Talking Point: The Growing Storm of Operation Rainfall

Is gaming's biggest consumer advocacy movement a noble cause, or does NoA know best?

What you see to the right of this text is a poster for Operation Rainfall. It features screen shots and information on Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story and Pandora's Tower, all of which Nintendo has published in Japan to positive reviews and sales, and none of which the company plans to release in North America. But that's no ordinary fan art – that's a poster produced and put up by a GameStop manager. A long and winding road has led to this point, including a grassroots campaign, where in the past gamers have sat by and privately wept as exciting and innovative titles failed to grace their region's coming soon list. So, how did we get here? And where do we go from this point?

A History of Silence

This is far from the first time that Nintendo has failed in the localisation department. The list of hotly anticipated, well-received games never to make the jump is long and saddening. Mother 3 and Fatal Frame IV never left Japan, and it's likely that the revamped Fatal Frame II won't either. Last Window, New Play Control! Pikmin 2, Another Code: R and Disaster: Day of Crisis found a home in Europe, but failed to hop the pond. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Canada have enjoyed Excitebots and Trauma Team while the Old World could only sip their tea in sadness. That's just a handful of titles that haven't seen a market in regions that might prefer it otherwise.

On top of that, Nintendo opposes third parties localising games to which it holds publishing rights elsewhere, and the Wii, of course, is region-locked. If not for this latter factor, imports and fan handiwork could be the answer, as was the result of such a campaign with Mother 3 that saw committed gamers produce what some called the best user-made translation of a game to date. But in just about every other case there was no Operation Rainfall imminent, only sunny skies and some complaining and defeated sighs. So what makes this time different?

Mixed Messages

The N64 cartridge. The lack of a strong online component. Absence of HD support. Nintendo has made its share of mistakes. But, at the same time, it's surprised us with design innovations like the analogue stick, the DS and the Wii Remote. It's one of the reasons that the Wii U controller didn't get Reggie laughed off the E3 stage – Nintendo has proved us wrong before.

Still, cynical observers have noted an arrogant aroma about the company. "Wait and see and have faith in our alternative thinking" can sound an awful lot like "father knows best" to the right set of ears. But in past months, Nintendo seems to have eaten a slice of humble pie, admitting its online approach is lacking and that it needs to listen more to small developers. It's made overtures to those who prefer more "mature" titles, reassuring them that there are no plans to abandon core gamers. The company even stated in March that it hadn't forgotten about the Wii and that we could expect some interesting releases in what's likely to be the last full year of the console's life. Plans emerged to bring The Last Story and Xenoblade to Europe and the latter to Australia. All signs pointed to E3 2011 being a show to remember, a show that said to Wii owners, "your console is alive and well."

But as the expo came to a close, an air of confusion began to spread. Yes, hardcore titles were coming to the Wii U such as Darksiders II and Batman: Arkham City. But on the Wii horizon? Kirby, Rhythm Heaven, Fortune Street, Mario Party 9 and Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, making these games, Wii Play: Motion and Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident the only Nintendo-published titles planned to hit the system for the rest of the year in a time when notable third-party support has all but dried up. These are all likely to be great games, but where are The Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles and Pandora's Tower?

Nintendo had followed up its statements reassuring core fans with an announced line-up of safe sells featuring mini-games and rhythm-based releases. While taking risks with its hardware, the company showed off the safest line-up it could possibly have shown. Some of the Wii U footage was later revealed not even to have been running on Wii U. What was going on upstairs? Had its words before only been empty gestures?

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