Although E3 was predominantly seen as a battle between Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo still had plenty of work to do in creating some momentum for the Wii U, and maintaining it for the 3DS.
Their software line-up ticked all the main boxes and hands-on reports were largely positive. Nonetheless there was tinge of disappointment, with a vocal part of the community bemoaning the lack of any new IP. Nintendo were accused of shovelling up the same old franchises, releasing the same games again and again. But is this criticism fair and does Nintendo really need new IP?
To some extent there is confusion between Nintendo’s overuse of certain characters and their ability to create new gameplay ideas. The first point does not necessarily mean the lack of the other.
Mario is the perfect example, he quite happily fits into 2D platformers, 3D action platformers, racing games, RPGs, puzzle games and beat ‘em ups. His character is deliberately designed to work across any genre, the everyman of video games. Would Super Mario Galaxy have been a better game had it starred Alan the Astronaut?
Rather than develop new IP to fit around new game mechanics, Nintendo’s approach is to take these innovations and use them within the most suitable franchise. As Legend of Zelda designer Eiji Aonuma puts it in the most recent issue of Edge, “…every time I come up with some good new game ideas, they end up being used in a Zelda game!”
Maybe the problem isn’t that we need new IP from Nintendo, it’s that they’re not using the full range they have available.
Let’s take F-Zero. Miyamoto recently told IGN that a Wii U version was not being worked on because he didn’t know what direction to take the series in. While this is admirable, it does grate a little when Mario Kart 8’s new feature is upside-down racing and it uses the Wii U game pad as a horn. Hardly a leap forward.
Likewise, the much-anticipated title from Retro Studios is another Donkey Kong Country game. Nice to have, but it’s not like the Wii U is in desperate need of 2D platformers at the moment.
The quality of these titles is not in doubt, but it is creating congested period of similar games that in the long-term could devalue the IP we love.
Part of the dissatisfaction comes from the fact that Nintendo is concentrating on its safer characters. Those with edge, such as F-Zero and Metroid, are being. This disappoints because we know what a beautifully executed HD Metroid game could be like. We want to see a game from Nintendo that can stand proudly alongside the likes of Mass Effect and Bioshock. We recognise the talent Nintendo has, but not where it’s being directed.
The obvious reason for this approach is sales potential, a new Donkey Kong game is likely to have a wider appeal than a new Metroid Prime title, as well as be cheaper and faster to develop. This is understandable, but it does little to position the Wii U to anyone outside of the family and fan audience.
But, Nintendo’s strategy has worked before of course. In two short years the 3DS has gone from gimmicky no-hoper to a gaming powerhouse. And it was a resurgence kick started by two obvious IPs in the form of Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7.
Today, the 3DS has a huge library of excellent titles and an excellent pipeline of new content on the way. A quick rummage around the eShop will also uncover some gems that actually feature new Nintendo IP, the likes of Dillon’s Rolling Western, Pushmo and Freakyforms.
Perhaps it’s here, in smaller downloadable titles, that we will find the next generation of Nintendo stars. A proving ground for characters biding their time for the big stage.