Nintendo opted not to hold a traditional press conference at E3 this year, instead choosing to stream a pre-recorded Nintendo Direct at the ungodly hour of 7am PDT. We questioned that decision – even moreso when the stream was totally unwatchable due to lag and most had to wait to see it until they posted it in its entirety afterwards.
Pokémon X & Y started off the conference, with a confirmation of the first new type since the Gen 2 days. The unfortunately-named Fairy type is strong against Dragons and includes new Eevee evolution Sylveon and old monsters including Marill, Gardevoir, and Jigglypuff. A new Nintendogs-like feature allows you to pet your Pokémon, and we actually got a release date for the game: October 12, worldwide.
The much-anticipated 3D Mario came next, and it turns out to be…a sequel to Super Mario 3D Land. Don’t get us wrong, the last game was good, if very generic, but 3D Mario games are known for pushing the envelope. This looks incredibly safe – the only big additions are co-op (New Super Mario Bros. style, blah) and a cat suit.
Next was Mario Kart 8, which looks to be the closest something can get to F-Zero without actually being F-Zero. The graphics are possibly the best we’ve seen on Wii U, and it looks like a decent step forward for the series. Unfortunately, it’s not coming out until spring 2014 – a huge missed opportunity since it would be a big system-seller at Christmas time.
Wii Party U, Wii Fit U, and Artstyle Academy – no one really cares. Then The Wind Waker HD, which features a fast sail button and a Tingle Bottle that replaces the Tingle Tuner and integrates with Miiverse. The art style still looks off though, and the confirmation that there would be no extra content really bums us out.
A quick trip through The Wonderful 101 later, and then here came Retro’s big new project, coming this year. A new Metroid Prime? A revival of a classic franchise? No, it’s…Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. It’ll be a solid game, surely, but again, very safe and uninspired.
A play for the hardcore came next, with Bayonetta 2 and Monolith’s X, which both still look fantastic. But they’re both 2014.
And then the moment everyone was waiting for – Super Smash Bros. trailer. The latest newcomer to the series is the Villager from Animal Crossing – not very surprising. The 3DS version adopts a cel-shaded art style that honestly doesn’t do the game any favors, while the Wii U version adopts a more traditional HD look. Finally, the big reveal: Mega Man will also be a combatant. And, of course, the game will be coming in 2014 (bets on it being 2015?).
All in all, it’s clear why Nintendo chose not to hold a press conference. They didn’t have enough content to show off to make up an hour (the ND was about 40 minutes) or compete with the new consoles. They’ve squandered their year-long head start with Wii U, and the rest of the year doesn’t look to be much better. While they’ll undoubtedly be solid games, an extension of a 3DS Mario game, a port of an already-gorgeous Gamecube game, and what amounts to practically a level pack for Donkey Kong Country Returns are the biggest offerings they have for the console this year.
Mario Kart and Smash Bros. are undoubtedly system sellers, and pushing them (or at least MK) into 2014 seems to be a huge missed opportunity. Additionally, none of the typical Nintendo magic was on display – the company that has been known in the past for innovation and pushing gaming forward has chosen to churn out safe sequels for the rest of the year. Nothing they showed justified the Wii U GamePad as more than a glorified minimap, and with the company wishing the system would even get close to Gamecube sales, they need to justify the added expense it brings, especially with the PS4 at only $50 more.
It kills us to see Nintendo play it so safe. Yes, we’re excited for Smash Bros. and X, but there wasn’t much at Nintendo’s E3 Direct that made us excited. Wii U is floundering and the show did nothing to convince us that Nintendo has what it takes to turn things around, and none of the game announcements seemed to be groundbreaking in any way. Still, it was better than last year’s embarrassment of a conference – if only because they actually showed off games.