Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Temper Temper: Nintendo at E3 and coping with disappointment

As a big gamer this time of year is always fun, as a veritable who's who of gaming descend on Los Angeles for the annual E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo), generating some of the biggest announcements of the year, mostly from the pre-E3 conferences from all the big hitters. For the first time publishers Bethesda and Square Enix had conferences, on top of regulars Microsoft, Sony, EA and Ubisoft. Just to summarise what I thought of their offerings...
  • Bethesda: Seemed to do well showcasing Doom and Fallout 4, the latter looked slightly more worthy of this generation of consoles than I thought it was in its reveal trailer.
  • Microsoft: Had the best show in my opinion - Tomb Raider, Gears of War 4, that game with the robot dog, that unbelievable Minecraft Hololens demo and an insane bit of showmanship with a Ford GT descend from the roof.
  • EA: They bored with sports and mobile fluff but sent pulses racing with Star Wars Battlefront.
  • Ubisoft: #girlwood, disappointed Aisha Tyler didn't ask if they were bringing back phrasing, but nice demos of Rainbow Six and The Division. Oh and FUCK YEAH SOUTH PARK STICK OF TRUTH SEQUEL!! I had a chuckle at the For Honor announcement that followed, the fighting stances looked straight from the "Broadway Bro Down" episode.
  • Sony: Sensational bit of smoke and mirrors, by the end nobody was talking about their poor line up of Christmas exclusives and instead  everyone wondered if a HOLE HAD BEEN TORN IN THE FABRIC OF REALITY as The Last Guardian, a remake of Final Fantasy VII and SHENMUE III all made an appearance.
  • Square Enix: I felt it was a very staid corporate first effort - their opening where they listlessly and monotonously reeled off features in Just Cause 3 was a particular chore. There was a brilliant bit of trolling when they teased Kingdom Hearts III only to talk about the mobile game, although they did show it eventually.

Then there's the elephant in the room. Nintendo also attend E3, but being Nintendo they do things a bit differently. After two consecutive years of apparently being unable to explain the concept of the Wii U at their conferences, they chose to highlight their offerings at the show through a special edition of their Nintendo Direct "Digital Events" instead. This year was no different.

Personally they showed a fair bit of stuff I was really pleased with: the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario cross over, confirmation Yokai Watch was coming to the West and Xenoblade Chronicles X being out in time for Christmas, a Wii U edition of Mario Tennis to hopefully atone for the lack of content in the 3DS version, and they've got me more interested in Yoshi's Woolly World.

But there's no denying this Direct was very much Nintendo stuck in their "holding pattern" with nothing as Earth shattering as their competitors. In terms of presentation, I think they had the better of the snoozefests from EA and Square Enix (I always love when the company takes the piss out of themselves and the muppet theme this year was no exception), but in terms of revelations and games profiled they seemed some way behind their peers. And it's made people online upset. VERY VERY upset.

So upset that they make ridiculous statements like "I was literally shaking with anger during that conference. Tears formed in my eyes and my fists were clenched." I can understand the disappointment in what was shown, but good God (Lemon) some people really need to get a grip. So many have subsequently sworn off Nintendo, promised never to buy another of their consoles, written off everything they presented and basically gone into full blown hyperbole mode decrying this the worst thing in company history.

I'm not saying they have to feel delighted with what's been offered, there are many valid concerns that have been raised, but I'm still left wondering "how short are their memories?" Don't they remember how Nintendo Direct events only seemed to exist to announce further delays during the first year of the Wii U? Or the Wii bubble bursting with Wii Music? Or the poor line up of titles the GameCube had for Christmas 2005 with the Wii on the horizon? (Mario Baseball, Mario Dance Mix? Odama? Really?) What about Cammie Dunaway, how on Earth could you forget her!? She was TERRIBLE!

Anyway, I thought it was worth addressing some of the complaints and concerns that came out of the conference and see if something positive can be salvaged...
  • "Where was the new Zelda for Wii U" - They already explained before the event that it was delayed into 2016 so they decided not to show it at E3. It was funny hearing the stories about Aonuma-san playing the Triforce Heroes multiplayer so much, I think we found the real reason for Zelda Wii U being delayed(!) Speaking of which...
  • "Another multiplayer Zelda? I'm out." - Most people were probably just saying they've only played or prefer main-line Zelda games, but there still seemed this weird portion of the fan base that took exception to Nintendo doing Zelda experiences designed for people to enjoy together. How dare Nintendo want people to share the fun! The 3DS has already had the two N64 remakes and A Link Between Worlds as far as single player goes, I think it's healthy to try something different.
  • Leather jacket guy from IGNLive: "Eww, the new Starfox has motion controls" 
I'm only paraphrasing, but it's a big catch 22 for Nintendo - they make games that don't do much with the gamepad: people moan, they make games that use the gamepad: people moan. The gamepad is the Wii U's USP, it should be used more. One concern I do share about the game is the poor graphics (it looked like one of those PS2 ports from the Wii's boom period) but overall the game seemed to show more variety than I expected and Platinum Games' involvement has really piqued my interest.
  • "Why wasn't there any news on a new Pokemon?" - I'm guessing these were people expecting a Pokemon Yellow/Crystal equivalent for X&Y (Z?), but it still caught me off guard a bit and I think people don't realise how relatively spoilt they've been with how prolific the series has been recently (it's surprising how close we've been to getting a game a year, which is no mean feat for something the size of Pokemon).
  • "Make a proper new Metroid/Animal Crossing Wii U game, not these stupid spin offs" 
This pair of announcements were definitely where Nintendo misjudged their audience the most. 
I don't care for Animal Crossing myself, but I knew many were anticipating a full on Wii U version (maybe a fan could explain what a Wii U version would add to the game, as an outsider I thought after the DS and 3DS versions of the game it was generally agreed the franchise was at its best on portable consoles?) so when I saw they were essentially doing a Mario Party 10 clone with AC characters I knew there'd be trouble. The only consolation I can offer is the new Amiibos look gorgeous and that the Amiibo modes were supposedly the best part of Mario Party 10, so it could turn out to be fun.
On a similar note Metroid Prime Federation Force is an even stranger proposition in the face of very vocal support for a return to the franchise proper. It essentially seems like a more cooperative version of DS game Hunters with a more Mii-friendly art style. Although the Blast Ball element of the game seemed to interest people at the World Championships (before it was announced what exactly it was) the negative reaction to this game has been enormous, including a petition to cancel it because it will disgrace the franchise. Now look, I'm not that interested in it at this point and I would have preferred a proper Metroid game too, but come on, let's not condemn a game you've seen all of five minutes of. If Other M couldn't kill people's appetite for the franchise I'm sure it'll be fine after this game's release too.
  • Stop making games nobody asked for" - Similar to the above I guess. Nintendo are infamous for marching to the beat of their own drum at times, and if that results in a game you have no interest in it can be frustrating. But let's not forget that Nintendo operating on a totally different plane has yielded great results in the past. I mean, did you ever ask for Splatoon? Or Pikmin? Or WarioWare? Because I certainly didn't, but the results turned out quite well didn't they?

  • "You've killed the Wii U/are holding back for the NX" 
With the company revealing to investors they're developing their next console and the Direct containing fewer Wii U announcements than people would have liked this is a very real concern. While the Wii U has already amassed arguably the best line up of exclusives of this generation, I'm sure many owners are worried they've invested in a system with no future beyond what they're enjoying now, while those who are yet to invest will have only been made more reluctant. Just look at all those people who bought a PS4 even though it had no games that appealed to them at the time they bought it - the mere promise of what's to come in the future for a console cannot be overlooked as far drawing people in to buying it.
The only thing I will say is this: Nintendo said they'd TALK to us about NX in 2016. It doesn't necessarily mean they're gearing up to release the console that year. It's very likely the NX will merely be unveiled at E3 next year, and equally likely to launch in 2017 (possibly Holiday season). Indeed if you look back to the Wii U (unveiled 2011, launched 2012) and 3DS (unveiled 2010, launched 2011), the general pattern seems to be that Nintendo unveil a new console at E3 but don't release it until the next calender year. So there is hope.
If anyone is considering purchasing a Wii U, I'd advise them to look at whether the games already released and announced for release on the system appeal to you and make your decision based on that. Don't make any assumptions about what's to come or base your decision on prospective releases that aren't announced yet.
  • "Anything non-Mario in Super Mario Maker is stuck behind a paywall because you need Amiibos to get them" -  I often go back and forth over how far Nintendo should go when it comes to the content rewards you get from Amiibo, but the example given here is just totally ridiculous! The clue's in the title, Super MARIO maker, you shouldn't be surprised you can only play as Mario!!! And it's not as if Nintendo have denied you a vital game mechanic by not being an Amiibo owner, it literally just re-skins Mario and gives him some new sound effects, it's a minuscule extra to reward those who invested in Amiibos.
  • "Nintendo literally showed no new games." - To be pedantic, that's wrong, there were new games. Even if like many you predicted Yokai Watch's Western release or something Animal Crossing related on Wii U, I doubt you predicted every single game that was shown. Or you mean they showed no new games that INTEREST YOU, which I've much more sympathy for.
Urgh those last couple were a bit negative, so I'll try to close on a more positive note. Firstly, there were a fair few releases coming up that weren't profiled in the Nintendo Direct broadcast - Devil's Third, Project Treasure and Project Zero (Wii U), Chibi Robo Ziplash and Little Battlers Experience (3DS) and all of the upcoming eShop releases (including new Earthbound and Mutant Mudds games), so there might be a bit more to get you interested.
Finally, don't forget that people hated the cell shading in The Wind Waker at first and it's now become a fan favourite style for the series. People were angry when Super Mario 3D World was unveiled for being too similar to the 3DS game when people wanted a Mario Galaxy, and people ended up loving it. Many were aghast when the Wii's controller was unveiled and it wound up getting more people enjoying games than ever up to that point in time. So if you feel let down by the showing this year try not to totally dismiss or write off anything you've seen, some of these games could still turn out to be rewarding and fruitful beyond the negative first impressions they've made.

Right, I'm off to play some Professor Layton, adios.