Much of the discussion around Nintendo prior to E3 conformed to a kind of 'critical moment' or 'do or die' narrative. To date, the Wii U has been disastrous for Nintendo. Its install base is so small, and its growth so stagnant, that publishers such as EA have already largely given up on it.
As if tightening its belt, Nintendo chose not to hold a press conference this year, instead opting for a smaller, more intimate event with a handful of press at its E3 booth before the Los Angeles Convention Center officially opened.
Following this morning's Nintendo Direct address, a handful of media were invited inside the Nintendo booth at E3 for an early preview of some of the embattled company's new Wii U titles, and perhaps to glean how the company intends to turn its fortune around.
We received a handful of new details on announced titles, and went hands-on with a few of the games on offer. Overwhelmingly, Nintendo's plan to win back defecting fans is to deliver more of the same, and the result is a worrying adherence to the status quo. They're good, if unadventurous, games.
Pikmin 3 emphasised live-switching between multiple characters with a focus on multitasking. Visually, the game has continued to improved and has thoroughly refined the Pikmin gameplay and controls. Altogether however, Pikmin 3 is similar to what we played at E3 last year. This game is well overdue for release.
Super Mario 3D World follows Nintendo's pattern of sending handheld games to home consoles, just as New Super Mario Bros did some years ago. Anyone familiar with its predecessor, Super Mario 3D Land will see the similarities. The game displays more polish and improved graphics, though it is no more impressive than the look of New Super Mario Bros U. The big addition touted is the new power-up: The cat suit, destined to make every fancier of anime cat girls feel fuzzy inside. It feels totally different to most power-ups and adds a lot to the gameplay of a number of the levels we played. The local multiplayer also felt great, maybe the best that Nintendo has ever produced. The individual abilities of the multiple playable characters including Luigi, Peach and Toad, were welcome and add some enjoyable group dynamics when playing with others.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze could pass as the new flavor at the local juice bar but is similarly solid. The game is almost exactly the same as the previous title for the Wii, which isn't altogether a bad thing but it fails to feel fresh. The addition of underwater levels, originally in the Super Nintendo titles, is great but on its own is not a selling point. Time was spent promoting the new 360 degree camera in the game, but it looked just like the Wii version.
Obviously, Bayonetta 2 is completely over the top, taking the place of No More Heroes as Nintendo's token offering to a non-PG gaming audience. It appears to be exactly what fans want out of the sequel, with frantic hair-based combat reminiscent of the original, but the appeal to those uninitiated into the series seems limited. The new feature mentioned is multiplayer, but what form it will take remained bafflingly undisclosed.
Super Smash Bros, the dual 3DS and Wii U title, featured the announcement of the Animal Crossing Villager and Megaman as new playable characters. Nintendo capped off the conference by additionally announcing the Wii Fit trainer as a new playable character. Based on trailers and what the company clarifies is an unfinished build of the game, the graphics have taken a huge leap while maintaining the cartoonish style of the original titles. The title is not playable on the floor and is destined for release sometime in 2014.
The HD remake of Zelda: Wind Waker for the Wii U is exactly that, but unlike some scrappy reheats, Nintendo has clearly invested in the game.
Finally, Mario Kart 8. This may feel monotonous, but it maintains the feel of the original games. The new anti-gravity has added thoroughly to the creativity of the maps. A totally solid sequel, maybe moreso than the rest of the games we saw today.
Altogether, however, the line-up lacked the kind of surprises or shock that could steal any thunder back from Microsoft or Sony, and with nary a mention of a price-cut or a new bundle, it's hard to imagine any of these games becoming the killer app Nintendo so desperately needs.