Well, E3 2016 is over. Done. Finished. It was a show that - broadly speaking - didn't seem to set the world alight, but it also had some strong moments. Nintendo can probably look back at its week with some satisfaction, too. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild not only dominated social media, but was critically acclaimed and lauded by pretty much everyone who played it. Our team was similarly blown away, with all three of our Hands On impressions pieces reflecting awe in varied ways. Nintendo's booth, the Legend of Zelda 'experience', was also very well received.
For my part, covering E3 (as always) in front of a PC monitor in the UK, I was pleased with Nintendo's efforts. The brief appearance early on with the YouTube Gaming Show to promote four Nindie games was a nice way to kick off. It was also a relief to see the positivity among the Nintendo Life community, from live chat during the Treehouse streams that were full of jokes and daft comments about shirtless Link, down to polls that reflected satisfaction with Nintendo's efforts. It's also easy to see, after diligently watching all of the day one Treehouse demonstrations of Breath of the Wild, why it's already so revered. It looks stunning not only in terms of its ambition, but also in its competence. By that I mean it's both talking the talk and walking the walk, creating an open-world with impressive freedom but evidently having the systems and coding magic to make it work in practical terms.
Nintendo also had a good day two, I thought, especially in light of the fact that for a good while it didn't look like there'd be a day two. Whether its initial one-day plan was a bluff or Nintendo of America was panicked by online criticism it was wise to deliver a second full day that looked at other games. Ever Oasis and Mario Party Star Rush both looked promising in their own different ways, and beyond that we saw a decent slate of games and had a few other small but pleasant surprises. One of the biggest winners on the second day, for me, was Paper Mario: Color Splash. Oddly the Treehouse team showed early and rather dull stages, before unleashing a trailer that demonstrated plenty of creativity and cool ideas. I noticed many in the live chat warm to it in that moment, and I'm hopeful it'll be a fun Wii U game to get us through the Holiday season.
I want to give praise to the Treehouse team, too, who I think did a decent job under tough circumstances. It seems the team was a fair bit smaller than in the last two years (based on the farewell gathering at the end), which was clear a few times when sound levels and other technical areas suffered. Yet they persevered and provided some fantastic demonstrations, with their expertise and - more importantly - enthusiasm shining through. I feel the Treehouse team gets harshly criticised on occasion, so wanted to take the chance to doff my hat to their E3 efforts.
Overall I'd tend to agree with many that voted in our polls - Nintendo had a solid E3. Granted, even on day two Breath of the Wild was still the talk of social media, arguably to the detriment of other games grasping for air, but whatever the case the company earned a lot of positive publicity and social media buzz. As a fan and as someone who earns a living writing about the company, I'd say E3 was a success.
In all of the gushing about Breath of the Wild, and the positivity about Nintendo making a success of its E3, I think a bit of broader context is needed. E3 went well and avoided disaster, and also steered clear of the tough negativity that a few reveals generated in 2015, but it did little to address some troubling current realities for Nintendo.
The issue is that, away from Legend of Zelda hype and the Nintendo bubble, the company was increasingly isolated at E3. The oddest moment was when Ubisoft 100% confirmed, in big letters on a giant screen (and in subsequent press releases), Just Dance 2017 for the Nintendo NX. On the one hand that's a good thing, but on the other it makes the absence of NX as a platform in every other Ubisoft game announcement a concern. No other third-party publisher included NX in its announcements either, so either Ubisoft confirmed an NX version without approval or it's the only game it's confident to announce for the hardware.
Elsewhere in the few comments made about NX we heard predictable noises - it's a new way to play games (whatever that means, but it's exciting in principle), and Reggie Fils-Aime also played down the graphical arms-race going on between Sony and Microsoft. He essentially said that's up to them, but Nintendo is all about 'the experience'. With respect to Fils-Aime, and even acknowledging the fact he's limited in what he can say, they're soundbites off a broken record.
I've written in the past about the strange place Nintendo finds itself in. It's not competing on the raw graphical power front, so it doesn't appeal directly to the audience that wants lots of blockbuster goodness. So Nintendo has to target the broader 'blue ocean', and re-capture the magic of the Wii and DS. It needs to win over a diverse group of gamers and secure a place as the 'second console' with the aforementioned blockbuster crowd. Ubisoft believes it can be done, but frankly that's a company that backs everything on day one and quickly steps away if launch sales aren't substantial.
But in Ubisoft confirming one game but no others, and with no-one else talking about it or merely making non-committal noises prior to E3, it doesn't scream of momentum for a system due out in 7-8 months. We know the NX is a system playable at home in some form - because of Just Dance, Breath of the Wild and simple logic - but there's not much vocal support outside that Nintendo bubble. Think of all the major announcements and big games shown off during E3 outside of Nintendo's booth and broadcasts, and then remember than none of them are confirmed for Nintendo hardware. In fact, there weren't even hints of Nintendo versions.
I'm trying, until Nintendo finally unveils the NX, to remain optimistic. I hope the Just Dance 2017 announcement was just Ubisoft being rather strange, and that when Nintendo announces the system we'll hear of major third-parties jumping on board with enthusiasm, bringing some of their biggest games to the table. A nagging instinct, however, tells me that won't happen. I have little doubt that Nintendo will have learned lessons from Wii U and even the 3DS launch and come out with a deep first- and second-party line-up for the console's first year. I also hope the likes of Bandai Namco, Capcom, SEGA and other relatively supportive studios will have projects in the works, some of which have been in the rumour mill for months.
The potential challenge, if Nintendo isn't butting in on Sony / Microsoft territory in the big-selling, blockbuster 'triple-A' market, is striking gold with the NX concept. That, right there, is why there are nerves contending with my excitement and optimism. The Wii and DS were dominant a generation ago, and the 3DS has done well to make a success of itself, even if momentum is now falling away. Yet contrasting those successes are failures, and now the Wii U looks on course - by Nintendo's own projections - to be the worst selling home console in the company's history.
The big N is consistently successful in portables but has had to fight extremely hard to turn the 3DS into a success, albeit one lagging behind its predecessors. Yet the company's boom and bust tendencies in home consoles bring plenty of risk. Even in 'losing' this generation so far with Xbox One Microsoft still gets a lot of third-party support, because of where it sits in the market along with Sony. Nintendo is in its own space, and it seems to either triumph and set the world alight or lose badly - the Wii to Wii U effect.
A number of enticing, extravagant games were shown during E3, and as is now the norm Nintendo was only in the conversation with the outstanding game it made itself. My only fear is that the potential success or failure of NX feels too much like the flip of a coin, a reliance on hitting upon trends and capturing the zeitgeist.
The focus on innovation and the 'experience' over solid technology that earns the support of major partners is exciting, yes. But it's also a little terrifying.