Nintendo’s best E3 performances, typically, are the ones where they get right down to business and bombard their audience with new games and information. For the last two years they have wisely done away with live conferences, delivering the initial flurry of announcements in a video released online, memories of Wii Music demonstrations and Skyward Swords’ on-stage motion control problems growing ever more distant in our minds. That they backed this year’s presentation up with an eSports inspired Smash Bros tournament, a constant stream of webcast footage and information, and a rich bank of playable consoles on the floor drew attention away from the fact that the Wii U was barely present outside of Nintendo’s booth. Sega’s Sonic Boom game had its own section in another hall, and Disney Infinity had a single Wii U version of the game running, but third party support has dried up to the point of near non-existence. But to visit Nintendo’s booth, and to see the lines waiting for Smash Bros and Splatoon, was to question whether the Wii U is in the dire straits everyone makes it out to be.
Nintendo’s E3 showing mixed a bunch of smaller games with potential system sellers. Bayonetta 2 remains a smart exclusive: the original game was good enough to attract fans who would be willing to at least consider buying a console just for a sequel, and although the E3 demo didn’t quite show off the level of challenge the first game is known for (because the difficulty was set to easy, it seemed) it exhibited a comparable level of mania. Super Smash Bros for Wii U, despite the clunky name, drew crowds as rampant and excited as any other game of the show. E3 isn’t the best environment to get to grips with any new characters on (although I managed to try most of them – Mega Man and Little Mac weren’t too difficult to come to grips with), but the action felt frantic and punchy, without the excessive clutter that Brawl suffered from. That Nintendo is bringing back the GameCube controller just for this game makes sense once it’s in your hands.
Hyrule Warriors remains a bit of a dark horse, but the demo held a few interesting elements. Being able to actually play as Zelda in a Zelda game is great, even if it’s a Zelda game that is actually a Dynasty Warriors game. While the game mostly felt like a reskin, more and more Zelda elements started to leak in as I played – hurling bombs became a major part of the gameplay, and the final boss of the demo was King Dondongo from Ocarina of Time. As with that game, the key was to lob bombs into his mouth and slash at him when he collapsed…it wasn’t as exciting as Ocarina’s battle, perhaps, but that might be the rose-tinted shades talking.
Splatoon, Nintendo’s all-new take on the third-person shooter (replacing gruff armed militia dudes with squid kids and paint guns) was a great, rare example of a game where gyroscope controls actually work. Moving the camera with the right stick while aiming by tilting the controller works because you’re firing a stream of paint, and being able to tilt it as it fires makes sense. How the concept will stretch over a full game remains to be seen, but the short multiplayer demo was cool, demanding strategy beyond finding and killing your opponents – do you play it safe and hang back, painting your own base, or rush the enemy’s starting point? Nintendo’s smaller games were charming as well – Yoshi’s Wooly World was adorable and full of secrets, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse (a sequel to the DS’ Canvas Curse) looked like claymation and played just like its predecessor, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was immediately more interesting than the equivalent levels from Super Mario 3D World.
Nintendo didn’t seem to be aiming to win over new audiences with bold, truly new experiences so much as to remind everyone why Nintendo consoles are worth having. Alongside a tease of a gorgeous new Zelda game and the beginning development of the latest Star Fox, their E3 showing was a simple reminder that Nintendo are still Nintendo, albeit a Nintendo that has grown a little more savvy for having been backed into the corner. On the other hand the 3DS, for whatever reason, barely rated a mention at all. Nintendo focused very heavily on the 3DS version of Smash Bros, and held an (honestly somewhat uninspiring) presentation to announce Code Name: STEAM, but otherwise the handheld was relegated to the pockets of all the people I Streetpassed. The Wii U needs the boost, but it’s a shame to look over the release schedule for my favourite handheld and realise that there’s not a whole lot that I’m excited about.