While other publishers play it safe and stay predictable, Nintendo just wants to make gamers smile.
After a hectic day of being shuttled across Los Angeles and in and out of arenas for Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, and Sony's press conferences, Nintendo's E3 presentation was barely a blip on my radar Tuesday morning. Oh sure, I'd tune in, but I thought it'd be more of the same. Smash Bros. is a big deal, of course, but they're already preaching to the converted with that one. And people are going nuts over Hyrule Warriors, but it's not the Zelda I'm looking for. I spent Monday full of anticipation, and was much more relaxed when I grabbed a spot in the Los Angeles Convention Center press room the next day to stream Nintendo's press conference replacement. And then a weird thing happened: they absolutely nailed it.
Monday's press conferences were full of big, multi-million-dollar, AAA titles, many of which had guns and explosions and really shiny cars. Microsoft and EA played it very safe in their respective briefings, while Ubisoft touted a few surprises from long-running franchises. Sony, it could be argued, won the day, but the PS4 was already surging into this generation's first place spot as E3 began, so they weren't exactly underdogs. Then there's Nintendo, for whom expectations were, sadly, pretty low--that is, until they bypassed the press and directly addressed fans on Tuesday morning.
Just about everything about that presentation was surprisingly great. The Robot Chicken-esque bits and light-hearted jabs at game journalists had most of the press room chuckling along. Nintendo's sudden self-awareness and sense of humor was incredibly refreshing. But then--even better--there were the games, and they looked great! My mouth dropped open when it was time to see Zelda Wii U, and from my frenzied Twitter feed (and the excited looks on the faces of journalists around me) I could tell I wasn't the only one.
That was a great way to get the first official day of E3 started, and I hit the show floor with a smile on my face. Everywhere I went, people were talking about Nintendo. Even in a convention center full of cynical members of the press, the struggling publisher had left an undeniable impression.
My first day on the show floor ended as it began: with Nintendo putting a smile on my face. Nintendo's booth was my last stop of the day, and stepping away from the crowd and into Nintendo's VIP area, I was more excited than I thought I'd be to see what they had to offer. I played Yoshi's Woolly World and Mario Maker back-to-back, and I was grinning the entire time. Even while playing Smash Bros., a series I consistently suck at, I was cheering and booing along with three other players and a crowd of onlookers. I looked over and saw Escapist Editor-in-Chief Greg Tito playing Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta 2, and he seemed pretty happy, too. Then we both jumped into some four-on-four Splatoon, surprisingly my favorite title at Nintendo's booth. For the rest of the night, Greg and I regaled anyone who would listen with the tale of our amazing team victory in the third-person painter.
It might seem like I was down on Nintendo going into E3, but the truth is I've been a Nintendo fan since I was old enough to hold a controller. I love my Xbox and PlayStation consoles as well, don't get me wrong--there's room in my heart (and my entertainment center) for everyone. But there's just something special about Nintendo; not everyone appreciates that the publisher marches to the beat of its own drummer, but I do. It's been hard to watch the Wii U struggle to find an audience, and Nintendo has seemed increasingly tone-deaf to criticism and complaints since the console's 2012 launch. This E3 marks a dramatic shift in tone for the publisher, and I hope that they can continue this momentum into 2015, when many of their newly announced Wii U games will be launching.
Unlike Microsoft and Sony, who follow similar patterns year after year, Nintendo does whatever it wants. It doesn't always work, and when it doesn't, it's not pretty to watch. When it does work, though--when everything just clicks--the results are nothing but smiles, which is exactly what happened this week. Nintendo delivered that feeling of childhood joy and wonder to a bunch of grown men and women in Los Angeles and all over the world. That's the Nintendo I know and love, that's the Nintendo that had me smiling all day yesterday, and that's the Nintendo I hope we continue to see going forward.