Why Nintendo Land is the most important game of E3 2012
First thing's first - am I trying to defend Nintendo's E3 press conference here? No. No I am not. Nintendo's E3 display of the Wii U was a true balloon fart; a scatterbrained parade of numerous products that bemused and confused their gaming audience by opening strong, really strong, and finishing weak. Really weak. Wet fart weak.
And unfortunately for Nintendo the Internet has proven that only your finish really counts.
Said flaccid conclusion was the primary courtesy of Nintendo Land, a simple game that wound up being horrifically over-explained on stage. Essentially a minigame collection, Nintendo Land takes 12 Nintendo franchises, pops them through the cute-i-fier and spits out a host of single and multiplayer activities themed around the select series.
But here's the thing: Nintendo Land is the most important game of E3 2012, even if you don't want to admit it.
Casual games. Core games. We as video game enthusiasts have a strange compulsion to automatically pigeon-hole titles into these pre-determined demographics. But why do these identifiers exist? Why is Farmville casual while Heavy Rain is core?
Because it's fact. 'Casual' games exist, they are throwaway diversions that appeal at a basic level, comparable to a bar of Dairy Milk or a Frijj milkshake. 'Core' games also exist - they are the deeper, more involving, possibly thought provoking steak dinner's of digital entertainment. And there is a disparity in the players of these games - we envision a future where everyone plays the Portals and Minecrafts but some people are just happy with the odd attempt at Tetris. So I ask, where are the all important bridge games? Where are the games that turn someone from a 'two rounds of Wii tennis a week' guy into a 'finished Zelda with three hearts just for fun' guy?
You'll want to say Mario games - or LEGO or Little Big Planet or Sonic - but they're not. Not really. Pokémon is close, as is Skylanders, but they're all only great once you've got that initial hook in someone, and they only really work on the young 'uns - my mum still doesn't see the appeal of raising a six-strong fighting team of dragons, cows, and garbage bags. To the older 'casual', most games probably look outlandish and gaudy, big overthought worlds lacking the quaint, friendly, safe appeal of some Facebook Bejewelled or a spot of Wii Bowling.
Nintendo released a statement in its 2012 Investor Q&A that went a little something like this, “the Wii was able to reach a large number of new consumers who had never played games before by bringing hands-on experiences with its “Wii Sports” and “Wii Fit.” However, we could not adequately create the situation that such new consumers played games frequently or for long, consistent periods.“
Wii attracted the casual crowd then, as we know, but Nintendo realise that these people didn't really step too far outside of the comfy Mii and minigame stable they erected through the Wii Sports/play/party/music brand.
Nintendo Land is clearly their rebuttal to this trend, and their answer to the casual/core divide.
On the face of things Nintendo Land is a casual minigame collection - all simple ideas and Miis - but think a little deeper and you'll realise that this is a huge advert for the wider Nintendo catalogue.
Take Nintendo Land's Zelda: Battle Quest offering. This selection of trials see one player become an archer while friends accompany as sword swinging knights. Wii remote plus sword swinging knights. Look at the enemies; foes that require precision wii-mote slashes or direct bow shots to eliminate. The cute patchwork aesthetic and Mii presence, alongside a multiplayer focus, work to pull in the casual interest but throw in a few block pushing puzzles and the gameplay would be a bona fide demo for last year's Skyward Sword.
Now look at Luigi's Mansion: Haunting Hijinks. This is a multiplayer offering that sees one player as a ghost and up to four others as hunters. The ghost is invisible on the TV and plays on the tablet, but controller rumble warns the TV players when he is lingering nearby. Ghost player wins if they eliminate the players, players win if they evaporate the ghost with their battery devouring torches. Ultimately it's a clever twist on Pac Man VS. but think for a second, what you have is a multiplayer game that promotes co-operation and co-ordination from a team of players while a rogue human, the lone ghost, dabbles in stealth and cunning. That's pretty compelling stuff for a mini game I'd say, far removed from the typically braindead stuff associated with the term anyway, and it generates interest in the Luigi's Mansion concept at the same time. Brilliant.
How about Animal Crossing: Sweet Day? Similar in concept to the Luigi's Mansion game it's another multiplayer diversion that sees the tablet player chase up to four friends on the TV by controlling two characters, a comically oversized knife and fork, at once - one with the left stick and one with the right. Simple, appealing Animal Crossing aesthetics? Check. Easy to grasp twin stick movement scheme, instantly ingraining ideas of what-we-see-as-typical twin stick control in the process? Check. As someone who has seen numerous people try and fail to grasp the concept of twin stick control, this seriously appeals.
Tie all this into the Wii U's seamless Miiverse system and you've got gold. Friends will be able to share scores, promoting players to actively pursue deeper play. Novices may stroll onto the message boards and be intrigued when they learn that the boss in Zelda: Battle Quest's second stage is an homage to the boss from Link to the Past's first dungeon. Elsewhere the Wii U's Waru Waru menu system will help effortlessly promotes the core series entries that Nintendo Land players get a taste of.
How many Nintendo fans got hyped for Kid Icarus Uprising simply on the weight of Pit's comeback in Smash Bros? This is that ethos, only aimed at the casual crowd. Casual gamers play these 'simple' titles and they'll find themselves organically learning about, and building interest in, Nintendo's wider franchises alongside other typically 'gamey' concepts, indulging in what should perhaps be more accurately described as 'lite core' experiences.
So that's it, Nintendo Land is a true bridge game; a smart title that appeals to the casual while selling them the joy of the core. Sell them on the Wii Sports/Party moniker of fun family Mii games, and then hook them with interesting, considered experiences based on Nintendo's wider portfolio, encouraging investigation and exploration. Encouraging the casual to become the core.
So again, I'm not trying to defend Nintendo's lacklustre E3 conference, but simply aiming to help people understand that as amazing as The Last of Us, Watch Dogs, Halo 4, Beyond and all those other great upcoming games look, they're not half as important to the future of the industry as Nintendo Land is. Rubbish fireworks and all.
Words by James Bowden (Twitter: @Dalagonash)