Nintendo, E3, and ‘missing’ Wii U games

More than a week after the close of E3 the ripples of its events still reverberate through most of the games media and its output. As a frequent lurker of games article comments sections I’ve extracted some talking points for each platform holder that web denizens still all seem to have an opinion on. Be sure to also check out what Sony didn’t say at their press conference and why Microsoft’s reversal on DRM is fine but our loss of an always online console sucks.

Nintendo showed off plenty of fun-looking new Wii U games at E3, including a new Mario Kart, Smash Brothers, Super Mario and Donkey Kong. Ignoring the fan reactions at either end of what I like to call the Nintendogma spectrum (with “That new Wii Party looks awesome” at one end and “Nintendo’s only ever put out 6 games” at the other), the overwhelming response seems to be a welcoming of the games but a disappointment at the lack of killer apps or new properties.

A vocal minority of outliers do have some loud complaints though, and of the ones I’ve seen the most numerous are variations on either “Retro is too good a studio to be on 2D Donkey Kong AGAIN. They made METROID PRIME!!!” or “This is the wrong direction for a console 3D Mario. Mario needs to be a system seller and I want a new Mario Galaxy”.

It pains me to say it but at this point I can’t really get behind these calls for a Retro Metroid game. I would love to see it, but for me their assignment to a Donkey Kong follow-up indicates that the colossal talent the studio once had might just not be there anymore.

Since Metroid Prime 3 Retro’s seen several key staff members jump ship. In 2008 art director Todd Keller, design director Mark Pacini and principal technology engineer Jack Matthews left to form Armature Studio, the developer currently working on the portable game Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. When Microsoft set out to form a game development super-group to deliver the next trilogy of Halo games, Retro was one of their first stops. Level designer Kynan Pearson jumped over to 343 Industries, as did others.

Obviously I would love a new Metroid game as much as anybody and I don’t care who develops the thing as long as they nail it. But pointing to Retro as though they’re still the same company that put put Metroid Prime 3 six years ago doesn’t really make sense. Maybe they just aren’t up to an innovative HD experience that lives up to the legacy right now. Maybe Nintendo doesn’t have anybody who is.

On the subject of Super Mario 3D World, I think it’s important to take into account the difficult position Nintendo is in with Wii U compared to Wii. What they need more than anything now is an install base. They need to move units. Super Mario Galaxy wasn’t the game that did it for Wii. Wii Sports was, right off the blocks. With only a few million Wii U units out there, Nintendo putting resources into a game the size and scope of Galaxy but in HD just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The people complaining about the choice of direction in 3D World are mostly Wii U owners or Wii U haters, and it isn’t either of  them Nintendo wants to really stand up and take notice right now.

So who were Nintendo targeting with what they showed of 3D World at E3? Well with 27 million more 3DS consoles out in the wild than Wii U consoles, I think the reveal of direct follow-ups to two of the handheld’s best-selling games (Super Mario Land and Mario Kart 7) makes it pretty clear what the strategy is. There are millions of people out there right now who love these types of games but don’t have a Wii U yet, and since NintendoLand failed to deliver the instant install base Wii Sports did, Nintendo is reaching out to them. All this said I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the E3 trailer was very carefully put together to appeal to this audience while the full game will surprise you with its breadth. The thing looks so good you can’t really stay mad at it.

2 thoughts on “Nintendo, E3, and ‘missing’ Wii U games”

  1. great read, I agree with you all the way Tim. Very smart move by Nintendo also wait till all the E3 games, fire emblem, and project X all release the install base is going to explode.

    1. Thanks so much Kendell. And yeah there is so much software coming, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 3DS style turnaround for Wii U before this time next year.

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