Nintendo E3 Direct was playing it far too safe…

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.

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5 Responses to “Nintendo E3 Direct was playing it far too safe…”

  1. dap005 says:

    No bombshells this year. Only surprise was a new donkey kong game and there wasn't as many gifable moments as usual. Nonetheless what they showed were brilliant if not short (every game looks brilliant I have to admit but their trailers lasted for a flash with the exception of mega man's reveal). It surprising because I'm still getting news even now that wasn't mentioned in the direct (bayo2 now has 2 player, yep). It doesn't help that we don't have the chance to try out demos in the uk.

    I'm more worried about the lack of game announcements that will entice players that are not on board already since there was little surprises this year. Well at least I don't have to worry about waiting another year for Nintendo to announce something (imagine if they didn't have directs this year and just showed everything at e3, it would have felt very different then! But I don't necessarily mind this new form of announcing games so long as they include more japanese humour and meme material from now on).

    One things for sure though, the WiiU's still on edgy grounds.

    • dap005 says:

      Update regarding the lack of time dedicated to showing each game in the directs: Developer directs are now being posted on youtube at a rapid rate. Holy cow Iwata-san why did you not inform us about this beforehand, now I have to stop doing schoolwork and watch these… I doubt there's going to be any more new announcement but what the hay this is e3, less stressing and more celebrating gaming. 😛

      • KamiOnGames says:

        I guess that's at least a step in the right direction.

        I don't think a Direct is any replacement for a proper E3 conference however. The sedate pace and calm tone of the Directs is a wonderful piece of communication at any other time of year, but E3 is not really the time and/or place for that.

        There ARE next-gen titles in there. As I said, X is incredibly ambitious and even in the short bits we've seen demonstrates that the Wii U is dramatically underutilised at the moment by most developers. Bayonetta 2 seems to be running full-pelt even in that little segment. And Mario Kart 8 looks incredible as well, truly incredible and a massive step on from the usual Mario Kart formula. These games are not run of the mill titles, they are serious next-gen contenders. But they're just caged.

        I'm going to go watch those developer diaries now, but I genuinely think that Nintendo Direct is no substitute for a Nintendo E3 Conference. E3 was treated as just another Nintendo Direct, and it should have been so much more…

        • dap005 says:

          They should have live streamed the software showcase rather then just having a brief recap. But I agree it would be nice if they had more of a performance (but please no hiring random celebrities on stage to demo the games unless they actually want to be there).

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