I was a lot more nervous than excited as yesterday's Digital Event approached. That's unusual. I love E3, the big reveals and surprises get me giddy, but my Nintendo spider sense (Gohma sense?) was tingling. Danger!
In hindsight Reggie tried to let us down gently with a disclaimer about transformation. That may not have dampened our enthusiasm at the start but it was clear by the end that transforming means transitioning. And transitions on Nintendo platforms can be rough. Last year was all snappy humor, creativity and a declaration of confidence in the 3DS and Wii U that took many people by surprise. This time the medium was similar but the message was altogether different: it's the final year of both the Wii U and the 3DS. The age of tentpole announcements for these machines has passed and ultimately the show could only disappoint.
Sure enough, our hopes dimmed with each Nintendo franchise reveal as we saw spin-offs instead of mainline games. Giving us smaller experiences to keep us playing between the big ones is good in theory, Captain Toad was brilliant, but without 3rd party support the Nintendo audience is always hungry. If you tease a hungry gamer only to deliver a series of boardgames and weird multiplayer offshoots you're asking to get bitten. Cue backlash.
Also missing was the traditional, 'one more surprise'. We expect this now. Nintendo knows it. It's a common feature of previous E3s and even the typical Nintendo Direct but instead they ended with a self-indulgent YouTube montage and an abrupt cut to the Treehouse Live team. An awkward end to an awkward 50 minutes.
So here we are, a little bit sadder and a little bit wiser. Venturing into the news void, the gap between systems. It's no mystery where Nintendo's biggest development teams have gone...
- Mobile: the DeNA partnership is a huge deal for Nintendo and they are the ones handling the majority of development. The first few releases, due out this year, need to be compelling and you can be sure the company is working hard to make this gambit count. When the pressure is on to finish a game often every studio at Nintendo from Retro to Monolith Soft to the different internal divisions all throw their weight together. Just because these games are mobile doesn't mean they aren't absorbing significant resources.
- QOL: I hesitate to place blame on this for Nintendo's light showing, but this is Iwata's pet project and who knows what he's throwing into making it a success?
-The NX: This "dedicated gaming platform" is widely suspected to replace both our handheld and console hardware, consolidating Nintendo's development resources and creating one big future userbase. Whatever form it takes, the fact that it's approaching when both systems are dramatically winding down is no coincidence.
Nintendo Tokyo, Garage, Retro Studios are known to be working on a large number of undisclosed titles, some of which have been in active production for 2 years. Games of this caliber could have blown the doors off the show and propped up the Wii U for at least another year, but without even a hint about them it's not hard to guess where they are headed. Zelda's absence is an even bigger herald of the move to NX. Miyamoto talked about having great Zelda footage right now that they aren't showing, which signifies the game's disappearance isn't about some stylistic makeover. Zelda is still promised as a 2016 Wii U release, but the real surprise now would be if it was Wii U exclusive.
The timing of all of this seems to confirm the transition to NX has begun. Looking at the history of Nintendo handhelds 3DS is due for a replacement next year and everyone wondering how long the Wii U would be around in the face of consumer disinterest seems to have their answer now too.
Nintendo fans are now in a holding pattern until the next big thing drops. And it's going to be a long wait.
Still, although we've discovered the current gen surprises are all spent, we can take a step back and enjoy this being one of the Wii U's strongest years. You'll have to pry Splatoon from my cold, dead tentacles, and just ahead is Yoshi, Xenoblade, Fatal Frame, Star Fox which has a great core from Nintendo and will no doubt become more and more dramatic and impressive under Platinum's wing. And of course Super Mario Maker, a gamer's dream since 1985. The 3DS has a healthly line-up too, even if this event did little to add to it.
E3 may be about selling anticipation for future games, and that's a large part of the fun of being a gamer, but it's easy to lose sight of the games themselves and here and now Nintendo systems are still seeing compelling exclusives unlike anything else available. Next year we will have the opposite problem, no games but plenty of exciting announcements. By then, if not hopefully before, we will appreciate the difference.
Really nicely written, thanks. After swallowing such disappointment and coming to terms with my fear, I am a little more forgiving and understanding. I think you hit the nail on the head here, this all sounds about right.
I think a lot of those were just showing those games last. To me, the one last surprise thing has to come after some sort of fake out that they're wrapping things up. That's why I was thinking of Paulatena in my original post.
Well, there's kind of a blurry distinction, but I think it's generally not uncommon to save one of the better reveals for the end. It doesn't mean everything has to be 2004 Zelda "JUST ONE MORE THING" style, but finishing strong is common enough in E3 presentations that it makes sense to sort of expect it (at least if the show felt a little light on content).