Feature: Nintendo in 2012 - Part One
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
April Fools Day arrived, and it was actually one of the biggest companies in the world that came out with the best joke — mega corporations don't often show such humour. Google teamed up with Square Enix to produce a trailer for 8-bit Google Maps, which even necessitated blowing into the NES cartridge. There was a rather impressive coffee table that was also a functioning NES controller, while Nintendo teamed up with the Louvre museum to provide guided tours with 3DS systems. Shigeru Miyamoto stated that F-Zero would work on Wii U, to which Nintendo gamers everywhere said "we know that, greatest game designer in the World, just make it already".
Meanwhile the 3DS saw its greatest innovation to date in a system update... folders. Project X Zone — which has unfortunately struggled in Japan — opened one of the best game promo websites ever seen, Pokémon Conquest was confirmed for North America, and Nintendo prompted endless speculation and enthusiastic game title debates when it purchased the supermario4.com web domain. The premature post-mortem of the Wii Shop continued with developer Beamdog slamming the service and vowing to never develop for it again, citing issues with approval processes and the platform's end-user layout, among other things. Endless "how powerful is the Wii U" arguments also continued, with some saying it was more powerful than existing HD systems, while others said it was about equal or potentially weaker — as a result we wondered if any of these developers actually knew what they were talking about. The 3DS eShop continued its own steady evolution, confirming that New Super Mario Bros. 2 would be the first retail game sold on the platform.
In terms of game releases, April delivered some varied and high quality experiences. They were relatively happy times for Wii; North America rejoiced at the arrival of Xenoblade Chronicles, while Europe completed the Operation Rainfall trilogy with the intriguing and rather dark Pandora’s Tower. There were much brighter, happier colours in the fabulous Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure on 3DS, while the handheld's eShop saw the arrival of the terrific drawing/painting app Colors! 3D.
Also known as "that month before E3", May brought its share of major and minor reveals to tantalise Nintendo gamers. In the latter category was Project Triniate, a MMORPG — massively multiplayer online role playing game — for the 3DS Web Browser, which defied its primitive aesthetic to impress through its sheer will to take on an almost-impossible idea. Nintendo actually applied for a patent on Wii U golf tech along the lines of the demo shown as part of the teaser trailer at E3 2011, while a LEGO Zelda concept earned enough votes for consideration on LEGO CUUSOO — sadly it looks like cost issues will now prevent it becoming a reality. Nintendo also finally decided that big cheaters manipulating some notorious shortcuts in Mario Kart 7 courses such as Wuhu Mountain Loop would be stopped via a game update, reversing its bizarre initial stance that patching the game would be unfair on those that had become used to cheating. A victory for those that actually want to play the game for fun, rather than gain a 30 second lead by plummeting into water deliberately.
One of the biggest stories of the month was the early leak of a Wii U GamePad re-design, which showed that Circle Pads had been replaced by analogue sticks — the source of the image reportedly lost their job as fallout for breaking the strict NDA with Nintendo. There were sales landmarks for 3DS, with the handheld merrily passing six million sales in Japan — UK results finally approached one million, though progress was notably slower than the original DS model. The Wii and DS did grab some headlines with news that La-Mulana was cancelled for North America and Europe — it was thankfully revived — while Indie developer Jason Rohrer took to Kickstarter to fund a DS game, which after hassle with Nintendo was eventually given the snappy title Jason Rohrer with Music by Tom Bailey: Diamond Trust of London. After the news of retail games coming to the 3DS eShop, meanwhile, the well-worn debate about pricing reared its ugly head, with Satoru Iwata saying the following about the reasoning behind a download costing the same as a boxed game: "We do not hold such a premise that digitally distributed software has less value." So there.
May was rather quiet in terms of high-profile games, with Mario Tennis Open arriving on 3DS to get everyone into the mood for Summer; it was solid, though some bemoaned the absence of a full on career/RPG-style mode. The 3DS eShop also had one of its quieter periods, though Art of Balance TOUCH! was a stand-out when it arrived in Europe, while Kirby's Dream Land 2 arrived in the same region, becoming one of the most-requested Virtual Console games in North America since.
In the month of E3, let's first cover important or humorous news that didn't come out of the expo in LA. A big announcement, if you lived in Japan, was confirmation of Monster Hunter 4 for Spring 2013 — it's since been delayed to Summer 2013. Nyko attempted to make the Circle Pad Pro pretty, a task more difficult than a manned missions to Mars, Nintendo UK and the British Film Institute launched a short film competition for 3DS, while Richie Branson released what was undoubtedly a rad retro rap album. Meanwhile, Shigeru Miyamoto engaged his "cheeky scamp" mode and talked down the prospect of a 3DS re-model — his get out of Peach's castle clause is that he may have been referring to the absence of a second Circle Pad — when the 3DS XL was confirmed the following week. Some egg on the face for a particular NL writer that went on record to say the pre-E3 rumour was unlikely...
So, E3. Nintendo certainly gunned for its most active expo to date, creating a popular meme-friendly icon in a pre-E3 Nintendo Direct broadcast dedicated to Wii U; we are of course referring to the Non-Specific Action Figure. Most importantly, we were seeing a bit more of the final Wii U and had a welcome look at Miiverse, while Nintendo's main event focused on launch games for the new system. Highlights included Shigeru Miyamoto's charming demonstration of Pikmin 3, while Reggie Fils-Aime was rather silly when demonstrating the zombie camera feature in ZombiU. There was a also a separate 3DS showcase, which focused on various titles we knew about for later in the year, though footage of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate was particularly well received in the Nintendo Life office. An awful lot happened, while some of the lesser mentioned games — by which we really mean The Wonderful 101 — didn't necessarily get the attention they deserved. If you want a sense of the announcement madness that was E3 2012, at the time of writing you can still check out our E3 2012 page.
June was a happy month for handheld gamers, meanwhile, with the highest profile arrival being Pokémon Conquest on DS, which showed that the old dual-screen had some life in it yet. 3DS had two solid retail releases, with the relatively competent port of Rayman Origins and the ambitious feature-packed Heroes of Ruin both hitting Europe. Marvel Pinball 3D brought superhero table action to the 3DS eShop, while Project Zero 2: Wii Edition scared Europeans witless. A decent haul, though admittedly quite a few of these titles hadn't hit North America yet, or haven't since.
So there you have it, an overview of some — though certainly not all — of the most interesting Nintendo stories in the first six months of 2012. Check back at the same time on Sunday to see part two, which brings some major Mario releases on 3DS and the arrival of Wii U. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts on what came in the first half of last year in the comments below.