The delay of The Legend of Zelda on Wii U was undoubtedly disappointing for fans excited about its original 2015 release, but many reacted with a degree of acceptance - better to wait longer for a classic than have an underwhelming end result was a common refrain. We suggested the delay was perhaps good for the game, but left a large gap in the Wii U's release schedule, especially in the vital end-of-year Holiday shopping season. Though we feel that's the case, it wasn't our suggestion that it was an issue that will definitely go unresolved; part of the intrigue is waiting to see how Nintendo's 2015 line-up for Wii U will evolve. E3 will apparently be all about 2015 games, so there are likely to be some surprises on the way.
Since The Legend of Zelda's delay we've seen plenty of commentary, often presented reasonably and with plenty of logic, that the delay - along with the recent brief reveal of the codenamed Nintendo NX - brings us the beginning of the end for Wii U. Conversations turn to the next Zelda game perhaps even slipping from the Wii U to Nintendo's next hardware, while others simply feel it's the sign that the current-gen system is being slowly abandoned. It's not inconceivable that those points of view could be right, but we also feel it's far too early to write off the Wii U and make that call just yet.
First of all, let's consider the argument that the brief tease of the Nintendo NX was a sign that Nintendo's moving on. We're not sure the timelines stack up for this, as it stands, while the context of the announcement was key. Satoru Iwata has stated, quite clearly, that the timing of the tease was to assuage concerns fans had at the announcement of the smart device and Membership program deal with DeNA. The logic was simple - in confirming an aggressive move toward smartphone games, Iwata-san felt compelled to demonstrate that Nintendo is still committed to dedicated hardware. He said the following in the Q & A for that DeNA announcement.
Nintendo will firmly continue its core business. The biggest reason (why I mentioned "NX" today) was that I wanted to eliminate such misunderstandings as we made the smart device announcement today because Nintendo is pessimistic about the future for the dedicated game system business.
Details on the NX project won't be announced until 2016, so if we consider the typical timeline for a console reveal and release, the soonest we can sensibly expect the hardware is Holiday 2016; that would be a tight turnaround, too. We could even be looking at a 2017 arrival for the system - if our thought that the NX could be a unified platform to potentially replace both 3DS and Wii U is correct, the late 2016 to mid-2017 window would give us a fairly long 3DS generation, and drag Wii U to a just-about-respectable 4-5 years.
Whatever the case, we suspect Nintendo will want to keep the Wii U ticking along, as a minimum, until that time comes. This year's line-up is a good case and point, with a batch of exciting or promising titles that can, with strategic release dates, arrive with decent regularity for the rest of 2015. The Legend of Zelda is a loss for the Holiday season, yes, but we shouldn't assume that the line-up we've seen for Wii U so far is all that's coming this year; precedent tells us that won't be the case - there are always additional surprises.
As we've argued before, the test for Nintendo is finding a key hit (or two) that can drive sales in that vital end-of-year period. The fact is there may be key arrivals pegged (internally) in for that time, potentially to be revealed in the upcoming Nintendo Direct or even at E3. There are unsubstantiated rumours - that we haven't reported due to the absence of legitimate source - naturally doing the rounds, but we'll have a better idea soon enough.
There's also Nintendo's company culture to consider. We've often seen that Nintendo is relatively happy to try ideas or deal with an under-performing product if it can turn an overall profit to keep shareholders appeased. Despite the Wii U's struggles and financial losses Satoru Iwata has remained in the top job, and from a game perspective development appears to have ticked along in a state of 'business-as-usual'. The creative side of the business does often successfully stay in a bubble away from the stresses of share values, and the Wii U remains - at least for Shigeru Miyamoto and talented up-and-comers - a platform ripe for experimentation. Projects like Splatoon, Mario Maker and Star Fox all seem to be designed to produce fresh gameplay with the GamePad, or in the case of Mario Maker to further test the waters in user creation and content sharing on a significant scale.
When Nintendo ditches Wii U we'll really know it, as it'll be just like late 2011 and the whole of 2012 for Wii. With the Wii U on the horizon the last-gen system was well-and-truly dropped, with Nintendo making little effort to help it through its last year. We're a long way from that stage with the current system.
Ultimately, when it comes to perceptions of Nintendo's commitment to Wii U, it's all relative. Many companies would consider abandoning a system with the Wii U's sales to die a quiet death, yet Nintendo's not doing that right now. As a system it'll be third in its generation behind PS4 and Xbox One, and it has a battle on its hands to even match the lifetime sales of the GameCube; it could end its life as Nintendo's lowest selling home console. Yet Nintendo's corporate culture is often one of self-confidence and long-term thinking. It occasionally makes knee-jerk decisions, like the substantial 3DS price cut in Fall 2011, but it also takes its sweet time while some scream that it's behind the curve. Just look how long it took for it to 'break' and move into smart device games.
As we see it the delay of The Legend of Zelda is simply that - a delay to the game while the development team tries to make the best possible game. We're not convinced, at this stage, that it's a pre-cursor to stepping away from the Wii U; it's simply too early to make that statement with confidence.
Don't give up on the Wii U yet, we're pretty sure Nintendo hasn't.