Nintendo may have lost E3, but have they already won 2012?
Nintendo tried a new tactic at this year's E3 presentations – show what's being released before the end of this calender year. While the lack of any teaser trailers, unexpected announcements or long-sighted hints has caused them a virtual tidal wave of grief across online forums and social outlets - cries of Zelda! Metroid! F-Zero! Whupping like wet flannels against the stony visage of the new now-tendo - taking a second to think about what we did see should fill any gamer with excitement and interest.
The 3DS explains the situation most clearly. Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, New Super Mario Bros 2, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, Scribblenauts Unlimited, Kingdom Hearts 3D and Heroes of Ruin make eight good, possibly great portable exclusives that will be crawling their way into 3DS' within the next six months. Factor in the upcoming Pokémon sequels, Black and White 2, and that's nine. Well, technically it's ten, but no. Don't be pedantic.
Yes I know we knew about these games before Nintendo's showcase but does that diminish their appeal? Is Paper Mario's arts and crafts aesthetic, with its corrugated cardboard coins and folding world, any less delightful for already being announced? Do Castlevania's pygmies look any less entertaining due to the game's early reveal? Is Luigi's nervous nail biting and brilliant puzzle-cum-fishing ghost inhaling suddenly droll and boring because we saw the game twelve months ago? No. They all look brilliant. Their only folly was being revealed too early.
I would have loved a Zelda tease as much as the next chap but what we find here is a company in transition. Nintendo are moving away from pushing next year's probably-gonna-get-delayed elven adventure so that they can focus your eyes on the now. Would fans pay attention to Mickey Mouse if there was a Metroid trailer to pour over and speculate about? Unlikely, Disney's rodent just doesn't hold as much clout in the gaming sphere as he used to. By focusing attention on the full breadth of what's coming soon, rather than teasing three titles you'll eventually get in five years, it gives smaller profile games a chance to make an impact and spread their wings, not become fodder for investor impressing sizzle trailers.
This tighter focus also makes the future far less predictable; a scary proposition to the typical gaming enthusiast that I would argue keeps things interesting. This time last year Nintendo were more than happy to play well-meaning soothsayer, exposing a veritable Alladin's Cave of 3DS delights, but this created unjust assumptions that the games they were flaunting, games like Paper Mario, Animal Crossing and Luigi's Mansion, were all just around the corner. It was exciting at the time, yes, but a few months later, when players were trekking through Ocarina of Time for the seventh time, their console purchase was underlined by that mocking shadow of 'har har, just remember what you don't have yet'.
The new Nintendo shows you what you're getting soon, not what you will be getting eventually.
Consider, for a second, Team Ico's magnum opus The Last Guardian. It's brilliant to know that it's in development, and it was lovely when we saw it in 2009, but hasn't its protracted development caused more pain and trepidation than anything else? Think about all the E3 games that are stoking your fire right now. Halo 4 is out this year, granted, as is Assassin's Creed III and Dishonoured, great, but titles like The Last of Us, Beyond, Watch Dogs, Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider, Gears of War Judgement and God of War Ascension are all coming in 2013 or, and I'd rather not think about it, sometime even later.
Honestly, when did gaming become about the waiting instead of the playing?
Nintendo's new approach also makes things more exciting. When it comes to 2013 we have no clue what the Mario masterminds are planning - besides the curiously-absent-from-E3-2012 Animal Crossing 3DS of course. Once Nintendo release this E3's games in the next half a year-ish we'll get those new announcements we crave, and when we do the games they announce will be due for release in the near future rather than in two-but-more-likely-three-or-possibly-four years later. It's almost Pixar-like; fuel the interest in your current project and then announce the next once that is done.
So yeah, the 3DS is getting nine great looking games at the same time that Nintendo is launching a new console, the Wii U, which also features at least eight rather tasty looking exclusives – Pikmin 3, ZombiU, New Super Mario Bros U, Project P-100, Rayman Legends, Game & Wario, Nintendo Land and Lego City - that are all due for release within the console's opening few months. After that? Who knows. Who needs to know? There might be a Zelda, a Metroid, or even an F Zero in the works but why even worry about them when Nintendo hardware is delivering just shy of twenty worthwhile, unique games in the next half a year alone. You can argue that the Big N lost E3 all you like, then, but there's really no denying the strength of their 2012 output, or how interesting 2013 will be as a result of Nintendo's new style.
Words by James Bowden (Twitter: @Dalagonash)