It can be a painful experience to look back at Nintendo’s more recent E3 press conferences.
You may recall grinning marketing execs strutting the stage, playing Wii Fit and Wii Music, whilst talking about ‘expanding the demographics of gaming’.
It was the right note for a business that had managed to bring in mums and grandparents into the video game ecosystem. But for its loyal fanbase it made for dissatisfying viewing.
Fans asked for more, and year-in, year-out, Nintendo seemed unwilling to deliver. No new IP, no break from the endless cycle of Mario, Zelda, Smash Brothers and Mario Kart. And at E3 2014, Nintendo came alive in a way we’ve not seen for years. In a video that was both self-deprecating and confident, the platform holder unveiled a number of new projects, plus the return of Zelda, it mocked its own obsession with releasing Mario games, and poked fun at demanding fans calling for niche RPGs and Star Fox.
Nintendo was even looking surprisingly modern. It was livestreaming its entire E3 show over Twitch and it was holding eSports tournaments for Smash Bros.
“The great thing about the digital event is it really shows what Nintendo is about which is not taking itself too seriously and having some fun,” says Shelly Pearce, Nintendo’s UK marketing boss.
"Our E3 video showed what Nintendo is about,
which is not taking itself too seriously."
- Shelly Pearce, Nintendo
For a company that’s posted three years of financial losses, you’d forgive Nintendo for appearing somewhat coy, even apologetic, over its recent troubles. But this was a relatively aggressive display from the platform holder, epitomised by a bizarre live-action fight between two of its most senior executives during its video.
That was in order to promote a new mode in Nintendo’s biggest Q4 release, Super Smash Bros, which dominated the firm’s E3 showcase.
“On Wii U, our two big investments this year are Mario Kart and Smash Bros,” says Pearce.
“The latter will be our big one for Christmas. Amiibo brings a whole other level to it. We’ll be finalising details about that campaign over the coming months.”
Amiibo is Nintendo’s other big initiative. The firm’s ‘toys-to-life’ features ten iconic characters to begin with (including Mario, Pikachu and Link) and were of good quality.
The products can be used (but are not essential) in multiple Nintendo games due over the next 12 months, including Mario Party 10, Mario Kart 8, Captain Toad and Yoshi’s Woolly World.
But the big push for the toys will centre around Super Smash Bros
“Amiibo is one of the big things we’re focusing on this year for Wii U,” adds Pearce.
“I’m a mum, and we’ve got lots of Skylanders and Disney Infinity in the house. The really nice thing is that you can keep re-using Amiibo in multiple games.”
And rather than rival Skylanders and Disney, Nintendo views Amiibo as a product that sits alongside them, making Wii U a home for the genre. And Pearce hopes that it will take Nintendo back into toy retailers, too.
"3DS is a huge focus for us in the UK."
- Shelly Pearce, Nintendo
The central focus for Nintendo at E3 was Wii U. Which meant its smaller (and more successful) sibling seemed largely ignored.
There were a couple of big projects on show, namely Smash Bros and Pokémon, and Nintendo also showed off a new strategy IP called Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.
But surely there has to be more coming for a console that has an install base of almost 50m?
“You’ve got to keep watching,” says Pearce. “3DS is a huge focus for us in the UK. Tomodachi Life, which we just launched, has got off to a good start for a new IP. We’re looking forward to seeing that grow. We’ve got a really big campaign behind it.
“We’ll also have a big campaign going for kids over the summer showing some key back catalogue titles. 3DS is still really important. We have Kirby coming, Yoshi’s just out and Smash Bros and Pokémon coming later. It’s going to be a big year for 3DS and 2DS this year.”
"Mario Kart will be one of the games that will keep
Wii U buoyant and that’ll blend into Super Smash Bros in Q4."
- Shelly Pearce, Nintendo
Nintendo’s E3 showcase was filled with games. There were new Mario tie-ins, multiple Zelda projects, new IP Splatoon, games starring Toad, Yoshi and Kirby, and a lot more.
But many of these trailers were followed by the date ‘2015’ and the earliest some of these titles will hit is this Q4. Only last month Mario Kart 8 sparked renewed interest in Wii U, so surely it’s a concern that there’s nothing coming sooner to build momentum?
“We are expecting Mario Kart to sell strongly consistently,” explains Pearce.
“We had a great first week and second week and we have a campaign that will keep running until the end of the year. Mario Kart will be one of the games ?that will keep Wii U buoyant and that’ll blend into Super Smash Bros in Q4.
“But you’ve seen in the show, there’s wealth of content. Miyamoto is working on a series of projects that really show off the GamePad, and the Splatoon reveal went really well.”
For all the excitement surrounding Nintendo’s E3 line-up, there were still some questions left hanging. How much are Amiibo figures? How will Nintendo release Miyamoto’s mini-projects? Is Splatoon a boxed release or a small download?
And many of these titles, although interesting, hardly looked like system sellers.
Nevertheless, Nintendo did something at E3 it has largely failed to do over the last three years: impress its fans and silence it critics. And that’s a huge step in the right direction.