Last week, amidst all the “WHO WON E3?!?” talk, all eyes were on Sony and Microsoft. Whether you think that Sony won the next-gen console war already or that Microsoft will be victorious in the end, chances are good you probably weren’t thinking about Nintendo.
The big N decided NOT to have an official E3 conference this year, instead opting for a pre-recorded Nintendo Direct video to show off upcoming Wii U and 3DS games. Clocking in at just about 41 minutes, there wasn’t a whole lot newly announced or shown off that we didn’t already know about.
Historically Great, Recently Problematic
The problem with Nintendo is that it doesn’t innovate. Rather than trying new IPs, Nintendo is content to sit on its laurels and pump out new versions of the same franchises it has been triumphing since the 1980s. While there are gems that come from this formula (the Super Mario Galaxy franchise, for one), it’s not enough.
Nintendo has a lot of support from many third-party companies – Ubisoft’s upcoming Rayman Legends should be great for the system, even if it’s no longer exclusive – but some companies (like EA) are wary of the console’s future. The fewer third-party publishers and developers you have, the more you need to rely on first-party innovation.
Normally, with Nintendo, that’s not a problem. That’s where Nintendo thrives: first-party innovation. Nearly all of the top games on any of its consoles are first-party titles; you’ll routinely see Mario, Zelda and the rest of the normal crew’s iterations at the top of the sales charts and review sites.
But when it comes to the Wii U, Nintendo is struggling. I pre-ordered the console, bought it the day it came out and really enjoyed New Super Mario Bros. U. NintendoLand was hit-or-miss, but it came free with my bundle and some games were tons of fun. Zombi U was another great title. I had all three of those games in hand last November 18. Since then? I haven’t bought a single Wii U game, and I haven’t been even remotely tempted.
With only two-and-a-half legitimate titles coming out this summer for the Wii U (Game & Wario, Pikmin 3 and a collection of Luigi DLC for New Super Mario Bros. U arriving digitally tomorrow), it’s going to be a long summer for Wii U owners.
A Missed Opportunity
Nintendo should have seized this moment. The Wii U is comparable in power to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and significantly underpowered in comparison the upcoming Xbox One and PlayStation 4. While pure horsepower isn’t everything, third-party developers (like EA) are going to have to get creative if they’re going to develop a title for the Wii U and its more-powerful market competitors.
Ultimately, this might not matter, as Nintendo could wow us all again with great first-party titles. During its E3 Nintendo Direct, we got a glimpse at upcoming Wii U titles, both expecting and surprising, like Super Smash Brothers for Wii U, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze and Super Mario 3D World. These are games that will only be out for the Wii U, and you could even argue that Smash Bros. and Super Mario 3D World may be good enough to warrant buying a Wii U to play.
The problem is, though, that the first of these games that will come out will hit store shelves in December… which just so happens to be right after the Xbox One and (probably) PlayStation 4 launch.
These next five months could have been dominated by Nintendo in an effort to seize more of the home console market share. Instead, they’re opting for two-and-a-half major releases before the Xbox One and PS4 come out. Pathetic.
Is It Game Over?
The easy suggestion would be for Nintendo to close up its hardware shop and become the world’s best third-party developer. The problem with that idea is that the 3DS is one of the all-time best-selling consoles and (arguably) the best gaming console on the market. You can’t really abandon hardware with a behemoth like that on your hands. Ho hum.
Nintendo needs to do something, though, and it needs to do it quick. It’s easy to judge a console at the end of its life cycle, and when the Wii U has run its course, I’m sure there will be a few dozen top-tier games. The problem is now, though, and it’s a big problem. There’s nothing here and not much on the horizon.
Will there be another home console from Nintendo? Who knows? I just think it’s just a shame that my Wii U has only been turned on twice in 2013 so far, and neither time was to play a game. That doesn’t appear set to change anytime soon.