I was in the audience when Nintendo first took the wraps off the Wii U at E3 2011.
The anticipation was electric as an orchestra played the Zelda anthem to highlights from the classic games as well as Skyward Sword, which was due to be released later that year. The Wii, which had been a breakout hit in 2006 but had faded with time, was finally being retired. Nintendo was about to go HD.
"The new platform will provide deeper experiences than what even the most passionate gamer has experienced before," Satoru Iwata promised as he paced the stage, hinting that Nintendo would refocus on core enthusiasts while continuing to chart a course through their "blue ocean" of new players.
The subsequent reveal of the Wii U wasn't a total letdown, but it left a lot of people in the audience feeling bemused. Was it an actual tablet? How would it be used in games? And what was with the name 'Wii U?' Second-screen capability seemed like a natural step forward, but it wasn't as intuitive as motion controls. Probably the most electric moment of the presentation came when a video of a parrot on the Wii U Gamepad was flipped up to a television for everyone to see—a moment that seemed to suggest that Nintendo wanted the Wii U's controller to be akin to an iPad.
I won't rehash the problems that Nintendo faced selling the Wii U, but it's fair to say that they were never really able to elaborate on the potential of the tablet. On Thursday night (Friday in Japan), they will try once again to pitch a new console concept, this time with the Nintendo Switch. And while it's not really fair to suggest that the Switch's success hinges on this Friday's event, history suggests that they can have a big impact on a console's momentum leading up to launch.
You may recall, for example, how hard Nintendo had to work to explain the asynchronous multiplayer of Nintendo Land. You may remember Ken Kutaragi saying of the PS3, "It's probably too cheap... If you can have an amazing experience, we believe price is not a problem." And you may recall the furor surrounding the Xbox One requiring an Internet connection to play its disc games.
For the Switch, the biggest question is how much it will cost. Initial reports peg it around ¥25,000 in Japan, which comes out to about $215 USD. A $200 launch price would be a massive win for Nintendo, as it would make it much cheaper than a standard PlayStation 4 or a tablet (an iPad will run around you $380 on Amazon).
The other big question is what the Switch's launch lineup will look like. There are reports that Nintendo is rushing to ensure that Zelda is available for launch; but moreso even than a killer app, the Switch needs a healthy stream of third-party games to succeed. A strong launch lineup would put to rest some of the fears that the Switch will be the same old story from Nintendo—strong but irregular first-party games mixed with a patchy (at best) third-party selection.
Happily for Nintendo, the Switch has a much more compelling hook than the Wii U. Its utility as a hybrid console is immediately apparent, and rumors of games like Pokemon Stars has only bolstered its appeal. Where the Wii U launched to little enthusiasm, the Switch's launch figures to mirror the ongoing bedlam surrounding the NES Classic (for better or worse). All Nintendo really has to do is not screw it up.
After that, the hard work of making the Switch a sustainable success begins. But it all begins on Thursday night.
Game Music to Get You Through Monday
This tune should keep you going through the last couple hours of your workday (or maybe you just need something peppy to listen to). Nadia did a nice analysis of Undertale's soundtrack last year. Listen and enjoy!
- Welcome to my new regular column! Here I will try to highlight what's happening here at USG and gaming news in general, as well as interesting games that don't necessarily fit within their own articles (cough, mecha games, cough). If nothing else it will suck up some time as you try and get through Monday (don't worry, I'm there with you).
- Reports have emerged from Kotaku and Eurogamer that Scalebound is in trouble. If that's the case, then that's a big disappointment for Platinum, Microsoft, and gamers in general (update: Microsoft confirmed Scalebound's cancellation). Scalebound caught heat for its rather generic hero and average E3 presentation, but it's still a heavy anticipated Xbox One exclusive, and Platinum has sunk a large amount of resources into its development. Microsoft didn't confirm or deny the rumor, but Jason Schreier is generally on the money with his reporting, so there's plenty of reason to worry.
- In happier news, Polygon posted a positively gigantic Final Fantasy VII oral history today, courtesy of Matt Leone. It features interviews with more than 30 developers and gems like the game's original marketing plan. It goes without saying that you should drop everything and read it. Matt will be on Axe of the Blood God later this week to talk about the piece in more depth. Look forward to it!
- Speaking of which, I'm in the midst of a Let's Play of Final Fantasy IV, which I will continue tomorrow. You can watch the first part above.
- On the speedrunning front, the community's annual Awesome Game Done Quick fundraiser is in full swing. As always, top speedrunners will perform live for charitable donations to the Prevent Cancer Foundation. The event goes through Sunday, and there have already been some great highlights. That Blaster Master run at 11:41 p.m. ET certainly has my eye...
- We don't condone piracy, but the news that hackers have managed to add more ROMs to the NES Classic goes to show that fans will always fill in the gaps if there's enough demand for something. In all honesty, it's kind of shocking that the NES Classic does feature eShop support, but Nintendo most likely jettisoned it in favor of keeping the price down. Still, lesson for the future: make your retro console expandable even if that means charging a little bit more money.
- Downloadable Gem Alert: I made Jaz highlight Overcooked in his Digital Gems column over the weekend, which is a perfectly addictive little party game on Steam. Playing with up to four other players, your goal is to work together to cook up and deliver meals as quickly as possible within a certain time limit. It's easier said than done as you have to ensure that the ingredients are prepped and cooked while keeping up a steady stream of clean dishes and watching to make sure the stove doesn't catch fire. Oh, and sometimes you have to do it all while skating around on ice. In any case, go play it.
- As long as I'm talking about regular features, a quick shoutout to Jeremy Parish's new Design in Action column, which is currently taking a hard look at Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. He'll be picking a new game each month, with the likes of The Last Guardian and Mass Effect Andromeda also on the docket. Jeremy is the best in the business at this sort of thing, so I urge you to go and read it.
- Off-topic: I saw Hidden Figures last weekend, and I'm pleased to say that it's a great film. I'm a little bit of a nerd for Cold War, but I have to say that I wasn't aware of Katherine Johnson's role in the space race, nor that of African-American "computers" (hence the title, I suppose). It's meant to be a feel-good movie, and it has scenes to match, but it does a great job of driving home the indignity of segregation against the backdrop of an Apollo 13-like drama. Great stuff, highly recommended.
- Last but not least, here's how you can watch the big Switch reveal on Thursday night. Keep an eye on USG for more news and updates throughout the week.