Nintendo At E3

This is the thing that people have speculated about for quite some time: a new HD console from Nintendo with a controller that sports a touchscreen. First, it’s not Café, it’s WiiU. The Wii – “we” – has been extended by a “U” – “you” – because the touchscreen controller is personal. You get the touchscreen, your own window on the game, and it’s your private time. But it’s still Nintendo, and is still part of the Wii family, so the touchscreen can not only display content just for you, but can interact and extend what you see on the screen. There’s too many ways to list that they showed how this worked, but consider how you might want to use a controller with a 6” screen in the middle, and you’ll probably hit at least one nail on the head.

The controller was cool, but the driver of this presentation to me was the parade of third party luminaries that were pimping the new console; these were not people you’d expect to be praising Nintendo hardware. They showed several games for this new HD-enabled device: Batman: Arkham Asylum, Darksiders II, Tekken, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Ghost Recon Online, Dirt and Ninja Gaiden to name a few. Those are not kiddie titles, so it seems that Nintendo has hit puberty. Like any adolescent of this age, then, communication becomes more important, and John Riticello of EA spoke of being able to play online in Battlefield 3 as if he were talking about Xbox or PS3 style freedoms. There was a lot of broad overviews in this presentation, but like the Vita, specifics are scarce at this time, and no real demos were presented. We have a long way to go before the WiiU finds it’s way to shelves.

So where does this leave Nintendo? More then a few people turned their nose up at this new hardware, which still has to contend with the weight of Nintendo’s “kid friendly” legacy. Plus, none of the titles they showed are WiiU exclusives; if people want Battlefield 3, chances are they’re of the demographic that owns an Xbox and/or PS3, will have a stable of friends built up on those platforms with whom to play with, and will have invested in those platforms over the years. Nintendo is late the party by offering the games they’re showcasing, and it will require a hard-sell to get fans of Batman: Arkham Asylum to pay for a WiiU and the game, as opposed to just the game for Xbox, PS3 or PC.

But who cares about Xbox and PS3 owners? It’s a fallacy to think that there’s a finite number of wallets in the gaming world. For some, there is nothing that Nintendo could do to make them buy anything of theirs to replace an existing console. Nintendo has never really gone after the same market as Xbox and PS3, and while they’re featuring the same games we’ll see on the other two platforms, I still don’t think Nintendo is doing it to entice Xbox or PS3 owners. Instead, they’re rolling with their own fan base who has been constantly been asking for a greater breadth of content. Mario, Zelda and Metroid are nice, but what about the segment of Nintendo faithful who have had to do some soul-searching when they see a game they want that isn’t on the Nintendo machine? Now they can have their Mario and their Battlefield 3, which is more then we can say for “diversity” of the games for Xbox or PS3.

Sadly, despite my defense of Nintendo’s product, I’m passing on it because A) I want the Vita more, and B) I never use the Wii that is keeping the dust from falling on that sliver of entertainment center where it sits. I think this is a good advancement for Nintendo faithful who may have had to deal with the scorn from other console fans because it brings the same games to all three platforms while retaining the Nintendo Classic Stable – you know, the ones that those Xbox and PS3 gamers grew up playing, and who have paved the way so that they can thumb their noses at Nintendo today? I think it’s good for Nintendo, although they should approach the market with humility because they’re just now getting around to HD and proper online abilities. Overall, I think Nintendo will earn some converts, but they won’t pull people from their existing platforms. Instead, the Nintendo faithful are being rewarded with a big jump in capability of their preferred console.