The perfect time for Nintendo to convince us all to buy a Wii U at launch, its E3 press briefing, has come and gone, and the consensus seems to be the company failed to sell core gamers on it. There was a lot missing from today’s showing, and much of what was there did not do the greatest job of demonstrating how the Wii U will provide markedly different gaming experiences over the consoles on the market today. And while I was certainly down on today’s briefing, I think it’s too soon to condemn the platform itself.
Today’s briefing did bring with it demonstrations of a new game from Shigeru Miyamoto (Pikmin 3), a new side-scrolling Mario game (New Super Mario Bros. U), and what Nintendo sees as Wii U’s Wii Sports (Nintendo Land). Third parties had games to show that will sell well no matter what innovation they provide (Just Dance 4) and ports of quality games that may not have a compelling reason to play them on Wii U (Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition, Mass Effect 3, Trine 2).
Missing from the showcase was a mixture of obvious and not-so-obvious games from Nintendo and third parties.
Outside of Ubisoft, which made its support for Wii U abundantly clear, original titles from western publishers were not much more common than new EarthBound games. Sports games lend themselves to all sorts of applications for the touchscreen — where was EA or 2K Games to show Madden 13 or NBA 2K14 with the ability to draw up plays, see stats, and make substitutions on the GamePad? In Madden’s case, that exact functionality was seen not here, but at Microsoft’s press briefing, working on SmartGlass. If Nintendo wants to ensure it lures in core gamers, which are likely to be the early adopters, word on Grand Theft Auto V coming to the system with some exclusive Wii U features could have been a big deal.
Looking at Japanese studios, it would have been nice to hear about the Wii U version of Dragon Quest X coming to the U.S. or a Final Fantasy game being made for Wii U. Phantasy Star Online 2 would have been a welcome RPG, too.
An idea surfaced on Reddit today for a Dungeons Dragons game where one player on the GamePad serves as the Dungeon Master and four Wiimote users play the game set up by the DM. We didn’t have to see this specific idea, but something with this sort of setup could have driven home what kind of game is only possible on Wii U. Instead, we got the ability to choose what dance move comes up next in Just Dance 4.
Even Nintendo was conservative with what it had to show. The Nintendo-published Project P-100 from Platinum Games looks like it could be fun, and Wii Fit U will be a big seller. Beyond that and the games mentioned above, where was the Zelda HD demo that blew us all away last year? Where was a project — Metroid Prime or not — from Retro Studios? Where was the surprising announcement of a classic franchise being revived or the introduction of a brand new IP? Why couldn’t we have heard a peep about the new Super Smash Bros., even a reveal of a character or two making it into the game’s roster? Couldn’t Nintendo have announced a Xenoblade sequel? Or something about a new Advance Wars or Battalion Wars, which seems like another perfect fit for the GamePad?
That’s a lot Nintendo could have decided to show us and didn’t. Some of it, like GTA V, might have been impossible because Rockstar isn’t planning to bring the game to the platform (although it did plan to support the system according to a report from last April). Other omissions, like Zelda, are more curious. Last year’s showing was more of a tech demo than a game, sure. Had Nintendo decided to show that it’s made some progress on crafting an actual game, though, it would have alleviated any lingering concerns prospective Wii U buyers may have about the company’s capability of developing a full-fledged, high-definition game of that quality — something we’ve still yet to see out of Nintendo’s internal studios.
Also going without much of a mention so far this week has been the online network for Wii U. Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime alluded to unique features for the online entertainment apps (Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc.) that we’d be learning about in the future; it was a very brief portion of the briefing, and yet it was still present, unlike anything regarding the Nintendo Network. Nintendo did outline Miiverse, and that does open the door for a lot of interesting possibilities (and raises any number of questions about how it will work). What we’re all waiting to hear about, oddly enough, are the basics. Nintendo has yet to release a console with an online system that works as well as we would like; Sony has shown us with PSN that an Xbox Live-style experience is possible without charging a subscription. Will Wii U rely on friend codes yet again? Will Network accounts allow for games to be transferred from system to system? The sort of things that have been taken granted for years on other systems are still not a given on Wii U.
Nintendo not being forthcoming about any of this is not encouraging. However, until we hear otherwise, it’s still possible things will work out as we hope. Wii U may abandon friend codes, offer the ability to share Virtual Console games with 3DS, and have original games that make great usage of the GamePad and were simply not ready to be shown today. A price still needs to be announced; its absence today might very well be due to Nintendo itself being unsure of the specifics rather than it planning to charge an obscene amount it didn’t want to reveal until the last possible moment. $250 or $300 can’t be ruled out yet.
Because of the possibility for all of this to come true, I remain cautiously optimistic. What was shown today did not convince me I need to pre-order a Wii U ahead of its launch, which is what I had hoped to get out of today’s briefing. But it also didn’t do anything to make me think I don’t want one, and it was heartening to hear Nintendo has found a way to make two GamePads work with a single Wii U. I still need to see a lot more to be sure I want to risk being an early adopter — Nintendo hasn’t demonstrated to me it has learned its lesson from the 3DS about having a poor launch lineup — but the important thing is the potential for Wii U to be as special Nintendo would have us believe it is still exists.