E3 — the busiest week on any gamer's calendar — has been and gone for another year, but how has the Big N fared against the onslaught of the competition's 'next gen' power? We saw some very impressive stuff from rivals Sony and Microsoft, and many would argue that Nintendo's Wii U, with technical specs below PS4 and Xbox One, would be expected to fall even farther behind in the console arms race. However, Nintendo showed us once again that it can never be counted out, and that it will always do its own thing its own way.
We've all heard what analysts have had to say about the Wii U and the GamePad, being quite vocal and saying Nintendo should simply drop the system — or at the very least, abandon the GamePad controller. However, Nintendo made it very clear during E3 that it is committed to both its console and its unique controller. We saw a handful of new Intellectual Properties announced along with an old friend to help win over newcomers and sceptic fans alike. Splatoon – Nintendo's colourful take on the online third-person shooter; Project Giant Robot, a robot battling game which has the play control a self created giant robot using the GamePad's motion controls to dodge and attack their opponents and Project Guard, a take on the tower defence genre where the player uses the aid of cameras to stop an onslaught of robots. Mr. Miyamoto himself has designed both Project Giant Robot and Guard and confirmed the latter will connect to Star Fox for Wii U.
However, why would these games catch anyone's attention? New Nintendo IP often ends up slipping under the radar and being ignored, what makes these different? What makes Splatoon, Project Giant Robot and Project Guard, special?
It's not often that Nintendo introduces new IP for any of their systems, but this isn't restricted to Nintendo — many of the major developers will tell you leaping into something new is a huge risk. Of course, seeing Nintendo devoting time and resources into making new experiences is nothing new to fans. We've seen them take the plunge (with varying success) with titles such as Chibi Robo, Pullblox, Dillon's Rolling Western, HarmoKnight and the “Wii” series of games to name just a few.
Arguably, the only recent IP to join Nintendo's uppermost ranks is Pikmin launched back in the GameCube era. Despite these hit and misses, the company continues to experiment with genres and innovate. We've started to see a comeback recently from other devs and they too are starting to take that risk again; they're seeing real success with some of these attempts. The latest example is from Ubisoft, with Watch Dogs, which hacked its way into a lot of player's consoles (although Wii U owners will have to wait until later this year). Of course, Ubi's game is a sandbox title and had the market to itself when it eventually landed — how are games in over-saturated genres like shooters and tower defence ever going to draw a crowd? Well, it seems Nintendo has thought of that, and it's unique simplicity that has turned those genres on their heads.
Making a splash
As discussed earlier, Splatoon is Nintendo's take on the shooter genre. This isn't a genre Nintendo has really dabbled in before, and it certainly hasn't created a shooter that mainly has focus on online play — local multiplayer will be supported, though. We all know about traditional games in this genre, often painted a dull brown with lots of shooting of the opposition to gain points. Nintendo has thought of a solution to this irksome issue too, taking everything that makes an online shooter and engineering it to be accessible to an even wider audience. It replaces the usual burly male space marines with cute anime-styled characters and bullets with ink; the name of the game is cover more of the arena with your team's ink than the other team. It's fast, it's colourful and it's every bit Nintendo. Below is just one of many quotes from Nintendo on how it came together.
...the overall design is taking a very Nintendo approach, where it’s very gameplay-focused. We designed the gameplay and the features of the game first, and the characters themselves were born out of those features.
Born from the idea of replacing bullets with ink, it even helped to evolve the character's design and the ability to turn into a squid. It grabs our attention by taking something we're all very familiar with, changing one thing, allowing for creativity in gameplay and design, and creating something completely different with a brand new experience. The changes allow people who would never normally touch a game like this to join the fun and those familiar with it will find it refreshing.
Mech-ing the grade
Miyamoto has taken a similar approach to two new Wii U concepts shown during their Treehouse Demonstrations; Project Giant Robot and Project Guard, both of which have to potential to be much more than tech demos. Project Giant Robot is a take on the Fighting game genre while adding a pinch of sumo to the mix, while Project Guard's skeleton is built from Tower Defence.
Both of the games are pretty self explanatory; Project Giant Robot has the player build a custom robot which is then pitted against an opponent robot of equally unique design (one robot shown was a Matryoshka doll with needle arms.) The player controls their robot with the Wii U GamePad, with the second screen showing the view as seen from the cockpit. Moving the GamePad sways the robot's balance using the gyro controls while the joysticks move the left and right arms, respectively. The aim of the game is to simply topple the other robot over. It was far from the star of the show — and at times actually looked rather awkward to play — but it gained interest and showed that very simple mechanics can make for a fun experience. Perhaps most importantly, it proved that Nintendo's designers are working around the clock to exploit the GamePad's functions.
Elsewhere, Project Guard has the player controlling 12 individual cameras and using the GamePad as a "quick-jump map" which allows players to switch between different security cameras in a heavily-guarded fortress. The main point to the game is to guard your fortress from invading robots which are trying to sneak past the player's defences. Again, it's a very simple in concept and while Miyamoto has said the game is "experimental", he has also made a point in saying these simple concepts could work their way into his upcoming Star Fox sequel on Wii U.
Of course, these are all risks, and taken on face value can they seem rather unimpressive — the Treehouse segments which showed off the two "Project" titles were perhaps a little too long, and the thin nature of each concept was plain for all to see. But these games gave us a tantalising glimpse into how Nintendo works; a simple concept can one day be something much, much more. This is why Nintendo's simplicity and risk-taking shown at this year's E3 has us excited — what was shown off might not have blown anyone away in the same way that Far Cry 4 and Assassin's Creed: Unity did, but who knows where Splatoon, Project Giant Robot and Project Guard will lead? Just because something is simple, doesn't mean it's any less astonishing or inspiring — and as Wii Sports proved all those years ago, simplicity is something Nintendo does very well indeed.