Why Nintendo Won E3 2014
Playing a different game.
When I first heard that Nintendo was forgoing a proper press conference this year in lieu of a video presentation, I was worried. I felt like, without the energy of a crowd, without Reggie Fils-Aime's voice and presence commanding attention in a massive convention hall, there was no way that Nintendo's E3 presentation could compare to the likes of what Sony and Microsoft would be doing. And as it turns out, I do think it's difficult to compare Nintendo's approach to E3 2014 to that of those other companies, and that's exactly why I think Nintendo's presence here at E3 2014 is so vital, and so successful.
There's a sameness, a predictability, to the way that Sony and Microsoft do E3. They play it safe. You always know that their conferences are going to be filled with AAA shooters, and if those press conferences were all you had to go on, you might conclude that video games are overwhelmingly pretty serious and grim. And of course, there's nothing wrong with games that are serious and grim. I really like The Last of Us, and have enjoyed playing through plenty of Call of Duty campaigns over the years. But games can and should be so much more, and while colorful games like Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime and Abzu made brief appearances at Microsoft's and Sony's conferences, it's Nintendo that takes the most chances.
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Their entire presentation felt riskier and livelier than what the other companies did. Rather than having men in suits come out on stage and recite spiels about this game or that corporate vision, Nintendo's comical presentation had some fun with the demands of the company's fans (“Come on, Reggie, give us Mother 3!”), the personas of its characters, and the somewhat gruff image (“You guys thought we wouldn't have a press conference. Not my problem!”) and often-mispronounced name of Nintendo president Reggie Fils-Aime. From its first moments, the presentation left us feeling like we had no idea what might happen next.
Even if the whole thing had been a disaster, I would have been glad that Nintendo had taken a chance and not done things the way that things are normally done. But it wasn't a disaster at all. It was a mostly entertaining and humorous presentation that, most importantly of all, was packed with games that look decidedly different from what Sony and Microsoft spent most of their time showcasing. It did flag a bit at times; we didn't really need that detailed breakdown of the different Mii fighting styles in Super Smash Bros., after all. But when the amiibos were revealed, I had to simultaneously applaud and curse Nintendo. My longstanding adoration of many Nintendo characters means that this product line could end up putting a serious dent in my bank account, and it's very smart of Nintendo to capitalize on fans' love of Mario, Samus, and the rest of the gang in this way. The technology isn't new, but it seems like the way that Nintendo is planning on using it is new. How exactly is my beloved Mr. Game & Watch going to be able to factor into different games? I don't know, but I look forward to finding out!
Yoshi's Woolly World may or may not be doing anything different in gameplay terms, but the look of it is so charming and inventive that I know I would enjoy just being in its cozy, comfy world. And what the heck did it mean when Tezuka said “There is certainly a key phrase that I have: It's amazing Yoshi!”? I have absolutely no idea, and that made that moment hilarious. From there, the charm kept coming with the reveal of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker before Nintendo stirred our souls with the grand reveal of The Legend of Zelda for Wii U. My dream for the series was that it would go back to the open-world roots of the first game, and I almost can't believe that I'm going to get my wish. While Nintendo could have played it safe and kept giving fans more of the formula that has defined the series for a long time, Aonuma and his team, and Nintendo as a whole, are taking a risk.
After that, Nintendo's presentation was defined by variety. From the fast and demanding action of Bayonetta 2 to the stylus-driven delights of Kirby and the Rainbow Curse to the sweeping role-playing adventure of Xenoblade Chronicles X to the empowering and easy-to-use creation tools of Mario Maker, Nintendo has all sorts of amazing-looking games coming to the Wii U. Their presentation pushed a far more diverse assortment of games than what Sony and Microsoft pushed, and this is vital in a gaming landscape that sometimes feels flooded with serious, mechanically predictable shooters. Even when Nintendo did bring out a shooter, it was neither serious nor mechanically predictable. I thought I was all shootered out after Monday's press conferences, but Splatoon demonstrated that a fresh coat of paint (ha!) can make a game in that crowded genre look fresh, innovative, and fun.
Call me a sap, but I admit I was a bit touched by Reggie's little story about loving Super Mario World, and about how “Nintendo game creators share one belief: there's nothing wrong with having a little fun.” I think the company's entire presentation demonstrated that it's more than willing to have a little fun. Rather than going toe-to-toe with Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo is playing its own game. And we're all better off for it.
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