If this were an audio recording, you would have just heard a long, loud, sigh as I prepared myself to recap the Nintendo press conference for E3 2012.
This was supposed to be the triumphant return of Nintendo to the home console space, and Nintendo spent the first 5 minutes of the conference hyping up all of the games they were about to show (23 of them!). The rails pretty much came off after that point.
The inherent problem Nintendo has lately is that they are a desperate company searching for the next “get rich quick” scheme in order to recapture the fervor that surrounded the Wii. Only, with the Wii U, they seem confused about what it is. The presentation for the Wii U focused mainly on what you can do with the system instead of what you can play on the system. To be sure, the ability to play games on the tablet controller is a cool feature, but it’s not something gamers have been craving. There are portable devices (like the 3DS!) for that. The Wii U Gamepad’s functionality in games like ZombiU (sigh) and Batman: Arkham City did nothing else other than distracting you from the action on screen. Using the Gamepad’s touch screen to duplicate things that have been done on other consoles without having to have your eyes leave the screen (such as entering key codes in ZombiU and activating the Explosive Gel in Batman) takes away from the experience, rather than adding to it. It’s tacked on in the worst way possible.
The other problem Nintendo has is (brace yourself for this one) that they haven’t made a *new* game outside of Super Mario Galaxy in about 10 years (the debut of Metroid Prime). Zelda games have all had a uniform high quality standard, but their gameplay is as formulaic as something like Call of Duty now. No matter what Nintendo does on the Wii U, everything is going to scream “HD Remake!” unless they commit to giving us new gameplay experiences with the core Nintendo characters, or new characters. This was no more evident than when New Super Mario Brothers U and New Super Mario Brothers 2 (they even rhyme!) were shown about 10 minutes apart, and despite the declarations of the presenter (“As you can see, they look nothing alike!”), the two games LOOKED EXACTLY THE SAME! The only difference was in the graphical fidelity of the Wii U version. It’s all formula now.
The oddest thing about all of this is that while the rest of the development community gets derided (and rightfully so) for endless rehashes, most consumers seem to ignore that Nintendo does the exact same thing. It’s nostalgia packaged and sold as a consumer good, and it’s sickening.
All is not lost, though. There was one game (of 23!) that stood out to me for its clever writing and cool concept, and that was Lego City Undercover. It probably won’t be a system seller for most, but outside of Rayman, it’s easily the Wii U game I’m most looking forward to hearing about.
After spending 10 minutes on the 3DS (and not showing us anything we haven’t seen, as far as I recall), Nintendo launched into something that initially got me very excited: NintendoLand. My first instinct was that it was a real theme park. If only. Instead, it’s a boilerplate collection of mini-games highlighted by the second worst rip-off of the show so far (Wrecketeers’ wholesale plagiarism of Angry Birds is worse by a feather): Luigi’s Mansion: Haunted Hijinks a.k.a. Pac-Man with flashlights. The map is structured with nearly an identical layout to a Pac-Man game, and the gameplay demo (which was hilariously in-depth for such a lackluster and shallow looking game) did nothing to put aside any fears that Nintendo has lost its creative soul.
I’m sorry to report that the company that basically created this medium has lost their way. They’ve gone down a path of gimmickry (and mimicry) that is as sad as it is pathetic. In their chasing of the next Wii, they’ve lost what got them their revered status: innovation, creativity, and a willingness to be bold. The Nintendo I grew up with created new and exciting worlds for gamers to explore, with something interesting around every turn.
This Nintendo…I don’t recognize this Nintendo.