While Sony and Microsoft slugged it out like the two 800-pound gorillas they are, Nintendo fought a different battle with its E3 2013 showcase. By opting to show its lineup through a pre-recorded Nintendo Direct webcast rather than a traditional mega-event, Nintendo wasn’t looking for hearts or dollars so much as it was fighting for just plain relevancy. Its rivals are brewing a storm, so Nintendo sought shelter.
Instead of trying to go tit for tat with the “supercharged” PC architectures or blast processors of its competitors, Nintendo decided to do what it does best: show a bunch of games. And not just any games, its games. Its half-hour long presentation was virtually no different than any other Direct conference, and saw the company hunker down and showcase a series of completely unsurprising yet inevitably entertaining titles.
There was new Pokémon, and it looked like new Pokémon. There was a new 3D Mario title, and it looked as colorful and platform-y as ever. There was Mario Kart 8, and it looked like everything you’d expect. It’ll have shells. And then there was Smash Bros., oh was there Smash Bros., there to remind the industry that only Nintendo can send a fan base into a frenzy by showing something that everyone can see coming. These will all be fine and dandy, and we know this because we’ve played them all already.
Almost everything about Nintendo’s E3 showing was wildly familiar. With the exception of Platinum’s The Wonderful 101 and Monolith Soft’s teased Xenoblade successor, this show was a cavalcade of conservatism.
Nintendo has an absolutely bankable developer in Metroid Prime maker Retro Studios, but instead of letting it venture out into untested waters, Nintendo put it back on its second Donkey Kong Country title, Tropical Breeze. And that’s fine! Who doesn’t like Donkey Kong? It’ll be awesome fun with friends. You’ll probably smile while playing it.
But it’s indicative of where Nintendo’s head is at with the Wii U. The company knows that its console needs to win back its base before it can grow any further, so it focused on things it knows that base will like, and things only it can provide. And how does Nintendo know? Because it’s already done these things many times before. It would be tragic if the games weren’t so enjoyable.
That’s why Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, on the biggest stage of the year, spent a few minutes talking about a new cat power-up in Super Mario 3D World. That’s why Nintendo only gave a combined three minutes to a couple dozen third-party games that will look better on other platforms. That’s why one of Nintendo’s biggest games of the year is literally a remake of a decade-old title.
That’s why the company’s grand finale wasn’t a mysterious new IP or any other bombshell, but an announcement that Mega Man will be a playable character in the new Smash Bros. games. An optional character in the fourth game of a 15-year-old series, to end E3. And the fans couldn’t ask for anything more. They’re hyped already. It looks like the strategy’s working.
But to any gamer hoping for a change to the status quo, this is all unremarkable, and a little disheartening. Nintendo is a company with a track record for innovation and pushing the market forward, after all, one that has always been committed to outfitting its machinery with consistently high quality content. When it does issue a new IP or take a new risk, the results are usually excellent. That’s why it’s so shocking to see Nintendo look so content with all this apparent unoriginality.
And yet, it’s the only move that makes sense. Nintendo has to be this way for now. The Wii U is bleeding. It’s stuck in a weird, half-next-gen spot, away from the rest of the gaming world. It needs help, and it needs relevancy, fast, and the simplest fix is to give the Wii U a wave of games that Nintendo can count on its fans to buy. It thinks another Super Smash Bros., another Mario Kart, another Donkey Kong, and another Legend of Zelda will all be those games. Why wouldn’t they? They’ve been like printing money for years. They’re bulletproof. And if they do well, who knows, maybe one day Nintendo will be able to take the vest off again.