This year’s E3 will not be a big one for the Nintendo fans. The only playable game at the show will be the new Legend of Zelda, which many of us are certainly looking forward to – but that’s it.
Nintendo has moved further and further away from E3 in recent years, which is partly understandable given that it’s a Japanese company and E3 is a very Western expo – but right now it doesn’t feel like this absence is been compensated for elsewhere.
If, for example, Nintendo said, “We’re not really doing E3 any more, folks, but instead we’re going to throw a five-day party in our newly built Nintendo-branded theme park, and everyone’s invited,” then yes, cool. We would all be satisfied and it would probably feel like Nintendo actually had faith in its products.
As it stands, Nintendo doesn’t have much on its slate for the near future. I understand that we’re on the eve of a new console – the NX – but rather than choosing to build excitement for this, it feels like the company is instead withdrawing into its shell like a nervous hermit crab.
Even with the announcement of the NX and Legend of Zelda launch dates, the potential for real fanfare was replaced by public statements and investor notes. For a company that ditched the E3 stage to communicate directly with fans, it was an odd way to approach a significant moment.
Back in my day…
Back when I worked at Official Nintendo Magazine, we tried our hardest to see the positive in every Nintendo situation. We had to. We were the optimists, the yes men, the people who wanted so badly to believe in Nintendo’s business decisions, even if they seemed bizarre and incomprehensible.
We’d sit around watching the Nintendo Directs, trying to pick meaty news bits out of a half-hour sketch involving puppets or laser vision; morsels that would have to last us the rest of the year in most cases. We were like Dickensian urchins scrapping for the last bit of rat meat.
My first two E3s – not that I went to either, I was stationed in my usual place on the third floor of a rather unexciting office building in London – were great. Mario Kart 8, Splatoon, a new Smash Bros., Amiibo, Xenoblade Chronicles X – the announcements at both came in thick and fast, even though Nintendo had opted to not have a stage presence.
At the time, we were a little wary. Would Amiibo work for Nintendo? What exactly was Splatoon? Why was it choosing to do new first-party games right now?
Most of its choices worked out – Smash Bros. was always going to be great, Amiibo sold like hotcakes and Splatoon was certainly well-received. When things turned out well, we could sit there smugly declaring that We Knew All Along – at least until the next event.
But often our optimism betrayed us, chiefly in the Wii U itself. There isn’t really a way to spin that into a good thing at this point; the doctor has given his diagnosis, and there’s no treatment that can save you, my poor, beleaguered console.
Meanwhile we still haven’t seen much of Zelda, and now that’s going to be a platform-straddling launch title for the NX.
What happens now?
So, here I am, watching the decisions Nintendo is making – having little presence at E3, diving into mobile games, delay after delay – and it’s becoming harder and harder to see the silver lining. I don’t think there’s a master plan, or if there is, I fear it’s more to its detriment than it realises.
For the first couple of hours, Miitomo was an adorable, enticing prospect. “Is this the future of Nintendo?” we asked. But not long after that, the glitter rubbed away, and what was left was a disappointingly shallow dress-up game with an appealingly limited social aspect.
If the future of Nintendo is stepping away from the bigger games we want and focusing on mobile games that lack the actual game part, much more needs to be done.
As for E3, there’s always a question over whether Nintendo needs it at all. Plenty of people love and seek out Nintendo no matter how big its marketing spend, in the same way that you know about McDonald’s and Coca-Cola without having to be reminded by adverts. That’s why they were able to move off-stage and into videos that connected directly with fans.
But all that Nintendo has done by stripping its E3 calendar bare is focus the spotlight on the new Zelda. All our expectations are pinned on that one game, and it’s a Zelda game, too – if that game is anything less than stellar, the fans’ confidence could be significantly shaken.
That’s hard to say for sure, of course, because Nintendo fans – of which I am one – never lose hope. Maybe this Zelda will be the best one yet. Maybe in 20 years’ time we’ll tell stories of how we nearly lost hope. It’ll be like that bit in Return of the King where the eagles turn up at the last minute. It’ll all be okay. I have to hope.
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