So laidback it was almost motionless.
I’m a big Nintendo apologist. You can go back on this blog and I’ve always tried to find logic and reason in “The Nintendo Way”.
They make money, they sell lots of machines and have survived and weathered storms that took down the likes of Atari, Neo Geo, CDi, Sega and Nokia to name but a few of the trophies hanging up on their wall. Nintendo is a giant-slayer, first and foremost, and the notches in their belt tell the tale of a plucky company that outmanoeuvred the industries biggest, baddest machines. Heck, we could even claim that Sony and Microsoft are victims of this, with how the Wii punished them at the start of this generation with nothing more than a quirky idea. Nintendo are the company who you never bet against, where you always expect the unexpected and you are always aware of a sense of effervescent excitement under the often rather starchy business suits and planned speeches.
Except this E3, Nintendo played it safe. And if you were to ask me to expand, I’d say they were playing it dangerously safe.
Nothing Nintendo showed before or after was new or exciting. The new Mario Kart effectively pinches the big anti-gravity thing from F-Zero. The new Super Mario 3D World for Wii U is basically a rushed and terribly desperate title for a franchise which usually sees care and love lavished upon it, even in its darker and most dodgy incarnations (Super Mario Sunshine springs to mind. No, I didn’t LIKE it, but I’ll say it at least looked gorgeous!). Smash Bros. showed of Villager from Animal Crossing, and Mega Man. Two additions that come as no real surprise or bombshell. Bayonetta 2 has a shorter hairdo, that was about the thrust of the reveal apart from a small gameplay teaser. The mysterious “X” looks gorgeous, truly amazing as an open-world RPG adventure. But it got no time dedicated to it, no live gameplay footage. It was glossed over glibly and carelessly, in the rush to somehow condense the show down to forty minutes.
It’s amazing then that even after all the cuts, all the subtractions, that the whole Direct seemed so damned SLOW.
Nintendo is usually at its best when its back is up against the wall. The Wii U may not have a rival in the XBox One (really it’s not going to compete with anything until Microsoft overhaul it), but Sony will be there. And Sony’s E3 showing this morning was devastatingly effective. Exciting, dramatic, paced and measured to the right degree, it was a masterful if at times slightly wonky showing of what was possible. Nintendo didn’t have any wonky demos or trailers, but it didn’t show much of anything at all. Everything was rushed through, and even then, it felt like they were just chucking it aside so all we got was a brief glimpse of… something. Not quite sure what, but something was there.
Some will say this is evident of Nintendo’s usual approach, but the Nintendo 3DS is a great example of how they can get it right. With interesting content, games and additions on a regular basis as well as a packed release schedule and plenty of games on the horizon for the next few months (to the point Nintendo ran a promotion that effectively began giving them away when people bought a couple of other titles!), there is clear evidence that Nintendo as a company utterly knows how to run a market. But it seems to have forgotten the Wii U, it seems to have lost its focus. The Nintendo 3DS is safe now, it’s roaring ahead and dominating the market. It needs no more focus. It needs no more attention, attention Nintendo could better spend on the Wii U itself. We have a console that is now £200, and there’s a slow trickle of games and even Nintendo’s flagship Mario game looks rushed and incompetent.
Fortunately, X looked stunning – easily on par with anything Sony showed. It’s just a shame we didn’t get to see any of it. The Wind Waker HD looks sensational – but it always did, in HD this is a given. Bayonetta 2 looked stunning, really properly next-gen in the gameplay and graphics department, and Mario Kart 8 is… well, it’s bloody Mario Kart. What more do you want?
But in the confines of the Direct, so condensed and pushed together, the whole thing was too small and bitty. In an E3 conference, you could imagine Reggie introducing a 10-minute demonstration of “X”, the mechs and the combat and the scale of the thing. You could imagine people being forced to play these games and show them. In Direct form, it’s too clinical. Too safe. Too restrictive. Once a month isn’t nearly enough to get across anything exciting about these games at all, it would need to be weekly or fortnightly to have any real impact and it would need to be a good hour long each time, if not longer if the games require it. Iwata-san doesn’t have to stand around reading the teleprompter any more than is already necessary and if we’re watching the feed, it means we WANT to watch it, and we want more.
The problem with the Direct was that it took the Direct to remind us why we love Nintendo at E3. Nintendo is unpredictable, a bottle you never quite know how far to shake before it explodes. There’s always a buzz, always a tingle of electricity running through it. The Direct show isn’t a valid replacement for a proper E3 show. It’s just far too orchestrated and far too limited in scope and what it can do in the time constraints Nintendo seems to place on them for it to be anything near the glory days of an E3 Nintendo show, where you always got a sense of danger.
But the Directs are a symptom of a deep-seated ill at the heart of the Wii U. Nintendo doesn’t seem to have anything this year we want. All the shiny games – Mario Kart, Bayonetta, X, Smash Bros. – have been pushed into 2014. So this year, our highlights include a remade Deus Ex: Human Revolution and an HD remake of The Wind Waker. It doesn’t help change the image that Nintendo has of relying on old names. Nintendo used to be a big investor in new IP – heck, look at the N64 and Gamecube and even the Wii for evidence of this. But it’s been getting sloppy of late, and relying more on rehashing the same concepts rather than come up with anything fresh, and I suspect that new Mario 3D World is going to really be a disappointment when we get it. It looked rushed during the presentation, and that rarely bodes well…
Nintendo has to get a grip on this and get the Wii U moving. It has to invest in the Wii U, because heck knows no-one else will if Nintendo can’t be bothered. Nintendo is a games company, they make games for their hardware. They are most times dangerously good at this too, because it pushes third-parties away because they’re afraid of competing with Nintendo. But in this bizarre world of the Wii U, Nintendo seems to be taking the back seat. And no-one appears to be jumping into the front seat to actually drive the bloody car anywhere. Nintendo can kid itself all it wants that eventually a third party will come along and chauffeur the somewhere nice, but the truth is this car ain’t going anyway until they get out of the back and into the driving seat, and get the damned thing moving on its own accord.
I’m frustrated because this is not the Nintendo I have known. I’ve never seen it as so unbelievably complacent as it was today. Nothing new, nothing exciting, no bombshells and what interesting stuff was there, we saw thirty seconds of gameplay footage tops. It’s not enough, it’s just not enough Nintendo. This is just laziness, sheer sloth of the most inane kind and I’m frankly irritated. I’d have thought with the sales dropping so hard the last few months, you’d realise that something needed to be done.
It was no XBox One disaster. But it was certainly frustrating, because Nintendo doesn’t seem to get it.
For a company who made a name from themselves pushing their own hardware and “getting it”, it’s a worrying development that Nintendo cannot afford to let get away from them, lest it really do serious harm to the machine itself. Which, if you look at X and Bayonetta 2, are clearly capable of serious, high-resolution and highly detailed gaming landscapes and characters. It’s possible. It’s there.
So start selling it Nintendo, because until you do, no-one is going to want to buy it.