It’s already been 36 unbelievable hours since Nintendo’s E3 press conference, and while this is not a particularly expansive period of time, it is enough to start to give one the vague approximation of hindsight on the announcements made and the developments hinted at over the course of the presser’s hour-and-a-half runtime.
Let’s get the big stuff out of the way first: given that we’re more than likely at least a year away from launch (my money’s on Nintendo going back to its Super NES roots and settling on an August release), and given the typical one-two E3 punch of first teasing/announcing a next-generation console and then blowing it out, the big N almost perfectly nailed the Wii U’s unveiling (even if it dropped the ball – and dropped it horribly – with the name). By focusing on the name, controller, and backwards compatibility of the system, the company signals to its newfound casual gamer darlings that it still has them firmly in mind and will continue to provide them with the type of content they’ve grown to expect from the DS and the first Wii. And by showcasing third-party games at the expense of first-party titles, Nintendo puts a reassuring hand on hardcore gamers’ backs, letting them simultaneously know that the Wii U points directly at them – with all of the first-person shooters and blood-laden Ninja Gaiden swordplay, it is a quintessential software lineup right out of Microsoft’s playbook – and that, yes, developers will be flocking to the console in a way they haven’t since the early ‘90s (remember that SNES reference?).
Will this revisiting of the GCN launch title bring the bucks? We’ll see.
But like the Tao, this success comes with commensurate failure. While the five pillars of the 3DS’s 2011 software library that were shown will all undoubtedly be top-notch and best-selling games, four of them were already announced and the fifth had one of the weakest debut trailers ever seen in the annals of E3 – all of which, of course, sidesteps the complete lack of a third-party presence for the handheld. (Compare this with Sony’s surprisingly robust and compelling showing of PlayStation Vita software. Lamentation ensues.) And the Wii merely and meagerly had one singular title to speak of, which also, unsurprisingly, had already been revealed. Just one game, for the rest of this year and, presumably, the first half of the next. At least the big N decided to sneak in the announcement of Mario Party 9 at literally the last possible moment to help compensate for this…
Did the company “win” E3? It’s hard to say. While Microsoft had one of its weakest showings in the decade since it’s been coming to the expo – taking, ironically enough, its cue from Nintendo’s casual-centric fare at the height of the Wii years – Sony had a show that lacked the sizzle and pop of Nintendo’s next-generation heraldry but delivered a consistent, rock-solid presentation of constant, albeit smaller, announcements and demos and, even, (guest) speakers. This just may have been the closest E3 in a long, long time.
And it shows just how precariously Nintendo must not only balance the demands of the casual and hardcore alike, but also the rigors of showmanship. If it can find a flexible, sure balance between these polar extremes, it will be the first company to do so – and it will dominate in a way that the NES and the PlayStation 2 and, yes, the Wii could only dream of.
Marc N. Kleinhenz has covered gaming for nearly a dozen publications, including a stint as features editor for TotalPlayStation.com. He also likes mittens.