I. How Nintendo’s Digital Event crashed and burned.
It was about the halfway point in Nintendo’s Digital Event where things started to turn sour. It wasn’t necessarily due to Nintendo themselves, but to many of the fans who had looked forward to Nintendo’s E3 showing since several months ago. Ninty had a great start, for sure. Sunday was the Nintendo World Championships. There, we not only got to see games we were already enjoying and games we were already looking forward to, but we also got to see a new game in Blast Ball, which–while looking like an eshop game–was interesting to see appear, as well as the announcement that Mother, the original game in the series that spawned Earthbound, was finally going to be released in the West as Earthbound Beginnings. Then Tuesday, the Digital Event started strong with an excellent and quirky sketch featuring Muppet versions of Nintendo’s higher-ups that perfectly played into the reveal of Star Fox Zero for Wii U.
It was then that the signs suggesting fans may not be happy with the event began to appear. Immediately following Star Fox, two new amiibos were announced that also had functionality in Skylanders. As well crafted and big a game as Skylanders is, its existence to Nintendo fans is as reviled as many other Activision IPs are (such as Call of Duty, to give an example) for being a cash cow franchise that only evolves to make you buy more overpriced figures. The logistical issue was also that the opening sketch, Star Fox, and Skylanders all took up about a third of Nintendo’s Digital Event, with the latter segment in particular feeling out of place with the rest of the presentation’s style.
The following reveal, however, should have been a big one. A new Zelda game was announced for 3DS. The problem? Well, it isn’t entirely obvious. The game was received well, for sure, with many of those on the E3 show floor absolutely loving it, and virtually everything they’ve been saying about it has been pleasing to the ear. Perhaps the only reason its good graces seem lost in the raucousness is that it existed in the absence of the Wii U Zelda everyone wanted to see, even after being informed a while ago that it would not be there.
The logistics problem appeared again straight after. Last year, Nintendo divided up their Digital Event with discussions between developers and lone trailers for games. The only segment that seemed drawn out and unnecessary was actually for Splatoon, which received a strange intro animation that was unintelligible at the time, an extended developer commentary, AND a full trailer. Doing both seemed like a poor decision then, and it happened several times this year, with Star Fox Zero, The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes, Hyrule Warriors Legends, and Mario Maker all receiving both.
The problem here extended past that, however, as several games that didn’t get a developer commentary actually needed it, while others that did, did not. Yoshi’s Wooly World got a developer commentary last year, and the game is soon to be released in Europe, so the choice to have given it another one this year seems illogical. On the same note, games like Xenoblade Chronicles X and SMT x Fire Emblem felt like they could have really used the support of a developer discussion over a trailer, since neither seemed to really show anything we didn’t already know, and only through demoing and talking about the game later during the Treehouse livestream did anything truly interesting come out of it. The games that probably needed a discussion the most, however, were Metroid Prime: Federation Force and Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival. Both were received very negatively and could have used developer commentary to explain design decisions and why they believe fans should look forward to either title.
And it’s the latter two that have caused the biggest stir in Nintendo faithful. Going in, many, including myself, were heavily expecting new releases in the Animal Crossing and Metroid franchises– the latter, specifically, from Retro Studios. While new games were announced for both franchises, they were not anything anyone had expected or perhaps even wanted from either series. Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival is an amiibo centric party game whose main game mode shown at E3 was a more laid back Mario Party style, while Metroid Prime: Federation Force is a 4-player online co-op shooter with a chibi-art style that is part of a series well known for its dark tones and themes of isolation; it is also being developed by Next Level Games rather than Retro Studios, who was not present at E3 this year.
The vitriol was especially levied against Federation Force, as many fans argued that it has been 11 years since a “good” Metroid game (as Other M is generally discluded among fans). The hate has run so deep that a petition was made that garnered over 120,000 signatures calling to have the game cancelled. This in itself caused a large split in the fandom, with many then coming to the defense of the clear spin-off title and reminding those that complain about its art style about similar attacks levied against The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker before its release over a decade ago.
When looking at what exactly happened in the response to Federation Force, it seems like a perfect storm was created, bringing back several instances of fan anger from years past. Complaints about the art style revive memories of reactions to The Wind Waker, while complaints about gameplay, as well as theories that Federation Force was not originally a Metroid Prime game but that the title was tagged on late, are reminders about what happened with Star Fox Adventure. Coincidentally, both of these instances occurred on the Nintendo GameCube, which suffered in sales almost as badly as the Wii U is doing, currently. Add in complaints about the tone of the game, how long it has been since the last iteration of the series, and fans unmatchable expectations and it’s no wonder everything came together to get the backlash Federation Force received.
It was from there that questions began being raised about other games that had originally been well received. Criticism was quickly levied against Star Fox’s look, with many analysts comparing the graphical fidelity to an up-scaled GameCube game. Lack of voice chat for Metroid Prime: Federation Force and The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes was heavily criticized, considering how essential it might be for online co-op play, even with options attempting to alleviate the problem actually built into the system.
Reggie Fils-aime was asked after the show by IGN as to why they didn’t include the Wii U Zelda they showed off last year even though they had a trailer they could have shown. His answer toed the line in the way Nintendo PR usually does. They wanted to focus on games releasing this year, although Reggie could have phrased it better to not imply that showing games coming within the fiscal year was what they always do, as they had shown Zelda for Wii U the E3 prior.
The Digital Event seemed to peak again with Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, but quickly petered out into an underwhelming Mario Tennis game, before finishing off with Super Mario Maker, which, while very good to see, isn’t exactly the kind of thing you want to wrap up a direct presentation with. Especially since we’d already seen more than enough of the game. And especially when it just lead into a real wrap-up that called for everyone to show their love of Mario by working towards a good cause. It’s a nice idea, but for many it still felt more like a sales pitch to support Nintendo’s business than the actual non-profit they were intending to support (of which I can’t even remember the name of). More importantly, this final segment felt like it was building to something, before ending with nothing.
Everyone was left asking the same question: “That’s it?”
II. Unnailing Nintendo’s E3 coffin.
The lackluster performance was compounded by the presentation of dreams that Sony had constructed at their press conference the night before when they brought out The Last Guardian, a remake of Final Fantasy VII, and a Kickstarter for Shenmue 3– three games that many thought may never make an appearance or be announced. But as many in the gaming press noted, most notably the entire crew at Giant Bomb: as wonderful as Sony’s announcements were to fans, each holds some sort of issue as well. Many wonder how badly Square Enix is doing for them to even need to pull out the Final Fantasy VII remake card, especially considering how poorly received their PS4 port of the PC HD rerelease was less than a year ago. Shenmue 3’s Kickstarter was plagued with issues of Sony’s involvement in the funding of the project. The Last Guardian was the only game to really break out of this, but it came with the same issue that most of Sony’s show had, in that most exclusive games they had shown were clearly mid-2016 titles at the earliest.
And that brings me to the upside of Nintendo’s press event. As bad as their Digital Event was, their next six months look fairly good. Those at GameInformer continuously noted during the Digital Event how virtually every game Nintendo showed was coming this year or early in 2016. Nintendo’s next six months are going to be key. All the big games we’ve seen over the past three years that have yet to release are coming out (sans Zelda for Wii U, of course), and while big games like Halo 5, Fallout 4, and Star Wars Battlefront are releasing, the pure breadth of different gaming experiences that Nintendo is putting out should allow it to carve itself a niche, especially considering how much exclusive content that we know is coming to other platforms will not be here this year.
With that in mind, it’s important to note the good things that came out of the Digital Event. Many on the show floor were able to see the games coming this year and get a better sense of what they were going to be, with many coming away more excited than they were while watching the Digital Event (the most notable example being public opinion on The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes). Nintendo Treehouse’s stream, alongside a series of interviews with the producer of the Metroid Prime franchise, granted Federation Force with more information that seemed to say all the right things and hinted that what fans want from the series may be present in the content that wasn’t shown at E3.
Other announcements brought good news in a business-sense. While Nintendo fans may be fairly vitriolic towards Skylanders, the exclusive amiibo announced during that segment are huge. The franchise itself is arguably the biggest in the toys-to-life category, and any incentive to purchase the game for one console over another is even bigger. While it would have been nice to see amiibo just work in Skylanders through the gamepad’s NFC reader, having those characters in the game and be unique inclusions is still important business-wise, and I can see why Nintendo would include them in a prominent place within their Digital Event to build goodwill towards the game’s creators and Activision.
Amiibo in the Digital Event were both hit and miss at the same time, which, while clearly capable of doing better, still suggest Nintendo is thinking in the right way. Having amiibo compatibility in other toys-to-life games is one. But like I’ve said in previous articles, free games that make use of amiibo functionality may be more important, and Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival is a game that brings it. One can complain about needing to tap the amiibo every time you need to roll a dice, but personally I quite like the idea of it since it means you need to pass around the gamepad. It is a physical inclusion in a game that didn’t need it, which is something Nintendo is excellent at incorporating (I like to point to how they gift-wrap icons of new software you download off the eshop). The real problem is that the game only works with amiibo that are releasing alongside the game. I said this in my prediction video and analysis article, but Nintendo really needs to make at least one free game that makes excellent use of all existing amiibo. This is halfway there. I wonder if they’ll figure it out at some point.
But there is one big thing that just happened to come out a few days after the Digital Event. It’s about Nintendo’s next console, and this is where I need to start talking more personally (assuming I wasn’t doing so already).
III. Fear of what’s Nx.
Since Iwata offhandedly mentioned the Nx to convince investors and fans that they were not abandoning dedicated gaming platforms, I had assumed a few things: (1) that the console was at least 3-4 years off, and (2) that it was more likely to be a handheld device or in no way a home console that would replace the Wii U. Both of my assumptions were shattered in one statement from the producer of the Metroid Prime series.
When asked about a Wii U iteration of Metroid Prime, he stated that if they started now, it would probably take 3 years, and by then it would likely be an Nx game. This one stings for me because it essentially confirms suspicions I had otherwise hoped to ignore: Nintendo is going to kill the Wii U early and it is going to do it within the next two to three years. Some have argued that 5-6 years is usually how long Nintendo consoles last, but that is such a short time in today’s gaming landscape. The Xbox 360 lasted 8 years before a new console and is still being supported. The PS3 had 7 before the PS4 and still gets a ton of PS+ games each month. Nintendo doesn’t support old consoles when it releases a successor, but, hell, even the Wii is getting a Just Dance game this year. It doesn’t help that 2-3 years into its lifespan, when it should be just hitting its stride, we’re already thinking about the next console and how the game lineup currently feels like it’s missing something, which may be a sign that 5-6 years is longer than its actual lifespan might be.
Since we don’t really know any other games targeted for next year’s holiday season other than Zelda for Wii U, many have suspected that the Nx could even release next year, when Iwata said we would be getting more information about it, and Zelda would end up pulling a Twilight Princess and release on both Wii U and Nx. Miyamoto appeared to push back on this, saying that it would only release on Wii U, but the fear remains.
I say fear, because this means a few things that do worry me. As a consumer, I don’t want to have to buy another console after purchasing both a Wii U and a PS4 within 9 months of each other. I’m also not sure how willing I am to part with another $300-$400 to get one. It may be a year or two down the line, but I am a recent college grad who doesn’t exactly know what he’s going to be doing at any point in the next few years. Hopefully a job, but you can never really know.
As a fan of the products Nintendo puts out, (And I suppose at this point, I’m a loyal one at that. Although I understand the idiocy of being a fan of a major corporation that just wants your money) I’m worried about what releasing a new console three or more years after the competition will do. We already understand that it would split the user base– as noted by my own reaction as a consumer, which many, I am sure, will emulate–, but if the new console isn’t more powerful than the PS4 or Xbox One, it will likely just be laughed at, especially considering that the install base will be miles behind the competition. If anything, the biggest fear after all that as both a consumer and fan is just how long the Nx’s lifespan would be. Would it only be 3-6 years like the Wii U? Would it go as long as the PS4 or Xbox One do? There are so many questions, and most of them– at least for me– are more worrisome than interesting.
If I haven’t fully expressed all of my opinions and feelings on Nintendo’s E3 in this article, I apologize, they are complicated, mixed, and hard to describe. I’m disappointed for sure about the lack of big announcements. I am also looking forward to quite a few games they showed. I am hopeful that they’ll finally figure out what they should be doing with amiibo (though at this point, I think I’ll just stick to getting the ones that I really want, which is currently just Dark Pit and Roy). I’m very curious as to what games they’ll have to show next year, since several studios, including Retro, the 3D Mario team, and others have had more than enough time to work on a new game and should be showing them off then. And to wrap up on a sour note, I am worried about how I will deal with the inevitable release of the Nx.
Though if I’m actually being honest, that system will be in my house upon release. There’s a hole in my wallet. Nintendo just happens to own the license on the siphon.