When Nintendo gave its Electronic Entertainment Expo keynote presentation, Tuesday in Los Angeles, the banner above the stage at pretty much said it all:
To Serve Every Gamer.
As taglines go, it definitely had the Golden Arches vibe rocking. The audience, I'm sure, was glad it didn't turn out to be one of those Twilight Zone double entendres where the gaming press end up rolled into a platter of Totino's pizza rolls.
No, this was a declaration, a strategic salvo that put into four simple words the holy grail of the game industry. How odd and how interesting, after two years of watching Microsoft and Sony try to poach the casual demographic Nintendo so carefully cornered with the Wii, that Nintendo would suddenly lurch to try to swipe back the hardcore gaming crowd they've been systematically ignoring.
It's obviously way too soon to tell if Wii U, the bizarre and mysterious successor to the Wii, is going to be the tool that gets them there, starting next year. Having something like Darkstalkers 2 be one of your 2012 launch games is a great start, sure. Debuting it by showing us game footage from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions -- both of which are going to be competing on the same store shelves against the Wii U version when it releases -- seemed like a cheap bait and switch. Here's hoping those HD graphics actually make it from "U" to me -- and that the price tag for the system doesn't sail too far north of $400. Otherwise, it could get ugly.
Wii U, in typical Nintendo fashion, baffled its audience as much as it blew it away. The controller, this tablet/gadget that looks like the iPad's younger sibling, seems to come with everything short of a satellite dish and a food processor on board: A 6.2-inch touch screen, a front-facing camera, motion sensors, rumble, nearly as many buttons, triggers and nubs as a GameCube controller and the ability to keep playing your game when your spouse or significant other hijacks your TV to watch Expedition Impossible. It all seems a little impossible itself -- but then again, so did the concept of motion control in 2006, so Nintendo has earned at least a little benefit of the doubt.
Meanwhile, it was finally time for Nintendo to offer overdue aid and comfort to all the early 3DS adopters who've been wondering what the hell happened to the parade of amazing first-party games it was supposed to feature at launch back in March. (We've pretty much beaten Super Street Fighter IV into the ground at this point) Now we have at least part of our answer: Mario Kart. Super Mario. Star Fox 64. Luigi's Mansion 2. Super Smash Bros. Or maybe not that last one, since apparently nobody has even started development work on it yet.
That last blip is the kind of smoke and mirror trick that's likely to leave Nintendo in a heap of trouble if development takes too long to -- or, god forbid, doesn't -- come to pass. With Sony and Microsoft already sporting firmly ensconced audiences for hardcore games and Apple chomping away at Nintendo' casual base, Big N is going to have to lean hard on its unique franchises and hope that Wii U is different enough from the competition to lure the faithful.