In a year when big hitters like Microsoft, Sony, and Bethesda gave exciting, extraordinary E3 presentations that included a smooth blend of new tech, surprise reveals, and gorgeous gameplay videos, the reverse is true for Nintendo. The company, who gave up on live E3 presentations two years ago, delivered a lackluster Digital Event that sought to highlight games due out this year or early next year. This effectively ruled out showing any new footage from the still untitled Legend of Zelda Wii U, despite the fact it was revealed at last year’s E3. Not content with backing itself into a corner with this decision, we were told that the company’s new platform, the NX, would also not be touched upon. Yet, given how meager-looking the titles were for the Wii U, it has led to rampant speculation that the company is holding upcoming games back for its next console.
In summary, Xenoblade Chronicles X was shown. Again. Super Mario Maker was shown. Again, and not just from E3 2014, but also from the Nintendo World Championships. Yoshi’s Woolly World was shown. Again.
3DS owners fared far better, with the announcement of new games such as The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes and Hyrule Warriors Legends, a port of the underrated Wii U game. There was also a new Paper Mario-esque title, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, and an odd Samus-lite Metroid game, Metroid Prime: Federation Force.
There were a few surprises for the Wii U, but not the good kind, and certainly not the ones fans wanted or expected, such as Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash or Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival (which is, essentially, Mario Party with Animal Crossing characters). The initial reaction to the presentation was best summed up by our good friends over at Nintendo Life:
As a Wii U owner and general advocate for Nintendo, I was not as angered as many who chose to vent their anger on social media, but after Sony and Microsoft made pitch-perfect presentations, to say I was disappointed in Nintendo’s efforts would be an understatement. Nintendo President (and part-time puppet) Satoru Iwata seemed equally aware of the reaction from gamers and fans around the world, taking to Twitter to reassure them the company was listening: “Thank you for watching until midnight. We take the various opinions for this year’s Digital Event very seriously. I would like to continue our efforts to be able to meet more and more of your expectations in the future.”
Unlike many armchair CEOs calling for his resignation, I personally think Iwata has steered Nintendo through a stormy chapter in its history, and is obviously aware that more change may be needed. With that in mind, here are five suggestions on how Nintendo can improve for next year.
1. Start Listening and Actively Engage Fans on Social Media
Nintendo is fairly active on social media platforms, but while the company may offer output, it does not necessarily see what the reaction is, at least not until now. Since the release of the Wii U, fans have been screaming out for home console versions of their favourite franchises. They have Star Fox Zero to look forward to, but where is F-Zero, Pokemon, an actual Animal Crossing game, Wave Race, and Metroid? The reason many people were disappointed in this E3 presentation was not just the sheer lack of surprise, but the lack of expectations being met at all. The company has an army of fans very vocally expressing what they wish to play. All Nintendo has to do is feed them.
2. Bring on More Developers, No Matter Where They Are Located
The most surprising announcement of the Digital Event was that Star Fox Zero is actually being made in cooperation with Platinum Games. This has led to unsubstantiated theories that Nintendo’s focus now lies with the NX, which certainly makes sense if the company is eyeing an NX launch date in the next two years. The theory goes on to state that Nintendo is purposely neglecting the Wii U, and that Zelda Wii U is most likely now Zelda NX.
While this theory is probably bunk, Nintendo’s Corporate Portal does point to one area where the company is being neglectful, which is third-party partnerships. A statement on the webpage reads: “Most of Nintendo’s game development takes place at Nintendo Co., Ltd. in Japan, so the positions Nintendo has in the U.S. are limited. If you want to look for a job in this field, you might want to check around for different companies that develop game software. There are many out there!”
Why drive potential developers to other companies simply because they do not live in Japan? At a time when Nintendo is being shunned by many third parties, the company should be aiming to expand its own teams, be it internally or through third-party acquisitions. Ergo…
3. Buy Other Companies or Lock Games into Exclusivity Deals
Nintendo already has two third-party exclusives on its 2015 release schedule, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water and Devil’s Third, neither of which were mentioned during the Digital Event, though a trailer was released for the former. Indie games, as evidenced by Nintendo’s “Nindies” initiative, continue to flourish on the Wii U. But there are dozens of commercially viable (and beautiful) games on Kickstarter and Indiegogo from developers who would kill for the chance to enter an exclusive deal with a big brand like Nintendo. Readers of our Kickstart This! column will be readily aware of how many great projects there are, and how many unfortunately fail to secure funds. Projects like the Contra-esque Bullet Bros, the unique looking Source, or the post-apocalyptic adventure Impact Winter all failed to meet their goals, but were full of unfulfilled promise and experiences that could have expanded Nintendo’s collection of games.
4. Involve Third Parties With Amiibo
Nintendo has already taken a step towards this with Activision and its deal to make Amiibo-compatible Skylanders figures, but given how successful the figures have been, Nintendo should be tempting companies to work with them in exchange for becoming part of the Amiibo world. How great would it be to see an Amiibo based on Yarnie from EA’s new platformer Unravel? That said, Amiibos should be something to add to the experience of a game, not the game itself. Animal Crossing: Amiibo Fastival dressed up Mario Party with Animal Crossing characters and reeks of a rush job.
5. Don’t Stop Being Nintendo
Despite all of the criticism leveled at the company, Nintendo is still a force to be reckoned with. This week’s Digital Event was just one presentation; Nintendo fans will get to enjoy more than a dozen throughout the rest of the year. Perhaps the company should have made more of an effort to match the hype that surrounds the E3 Expo, but that has never been Nintendo’s style, which can be good as well as bad. How many times has a developer been caught showing off something at E3 that never comes to fruition, or when it is finally released, has been severely downgraded since its E3 reveal? Star Fox Zero is taking a lot of flak for its graphical style, but seeing the gameplay on the show floor, the game is super smooth at 1080p/60FPS. The company has shown it can change, and with Iwata’s latest Tweet, shows that Nintendo is very aware of its shortcomings.
Hopefully, Nintendo will hear these points and come back to the E3 Expo in 2016 with a vengeance.