There'll be a number of Nintendo fans that, if they feel so inclined, can now say "I told you so". After insisting in December 2014 that The Legend of Zelda for Wii U was on track for a 2015 release, despite bold promises of a sizeable integrated game world and innovative ideas, Eiji Aonuma released a video update stating that a 2015 release is no longer the top priority. While the series producer stopped short of outright saying it'll be out in 2016, that's certainly the take-home message - the fact the game won't even be shown at E3 this year is further evidence of that.
While there was certainly precedent behind the instinct this title wouldn't make it for 2015, it's an odd u-turn considering the confidence Nintendo had previously shown. The appearance at the Game Awards in December was a statement of intent, with Shigeru Miyamoto pointedly asking whether it'd still arrive in 2015 - Aonuma-san seemed confident.
As you can see in the video update itself, below, Aonuma-san makes clear that pushing the game back is in order to ensure the best experience, with new ideas and creativity taking the lead. This is pretty standard fare for these delay announcements, to be blunt, though it does nevertheless give hope to those that want this new title to be a high-point and evolution for the franchise.
On the side of the fence that's accepting of this delay, the oft-quoted Shigeru Miyamoto line has often been shared - "A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad". We're not going to be hypocrites and argue against that, either, as in the past we've often spoken up and defended Nintendo's focus on high quality and gameplay trumping marketing concerns. That's not to say Nintendo doesn't release its share of occasionally sloppy efforts or milk the cow dry when it finds a formula that works, but it does have a strong record of putting great effort into its premier games. That's part of why we love Nintendo, as you can often put down money for its games with confidence.
This is also a decision that reinforces and proves an ongoing message from Nintendo and its game makers - commercial concerns and profits aren't a prominent factor when making games. Of course there's overlap, which explains some sequels we've seen, but typically Nintendo's creative forces operate in a bit of a bubble, and that's evident in various ways. The Wii U may be struggling in terms of sales, yet there's still a breeziness to developers when they talk about their games, still a focus on making fun experiences. Numbers and financial figures are for Satoru Iwata and some of his board members to worry about; plenty within Nintendo are simply focused on making the best games possible.
That emphasis on game quality above financial concerns pops up in that Aonuma-san update, as he mentions that the decision to push back and focus on exploring ideas was taken across management. We don't know whether this is code for "actually, this open world business is harder and taking longer than we expected", but ultimately the decision's been made to focus on the quality rather than force something, anything out for the Holiday period.
The Holiday period - that's where some tough realities kick in. Moving on from the promise of an amazing Zelda game and the sound reasoning to delay, it brings a major headache for Nintendo. We'd always assumed, with sound logic, that The Legend of Zelda would be the last major Wii U release of the year and the big name for the vital Holiday season of shopping. Nintendo's marketing would be simple - buy the Wii U because it's great value and has awesome games, and there's a spectacular new Legend of Zelda experience. The marketing team's eyes were no doubt already widened, especially as the expected PS4-exclusive blockbuster Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is now delayed into 2016. One less rival game to worry about.
Yet now the same fate has befallen The Legend of Zelda, and there are problems as a result. The anticipated retail line-up for the year - almost exclusively first-party - has always looked like it would give us one or two big games each quarter: still due to be dated are entries like Mario Maker, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Yoshi's Woolly World and the third party (but published by Nintendo) Devil's Third, with Splatoon still apparently due in May. We also have the ongoing mystery of Star Fox on Wii U, and we're awaiting a Nintendo Direct and E3 to spill the beans on details and dates for these sorts of games.
There are a few other games coming, yes, but it's still a focus on quality over quantity, but there's legitimate doubt that any of those experiences will be a huge mainstream draw at the vital end of year shopping season. We don't know what kind of experience Star Fox will be - we hope amazing, but on what scale? - and with the best will in the world the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles X et al will be popular but are unlikely to grab attention and drive notable sales for the hardware. It's all great stuff for us, as fans, but a massive Zelda adventure seemed the perfect showcase to excite more consumers at the end of the year - can any of these take its place and have the same impact?
Of course, there'll be tricks up Nintendo's sleeve to flesh the library out - Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was first seen at E3 last year but made it to release in North America as a fun extra game at the end of 2014. The question is whether any unannounced games will drive us crazy with hype and, importantly, help make the Wii U more of a must-have system. Perhaps Animal Crossing can help with mainstream buzz, a new Metroid, projects from Next Level Games and Retro Studios; we can only hope that, as it's done in the past, Nintendo can stun us with a shock reveal that blows 2015 wide open.
Perhaps that's the plan and we're about to be shocked and enticed in a Direct or at E3, or perhaps some projects need to be pushed through as a plan B. That's part of the fun with Nintendo and its brilliant ability to keep secrets - we just don't know.
As it stands, though, the loss of The Legend of Zelda this year is worrying, simply in terms of potential sales and market presence for the Wii U. Perhaps Nintendo's beyond being concerned about numbers for the Wii U and is simply using the system to hone its HD development and work on exciting games, but in a big year for keeping the system relevant in the marketplace it needs a winner in place. There are some exciting games coming, but a Zelda-sized blockbuster gap has been created; we're nervous over whether it can be filled.
Finally, and beyond all that, we're simply disappointed that one of the year's most thrilling releases won't be coming for a while longer. There is positivity, though - let's take Eiji Aonuma at his word that the delay is to "make it the ultimate and most complete Zelda game"; it could be something truly special when it eventually arrives.
In the meantime, and despite our fears, we'll keep the faith that 2015 can still be a successful year for the Wii U.