With the hurricane frenzy of announcements and one-upmanship that were the Sony and Microsoft press conferences, you could easily forget that Nintendo also had some cards to play at the E3 2013 table. While the grandiose announcements were largely reserved for the likes of the Xbox One and Playstation 4, Nintendo came in quietly with a slew of announcements across their hardware lineup. Forgoing the traditional flashy press conference, the house that Mario built showed their up and coming lineup of titles via Nintendo Direct, with introductions by president Satoru Iwata. A lot of what Nintendo showed were things we already knew about: HD updates to classic titles, more digital downloads for the downright anemic eShop, and the long-expected announcements of classic franchises coming to the Wii U.
Of course, that may be the very problem at hand for Nintendo: Expectation. I do not think that very many people would bet against Nintendo announcing updated versions of Mario Kart, Super Mario, Smash Bros., and the like. Excluding a few off-the-wall announcements, such as the sequel to the quirky shooter Bayonetta, Nintendo has seemingly done what they have always done and retreated into the protective shell of nostalgia. I am sure a contingent of consumers out there are excited at the prospect of a new Yoshi’s Island, Pikmin, and Mario Kart. After all, we are talking about top-selling franchises that have defined Nintendo consoles now for two hardware cycles. From a sales standpoint, Nintendo would be daft to not introduce these games to a new platform, especially a platform that finally supports high definition.
For a company that was once known for innovation in software, I worry that Nintendo is playing things safe with their releases. Fourteen third-party titles are slated for release, including the likes of Batman: Arkham Origins and Just Dance 2014. These could be viewed as shallow attempts at showing that Nintendo software is more than just Zelda and Mario. When the going has gotten tough for Nintendo in the last decade, they have always been able to rely on their customers’ fixation on nostalgia. The best-sellers on the Wii Shop were SNES classics like Super Metroid and Donkey Kong Country. Customers pre-ordered the original Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker in droves for the Master Quest bonus disc that contained Ocarina of Time. I am beginning to worry that Nintendo’s falling back on what works is stifling creative game development. Of course, my negativity towards Nintendo’s game plan may very well be due to the fact that I did not grow up as a Nintendo kid. I went from Sega Master System, to Genesis, to Playstation. I harbor very little nostalgia for games such as Mario Kart and the Legend of Zelda series. However, you throw an HD update of Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy X at me and I begin to weep like a man-child.
Truth be told, the lineup presented by Nintendo this year is a very calculated and well-developed string of games meant to get gamers to gravitate towards Nintendo’s future. I would be lying if I said that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze did not immediately make we wish I had a Wii-U. I still consider the Wii revival of Donkey Kong Country to be one of the best console platformers that has been released by any company in years. Likewise, as a fighting game fan, the prospect of new characters such as Megaman in Super Smash Bros. piques my interest.
My question is how long can Nintendo keep going back to the well when they stumble out of the gate? The Wii-U has not seen the sales or prestige that Nintendo was expecting. I continue to worry that as time goes on, this classic gaming company will be too ready to sacrifice creative thinking, all in the name of reminding consumers of the great things that came before.