The Wii U at E3 2012: What We Know, What We Can Guess

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No doubt all eyes this E3 are on Nintendo – the only company launching a new console this year. For the last 12 months I’ve seen people going crazy with speculation, gobbling up every morsel of information, half-true or not. It’s been a challenge just trying to make sense of what’s actually possible and what’s not just so you don’t tune into the conference with unachievable expectations.

I think I should start with what we absolutely know won’t be at Nintendo’s conference. They’ve already confirmed that there will be no talk of a release date and price for the Wii U at E3 this year. They didn’t do that for the 3DS and I don’t think they did it for the Wii – they’re probably gauging consumer reaction before pricing the thing. Sony also didn’t do this for the Vita. I think prices have been the most common expectations I’ve seen people list about the Wii U and I’m afraid of the massive disappointment that will ensue when we don’t get any.

Now for what Nintendo has confirmed will definitely be happening this year for the Wii U. We know there will be a new Mario game for the Wii U shown at E3 this year – Miyamoto confirmed as much. He also confirmed a new Pikmin game for the Wii U. We of course also know of a handful of 3rd party games coming to the Wii U.

Based on all that and other tiny leaks we can already make some rough inferences.

The new Mario will more than likely be a sidescroller – maybe a sequel to New Super Mario Bros. Wii. They already had a tech demo of such a thing running last year, and Nintendo loves to turn those into full games. 2D Mario also hits sales numbers comparable to Call of Duty these days. Frankly, I also don’t think a Nintendo launch feels quite right without a Mario game – they always tend to be each platform’s first killer app and we haven’t had a Mario at launch since 64. It would be an ideal launch killer app for the Wii U.

Here’s the real wildcard of Nintendo right now though: Retro studios is working on something, but we have no idea what.

Relatively soon after E3 2011, reports came in that a handful of guys who formerly worked at places like Naughty Dog and Crytek were working with Retro, and that “crunch time” – typically one of the final stretches of a game’s development, was this year. New Metroid Prime? New game for another Nintendo franchise? New IP? We don’t know. If you ask me, I at least think it’s going to be something aimed at core gamers. Just let me lay out what I see as Nintendo’s current software situation.

Nintendo wants the Wii U to appeal to core gamers in ways the Wii couldn’t. That’s gonna require the core 3rd party and multiplatform games – a grail Nintendo’s been trying to reclaim since the 16 bit era ended. To do this they need to convince 3rd parties that those kinds of games will sell on Nintendo hardware, and you do that by proving the userbase is there.

Traditionally, userbases for certain kinds of games have been built by killer apps. The Xbox became the shooter console because people originally bought one for Halo. The Xbox 360 became the same because of the first Gears. Some of the few successful 3rd party Wii games have been family minigame collections or exercise simulations because of Wii Sports and Wii Fit.

Nintendo may or may not yet realize they need an exclusive that can similarly ignite a userbase for the 3rd party games they’re trying to attract. To do this they could moneyhat a 3rd party game for some kind of exclusivity – a tactic that’s pretty much faded this generation, offer to publish a big game for exclusivity like Microsoft did with Epic for Gears, or develop internally. Retro seems to be in the perfect position to perform the third option.

On the flipside of my own speculation, I think Nintendo knows they need another family-oriented hit for the Wii U’s launch. They need a successor to Wii Sports and Wii Fit to try to get that audience back, and I think they will devote sizable time at their conference to showing it off. Whatever it is, it will have to heavily leverage the tablet controller, maybe even control with it exclusively. You can make your own guesses from there.

Another huge hope from Nintendo fanboys has been for what 3rd party games might get announced for the Wii U next week on top of the already-announced ones. I’d be surprised if Treyarch wasn’t doing a Wii U port of Black Ops II since they went through all the trouble for Wii conversions of previous games, but then again Capcom’s denial of Resident Evil 6 for the Wii U caught me off guard. I think most, if not all of EA’s main multiplatform stuff will make it over, same for Ubisoft. The big prayer seems to be Grand Theft Auto V, and I have no idea what Take Two’s or Rockstar’s position on Nintendo hardware happen to be.

Whatever happens, I have the feeling that this is gonna be one of those intensely exciting years for Nintendo after E3. We’ll probably still be left wanting more, but Nintendo will likely have succeeded in hyping us up.

BULLETS

  • I can already tell you Sony is gonna remove more features to get around that PS3 Game Genie they just announced.
  • Star Wars 1313 is almost the game I’ve always wanted. If they confirm that it’s open-world, stars Boba Fett, and has Clint Hocking at the helm, I’m on board.
  • So the PlayStation Vita is getting a YouTube app, but not the PS3.
  • Am I the only one who would like to see the Gears of War and Call of Duty multiplayer mechanics applied to a dungeon crawler?
  • In regards to the digital-only console considerations, I can imagine there being one model of each console that doesn’t have a disc drive.
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