This year’s E3 is going to be super important for Nintendo. They need to have the most wow-worthy presentation, with all the best software that everybody in the industry is buzzing about, in order to effectively push the Wii U for a successful holiday release. But sometimes what Nintendo believes is innovative just doesn’t resonate the way they hoped it would.
I take a look back at five conference announcements that didn’t leave Nintendo in a particularly positive position, and assess how our favorite gaming company might avoid repeating those missteps with Wii U’s presentation this June.
You know Nintendo’s screwed something up when one of their well-known localization heads has to warn the fanbase of one of their biggest franchises not to kill themselves before a new game announcement - yep, that’s a direct quote from Nintendo of America’s Bill Trinen just before Spirit Tracks was unveiled at GDC 2009. While in the end I actually adored the tracks out of the little DS game that could, even I can admit that the game’s major train-y premise wasn’t the… best idea. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the “trains in Zelda” controversy. Aren’t announcements supposed to unite the fanbase in a massive outcry of excitement? Spirit Tracks did just the opposite.
The Lesson: Make sure your new game runs by your PR people before you try to pitch it to your fans
Cross-connectivity between the GameCube and GameBoy Advance was the name of the game at E3 2003. And the big game on display that year? Pac-Man Vs. The game required you to connect a GameBoy Advance to control Pac-Man as you played with others who took on the role of ghosts on the big screen. All right, the idea of multiplayer Pac-Man is actually kind of cool - Wii U has a similar game called Chase Mii that I absolutely adore. So what was wrong with Nintendo’s E3 2003 conference?
It’s the fact that Pac-Man Vs. was the headline game - and most of the other big announcements were also for GCN-GBA connect games like Four Swords Adventures and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. I’ll admit that I actually enjoyed those latter two, but even so, in the end that’s hardly an amazing E3 presentation.
The Lesson: Cross-connectivity can be nice, but shouldn’t be a focal point
E3 2008 was the first E3 presentation I watched live. I’d just come off of Super Mario Galaxy, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and Mario Kart Wii so I was feeling pretty good about the future of Wii. Then the big announcement came, and when the drumroll ceased… Wii Music? Really?
Now, it wasn’t the only announcement of E3 2008 - the sublimely popular Wii Sports Resort and Wii MotionPlus were also revealed this year - but like Pac-Man Vs. it was the focal point of the conference. And when your big game for the biggest media expo of the year generates apathy instead of excitement, you’ve pretty much admitted that you’ve got nothing up your sleeve.
The Lesson: Don’t gamble your E3 presentation on a big new idea
E3 2009 was overall a great presentation for Nintendo. We had all kinds of software in basically all categories, from two new Mario entries to Golden Sun,Metroid, and a tease at the new Zelda. I don’t think anyone had any complaints about the software offerings; there was a tone of excitement that ran through the air. But then something weird happened. Nintendo busted out yet another peripheral for the Wii: the Vitality Sensor.
Mr. Iwata didn’t really say much about the device, just giving a basic overview of its pulse-sensing capabilities and a cryptic clue that one day gaming might be used for relaxation. To this day I don’t think anyone knew exactly how Nintendo planned on making use of the Vitality Sensor - not even Nintendo themselves. Sure, we’d already seen a trend towards healthy gaming with Wii Fit and the Wii Balance Board, but a pulse oximeter? I think it’s safe to say that Nintendo tried to step too far outside of the realm of possibility with that one - there’s a reason it hasn’t seen release in the three years since it was first shown.
The Lesson: Your best-selling system probably doesn’t need more peripherals - especially if you can’t come up with any games to pitch
This one’s less of a “bad” announcement and more of a “disappointing” one - not for me personally, but certainly for a number of Zelda fans. The reveal of the GameCube (then codenamed “Dolphin”) came in the wake of Ocarina of Time, and many thought that the next Zelda would carry on that legendary legacy. The demo showcased at Nintendo’s self-hosted SpaceWorld 2000 conference seemed to promise just that: fans saw Link and Ganondorf face off in a heated sword duel, with graphics that looked very much like Ocarina 2.0. Many expected that the next Zelda game might look something like it.
Then the next year’s SpaceWorld rolled around, and Nintendo pulled back the curtain on something quite different:
Regardless of how great The Wind Waker turned out in the end, you can’t blame the fans for feeling betrayed. Sure, it’s all very superficial, and honestly I wasn’t part of the massive outcry either, but Zelda had until that point maintained a reputation for satisfying the demands of the sword-and-sorcery and high fantasy crowds, which traditionally had embraced a fairly specific set of aesthetic tastes. This new game seemed to play up a more “kawaii” appeal that just didn’t mesh well with those expectations.*
I’m not sure that we’ll get even a conceptual glimpse at the new Wii U Zelda at E3 2012, but after the hugely positive reaction to the Zelda HD Experience last year Nintendo would be insane to defer to another creative experiment rather than appease the hungry beast they’ve created.
The Lesson: Respect your fans’ tastes and they’ll respect you
*Again, this isn’t a statement about the game itself, but the message its art style sent. Many Ocarina of Time fans felt abandoned by the new direction.