For many, the start of a new generation heralds the beginning of a golden age for gaming, promising new IPs, a fresh approach, or simply an established franchise seen through new technology. It is a time when the sky is the limit, and gamers everywhere can come together to celebrate change. But this time, that hasn’t quite happened.
Whereas the last generation introduced motion controls, deeper online integration and achievements, the new generation has perhaps had something of a false start. Despite having half a year to gain momentum, Nintendo’s Wii U has failed to achieve significant traction thanks to a limited range of quality software, while on the to-be-released front, both Sony and Microsoft have shot their opening salvos, and it’s fair to say that the results have been fairly divisive among the gaming community. The next generation is seemingly struggling to get started, and with E3 on the horizon, it’s time to turn that around. And for Nintendo, the timing could not be better.
Two of the biggest hurdles for Nintendo to overcome this year were the reveals of the PS4 and the Xbox One – much like the 3DS vs PS Vita debate, many saw the new consoles as steamrolling Wii U thanks to their more powerful graphical hardware (perhaps failing to learn from history), putting Nintendo in an untenable position. To date that doesn’t seem to have happened. Be it the lack of software shown to date, the focus on TV or the absence of price points currently causing suspicion, the new generation of consoles from Microsoft and Sony have arguably failed to capture the wider public’s imagination so far, putting the Wii U very much back in the game.
Taken in isolation, the Wii U does appear to be a potentially appealing prospect to consumers. It features much of what made the Wii such an icon; accessible, functional and reasonably affordable and suitable for anyone. We live in an age where HD graphics are the norm, and Wii U brings Nintendo into that era; it also boasts an established, albeit small, library of titles, as well as the entire Wii back catalogue. It’s a console that, if marketed well, could become the console to own this generation, but there is one key component missing – blockbuster games.
While the Wii U hasn’t had a start that will be remembered for decades to come, the software that has appeared on the system has clearly done enough to gain a fairly loyal following just six months into its lifespan, with New Super Mario Bros U, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and LEGO City Undercover proving to be early must-haves for the system. But nothing so far has really rocked the wider gaming community and shifted units, and it is this that needs to be addressed before Wii U can really hit the headlines. And as if perfectly timed, E3 is just around the corner.
The cornerstone of the gaming year, E3 really is Nintendo’s big opportunity to announce to the world that the Wii U is here to stay. With Microsoft and Sony working to get glimpses of launch titles on display, coupled with a presumed focus on big name titles such as Call of Duty and FIFA, it perhaps falls to Nintendo to offer something new and different. Something that only Wii U can do. And this year, it’s bringing out the big guns.
As we know, Nintendo is adopting a fresh approach to E3 this year, and while we can discuss the pros and cons of that all day, the simple fact is that the coming year (and beyond) of games will be announced and unveiled at E3. And it’s time to start getting excited.
So let’s take a look at what we know is coming. First up is the big one, the title that many buy Nintendo systems for – Super Mario. The next title in the 3D Mario series is one that will hopefully push the boundaries of Wii U and exemplify why the GamePad exists, while building on the legacy left by Super Mario Galaxy. With the Galaxy games providing a challenge graphically to many HD games, the added horsepower of Wii U should produce something spectacular; with the classic Mario formula, it’s difficult to foresee this being anything but a winner.
There’s also the small matter of the double multiplayer header of Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros., both titles that are stalwarts of Nintendo platforms and continue to be on many gamer’s most anticipated lists. Super Smash Bros. in particular has a chance to make a real statement of intent at this year’s E3, and while we don’t expect to see it released until 2014 at the earliest, it is undoubtedly a game that will draw all but the most cynical eyes on the show floor.
The presumably gorgeous The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD should also make an appearance ahead of its winter release, while we’re likely to see a bit more of Yarn Yoshi. On the third-party exclusive front the recently announced Sonic Lost World – also coming to 3DS — will be getting its big unveiling, Monolith Soft’s X should get a mention and Bayonetta 2 will no doubt cause pining glances from competitor’s booths. And that’s before we even mention delayed titles such as Pikmin 3 and The Wonderful 101; don’t be surprised to see Nintendo also making a beeline for a wider audience with a focus on Wii Fit U.
Add onto this the myriad of rumoured games that will be at the show, none bigger than Retro Studios’ latest effort, and it is clear that Wii U has exclusives in abundance. But what of third-party content? While it has long been the Achilles’ heel of Nintendo systems in the past, if recent trends are anything to go by, things are looking in reasonable shape.
Ubisoft’s almost unilateral support of Wii U will surely be a big talking point at E3, with Rayman Legends, Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag and Watch_Dogs being notable examples. Warner Bros will no doubt be hitting E3 hard with Batman: Arkham Origins and Scribblenauts Unmasked, while Square Enix will take the opportunity to show off Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s Wii U enhancements. While it’s not a definitive list of third party titles, the simple fact is that E3 showcases the biggest games of the year, and many of them are being enhanced by Wii U and the GamePad.
Of course the big missing element here is EA, which famously said that it was working on no Wii U games, only to retract the statement days later. While it seems unlikely that the company will completely flip-flop, with Disney handing out the Star Wars rights to it (and Disney being a supporter of Wii U elsewhere), it seems reasonable to surmise that we could see some news from EA in a few weeks; how unprecedented that news is remains to be seen.
What should be clear is that Nintendo has a strong E3 within its grasp. For the first time in years, Nintendo has a console that can go to E3 and take on the other manufacturers at their own game, offering some of the same content, only with enhancements thanks to the unique gameplay the GamePad offers. And once it’s matched them in some key areas, the megaton of exclusives from both first and third-party developers means that by the start of 2014, things are looking bright for Nintendo’s console.
And that is something that is clearly resonating with gamers already. Post-Xbox One reveal, sales of the Wii U on Amazon skyrocketed – albeit briefly — an alarming 875%, putting it temporarily in the best sellers list. If nothing else, it’s a statement from some of the gaming consumer base – while Microsoft and Sony focus on entertainment functions and go through console launch teething problems, Nintendo is focused on developing new and exciting gaming experiences, creating an autumn line-up that can rival any platform. Wii U has had its troubles at launch, but if the pre-E3 build-up is anything to go by, those troubles could be turned around.