E3 2012: Nintendo's 'comeback' gets mixed reviews

Analysis: Amidst demos of anticipated games such as "Halo 4" and "The Last of Us" at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Nintendo focused on its upcoming console, the Wii U. Does Nintendo's new hardware have a chance at beating Microsoft and Sony's "system-sellers"?

Phil McCarten/Reuters
Nintendo hopes the new Wii U will score the rave reviews that helped make its predecessor the world's biggest gaming hit.

This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) hasn’t yielded any major surprises. Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed 3” presentation earned a few “Best of Show” ribbons after showing the upcoming game's main assassin, Connor, battling English soldiers on land and the open sea. Sony studio Naughty Dog, which created the popular “Uncharted” series, further unveiled the post-apocalyptic, third-person shooter, "The Last of Us," earning nearly universal critical acclaim. 

Perhaps the most unsurprising outcome of E3 is that Nintendo, which finally showed off more of the Wii U, didn’t get much love from the critics – despite revealing next-generation hardware well before Sony and Microsoft. Can Nintendo, once the most powerful name in the video game industry, still compete? Even with a flashy new system?

It has before. Nintendo broke records in December 2009, selling a whopping 3.81 million units that month. PlayStation 3 sold less than half that, at 1.36 million units. It looked like the video game company, fondly remembered for the 1985 Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), was king again.

But Wii sales dropped 31.5 percent from January 2010 to February 2011, according to PC Mag. Nintendo announced the Wii U four months later, at last year’s E3. At this year’s event, Nintendo design chief Shigeru Miyamoto kicked off a show full of demos, such as “New Super Mario Bros. U” and “Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition." Despite the “beautiful rich graphics” of the former and “unique Batman experience” of the latter, some are skeptical that the Wii U can one-up the original Wii. Or any other consoles.

“The Wii was so definitely something – but the Wii U just isn’t branded in the same way,” Forbes says. “Nintendo should be stealing the show as the only company with anything truly new to show off. And yet they’re almost more boring for the presence of that new hardware…it doesn’t bode well for its chances with the world at large.”

Nintendo isn’t doing its job of “keep[ing] our industry young,” especially since Sony and Microsoft have been mute on whether they’ll be releasing new consoles anytime soon, according to another Forbes article.

“Instead of fighting like a champion against the toughest of competitors, and instead of reminding consumers why console gaming is and should always be a cherished form of entertainment, Nintendo has done nothing to ensure the success of its next game machine,” Louis Bedigian writes in Forbes. 

Mr. Bedigian argues that none of the games that will be released for Wii U – which features a controller with a touchscreen, allowing users to play games on a television, on the controller itself, or both – are “system-sellers.” This may be the key to the continued success of consoles like the PlayStation 3, which boasts the “Uncharted” games, and Xbox 360, which has the “Halo” series.

Nintendo’s focus on releasing third-party games like “Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition” could also prove problematic. “Arkham City” was released in October 2011 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Likewise, “Arkham City” and Ubisoft’s “ZombiU” were the only gritty titles demoed in the presentation, as opposed to the other eight that had a distinctly G-rated feel (“Lego City: Undercover,” “Nintendoland”).

But this is part of the problem. The Wii beat Sony and Microsoft by letting them fight each other over gritty games. Wii was something else altogether – charming, welcoming, and equally enticing to kids and grandma. At this point, Wii U is trying to be everything, but isn't yet succeeding at anything.

Still, others are optimistic about Nintendo’s ability to impress, despite potential problems including the timing of the Wii U’s release.

“There still is a lot to like about the Wii U,” Entertainment Weekly says. “But in this economy, Nintendo’s got some serious work to do if they hope to maintain their place atop the videogame market-share mountain.”

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

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