Coming into E3 2012, Nintendo looked like the surefire “winner” of the show. While Sony and Microsoft drag their feet on showing or even talking about their next-gen consoles, Nintendo was getting ready to show off the Wii U. The Wii U was said to feature hardware better than Xbox/PS3, an improved online service called the Nintendo Network, and an innovative controller that would change gaming. Once the dust settled and Nintendo’s press conference was over, however, it was clear that Nintendo had dropped the ball.
Nintendo’s press briefing got off to a great start, as legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto took the stage to introduce the world to Pikmin 3. After an entertaining and humorous video, the always likeable Miyamoto-san showed the first gameplay footage of the new Pikmin game for Wii U. The Pikmin games are lighthearted takes on the RTS genre and have a dedicated following, yet they’ve never achieved the success of a Mario or The Legend of Zelda. Pikmin 3 boasts impressive graphics and a few new features, but looks disappointingly similar to the first two games. More importantly, the only way that Pikmin 3 really takes advantage of the Wii U GamePad is to use the second screen as a map–probably the most boring use of the GamePad imaginable. Still, there hasn’t been a new Pikmin game in a long time, and it would make a great addition to a strong launch lineup.
Unfortunately, it became quite apparent that the Wii U won’t have the strong initial software support we were all expecting–or at least hoping–it would have. New Super Mario Bros. U was made official in the next segment of Nintendo’s briefing. New Super Mario Bros. U will surely be a lot of fun, but it’s also not the Mario game we were all hoping for. The graphics are in HD and it takes advantage of the Wii U’s GamePad in an interesting way–players can draw blocks on the screen to help/hinder others–but it otherwise looks like it could have been done on the 3DS. The fact that Nintendo next showed off New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS really drove home this point, as the two games look almost interchangeable. Nintendo also briefly showed Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon for the 3DS, but that was it for 3DS news. Apparently, more will be announced tomorrow at a special Nintendo 3DS-themed stream on Nintendo’s website and Facebook pages. That’s fine; more time to focus on the Wii U.
For most of the rest of the conference, Nintendo focused on third-party support for the Wii U. It’s a solid idea, but the games just weren’t intriguing. Too much time was given to Batman: Arkham City–Armored Edition, a port of the year-old Batman game with new features that don’t look enticing at all. A sizzle reel showed games like Mass Effect 3 and Ninja Gaiden 3, games that have been out for months on other platforms. Who’s going to want to buy them again? At least upcoming games like Assassin’s Creed III and Aliens: Colonial Marines were included, so it’s not all games we already own.
Of course, this being Nintendo, casual games were in full effect. Wii Fit U is a new version of the fitness game that consumers seem to have lost interest in. Just Dance 4 actually had gameplay shown, not that it was impressive. The tentatively titled new IP Sing is a karaoke game in which players don’t have to look at the TV while singing, making it a great party game. Nintendo wants to appeal to all audiences, so having these games at the conference makes sense. It’s not like they were any less impressive than a year-old Batman game, anyway.
The best looking new game aimed at all audiences is LEGO City Undercover, the new LEGO game from longtime franchise developer Traveler’s Tales. The kiddie aesthetic might turn older gamers off, but LEGO City Undercover looks like a lot of fun. It’s an open-world game that incorporates classic LEGO gameplay and humor. It’s not going to knock anyone’s socks off–especially at the traditionally hardcore gamer-focused E3–but it looks like a good game.
The same can be said of the most promising Wii U game, Ubisoft’s Zombi U. Zombi U got all of about two minutes at Nintendo’s briefing (for shame Nintendo), but later details reveal that Zombi U is a very intriguing game. It features gorgeous graphics, a ton of innovative uses for the Wii U GamePad (the best at the show, in fact), and scary first-person shooter gameplay. The concept revolves around seeing how long your character can survive in zombie infected London. Death is permanent and there are no checkpoints; once your character dies, you can see how long he/she survived and start over with a new character. You must guide your new character to the spot at which your previous character was killed and defeat the zombified corpse of that character to retrieve your gear and supplies. If done right, Zombi U looks like it will be an innovative and immersive new zombie gaming experience.
The big surprise that closed Nintendo’s conference was Nintendo Land, the new first-party title from Nintendo that is supposed to show off the Wii U’s capabilities in the same way that Wii Sports did the Wii’s. Nintendo Land is really nothing more than a minigame collection, with games being themed around Nintendo characters and featuring gameplay meant to show off all of the Wii U’s features. It looks pretty good, but it’s still a minigame collection that most gamers will tire of quickly.
With that, Nintendo was finished. Gamers looking for a new Legend of Zelda or Starfox or Metroid game for the Wii U were left cold. I was disappointed that no new Donkey Kong Country game was announced; heck, the extremely talented Retro Studios didn’t have any presence whatsoever at the event. Sure, Ubisoft and a couple other third party studios are supporting the Wii U, but most are doing so with ports of games that are going to be available for other systems or–worse–have already been out for months. Nintendo’s first party lineup for the Wii U, meanwhile, is pretty weak. Nintendo went into E3 holding all the cards, but came out of it’s press conference with a weak deck that failed to give gamers a good reason to pick up the Wii U this holiday season.