The Big Three at E3: Nintendo Wii U Déjà Vu

Bobby Miller

Continuing our coverage of E3, where major video game companies share their plans for the future, Nintendo takes a unique approach to the conference. But does this mean it has any unique games to offer?

Nintendo’s Battleground

Among the major video game console manufacturers, Nintendo has long been the odd man out. While other companies rely primarily on mature-rated games for their sales—see “Halo,” “Grand Theft Auto” and “God of War”—Nintendo relies almost entirely on games targeted to all ages. In fact, the company has never developed an M-rated game itself, though it has published a few made by other companies. In addition, Nintendo has recently taken on unique control schemes for its consoles. The Wii relied on motion control, something the other companies only picked up on later, and the Wii U is relying on a controller with a huge touch screen and other special features.

Nvate E3 Nintendo Wii U, Wii, Pikmin 3, Nintendo Direct, GamePad

Credit: Polygon.com

Because of this, it’s always difficult to tell what Nintendo will do at the annual E3 video game conference. In a sense, it’s not even a direct competitor with the other console manufacturers due to its unique approach to gaming. However, the fact of the matter is, many families, casual gamers and hardcore gamers will be deciding which system to buy this holiday season, and Nintendo wants it to be the Wii U.

Nintendo was in an especially difficult position this E3. Unlike the other two big console makers, Microsoft and Sony, it didn’t have a new and exciting system to reveal. So, journalists covering this E3 are making it out to be a fight between the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, as if Nintendo doesn’t exist. Plus, the Wii U has shown disappointing sales, and many of its essential first-party games, such as “Pikmin 3” and “Wii Fit U,” have been delayed numerous times. Finally, a lot of third-party developers aren’t confident in the system and therefore have abandoned it. According to GamePolitics.com, one higher-up in Electronic Arts, a large gaming company, even called it “crap.”

On the bright side, in the world of dedicated portable systems, Nintendo is still the unquestioned king. VGchartz.com shows that 86 percent of portable systems sold today are Nintendo 3DS devices, as compared to 14 percent for PlayStation Vita units. So the focus was on promoting the Wii U during this E3.

Nintendo Direct Reaches out to All Gamers

However, it should be noted that Nintendo took a unique approach to E3. Rather than host a big press conference at the site, Nintendo decided that it wanted to make its announcements immediately available to the public. So, the company hosted its announcement in its series of Nintendo Direct videos, which are streamed online. The one for E3 can be viewed at E3.Nintendo.com or at the company’s YouTube page.

Nintendo still had plenty of game demos at the E3 site, but this year, gamers got to play these demos themselves at select Best Buy locations. Not many were available, though, with only four in Ohio. Available from June 12-15, the promotion was over before most people knew about it. Gamers should have been able to download the demos onto the Wii U through the Internet to stir up more excitement.

Nvate E3 Nintendo Wii U, Wii, Pikmin 3, Nintendo Direct, GamePad

Satoru Iwata, CEO of Nintendo of America, shows off the company’s E3 booth, complete with cool decorations and playable demos.

Anyway, I tuned in to Nintendo Direct on the morning of June 11, ready to soak in roughly an hour of gaming news. Well, unfortunately, many users had trouble the morning of June 11 getting the video on Nintendo Direct to work, and many experienced a frustrating amount of lag. That certainly robbed the game footage of some of its rightful flair, and it probably encouraged many gamers to give up and go about their lives. But it sorted out the technical issues in about 10 minutes.

Since Nintendo had no new hardware to show, the announcement focused entirely on games. While they definitely look fun, they reeked of familiarity. There was also a glaring lack of new information about games previously announced. The following days of E3 did not provide much new information either.

People often complain that all Nintendo does is rehash its well-established franchises, like Mario, Zelda and Pokémon, with slight variations in order to make an easy profit. This E3 announcement did nothing to ease their misgivings—only one game shown, “The Wonderful 101,” was a brand new series.

Wii U Games on the Horizon

“Super Mario 3-D World” began the presentation. As the first 3-D Mario platformer for the Wii U, you would hope it would revolutionize the series like “Super Mario 64” and “Super Mario Galaxy” did on the Nintendo 64 and Wii, respectively. Instead, it looked like a revamped version of the Nintendo 3DS game “Super Mario 3-D Land.” In fact, some people tweeted thinking it was a 3DS game.

Nvate E3 Nintendo Wii U, Wii, Pikmin 3, Nintendo Direct, GamePad

On the left is the Wii U game, and on the right is the 3DS game.

Taking a cue from the 2-D Mario games, which tend to sell far better than the 3-D ones, this will feature four-player action—you can either be cooperative or competitive. The four characters will play differently, much like they did in the U.S. version of “Super Mario Bros. 2.” Luigi jumps higher but is harder to control, Toad runs faster and Peach floats. Plus, a new cat suit will let the crew climb up walls. But every Mario game features a new suit, so that’s to be expected. It will be released in December 2013, according to Nintendo Direct.

Instead of a revolution, we got a revamp. People who have played the demo claim it’s a blast, but Nintendo could have been more ambitious.

“Mario Kart 8” is the same way. It will feature the ability to “defy gravity” by riding on certain walls and even ceilings. However, this doesn’t affect the gameplay much since the camera is rotated such that the road will always be underneath you. The only change will come from watching walls for shortcuts. And everything else looked familiar, taking bikes from the Wii game as well as hang gliding and underwater sections from the 3DS game. That is sure disappointing to gamers online who were hoping for a create-a-track option or the ability to play as non-Mario characters. If the game will feature such content, we don’t know it yet. And it’s not due out until spring 2014, according to Nintendo Direct. However, many people who have played the demo claim it’s lots of fun and features beautiful graphics.

Likewise, “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze,” the only game announced for the first time at Nintendo Direct, will have gameplay similar to its predecessors. The only new features demonstrated in the game’s footage are the ability to swim, barrel blast sections with different camera angles and the ability to use Dixie Kong as a supporting character. It will come out in November 2013.

Gamers were hoping for lots of information on the new “Super Smash Bros.” games coming out for the 3DS and Wii U. But basically all we learned is that the villager from “Animal Crossing” and Capcom’s Mega Man will be playable characters, as will the female trainer from “Wii Fit,” humorously enough. Since that intense multiplayer franchise sells millions, why hasn’t Nintendo tried building up more hype for them? As many people suspected, they will not be available until 2014, according to Nintendo Direct.

Nvate E3 Nintendo Wii U, Wii, Pikmin 3, Nintendo Direct, GamePad

Credit: GameSpot.com

The game “Wii Party U,” mainly intended for casual gamers, will use Wii Remotes and the GamePad for its collection of mini-games. Some one-on-one mini-games will involve two players holding different sides of the GamePad. It will be released in October. Another casual game, “Wii Fit U,” will come out in December—a full year after it was originally scheduled to, according to Nintendo Direct.

One surprising announcement was the game “Art Academy.” It will allow for detailed drawings using the GamePad. Since many people like to draw on Miiverse, Nintendo’s online community, some of the game’s more detailed features, such as colored pencils and pastels, will make it on there too. It’s still early in development, so the release date is unknown.

Another unique game coming out is “The Wonderful 101,” where massive squads of superheroes take on space invaders in single-player or multiplayer action. The action begins Sept. 15, 2013, according to the Nintendo website.

Finally, there is a game simply known as “X” being developed by the people who made the role-playing game “Xenoblade” for the Wii. All we know about it is that it will have a vast world to explore and that you can ride big robots once 2014 comes around, according to Nintendo Direct.

Since these games aren’t exactly original and since many aren’t coming out this year, Nintendo might be in for a cold winter soon. Plus, we didn’t get the Wii U price drop that most people were predicting. With the PlayStation 4 costing only $50 more than a deluxe Wii U, Nintendo may have a tough time winning over customers when the holidays roll around.

Nintendo 3DS Continues to Impress

The Nintendo 3DS should continue to do fine, though it too is relying on sequels. The trailer for “Yoshi’s New Island” only showed off one feature unavailable in the 1995 SNES original, and that’s the ability to throw big, all-destroying eggs. It will be released sometime in 2014.

“The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds” looks a lot like the SNES “A Link to the Past,” only this features the ability to become entirely flat against a wall. This will allow Link to hide from enemies and reach secret areas. Players will be able to embark on Link’s new adventure in November 2013, according to Nintendo Direct.

Nvate E3 Nintendo Wii U, Wii, Pikmin 3, Nintendo Direct, GamePad

Credit: GameInformer.com

“Pokémon X” and “Pokémon Y” still look sharp with their new 3-D graphics. At E3, we learned that there will be fairy-type Pokémon and that you will have the ability to interact with your little guys directly through the touch screen. By petting them, feeding them and making them happy, they’ll be more likely to dodge attacks in battle. And besides, it’s really darn cute. The interactive fun will be released worldwide on Oct.12, 2013, according to Nintendo Direct.

How Nintendo Stands

All of these games will sell well and be loads of fun to play, but where’s the originality? In this precarious economy, Nintendo is not taking many risks. The only M-rated game the company is currently involved with is “Bayonetta 2,” which Nintendo plans to publish sometime in 2014. Since its prequel was never released on a Nintendo system, it’s questionable how well this will do at retail, though. The Wii U’s lack of M-rated games will probably make older gamers gravitate toward the PlayStation 4.

So, overall, Nintendo is sticking to what it knows. It’s using the characters whose games have sold millions in the past, and it’s adding only somewhat minor gameplay tweaks to the experiences. Since the Wii U was supposed to be revolutionary with its new control scheme and openness to third-party developers, this is somewhat of a letdown. However, Nintendo’s steady stream of sales in past years have shown that people are fine buying fun games even if they aren’t particularly original, the company will do fine.

In next month’s Nvate, we will wrap up our coverage of E3 2013 by looking at how Sony’s presentation of the PlayStation 4 fared. The company is trying to rise above its rough days with the PlayStation 3, which paled in comparison to the PS2 in terms of sales.

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