(Note from the Editor-In-Chief: This article was written before Nintendo’s disappointing response to pleas for equality in Tomodachi Life. While my points in the article still stand and while I still love Nintendo, I cannot pretend they are a flawless company. Until they offer all gamers an equal experience, they will never be flawless. I hold out hope that Nintendo will be a trailblazer not just in video games but in equality. They have listened to the voices of their audience before; those voices are rightly louder than ever now.)
In September 2005, Nintendo changed the game.
This is Satoru Iwata’s keynote speech at the 2005 Tokyo Game Show, an event not usually attended by Nintendo. I recommend watching the entire video, though it cuts off early and the second part is nowhere to be found. But if you want to skip to the important stuff, the video showcasing the Wii (then codenamed “Revolution”) controller for the first time begins at 3:30 and, more importantly, Iwata takes out a prototype and begins to speak about it at 5:45. He holds it up, triumphant, as thousands of cameras flash, seeking to capture a once-in-a-lifetime moment. He knew then that Nintendo was right to codename the Wii “Revolution.” The Revolution began with that controller in the air.
That said, the Revolution had been announced and teased at E3 earlier that year.
“For two decades, our mission has been not to just play the game, but to change the game. The NES changed the game. Game Boy changed the game. Donkey Kong Country changed the game. Super Mario 64 changed the game. And Nintendo DS changed the game. And more extraordinary change is on the way.”
Near the beginning of his speech at E3 that year, Reggie Fils-Aime hinted at what was to come, not just later in the presentation or later in the year but for years afterward. They did, in fact, change the game. As many criticisms as the thing lovably dubbed the Wiimote had lobbed at it, it moved hardware and influenced Sony and Microsoft’s future business decisions. It’s not a stretch to say that without the Wiimote there would be no PlayStation Move nor would there be any Kinect—both of which are key cogs in each company’s eighth generation console.
When Iwata came out half an hour into the E3 conference after the portion of the conference focused on portables (just to remind you what 2005 was like: Nintendo hyped up Electroplankton and Nintendogs and announced the Game Boy Micro) and pulled out a Revolution prototype, the crowd went wild.
Like with the controller, he held it up triumphantly as thousands of cameras flashed, but of course he knew more than he let on. During his speech he noted that the controllers were “very unique in ways we will share with you later.” The entire audience groaned. A minute or so later he dropped that a WiFi-compatible Super Smash Bros. was coming to the console and the entire audience erupted.
“That way, no matter where Reggie is, I can always beat him.”
Oh, Iwata. He’d also get some pretty big cheers later on when he announced the Virtual Console, which worked out pretty well in the long run, even though he announced EarthBound which didn’t make it to VC until 2013. And when Nintendo closed things up with the second trailer for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which doubled as the announcement of the title for the game, the crowd went wild. Even when Link turned into a wolf, which must have been really weird to see for the first time.
In years since, Nintendo struggled to hype up crowds, though in retrospect it’s debatable if they even wanted to. The now-legendary trailer for Super Smash Bros. Brawl inexplicably wasn’t shown until a day after E3 2006. The next two years of E3 were the ill-fated invitation-only “E3 Media and Business Summit,” with crowds so dead they were impossible to hype up. E3 recovered but Nintendo saw fit to move on in 2013, instead opting to stream a special E3 edition of Nintendo Direct. Again, a Super Smash Bros. trailer that would have caused people to lose their minds never actually hit any crowds.
What it did hit were the computer screens of millions of people who exploded in discussion, not only about Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, but also about other things announced during the Direct, like:
- New info on Pokémon X and Y including the announcement of Pokémon-Amie and the Fairy type
- The announcement and first trailer for the excellent Super Mario 3D World including Cat Mario
- The first trailer for Mario Kart 8
- The announcement and first trailer for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, introducing Dixie Kong’s return as a playable character
- Other games featured include The Wonderful 101, Bayonetta 2, and Wii Party U
Nintendo had mastered it. It wasn’t about pleasing a large crowd. It was about reaching as many people as possible and getting them excited enough to talk about you. As fun as it was for Reggie to take shots at Sony regarding worldwide sales numbers in 2005, it wasn’t in Nintendo’s spirit. Sales numbers and statistics were better off left in the boardroom. And information on new games was better off not being withheld until E3.
Nintendo Directs allowed Nintendo to distribute information on their own terms and dominate headlines year-round. If they wanted to make a big deal about announcing Rosalina as a playable character in the new SSB game, they can do it in December and get everyone talking about it. Nintendo has always been focused on the player, and by removing any middleman and getting the information to them directly, they can do so now more than ever before.
That’s why they’re not returning to E3 with a conference this year. They probably won’t ever have a conference there again. They don’t ever have to. What they’re doing instead is brilliant and it’s why 2014 will be 2005 all over again: all Nintendo. They recently announced Play Nintendo, a four-pronged attack whose goal is to involve as many people in E3 as possible. The prongs:
- Nintendo Digital Event. On June 10, 2014, at 9 AM Pacific time, Nintendo is doing…something. Something big. This isn’t like last year, when Nintendo simply streamed a Nintendo Direct during E3. Titling it an “Event” implies that there are more facets to it than simply software and hardware announcements. They’re hyping it up, and it worked on me, at the very least.
- Nintendo Treehouse: Live @ E3. The Nintendo Treehouse is an almost-mythical concept. For the first time, its doors will (sort of) be open to the public as they livestream from the show floor throughout the entirety of E3. No doubt we’ll see Bill Trinen, Leslie Swan, Nate Bihldorff, Tim O’Leary, and many others. Though the Treehouse used to be top-secret, Nintendo seems to be loosening things up a bit.
- Super Smash Bros. Invitational. Nintendo made negative headlines last July when they forced Super Smash Bros. Melee out of Evo 2013’s lineup—it would have been a first-time inclusion. The backlash was so bad they actually reversed their decision. Now Nintendo is embracing the competitive community, though the details are still hazy. Sixteen people will apparently compete in the Wii U version of SSB4, with announcers and everything. More info is forthcoming, but there are a lot of questions. Will the roster be partial or full by that time? How is Nintendo inviting these sixteen people? How bad did they nerf Meta Knight? Regardless, I’m psyched.
- Super Smash Bros. Smash Fest @ Best Buy. For the first time in months, Best Buy will get some business when Nintendo offers a chance to play the Wii U version of SSB4 at locations worldwide. With “winter 2014” currently all we have as release info on the Wii U version, it’s worth wondering just how complete the game is. Could…could it actually come out by the end of the year? That said, you bet your ass I’m going to go to a Best Buy for the first time in like five years.
Safe to say Nintendo is going “all-out.” If you’re actually at E3, if you’re streaming from home, or if you’re waiting in line at a Best Buy to find out how Mega Man handles, you’re part of the experience. The “extraordinary change” Reggie talked about all the way back in 2005 is still coming. Nintendo has long championed innovation and with Play Nintendo we can see that they aren’t just doing it with video games anymore.
Though Play Nintendo is the main reason that Nintendo is going to dominate the rest of the year, there are even more reasons. One reason is coming later this month: Mario Kart 8. Nintendo knows they need to move some Wii U consoles and this might finally be the game to do it. For the record, Super Mario 3D World alone is worth having a Wii U, but Mario Kart is much more of a household name. Nintendo is offering reasons to get it regardless of whether you’re a Wii U owner or still thinking about one.
“Bundle” has been the buzzword recently in gaming and Nintendo took notice. My Wii U is the Legend of Zelda Special Edition; call me whatever you want, but the reason I bought it was because of Zelda. Similarly, there will be a Mario Kart 8 Special Edition Wii U. For $329.99 (thirty bucks more than the standard Wii U package) you get the console plus MK8 and a Mario Wiimote with the steering wheel. I realize I sound like I’m trying to sell this to you. It’s because I am. This is a great fucking deal.
On top of all that, with any purchase of MK8 comes the ability to download either New Super Mario Bros. U, Wii Party U, Pikmin 3, or The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD for F-R-E-E. You have to register it with Club Nintendo by July 31, but that’s easy. I really would have liked to see Super Mario 3D World included in this deal, but I suppose it came out just a bit too recently. I just want more people to play it. It was the best game of 2013.
So if you need a Wii U console, $329.99 gets you one plus two games and a Wiimote. If you just need MK8, $59.99 will get you it plus one really good game. The Wii U has been notoriously tough for Nintendo to move, but I think Mario Kart 8 will get it running as smoothly as a motorcycle driven by Bowser.
If that all wasn’t enough, I have more reasons for the Year of Nintendo. Note that in the frantic promotion for SSB4 during Play Nintendo, there is no mention of the 3DS version at all. Also remember that earlier this year Nintendo announced that the 3DS version is actually coming this summer. Now, I have a long memory. I remember the painful delays Brawl went through. But…could the reason that Nintendo is focusing on the Wii U version during E3 mean that the 3DS version will actually come out this summer? The lack of a concrete release date is admittedly worrying but maybe that announcement will come at E3. After all, summer lasts until August. If we can get SSB3DS by then, I’ll be thrilled.
Other reasons include the industry rumors that spark up every year as E3 approaches. Will the Zelda Wii U title that apparently is in development get officially announced? Will Nintendo announce a new handheld or iteration of the 3DS? Will franchises such as Metroid (2010), Star Fox (2006), and F-Zero (2004) get new life for the first time in years? Will the traditional third game in a Pokemon’s sixth generation be Pokémon Z (Note: The day this article went to press Nintendo announced Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire out of nowhere)? Will Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem, announced a year and a half ago, ever get any new info or was that just a fever dream?
Regardless of the answers to these questions, people are talking. And, no doubt, Nintendo will surprise everyone with something no one could have predicted. During the first summer of the eighth generation of video game consoles, Nintendo needs to raise the Wiimote high and triumphant as it did back in 2005. The stage is fully set for Nintendo to change the game all over again. And they will.