What I’d Like to See From Nintendo at E3 2013

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By now, it’s well-known that Nintendo has decided to forgo a traditional E3 presser this year in favour of a Nintendo Direct livestream. I had initially wanted to write a few words on that particular decision (basically, I think it’s a dumb one; the Nintendo Direct should’ve been used to support the E3 presser, just like last year), but time flew by and now that we’re on the eve of E3, it’s kind of a moot point.

I probably won’t write articles like this for Sony and Microsoft. I’ve always been a Nintendo fanboy, although as I’ve grown older, I’ve gotten better at recognizing how alienating and puzzling the company’s business practices can be at times. I desperately want the company to turn around its recent slump because I know that at some point I must buy a Wii U, but the pragmatic person in me knows that buying one now, when the price is high, the memory is low, and the game library is meager, wouldn’t be in my best interests. Nintendo’s games have always been my favourite of any developer, so I really don’t care if the Wii U remains devoid of third-party support; I fully intend to buy it as nothing more than a box that will allow me to play Mario and Zelda games.

Here are a few things that I’d like to see Nintendo do at E3 2013:

1. Adjust Wii U price/SKU – The white 8GB Basic model is Basically useless (ha). A tiny little bit of memory (much of which is taken up by the OS) and no pack-in game. Apparently it’s not selling so hot (and despite Nintendo’s claims that the Basic stock is only being “rebalanced,” rumours continue to fly that it’ll stop being sold at retailers after E3), so what Nintendo should do is pull the plug on the Basic model and cut the Premium model’s price by $50 (so it’s the same price as the $300 Basic set). This seems like a likely scenario, but in my fantasy land, the Premium slips to $250 and the new Premium (with 100GB+ memory) retails for $300.  I doubt this will ever happen, but then again, I didn’t see the 3DS receiving a $70 price cut after 6 months either. In the increasingly digital world we live in, 32GB is still next to nothing in terms of memory, and really, screw USB sticks and SD cards. HDD Memory is cheap; add some more!

2. Phase out DS and Wii games – I know this one is probably a given, but we got new Pokemon DS games a year and a half into the 3DS’ lifespan, so who knows. Still, everything’s gotta be 3DS and Wii focused at this point. Let the old, inferior systems wither away and die. The 3DS is a bonafide success now, and with enough attention, the Wii U can be, too.

3. All the games – In light of Microsoft’s and Sony’s current DRM/online debacle, this is Nintendo’s big chance to regain some lost ground. Right now, there is little reason to be excited for any of the three next gen consoles. However, Nintendo’s console has a head start, supports used games, and isn’t always online, so if they give gamers a reason to want to buy their console for its software selection (rather than just to circumvent ridiculous DRM), they’ll really have a chance to begin driving the nail deep here. Everyone thought Wii U was dead in the water after a tumultuous first 3 months at retail, but it’s received a second chance with the increasingly messy reveals of the PS4 and Xbox One. So crank out Wind Waker HD as fast as you can, but get either the new 3D Mario or Super Smash Bros. out by Christmas, too. If it’s 2014 before the Wii U has a killer app (sorry, but Pikmin 3, Wind Waker HD, and Mario Kart don’t count), then the battle will be all but lost at that point. A year and a half of no killer apps will be too long of a drought for most fans to endure.

4. Pipe dream games – I’m just gonna lay out my personal wishlist here, as unlikely as some of these games may seem. Firstly, I hope they don’t fuck up the new Smash Bros. somehow by either a) turning it into a traditional 2D fighter or b) introducing a new gimmick, like tag-team a la Mario Kart: Double Dash. Just give me new characters and I’ll be fine. Secondly, I’d like to see more of the Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem crossover from Atlus, as well as Monolithsoft’s new X game. Finally, I’d like to see the Golden Sun series concluded with a fourth installment. The third game had a weird (and quite frankly, bad) story which started off being about a certain plot point only to completely abandon it two hours in, then picked up said plot point again in the dying seconds of the game. That ain’t no way to end a series. Still, Camelot’s working on Mario Golf right now, and I think Golden Sun: Dark Dawn ended up receiving middling reviews and sales, so it’s entirely likely the series is dead. Sad face.

With Nintendo’s E3 Direct scheduled to be only an hour long, I have a feeling the focus is going to be on the games rather than the hardware. And really, this is the way it should be. Pack the Nintendo Direct full of crazy game announcements, then relegate the price changes to a press release. Hopefully this is what will happen, but of course, their track record indicates that Tuesday’s stream will potentially be a mishmash of Wii U features we already know about, a series of “classic” games coming to the eShop that most people pirated years ago, and a showcase of recently-released 3DS games, all sandwiched between shots of Satoru Iwata staring at fruit.

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When Nintendo Goes Into Panic Mode, We All Win

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After a lackluster 3DS launch in 2011, Nintendo took drastic measures in order to make the handheld more palatable for the holiday season. Just six months after its March launch, the 3DS’ inflated $250 price tag suffered a huge $70 price cut, with Nintendo promising free game downloads to early adopters. I was one of said fools, and though I enjoyed the smattering of Game Boy Advance and NES games that Nintendo delivered free of charge, I would’ve just rather had my $70 back. Not long after, the 3DS XL made my launch 3DS obsolete. I vowed never again to buy a console on day one.

The 3DS price cut is notable because of how swiftly it arrived and how deep of a discount it was. Had Nintendo simply sold the handheld for $200 from day one, I imagine they would’ve met with far more success even despite the drought of decent games (which would eventually last for over a year). Instead, they were forced to dip below $200 far too early in the console’s life cycle. Let’s be clear: in this case, the customers were the winners, because $180 is more than a fair price for the handheld. The only people who got screwed were the handful of early adopters, like myself.

So when Nintendo announced that the Wii U would be sold at the exorbitant price of $350 for the full package (the less said about that bastard child of a $300 Basic package, the better), I sighed because I felt they had learned nothing. When their full launch window release schedule was published recently, I shook my head. Once again, they were launching an overpriced console with no killer apps for at least six months. And sure enough, the Wii U didn’t sell amazingly well over the 2012 holiday season. So Nintendo, a company that’s actually been doing a much better job lately of listening to their fans and generally feeling less like a bunch of out-of-touch Japanese suits, went into full-blown damage control mode today, advertising that new Wii U titles would be announced via a special Nintendo Direct stream.

Well, I got up early for said stream, which was extremely hit or miss. The first twenty minutes of the thirty-five minute stream were dedicated to Miiverse, with the adorable Satoru Iwata re-explaining the online service for the millionth time like it was a brand-new program. It’s easy to see why they might’ve thought this was a good idea; nearly every major gaming site has agreed that the Miiverse is as engaging a distraction as they come, and Nintendo has latched onto this praise like a drowning man clutching a piece of flotsam. But this kind of information would only be of interest to the casuals who honestly don’t have the Wii U anywhere on their radar, and they won’t be sitting at their computers with the hardcore gamers watching a Nintendo Direct stream. I think a lot of people could’ve done without the Miiverse crap, but when it finally ended, Nintendo went into full-on “we’re sorry” mode.

After addressing two of the Wii U’s biggest criticisms in its menu/download performance speeds and the lack of Virtual Console, Nintendo began dropping the names, one by one. They glossed over the fact that new 3D Mario and Mario Kart games were on the way, which was wise of them, since everyone expects those anyway and having those be the big game announcements would’ve been truly depressing. They gave up some tantalizing tidbits about the next major Zelda game, and although Aonuma was as vague as can be, it seemed he was hinting that the next Zelda could be non-linear, open-world, and multiplayer. Well, the community wants at least two of those three things in the next Zelda anyway, so this seems to be another occasion of Nintendo bowing to fan demand as regards the future of Zelda (recall how everyone went apeshit when they revealed the realistic, dark art style of Twilight Princess, since that’s what the fanboys had been wanting for years). Could be all right, but I’m a fan of linearity in my games. Oh and by the way, they’ve got an HD Wind Waker remake to tide you over until then, no biggie.

These were all games that I expected to be released for Wii U at some point in the near future, so Nintendo gets checkmarks for reassuring us that they’re indeed in development (a far cry from the days when they’d pretend like every new Mario or Zelda was a privilege and after each game was released, there was no telling if or when we’d ever get another one). I was a little disappointed that they’ve still got nothing to show for Smash Bros. (although they reconfirmed that two titles were in development for 3DS and Wii U, respectively), but at least it’ll be at E3 this year. It’s likely too much to ask for it to come out this holiday, so it’ll probably be late 2014 before we have the damn thing given how slow Sakurai works. A shame, because that game is absolutely a system-seller, and the series is historically evergreen to boot; the longer it’s on store shelves, the more profit for Nintendo, so why not get that shit out on day one? Perhaps Sakurai should’ve been working on this instead of fucking around with a Kid Icarus reboot that no one really needed. Ah well, I can wait. It’s not like my friends and I are going to get tired of Brawl any time soon.

And then there’s those beautiful niche games that cater to the 1% of the total gaming population, the freaks like me who love bizarre Japanese crossovers, punishingly difficult strategy-RPGs, and post-cyberpocalyptic pseudo-MMOs. Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem might be one of the most bizarre game announcements of all time, but even weirder is the fact that, being announced on the North American Nintendo Direct, one can reasonably expect this game to arrive on our shores at some point. Possibly without even having to resort to Operation Rainfall II. I lost my collective shit when this game was announced, and sadly, I must admit that Nintendo has me; if this game comes out before Smash Bros., I will buy a Wii U for it. Monolith Soft’s X (which looks to be a spiritual successor to Xenoblade Chronicles, or possibly even an actual sequel if the “X” ends up just being a codename) is just icing on the JRPG cake, really.

Nintendo starts feeling the heat, and all of a sudden they’re forced into revealing pretty much every major title they’re working on for at least the next year, just to prove to fans that, yes, we do indeed have games in the pipeline for our poor, forgotten Wii U. They may not have wanted to show their hand this early (with some footage or screenshots, this would’ve been a damn impressive E3 presentation), but I feel like the fans have benefited from Nintendo’s frantic scramble to showcase the Wii U as a console with a deep lineup of first- and third-party content. Finally, I’m excited about being able to play some Wii U games, despite the fact that I might not see any of these titles until this Christmas. Until now, the prospect of owning a Wii U, ever, seemed up in the air as long as Pikmin 3 was their big 2013 title. But now, things are different, see. Now I need a Wii U because it’s the machine that will allow me to play a Shin Megami Tensei/Fire Emblem crossover and a new Monolith Soft RPG. When those games drop, I will buy a Wii U whether Nintendo’s hacked $70 off the price by then or not.

Wii U Thoughts Revisited: Software Woes

I know I’ve already spoken at length about my disinterest in Nintendo’s new console, but with tonight being the eve of the Wii U’s release, I figured it was a topic worth revisiting. Almost six years ago to the day, I froze my ass off in a line in front of Future Shop, all for the Wii. The store wasn’t accepting preorders, so desperate gamers had to begin lining up in front of the store at 8 PM the day prior, and were required to stay in line until 12 PM the next day (it being a Sunday, the store opened late). I was only sixteen at the time, and needless to say, I felt like shit the next day after getting no sleep and braving the frigid November temperatures (it’s currently 0 degrees where I live), but I was truly caught in the grip of the hype and goddammit, I would get that console on launch day. Of course, there were specific reasons why I wanted the console so badly: Twilight Princess, possibly the best launch day killer app since Super Mario 64, and there was also Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the horizon, which at the time was less than a year away from release (several delays eventually crushed this notion). I was a fairly optimistic sixteen-year-old, but even back then I was skeptical of the motion controls; for me, getting the Wii early was important because it would allow to play killer apps immediately (Zelda) and within the near future (Smash Bros.)

The problem with the Wii U is that it has no such killer apps, either within the launch window or beyond. New Super Mario Bros. Wii U has been rightly criticized by nearly all reviewers as a predictable, typical, all-too-familiar 2D Mario experience that feels like it was only created to satisfy the inevitable demand for a Mario game at launch (though it’s still getting decent reviews, which, again, is typical of a Mario game). Nintendoland is a glorified minigame collection that deserves to be a pack-in with both versions of the system, rather than Nintendo attempting to market it as a $50 standalone game. ZombiU could be interesting, but it’s as generic as a shooter as NSMB Wii U is for a Mario game. Rayman Legends honestly looks charming as all hell, but it’s not a system-seller. Not for me, and probably not for Joe Consumer either. And the less said about the cash-in ports of Mass Effect 3, Batman: Arkham City, Ninja Gaiden III et al., the better.

If there’s little enticing me to buy the system at launch, there’s even less to look forward to in the new year. Pikmin 3 looks great, and I enjoyed the second one to a reasonable degree, so if there’s one game that could make me cave early, it’d be that one. But other than that? Nothing. No 3D Mario, no proper Zelda game. No oddball, unlikely appearances like a console version of Golden Sun, a flight-only Star Fox, or that Pokemon MMORPG everybody seems to crave. Certainly no F-Zero (where the hell has that series been?). They mentioned a Wii U version of Smash Bros. two E3s ago and haven’t mentioned it since, save for the fact that Namco’s developing it and Masahiro Sakurai didn’t work on it at all prior to this year due to his commitments to Kid Icarus: Uprising. That game is undoubtedly a system seller, but it’s likely at least two years away. That’s too far away to warrant buying a Wii U now. Some people seem to get pissed off when developers announce games far in advance of their release dates and slowly generate hype over several years (Bioshock Infinite comes to mind), but I actually like it. Letting me know what’s in the pipeline gives me something to look forward to, and based on how it looks to be shaping up, it could influence my decision to purchase a console early.

I could look past by doubts about the hardware and stand in a launch line for another Nintendo console tonight, once again allowing myself to be swept up by the hype. But I can’t overlook the fact that even if I do get the console, there is absolutely nothing out right now or in the near future that I’m dying to play. I will undoubtedly pick up a Wii U once the RPGs start coming out or Nintendo looses its heavy hitters, but currently, it’s not worth freezing my ass off in front of Future Shop.

Wii U Thoughts

Six years ago, I froze my ass off waiting in front of Future Shop all night for the Wii to come out. EB Games was about the only store in town that was doing preorders, and once those sold out, the rest of us peons had to brave the harsh Canadian November for a full night. But we watched Robot Chicken on a projector some kind soul had brought, some dudes played WoW, and we chased some hooligans with baseball bats when they decided to egg us. It was a pretty fun experience, and when I finally brought my console home, Twilight Princess was in every way the game I had been waiting for for years. Maybe I’m just too old and jaded for stuff like that now (I went to the Borderlands 2 midnight launch, then immediately turned the car around once I saw the long line outside EB Games), but I won’t be braving the wilds to get a Wii U on launch day this time, and here’s why.

Price – The $300 package, with no games and only 8 GB of memory, is a ripoff, and given that the deluxe package sold out far earlier than the basic version, it seems people understand that. But the original Wii SKU included a minigame collection and console stand for $250, whereas the Wii U version that includes both of those (and a bunch of other crap to drive up the price) is $350. I think it’s about $100 more than I’d pay for it, so I’ll definitely be waiting for a price cut. Nintendo had a humbling lesson about pricing with the $250 3DS, but given the influx of Wii U preorders right now, they’ll unfortunately probably get off easier this time.

Memory – 8 GB? 32 GB? Memory’s cheap these days, so why pack in some little of it? This limits their ability to allow game installs, the size of games on eShop/WiiWare (remember the Super Meat Boy debacle?), and the size of quality DLC. For $350, I would’ve expected a hell of a lot more than 32 GB, given that my 360 can currently handle 250 GB, while my computer can handle quadruple that (and it was a little more than double the price of the Wii U).

Launch library – The 3DS’ biggest problem rears its ugly head once more. In 2011, Nintendo learned that it’s difficult to sell a system without hardware, and as a result, the 3DS had to take a massive price cut. The launch library for the Wii U is very weak, with no hardcore killer apps in sight, just another 2D Mario game (which are apparently so easy to make that they developed two of them simultaneously this year). The only game I’m excited for is Pikmin 3, and it’s unclear when that’s even slated for release (“launch window” is pretty vague). I don’t buy Nintendo consoles for the hordes of shovelware clogging the Wii U’s launch window; I buy it for the amazing first-party games. The Wii U needs system sellers like a 3D Mario or Super Smash Bros. at launch, not a year or two down the road.

Console power – I’m actually pretty comfortable with the Wii U’s graphical power; just having it in HD alone is a huge plus. Excellent games like Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn and Xenoblade Chronicles were difficult to look at because of the piss-poor character models, or in Radiant Dawn‘s case, everything. In a year or two, the Durango and Orbis will blow the Wii U out of the water, but until then, Xbox 360-quality graphics on my Nintendo console is just fine by me.

Online – Why is online such a hassle for Nintendo? I just want a nice, clean interface like Xbox Live, devoid of cumbersome Friend Codes and rarely-used Mii hangout spots. This Miiverse thing looks like a social media playground more than a means by which you can play games with your friends, which isn’t surprising given Nintendo’s recent obsession with social media. I don’t want a video-calling service to ask for game help from octogenarians; I want to be able to easily join my friends’ games of Smash Bros.

Controller – I’ve endured Nintendo’s obsession with alternate control styles for eight years now, and I’ve come to the following conclusions: some games are indeed improved by touch interfaces, but no game is improved by motion control. It’s a harsh blanket statement, but I feel it’s true. Skyward Sword was utterly ruined by the MotionPlus controls, and as I look at my Wii library across the room, I see a ton of games – Excite Truck and Okami spring to mind – that I would’ve much rather played with a traditional controller. Nintendo’s finally giving us a sleek traditional option in the Wii U Pro controller, and I hope many games take advantage of that rather than continuing to shoehorn in unnecessary and flighty motion controls (seeing as the MotionPlus is still the Wii U’s default controller, and the GameCube controller option has been eliminated).

Super Smash Bros.: Fanservice Over Balance, Please

At this point, we know practically nothing about the next Smash Bros. game for Wii U and 3DS, other than the fact that Namco’s making it in collaboration with series creator Masahiro Sakurai. The years leading up to the 2008 release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl were a study in speculation, with much of the discussion centering around which characters would appear in the game’s star-studded roster. So it’s unsurprising that overzealous fans would take a Sakurai quote about how the size of the Smash Bros. roster has “already probably reached the limits of what’s feasible” and immediately conclude that no new characters will be added in the series’ next iteration. Adding no new characters to a series that is the living embodiment of Nintendo fanservice? I very much doubt this is the case. All he’s saying is that Brawl‘s roster of thirty-five characters is a good size; there’s plenty of room in there to cut some characters and replace them with new ones. Making the new roster be the exact same as the Brawl roster would be monumentally disappointing, and whether Sakurai intends to replace existing characters while capping the roster size at thirty-five or whether he intends to expand beyond thirty-five, you can bet that we’ll see a few new faces.

That being said, I’d prefer to see the new roster include as much of Brawl‘s roster as possible, while expanding in excess of forty characters. Would this bring some balance issues? Most likely, which is probably why Sakurai hired an actual fighting game studio (the internal Namco team responsible for the Tekken series) to make it. However, it’s not like the Smash Bros. series hasn’t had a few balance issues in the past.

In the same interview, Sakurai notes that while some fighting games with large, fifty-character rosters can be fun, it’s difficult to make all the characters both balanced and unique. We’ve seen this happen already with Melee, which was criticized for introducing many clones but was praised for having relatively well-balanced upper tiers, thus birthing a strong competitive scene. By contrast, Brawl gained praise for cutting some of the clones and differentiating the remaining ones from their original counterparts somewhat, but it drew criticism for adding new clones and generally being an unbalanced mess with regard to high-level competitive play. Nearly every new gameplay tweak, from the removal of the wavedashing exploit to the introduction of the tripping mechanism, moved Brawl further away from being a competitive game and closer to its original, unbalanced, party-game status. Whether this was Sakurai’s intention or just a corollary of the development process, we’ll never know.

But now he’s worried about balance issues? While the debate continues over whether Smash Bros. is a true fighting game or a party game, the game is, at its core, fanservice to the highest degree. Some of the worst characters (Mewtwo in Melee, Captain Falcon in Brawl) are an absolute blast to play, and the roster is strengthened by their inclusion. Make that roster the priority; let the balancing come after. If the Wii U has the robust online capabilities that Nintendo claims, it should allow for post-release patches, which could do wonders for Smash Bros.’ balance issues. Because there will be balance issues at launch, just like any other fighting game, and it’s reasonable to devote time and energy into fixing them; but for a game like Smash Bros., with its unique crossover appeal, intuitive gameplay style, and relatively tenuous position in the world of competitive fighting games, I don’t think it should take precedence over stacking that roster with plenty of new characters.