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Nintendo keen to stay out of the E3 fray for now, but can it last?
June 11, 2013 | By Christian Nutt

There's one thing clear after watching this morning's Nintendo Direct stream and attending its pre-E3 press gathering at the Los Angeles convention center. The company is putting its faith in its games -- and its established IP.

This morning, my Twitter feed was split between people who complained of the lack of innovation on show in Nintendo's E3 lineup -- it showed off the latest Smash Bros. title, alongside announcing Mario Kart 8, a new Donkey Kong Country, and Super Mario 3D World -- and people who were ultimately satisfied with what the company showed, thanks to its general commitment to quality alongside repetition.

But many of them -- fans and haters alike -- wondered aloud about the Wii U's fate all the same. It's far from settled, and E3 does not seem likely to change things drastically.

At its closed-door press showing, 3D World producer Yoshiaki Koizumi promised that the team has "poured our best ideas from years of making 3D Mario games" into the title, while Nintendo's design god, Shigeru Miyamoto, even directly acknowledged the lack of new franchises, but said that when it comes to the latest iterations of its existing IP, "with each and every one of them we've tried to do something new."

If you play its games, you can see this. It was clear from his demo that Pikmin 3 has grown considerably during its 9-year absence, but even the two 2D Mario games that were released last year had each had an indentifiably different design ethos.

But is it enough?

This strategy, of resolutely launching new games in old franchises, worked really well for the 3DS, launching it from doldrums to a must-buy console for many -- but in concert with a price drop, which was not in evidence for the Wii U at E3 despite rumors in the runup to the show.

There was an aloofness about Nintendo's participation in E3. Doing its announcements via a pre-recorded Nintendo Direct video is both an extension of its current PR strategy and utterly different from how E3 usually goes, and despite the logic of doing it this way, it also feels weird compared to the circus that the occasion demands.

But the company seems completely content to appeal directly to its fans from now on, and gradually announce new projects throughout the year instead of saving up blockbusters till June. Another Nintendo Direct, with a new game or two, is quite possibly right around the corner.

But I also picked up on a sense that maybe Nintendo is simply content to let Microsoft and Sony duke it out this E3. Could the company take a totally different tack and go way big next year again? It seems reasonable. With no price drop and no big surprises, maybe "sitting this one out" and relying on its fan base to carry it through another year makes some sense.

In the end, unlike most of the games released into the packaged goods market, Nintendo's are generally perennial sellers, and it may be building up a head of steam for a real mainstream push down the road once it's got some stocked up hits to back up the real game-changing surprises.

Or maybe not.

The company may never have a Wii-level success again. Perhaps tablets have eaten away at the core consumer that bought into motion controls. Perhaps the Wii U's GamePad is less Wii Remote and more like the Nintendo 64's controller: idiosyncratic, deeply useful for developing great games in the Nintendo style, but not intrinsically interesting enough to lure in a broader audience.

The Wii was an unprecedented success for the company. "Unprecedented." Words have meanings. It may be impossible to re-attain it, in fact.

So its E3 presence was understated, despite the fact that it has an embarrassment of polished and promising exclusive second and first-party games (The Wonderful 101, Bayonetta 2, New Super Luigi U...) That's because Nintendo puts itself in a box by (mostly) relying on its existing IP.

Will Wii Fit U bring in the expanded audiences who bought the original? Maybe not. You never heard much about the new Brain Age game. Nintendogs didn't lure in casual consumers at the 3DS launch.

Only Nintendo could be accused of being in a holding pattern as it executes on a cascade of new software. But without big news, the company actually may have carved out a comfortable niche for itself amongst the hullabaloo -- as it has with the 3DS and may yet do with the Wii U, even if it never ends up being a true successor to the Wii in the eyes of casual consumers, publishers, or the market.

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Mike Rentas
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It's fine as long as they're happy with their place in the market. It feels to me like they're missing opportunities left and right to easily win over swathes of hardcore gamers to the Wii U, though. If they'd announced a price drop immediately after showing X and Bayonetta 2, I probably would have run out during my lunch break to pick one up. If they'd allowed all Wii Virtual Console purchases to be played on the Wii U controller on day 1, even with the "upgrade fee", I'd probably have bought one shortly after launch. Hell, if they'd just get that done tomorrow I'd probably get one.

They seem content with what they're doing, and it's their company to run. But so much of it just seems bizarre and pointless from the outside.

Jonathan Gilmore
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The Wii U isn't going to be a megahit like the Wii was. It's been out too long without capturing the public imagination. But it may turn out to be a success. We shall see.

Ian Uniacke
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While I mostly agree, I'd just like to point out that the DS had a very similar start and ended up being the biggest juggernaut in the history of gaming.

Leon T
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I would argue the DS had a worst start. That still doesn't favor the Wii U's chances. Nintendo is playing it safe with the Wii U and they didn't with the DS. Plus they to have to worry about two competitors instead of one.

Bob Johnson
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AT this point Sony and MS aren't exactly competitors with Nintendo. Nintendo is after a different customer/market. Kids and fans and families and some casuals.

If you want western AAA games you aren't buying a Wii U for them. YOu're buying a Wii U for Nintendo games.

I don't think Nintendo is playing it that safe with the Wii U. I mean look no further than the Gamepad. That's playing it safe?

NintendoLand is playing it safe?

Nintendo is always either playing it safe or giving the backhand to core gamers according to the internets.

Bob Johnson
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I like the Nintendo Direct pieces. Direct and to the point. NO bs. CEO comes across as actually having played the games. And Iwata certainly has a career as a James Bond Villain to fallback on if his day job doesn't work out.

I do think too many confuse lack of innovation with using the same "mascots" and IP. They innovate within their brands. They always try to bring a few basic new ideas into their games and weave them into the old gameplay and create interesting twists. It is the kind of stuff that doesn't show up as easily on a screenshot.

Part of me thinks that one reason Nintendo went with the Gamepad concept with the Wii U was to make it easier to make their games for both their handheld and console. Or if nothing else ideas (code etc) from one can be used on the other. I haven't seen this play out yet. But there seem to be some synergies there. Coincidence we are seeing SSB for both 3ds and Wii U? Super Mario 3d World looks like a console version of Super Mario 3d Land. Mario Kart concepts transfer more easily.

The Wii U is looking more and more like it will be a Gamecube aka the Wii without WiiSports.

Conn B
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In many ways, Nintendo is simply holding their franchises hostage. If people want to play the games they have been conditioned to love growing up...they have to put down $300+ for the "exclusive" hardware to do it.

Of course, the same could be said of Sony and Microsoft, but I don't think its as major of a factor; especially considering those two hardly have any exclusives any more!

Jorge Luis Herrera Omonte
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Nintendo always innovate with their IPs, they can't release them on other hardware because they make it according to it's games needs, new ideas gameplay mecanics. They're playing low this gen in consoles because they can't compete without having to put a lot of cash in marketing, on the other hand the 3DS has its niche and is succesful despite the tablet and smartphone sales boom.

Mario Kummer
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I think Nintendo games are just fun and they still are. I did not buy the Wii U yet. But after I saw the Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8 and Donkey Kong video I immediately wanted to play the games. Somehow Nintendo must have pulled some Pawlow trick on me during my childhood. I just need to hear the music and then I want to play the games ;)
I will wait for a price drop and till enough games are released and then buy them.

Adam Rebika
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The price drop is most likely to come right before the releases of the PS4 and Xbox One.
But obviously, they don't want to announce it too soon, just to be able to grab some more sales at the original price.