After months of speculation, a year ago this week Nintendo unveiled the Wii U, the successor to their hugely popular, yet divisive Wii console. Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime took to the stage and made one thing very clear – while Wii eventually skewed towards a more family-orientated market, Wii U was looking to bring the best of both worlds to its software library, catering for both families and single players. What followed was a sizzle reel of various third-party offerings, following by a glowing report from EA’s John Riccitiello, showing that Wii U had third-parties on board at an early stage.
Roll forward to this year’s E3, and after a somewhat anti-climatic Monday, everyone was waiting for Nintendo to unveil and amaze with Wii U at their 9am press conference. Only they didn’t. An hour later, journalists and fans across the world were left wondering what the focus of the conference was and what exactly Wii U did that was different to any other platform; despite some impressive games on display. How could Nintendo have possibly failed to succeed when all they had to do was show an impressive array of games to make everyone believe in Wii U?
That’s not to say the conference didn’t have some good games shown, and certainly overall the launch line-up is looking strong. Pikmin 3, Lego City Underworld and ZombiU all looked like great Wii U titles, but beyond that, everything else struggled to find a reason to be on Wii U. Games like Rayman Legends and Batman: Arkham City certainly showed off features that made use of the GamePad, but never felt like they were enhancing the gameplay in any meaningful way. New Super Mario Bros. U looked very much like the GamePad was introduced as an after-thought. Meanwhile, Scribblenauts Unlimited, while looking very good, has begun a dangerous precedent of DS games being simply upgraded to Wii U, something which cannot be allowed to become the norm.
And that’s where the biggest problem began for Wii U. Nothing showed off just why the system was a necessary and worthwhile upgrade, and while Nintendo Land has potential, the ponderous and ultimately insultingly slow demonstration ruined any momentum the conference had and left everyone with a bitter taste. That and we didn’t need to see everything we saw on Sunday’s Nintendo Direct again.
There’s also the big issue of third-parties, with numerous publishers curiously absent. Despite their huge support last year, EA’s games were completely missing, despite Riccitiello’s presence in the audience, as were Activision, Codemasters and Konami’s. Instead we got Ubisoft retreading their own conference (and strangely not showing off Assassin’s Creed 3), and a sizzle-reel of games we already knew were coming to the console, many of which were old games being re-released on Wii U. While this isn’t always a bad thing, games such as Mass Effect 3 are entirely pointless to re-release, especially given that it is the final entry in a trilogy of games – who exactly is this re-release for?
It was also extremely disappointing to only see the games we saw last year again (and the third demonstration in two days of Just Dance 4), and not see anything new. Even just simple announcements of big third-party titles such as Tomb Raider or Far Cry 3 would have gone a long way to proving Nintendo’s “core” aims with Wii U, but instead we heard very little, so little in fact that even Black Ops 2 is a definite maybe. And as for SiNG? Why was it even there?
But despite one of the worst conferences on record (don’t worry, 2008 still holds that title), the show ended up being a statement of intent from Nintendo with Wii U. Reggie confirmed on Spike after the show that everything shown at the conference was for the launch window, making it perhaps Nintendo’s strongest launch line-up yet. Let’s face it, there is something for everyone there, and with New Super Mario Bros U on store shelves, it will sell well over Christmas.
The biggest problem Nintendo have right now is with confirming titles for launch. With no release date set, publishers and developers can’t make a decision on whether to actively pursue a Wii U release this year or next, which may explain EA’s absence at the event after such a glowing review last year. Franchises like FIFA and Madden sell terribly out of season, and Activision will see no point in releasing Black Ops 2 on Wii U a few months after everyone already has it on other platforms. To get the full picture, we need a release date.
The other issue here is that while we know the Wii U will start strongly, where do things go beyond that? It was very clear from the conference that third-party support will be there in some form, but does that extend to titles coming in the next year? Will Bioshock Infinite make it? Will Grand Theft Auto V make it? And what will Nintendo have to offer once Pikmin 3 is on store shelves?
It’s clear that Nintendo still have a lot of convincing to do one way or the other for a lot of fans in terms of games, but we also need to see what the tablet can do. Nothing has shown off the tablet in any meaningful capacity yet, and that has to be Nintendo’s focus going forward. If E3 2012 was all about showing what is coming out for launch, then the coming months have to be about what makes Wii U special and what makes the GamePad necessary. We need to see how it changes single player games as well as family parties like in Nintendo Land, because single-player games are what Nintendo want to bring back in this generation.
However, the conference did work on some levels. It finally showed Nintendo’s ability and intent to bring not only its big franchises to an HD system, but to also bring across that casual market that so heavily bought into Wii. While Wii Fit U isn’t for most of us, coupled with New Super Mario Bros U, it will help boost sales, and given the third-party support we’ve seen so far, we could see some big franchises returning off the back of strong system sales figures – remember, Wii U has to gain traction all over again as it is brand new and is coming off the back of a dead Wii platform.
So while E3 2012 has turned out to be something of an anti-climax for Nintendo, all is not lost. So far we’ve merely scratched the surface of Wii U, and as Reggie said, there is a lot left to really understand the system. What we saw this year was a statement of intent from Nintendo – Wii U will have the big first-party titles you want, it will have the broad appeal of the Wii and it will bring in both old and new IPs from third-parties. What’s left to see now is just how the GamePad will change gaming and the extent of the third-party support, but for that to happen, we might have to wait until next E3.