Nintendo’s E3 theme: embracing irrelevancy

nintendo starfox puppetI have already written about how this year’s E3 had both Microsoft and Sony landing squarely on their feet with stellar presentations. It was refreshing to see distinct and polished showcases that showed the path forward for future games as well as a commitment to loyal fans and established franchises. With the bar set high by Sony, Microsoft, and even game companies like Ubisoft and Bethesda, the stage was set. And Nintendo seemed to do everything in their power to trip over themselves while basking in their own nostalgia. As a gamer who sat wide eyed before a glowing television on Christmas morning as the original Nintendo turned on for the first time it was especially disappointing to see a company fall from dominance into a dated pile of irrelevance.

No Excuse

Before I begin criticizing I do want to acknowledge that Nintendo has responded to critics. They said their aim with the presentation was to showcase what would be launching this year as opposed to merely announcing what is coming beyond this year. In their response they also made sure to take pitiful pot shots at Microsoft and Sony for announcing and showing titles that had no playable demos. It seems that Nintendo doesn’t quite understand the purpose of E3 or they are simply back pedaling into a corner of excuses for their meager and embarrassing showing. I understand why a company might not want to pile up a list of vague trailers and hype about games that aren’t coming out until next year, but practically all of the games showed by Microsoft and Sony had extensive gameplay. Sure, some of the games could be on par with Watch Dogs by showing boosted footage that won’t be in line with the launch title, but that’s no excuse to have such a small and uneventful presence.

What Wii U?

I made the switch from Nintendo to the Xbox when I finally saw the Wii for what it was: a gimmick with few solid third party games. As I became a more serious gamer it was clear the Wii was not the system for me. So when I saw the first footage of new games for the Wii U I was honestly excited about the new Mario Kart and the new Super Mario. Thankfully I never took the bait because this years E3 was proof that Nintendo has all but given up on the system. Almost the entire showcase was about the Nintendo DS, which is not surprising given it’s sales numbers and consumer saturation levels. But for Wii U owners it had to be incredibly frustrating and confusing why there were almost no Wii U titles announced, and out of the few revealed, only one was a third party game. Sure it was exciting to see a new Star Fox, but the graphics were dated and the controls seemed convoluted. They actually said the use of the second screen was more immersive, but how is looking up and down between two screens more immersive? Even with future reveals and announcements about the new Zelda, the future landscape for the Wii U seems incredibly barren. And this is when the third party burnt bridges and limited hardware comes home to roost for Nintendo as most if not all of their big titles and reveals are from them. Mario, Metroid, Yoshi, and Zelda, all repackaged, recycled, and reused for the umpteenth time.

What third party?

If the absence of Wii U titles wasn’t enough to convince fans of Nintendo that the future wasn’t promising, the incredibly small amount of third party titles should have solidified the case. It honestly felt like Nintendo was presenting as a game company instead of a console company. All of their intellectual property was the centerpiece of almost every game. And it really started to feel desperate when they showed the Metroid soccer game, and not to be out done there is also another Mario Tennis on the way. Again, if you changed Nintendo’s name and erased their history as a gaming platform you would have thought it was a game company showing off their latest games coming to the market. Their characters have undeniable appeal, and I always feel that tug of nostalgia when I see Link or Mario moving through their respective worlds. But then I realized something: very little has changed. Sure, there are new mechanics and cleaner graphics, but it’s the same characters doing the same things against the same enemies. If Nintendo can’t mend their third party relationships and launch a console that has adequate hardware for the next-gen landscape and consumer expectations I can’t see them climbing out of this self-made pit of irrelevance.

What happened?

The reason I get so passionate and got so preachy during my E3 stream is because this is the company that made me a gamer. I will never forget unwrapping the original Nintendo on Christmas morning, or feeling the thrill of playing spitscreen Goldeneye against my brothers, or finally mastering power slides in Mario Kart. So it’s doubly sad for me to watch the slow devolution of the company that introduced me to my favorite hobby. Hopefully all the rumors about the future console plans are rooted in something, and Nintendo’s moves into the mobile world will give them strong revenue streams for innovation and greatness in whatever they do next. It would be nice to have a third platform in the console race, but we will have to wait and see.

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2 thoughts on “Nintendo’s E3 theme: embracing irrelevancy

  1. I hope Nintendo can stay around too, but man, I would love to play their games on other platforms. I mean beyond just mobile games. I say this because this is the first generation where I don’t own Nintendo hardware, and I have no plans to buy any.

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