Last Wednesday, Nintendo did something, against all odds, that few of us believed they could do anymore. They took the trainwreck that their newest console, the Wii U, had become in less less than two months following its release, and they actually managed to turn its perception around, making it look like a valuable and desirable proposition, and a gaming machine that would actually be hosting impressive content that even people who don’t necessarily like traditional Nintendo franchises found themselves interested in.
Seriously, last week’s Nintendo Direct presentation was thrilling to watch. In a short span of 30 minutes, Nintendo managed to drum up more hype for the Wii U than two E3 conferences, four separate previous Nintendo Direct broadcasts, and multiple press events had managed. Everything was covered, from the usability issues that stem from the Wii U’s seriously unoptimized, bloated OS, to new, long expected features like the Virtual Console, to new games, both expected and unexpected… seriously, it’s like Nintendo looked at every single rumor concerning the Wii U on the internet, decided to make it a reality, and then threw in some zingers to add some icing to the cake.
The impact of the Nintendo Direct was that, while of course we all know that the Wii U won’t be competitive with the next Xbox or the Playstation 4, and that it is likely to lose what little third party support it has right now once those systems release, it will still remain a competitive and viable alternative, a nice complement from those system’s offerings, a system with just enough must haves that you will want to have one.
Iwata started slow, outlining the Miiverse- Nintendo’s unique online community for the Wii U, that is genuinely and legitimately a step forward from the segmented community experiences that Xbox Live and PSN have provided us so far- and how successful it had been. He did spend a whole lot more time on this than was perhaps desirable, because for the first fifteen minutes, it legitimately looked like the Nintendo Direct would fail to deliver again, like everything Wii U so far. However, Iwata quickly began to get to the point, as he began to outline the planned improvements for Miiverse, alongside the rather startling (albeit expected, because of how many times it had been hinted at) announcement that Nintendo would be delivering an official Miiverse app for smartphones, to increase the community’s reach. Miiverse being accessible, at least partially, on other devices can only be good for Nintendo- Microsoft, Sony, and Valve all understood this when they made Xbox Live, PSN, and Steam apps available on smartphones- so it’s good to see Nintendo joining in on the fun.
Of course, it is slightly weird that Miiverse is coming to third party devices before the 3DS, Nintendo’s own handheld (which is now successful and stable enough that Nintendo chose to ignore it completely for this presentation, promising a future one outlining 3DS software instead). However, Nintendo clearly is beginning to understand that segmenting their hardware and software from everything else in this era of a unified and coherent software ecosystem is stupid, and they’re beginning to act on it.
The improvements to Miiverse were, therefore, much appreciated, as was Nintendo’s promise that the Wii U OS would also be fixed. The Wii U OS has been a disaster, with there being a day one update that’s in excess of 3 GB, and the OS still being slow, laggy, and plagued by loading times that stretched to several minutes. Nintendo has promised a fix to all the major issues that affect the Wii U and some minor functionality fixes too, coming via two firmware updates, one in Spring, and one in Summer. It was refreshing to see Nintendo actually admit that there was an issue with its system, and then tackle it head on.
This was followed by an admittedly more exciting announcement: the Virtual Console was finally coming to the Wii U. Now, as anyone who actually owns the system already knows, you can already access the complete Virtual Console (along with any and all titles that you may have bought over the last six years) on your Wii U, but they have to be accessed on the old Wii Shop Channel in Wii Mode. This means that they get no benefits from any of the new Wii U feature (including off screen play). Nintendo announced that a Wii U optimized and enhanced Virtual Console would be coming to the Wii U Virtual Console too, including new features like save states (already available on the 3DS Virtual Console), configurable buttons (a first for Nintendo), off screen play on the Wii U pad (yes!), and Miiverse support. Iwata also stated some important caveats: only NES and SNES titles would be compatible off the bat, and not all of them to begin with, and if you’d already paid for a title available on the Wii U store, you’d have to pay a small fee to upgrade to the Wii U edition.
So it was sort of a mixed bag, and it has to do with Nintendo’s lack of foresight with user accounts on the Wii, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been (they could have just flat out charged full price, and multiple suckers would have paid $5 to play Super Mario Bros. on their Wii U Pad). In addition, the announcement of their new pricing scheme, their new sales and discounts, and the fact that the Gameboy Advance was coming to the Wii U Virtual Console (what?), and it was hard to be too mad with this section of the presentation.
And then we moved on to games. Continuing with the honesty theme of the conference, Iwata apologized to viewers about the lack of Wii U games and announcements so far. He said that he recognized that it was Nintendo’s responsibility to provide compelling content for its platforms (more than other console manufacturers, if you think about it), but he then promised announcements. Announcements he began to outline then and there, much to everyone’s joy and surprise.
Of course, first he went through the usual suspects. We got to see more of The Wonderful 101 (looks as good as ever), Lego City Undercover (which might turn out to be a genuinely compelling game), Wii Party 2 (an all new announcement, and not the most exciting one). We even got a neat look at Bayonetta 2. And then Iwata proceeded to announce the new stuff. He promised a new 3D Mario and a new Mario Kart, both exclusive to Wii U, both debuting this E3. He promised Smash Bros. 4, the nebulous 3DS and Wii U game that had been announced nearly two years ago, to finally make an appearance this E3 as well. And then, with a sly smile, as if understanding what was going through all our minds, he said, ‘Of course, many of you probably think that new installments in those franchises isn’t a big deal.’ And then he went on to announce two delightfully unexpected games.
The first was Yoshi. From the developer of Kirby’s Epic Yarn, the game continued with the same yarn theme, and it looked gorgeous, adorable, brilliant in 1080p. This is the first console Yoshi game since the N64 title Yoshi’s Story, and it has a lot to live up to, considering that Yoshi’s Island is still considered the highmark of 2D platformers by many till date. It is also to be hoped that unlike Kirby, the new Yoshi game will actually provide a decent challenge to gamers.
Iwata then proceeded to announce a title that was genuinely more puzzling than any other announcement so far: Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem, a crossover between two ultra niche, super venerated franchises. We didn’t get to see much, but we know Atlus and Intelligent Systems are co-developing it. Iwata smiled slyly, and said that this type of intense co-operation would be emblematic of the kind of third party support and co-operation you could expect on the Wii U. Considering that after Bayonetta 2, this is the second time we’re seeing something like this, you have us very intrigued, Iwata.
Iwata then went on to outline plans for Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda franchise, which has hit rocky waters as of late. Handing the screen over to Aonuma, Nintendo went on to outline their plans to play with the conventions of the Zelda series, introducing elements like a full open world, not having a specific order for dungeon progression, and maybe even multiplayer. Aonuma said that he understands players want to see the new game now, but he said it was not yet developed enough where they could show it off, instead promising a glimpse of the game this E3. Instead, he showed us something else instead, that he said he hoped would tide Nintendo fans over in the meanwhile: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Reborn, a fully HD remake of the 2003 Gamecube classic, being made from the ground up in full HD for the Wii U. Aonuma promised improved gameplay (does that mean they are getting rid of the Triforce Quest?), Miiverse compatibility (honestly a given), and improved graphics (a matter of opinion, judging by the reaction they got). The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Reborn would be available this August. Many tears were shed, many Wii U purchases made well in advance.
At this point, this was already the most successful Nintendo presentation in years, but Iwata wasn’t done. He had one last thing to show, a true killer app for the Wii U. Project X, Monolith Soft’s new RPG, exclusively made for the Wii U. It looked stunning, its scale looked beyond belief, and it looked like the first console next gen title we had seen yet. And it was running on the Wii U. Jaws dropped, and many people, even season Nintendo cynics, realized that this truly was a killer app that could potentially sell them on the system all by itself. And seriously, Project X, that looks like a successor to Xenoblade, but now realized with all the power of an HD system, a bigger budget given Xenoblade’s success, and of course, the online functionality that it so clearly seemed to include, will be incredible.
And that was that. Iwata signed off on that intriguing note. A possibility that there was more to the Wii U than we had thought. The promise of new games, expected and unexpected, old and new, and stuff that would appeal to both Nintendo loyalists and cynics. All of a sudden, buying a Wii U didn’t seem like such a waste of money anymore. All of a sudden, it looked like Nintendo had planted itself back in the race against the next gen systems when they ultimately release.
No one expects Wii U to get the same kind of third party support, or have specs that will be even remotely on par. We all know that is not going to happen. But what we do expect, and what Nintendo had failed on giving us so far, was a machine that would offer compelling games to us without necessarily being a part of the Xbox/Playstation ecosystem. Last Wednesday, Nintendo realized that promise. Last Wednesday, they made the Wii U a system many would want to own.
Now we just have to look forward to their E3 this year, to see how they will counter the double whammy of Sony and Microsoft unveiling their new systems.