hasn’t quite figured out who it’s aiming the Wii U at, or how it’s going to do so, so they were front and centre.
Can the promise of a lone Mario title be enough to secure the Nintendo Wii U some promising sales later this year? Probably, if you’re talking hardcore Nintendo fans, but it’s not enough for everyone else, and Ninty should really have figured that out by now.
The company’s had a whole year to wow us, and it’s failed.