When the Nintendo 3DS launched last year, it did so with an absolute lack of must-have titles that contributed to the incredibly sluggish performance of the console out of the gate. You would have thought that Nintendo learned their lesson after that crisis: new hardware needs compelling software to be successful.
If Nintendo’s 2012 E3 conference was any indication, that message simply has not stuck, and worries abound about the upcoming launch of the Wii U.
Before I spiral too far into cynicism, I should establish that there is a good bit to like about their presentation. Miyamoto’s enthusiasm for Pikmin 3 was infectious, and the game looks just as charming and fun as the series has always been. New Super Mario Bros. U seems like another dose of the same kind of fun as it’s Wii iteration, and NintendoLand will probably be compelling in the same way that Wii Sports was.
But… that’s about it. The only one of those titles that is even confirmed to be a launch title is NintendoLand, with the others scheduled within the far more ambiguous “launch window.” That means that when the Wii U launches, the only first party game we can be sure we’ll have in our hands is a title that simply plays lip service to the other established franchises that we want to be playing. How disappointing will that be?
Nintendo has a long tradition of launching their consoles alongside enormous releases from their big-hitting IPs that had made them must-haves right out of the gate. The Nintendo 64 had Super Mario 64. The GameCube had Super Smash Bros. Melee. The Wii had The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Right now, it looks like the Wii U will just have a collection of minigames.
Look, I think the idea of asymmetrical gameplay is a pretty neat concept. It’s nice that Miiverse seems to indicate that Nintendo is finally trying to create a substantial online component in their hardware. And it’s reassuring that there seems to be a strong third-party presence on the Wii U, even if most of those games shown during the conference are ports. But concepts don’t sell systems. Games do.
Let’s be honest here – people get excited about Nintendo systems because of Nintendo games. Nintendo has, hands down, the best properties in the business: Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Star Fox, the list goes on. As the conference winded down, everyone seemed to be holding their collective breath for some kind of big surprise to close the event with. But rather than a look at a new Hyrule adventure, some view of Samus’ next mission, or something completely new to dazzle us, we got virtual fireworks in a fake amusement park.
If you want to get people hyped about your new system, you need to have a big gun releasing alongside of it. Pikmin 3 looks amazing, but there’s no indication it will be available on launch day. The same goes for New Super Mario Bros. U. Nintendo has said that they want to appeal to the core audience once more with the Wii U, but you don’t do that with a somewhat gimmicky edition of Batman: Arkham City. The core audience already played that game last year.
There’s a better sense of how the tablet-style Game Pad will be used for games in conjunction with more traditional Wii controllers, and the vision for the system is a little more clear than it was last year. But without something huge to release alongside the Wii U, it’s hard to get terribly excited about the system.