By now, you've probably seen Nintendo's new pre-E3 video this week; if not, it's posted below and it's more or less worth your time at a length of only five minutes. In yet another "buck the trend" move from the big N, we have what is likely the first comedic E3 hype video distributed by one of the major first party console manufacturers (co-produced with gaming comedy troupe Mega64).
NINTENDO DIGITAL EVENT
While this video may be an unusual move, the E3 plan it outlines should be no surprise to anyone who paid attention to Nintendo at E3 2013. Just like last year, they are sidestepping a live keynote presentation/stage show and will instead be airing a pre-recorded video with their major announcements. They have, at least, given it a unique name: "Nintendo Digital Event," which sets it apart slightly from Nintendo's countless other video presentations.
Last year's E3 show was simply another "Nintendo Direct," which didn't even stream very well for most viewers. It had a sort of metered calmness that certainly didn't compare to the excitement many felt watching competitor Sony's live keynote. My hope is that the new name, coupled with the teaser video, indicates an intent to make a more lavishly-produced affair that communicates some of the expected E3 fanfare that a live show generates.
In addition to the main "Digital Event" presentation, which will probably stay around the 45-minute mark last last year's, we've also been promised a few other treats for E3.
LIVE FROM NINTENDO TREEHOUSE
I remember the first time I got a glimpse of Nintendo's fabled "Treehouse," the most secretive portion of Nintendo of America's headquarters where games are developed (sort of), tested and localized for the North American market: it was a VHS tape from Nintendo Power magazine hyping the soon-to-be-released SNES classic Donkey Kong Country.
It was a magical look behind the curtains into Nintendo's headquarters, and I watched this tape more than I probably have should scouring for details or secrets. In an age before internet videos and game makers having a voice on Twitter, it was a really rare thing to get see any part of the gaming industry, much less in video form. But here was proof that there were offices of adults toiling away at...Donkey Kong. So awesome.
The memory resonates, so I'm excited to see that Nintendo is bringing the Treehouse back into the limelight once again with "Live from Nintendo Treehouse." It's hard to say exactly what this will mean for those of us watching E3 online, as the tag line for this "event" indicates that it may just a live Q&A area for those actually on the show floor. I'm hoping there is a broadcast component of this so we can all enjoy meeting this typically clandestine group.
SUPER SMASH BROS. INVITATIONAL
Look, I get that Smash Bros. is a major system seller for Nintendo, so it makes sense for them to focus on the title in a big way at E3. Tournaments have long been part of Smash Bros. culture, so having a sort of elite, official brawl (pul intended) during E3 is probably a good idea.
It's just that I'm not super excited by it.
E3 is, for me, about the game and hardware announcements, trailers that show off new ways to play, and sparking the collective imagination of the gaming community. A tournament is fun and dramatic in the way that a basketball game grabs your attention at a sports bar, but it does not signal paradigm shifts in how we will experience the future of interactive entertainment.
SMASH-FEST @ BEST BUY
Again, we look to the past: E3 2013 may not have had the big stage show, but it did feature a pretty cool idea from Nintendo that brought the spirit of the convention to fans at Best Buy locations all around the country. I was pretty stoked for the chance to try upcoming games without having to shell out the cash required to attend E3 in person. For 2014, Nintendo is trying this play again with the chance to play Super Smash Bros. at Best Buy locations.
Here's the thing: last year's event sounded cool, but the execution left a lot to be desired.
There were four games available to play: Mario Kart 8, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, and Super Mario 3D World. While this was a great lineup, each Best Buy only got one demo station, so you only got to play one of the four games. On top of that, the incredibly long lines and lengthy demos (7-10 minutes) meant that they moved at a snail's pace. Some of the games, like Super Mario 3D World, at least let four players get to play at once, but if someone in line picked Wind Waker, they just got to hog the kiosk for the full time.
It's great that Nintendo wanted to give fans such meaty experiences, but the reality was that many people (like me) who had waited for hours didn't even get a chance to play anything at all. Sure, I got to watch the demoes from the line, and there were ample StreetPass opportunities with nearly everyone in attendance toting a 3DS, but it felt like they were completely unprepared for the sheer number of fans that supported the event.
Of course, that's part of the reason why we're getting a sequel with the Smash-Fest @ Best Buy, but it's noteworthy that they've chosen to focus this year's offering completely on Super Smash Bros. While this may mean that they'll have figured out a better to keep the event (and players) flowing more efficiently, it also means that there's a lot less to which we can look forward. For now, I'm not even confident I'll attend the event as I'm simply not a huge fan of the Smash series.
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We obviously don't know what exactly Nintendo has in store for us at this year's E3, but we know it won't be a return to the stage shows of yore. In some ways, that's not a bad thing. But, in other ways, it just feels like a missed chance for one of the most-loved companies not to have a more human presence at gaming's biggest week of the year.
I remain cautiously optimistic that the Mega64 pre-E3 video we got this week is a sign of a Nintendo ready to have some fun with its fans, but are they going to wow us? Do they have new announcements and exciting, new games in store? Have they made progress on 3rd party support for Wii U?
My biggest worry is that they will spend too much of this E3 hyping Super Smash Bros. in a desperate attempt to move some Wii U consoles this holiday. Don't misunderstand: I want to see Nintendo's home console succeed in a much bigger way than it has, but I don't think the solution is to focus on one huge game.
I recently wrote a post highlighting five tips for Nintendo this summer, and the two biggest things from that list I'd like to see Nintendo address at E3 are killer apps for the GamePad and real movement on getting third parties to be interested in the system again.
So far, we know they'll have Smash Bros., but the rest is a mystery. Here's hoping they have a few more tricks up their sleeves.