Reviewing a Nintendo Direct is very different from reviewing an E3 press conference. It is a completely different format for announcements, with a different scale, and a different set of expectations that go with it.
On the other hand, when you are using the Direct format as your stand in for a major E3 press conference, and when E3 conferences have had a certain level of expectations and that come with them, the Direct, being treated as it is as part of the same lineup of game announcements, should be evaluated in that context.
Given all of that, this specific Nintendo Direct was especially hard to assess. As a Direct, it did its job, and it did it well- we got to look at a fair few number of upcoming titles, all of which look like they might be fun, and we even got a few surprise announcements there that would have been major had it not been E3 week. But given that it was, in fact, E3 week, Nintendo’s Direct felt weak. Yes, they had a new 3D Mario. Yes, they had a new Mario Kart. Yes, they had the Wind Waker remake. But… that’s all they had. And none of it looked particularly stunning or system selling. At a time when the Wii U is struggling to not just shift units, but even maintain relevance beyond the end of this year, even as Sony and Microsoft launch systems that are future proofed for at least a decade, this was a fata, fatal misstep.
Let’s get back to this Direct, though. This Direct covered Pokemon X and Y, Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, Bayonetta 2, The Wonderful 101, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Wii Party U, Wii Fit U, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, X, and Super Smash Bros. 4. It’s an impressive lineup by all means, at least on paper. The problem, though, was in the games and the way their announcements were handled themselves.
For instance, Super Mario 3D World. This new 3D Mario is being developed in the vein of Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS, a gorgeous, incredibly fun platformer, that nonetheless is a side step for a series that achieved absolute perfection with the Super Mario Galaxy games on the Wii. 3D World looked good, but it looked too safe, it looked scaled back, its scope felt limited. After the epicness that were the Galaxy games, frankly, 3D World was a letdown. Who knows, maybe impressions on the game will change closer to its release but as it stands now, it just looks… bland, as bland as the New Super Mario Bros. games.
Mario Kart 8 looked a little better in that it seemed to be trying new things. In fact, it looked positively amazing, though ultimately a tad ineffective. Loop circuits are a new idea for the series, and it felt great to see several ideas from the previous game, including hang gliding. It looked great in HD, but still, it looked safe. All it looked like was an HD Mario Kart, and while that’s great, it’s still just… more Mario Kart. The promise of ‘the best online mode for the series ever’ isn’t enough to make this game stand out, and the announcement of a Spring 2014 release date will surely hurt the Wii U more in the end.
There were, however, games that looked great. Bayonetta 2, which we finally got to have a look at, looked every bit as good as we ever thought it would, and X looked rather excellent as well. As a matter of fact, these two games were the only time that it looked like the Wii U was being pushed to graphically, where it looked like something more than a souped up Wii. Both, X and Bayonetta 2 got release dates too, although a 2014 release date, again, will hurt the system a lot.
Arguably one of the most bipolar announcements in the Direct was Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Storm. The game looks great, with its dynamic and shifting camera angles, and some really tight platforming design, but when it was announced that this was the game Retro had been working on for the last three years- the last three years, mind you- it hurt badly, especially considering that Nintendo has made us wait three years for a look at Retro’s game, always acting cryptic about it. Retro is one of Nintendo’s biggest assets, a great western development studio that can create games to appeal to a demographic that is traditionally outside of Nintendo’s target audience, and this just felt like a complete waste of their talent (especially given that it, too, looked like an uprezzed version of the Wii game).
The disappointments would keep on piling- the Wii U has been plagued with delays so far, and when they announced that Wii Party U and Wii Fit U had been delayed to ‘make them the best games possible,’ I was left shaking my head in disbelief. It’s not like any of us particularly care for either game, but those would certainly have some casual appeal, and would help the Wii U some. Why not release them now? How in the world are those taking so much time to develop?
There were other games that looked predictably awesome- Pokemon X and Y and The Wonderful 101 look every bit as good as we ever want them to be, and they’re going to be a great addition to each system’s library when they ultimately release. Super Smash Bros. 4 had its gameplay premier, and it, too, looked great (although curiously subdued). The announcement of Megaman as a playable character led to many a joyous squeal of fanboys and fangirls the world over, I’m sure.
But Smash Bros. is 2014 as well, and that was another blow. All the great Wii U games except for Wonderful 101 and Mario 3D World are coming in 2014. How does Nintendo even hope to reach 2014, given the PS4 and Xbox One launches later this year? Their third party sizzle reel looked good, but again, we already knew all these games are coming, and they are also coming to Xbox One and PS4 (and better versions too, if precedence is anything to go by). Why did they not announce the Wii U version of Ghosts or GTA V?
Ultimately, this Direct was, on its own merits, a good, although not outstanding, presentation, and as an E3 conference, it was pretty by the numbers, although again, nothing spectacular or outstanding. However, in context of how dire the Wii U’s situation is, and just how little this Direct seems to have helped that, this was a total failure. There was no real killer game announcement, all the best games were delayed to 2014, and there was no price cut, even after PS4’s $399 bombshell announcement yesterday.
After three E3s, Nintendo, this was inexcusable. You had your chances. Three of them. You blew them all.
A strong, if expected, game lineup; games like X and Super Smash Bros. look especially good
All the games were expected announcements, and looked unusually safe and conservative; no pricecut, and all the best games were 2014
In context of how dire the Wii U’s situation is, and just how little this Direct seems to have helped that, this Direct was a total failure.