E3 2013 was the biggest E3 in years by far. Sony and Microsoft both had to prove their new consoles were worthy of your hard-earned dollars and cents come this holiday season. But it was Nintendo who had the most to prove with a Wii U that is currently struggling against the PS3 and 360, let alone the exciting, much more powerful hardware competition that’s due by year’s end. Lucky for Nintendo, though, their franchises have a special place in the hearts of all gamers, and it’d only take a few of them to sway those on the fence over to the Wii U, its relatively much lower price tag, and its massive GamePad controller.
Something for Everyone, But Nothing for the GamePad
Nintendo certainly didn’t disappoint as far as franchises went, bringing a 3D Mario, Mario Kart, and a new Donkey Kong Country game to the conference for some hands-on time. They also announced what could be an equalizer for the Wii U: Super Smash Bros.—one of the most adored series of all. I’ll buy these games, and I know fans will too; that is, fans that already own a Wii U. None of these really come off to me as system sellers, but I don’t discount that possibility either. Still, something very important was missing…
Absolutely none of these games—games that are vital to moving Wii U units—do even one thing to justify the Wii U GamePad’s existence. There may have been a glimmer of it in Nintendo Land, but where are these unique experiences that can only be found on Nintendo hardware thanks to this innovative, ground-breaking new controller? It works flawlessly as a second screen, albeit at a very limited range, but little else. I also see it as an easy-to-use touch interface for children, but that’s also not being fully taken advantage of yet.
Wiimote Can't Be the Preferred Controller
Most, if not all games allow for, even prefer the use of the Wii-mote. When I demoed Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, I was handed a Wii-mote by a Nintendo rep. Same can be said about Mario Kart 8, except the Wii-mote was in a steering wheel peripheral. Super Mario 3D World does require the GamePad as player one, but after I tried to discover the GamePad-exclusive features by my own experimentation, I then grilled the Nintendo rep who explained there are only some minor “assistance” features similar to what’s found in New Super Mario Bros. U.
The lack of a console-defining moment is not okay for the first true 3D Super Mario game on any system. Mario is by far Nintendo’s biggest brand, most-recognizable character, and a sure system seller, so why not exploit that to encourage the entire gaming community to sing the praises of this new Mario game, and with it, the Wii U and the GamePad controller? Think back—Mario 64 was the first ever 3D Mario and was an instant classic; Sunshine isn’t thought of as highly, but it still brought something entirely new to the table; meanwhile, Super Mario Galaxy, among the highest-rated titles of this generation, brought about this interesting gravity twist on platforming and sold a lot of Wii consoles.
Super Mario 3D World, on the other hand, is very reminiscent of Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS. This would have been fine for the first Mario game on the Wii U, but this is the second Mario game and the second 3DS game being brought to the Wii U. The first was New Super Mario Bros. U—a great game in its own right. But to not have a 3D Mario game with an all-new concept, that new experience that turns heads and gets people talking, gets their nostalgia receptors tingling, and helps to reinforce the idea that the GamePad was a good decision, is a critical mistake on Nintendo’s part.
Gimmick or Genius: Only Nintendo Can Show Us (And Consumers)
If Nintendo can’t figure out how to develop for the Wii U GamePad, will third-party publishers be able to? Quite frankly, they don’t care enough to do so anyway, taking into account how few third-party titles sell on Nintendo platforms and just how small the Wii U install base is at the moment. Nintendo must set the example, and they didn’t. They have in the past, so I wouldn’t want to rule them out completely, but they need to do something soon for the sake of the Wii U.
What's worse, is that by not providing anything meaningful for the GamePad and instead making the Wiimote the primary controller goes against all of Nintendo's Wii U marketing and will only serve to continue the consumer confusion that the Wii U is nothing more than an upgraded Wii console.
At E3, all the talk was Sony vs. Microsoft, PlayStation vs. Xbox. Nintendo's part of the conversation wasn’t even an afterthought. Nintendo failed at E3. They’ve seemingly ducked out from the competition, and not because they didn’t have a regular press conference (though I have my own thoughts about what they had instead), not because they only showcased six Nintendo-published Wii U games, but because they did absolutely nothing to justify the Wii U GamePad and with it, the Wii U itself. And with most of these games slated for late 2013, or TBA 2014, it may be a while before the Wii U and the GamePad gets its defining and, at this point, redeeming piece of software that makes the Wii U a must-have for every Nintendo fan’s home.