By: Alex J. Lopez, alexjlopezmw@twitter, alexjlopezwmr@googleplus
It’s hard to dispute that E3’s 2012 show pretty much belongs to Nintendo. Riding high on the sudden interest in 3DS adoption (driven mainly by a big price cut and some key game releases), Nintendo averted going into E3 this year with the task of introducing a new system in the shadow of a recently failed one. Gamers have at least gone from indifferent about the brand to lukewarm or better, which is a start. Nintendo made some big promises at last year’s expo about better addressing the core audience and partnering with third party game makers to fix some of the shortcomings of the Wii generation, and E3 2012 will be their first opportunity to provide tangible proof of those changes. Showing how they’ll deliver on those promises will drive gamer and games media reception of this year’s show, though we’ve all learned that won’t necessarily dictate success one way or another. Nintendo could very well decide to stick with their quest to provide game experiences everyone can enjoy without catering to the needs of any niche group. For those who actively follow the games industry, most of us will likely feel that’s a mistake–primarily because it means less emphasis on our own niche group. But Nintendo has always found a way to find success where none of us suspected or even guessed it could be had, and surprises are what makes Nintendo, well…Nintendo.
With these thoughts in mind, I go into E3 2012 expecting the unexpected, but looking at a flood of rumors, clues, and historical reminders to go by in the difficult but undeniably fun task of making predictions for what we’ll learn in the days surrounding June 5 when Nintendo will conduct it’s yearly press conference.
And so, in no particular order, here are my predictions:
1) Big surprises in the e-shop on June 5
Over the years we’ve gotten free games, firmware updates offering new functionality, and other online goodies available for download the day of Nintendo’s E3 press conference. It would not surprise me at all for Nintendo to steal Microsoft’s or Sony’s thunder by releasing something cool and unexpected in the minutes prior to their own press conferences as well, causing game journalists to scramble to download them with the folks on stage attempting to get everyone excited about their own offerings while staring down at a sea of 3DS’s. Either way, I’d say there is just about a 100% chance we’ll get something cool in the e-shop on June 5.
2) An all-new Club Nintendo
Tied in with the already unveiled Nintendo Network, my guess is that we’ll see a revamped Club Nintendo system that integrates communications (messaging, chat, and video chat), 3D picture and video sharing services, game gifting, and possibly achievement tracking. The program will include a new smartphone app that among other things will feature a “Streetpass on-the go” functionality that will support both 3DS and Wii U, allowing for collecting Streetpass hits via your phone that sync to your Club Nintendo account and automatically update to your console or handheld. Because of Nintendo’s stance on not releasing their own games for Apple’s devices, Apple will repeatedly reject Nintendo’s app in the approval process, causing Nintendo to release the app on Android OS first and exclusively for an unknown period of time. The new Club Nintendo will also feature the addition of coin rewards for completing certain “special” achievements in games–coins that can be used for redeeming rewards on Club Nintendo. Club Nintendo rewards will begin to become more “virtual” in nature as opposed to the physical goods we’ve become accustomed to, and will include full games as well as in-game content for first-party published games. Also a possibility will be a social feature that allows you to watch streaming video of other gamers during live gameplay–the feature is intended to promote the games themselves as well as support spectator mode for live game tournaments events.
3) Full-length 3D movies come to 3DS
With the continuing flood of 3D movies from Hollywood, movie studios (perhaps not including Sony) will be more than accommodating when negotiating terms with Nintendo on releasing full-length 3D motion pictures on what many consider a “gateway” device that can introduce 3D movies to consumers on a relatively low cost (yet mainstream) device. 3DS’s cumulative year-one sales may convince movie studios to take the plunge and offer game-card based 3D movies priced at $20 to $30. Otherwise, Nintendo could complete a deal with a streaming service such as Vudu that already offers 3D streaming movies (to own or rent) on set-top devices as well as built-in to TV’s using hardware that’s less sophisticated than what 3DS has under the hood.
4) Legend of Paper Zelda comes to Wii U and…Wii!
Nintendo still expects to sell plenty of units of the orginal Wii console, especially now since all indications are the little white box will see a $99 msrp before the end of the year. In order to close the gap between systems, Nintendo will once again bring The Legend of Zelda in as a bridge title the way they did with Twilight Princess on GameCube and Wii. This time they’ll do it with Legend of Paper Zelda, an RPG spin-off in the tradition of the Paper Mario RPGs.
5) Smash Bros. sequel for 3DS and Wii U headlines first-party lineup
‘Nuff said. Although it will not be a launch window title for Wii U, a mere glimpse at gameplay video for both Wii U and 3DS will bring the loudest cheers of Nintendo’s E3 2012 show, and will simultaneously put Wii U on every gamer’s radar and make Sony’s Smash Bros. clone irrelevant. The game will be announced as a late 2013 release and will include cross-platform play, some insane third-party character inclusions (think popular fighting game franchise headliners on this one), and the ability to download and use “not on disc” DLC characters that will be released in the Wii U e-shop for years to come. In a related development, DLC on Wii U and future 3DS titles will play a large role in nurturing “evergreen” titles long after they launch. I’m confident they’ll offer this type of content as add-on’s as opposed to unlockables, as Nintendo has made it clear to investors they do not approve of this practice, labeling it as “gashapon content” where you are asked to pay and before you know what you are getting.
6) Retro Studios developed Metroid Prime 4 announced as a Wii U launch title
Metroid Prime 4 will school developers on how to create a fantastic first-person shooter experience leveraging the Wii U controller’s touch screen for more than just real-time maps. Metroid Prime 4 will feature a full single player game plus a feature-rich online multiplayer experience including voice and video chat, achievements, and future paid DLC map-packs intended to push the title to “evergreen” status. In the long-run, Metroid Prime 4 will sell more copies than Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 across all platforms, and Nintendo will have it’s “Halo” franchise to appease the FPS obsessed.
7) The Return of the Regginator
Reggie, who to many core gamers has seemed somewhat “de-balled” in recent years, will break Nintendo’s long standing tradition of not commenting on tech specs and proclaim on stage that when Wii U launches it will be “the most powerful video game console in history”. Soon after Microsoft and Sony’s new consoles launch, Nintendo will resume their long-standing tradition of not commenting on tech specs and reminding us that “it’s all about the games”.
8 ) The Wavebird 2 takes flight
Recognizing that there is a home for cross-platform games that do not make use of Nintendo’s special controller, Wii U will launch with an “available but sold-separately” Wireless Classic Controller Pro, which may or may not use the Wavebird branding. Nintendo will push a variety of controllers including their own Nyko-ish wireless nunchuck for Wii U, and encourage third-party game makers to produce their own connected controllers and peripherals (supported by a more open SDK) to promote diverse game experiences and to discourage the flood of “plastic shell” add-ons.
9) Wii U hardware revelations
Due to range limitations for the Wii U controller when used as a primary screen, Nintendo will offer a “range extender” peripheral that will allow for play in any room throughout the house. Nintendo will opt to offer this as an add-on rather than boosting the hardware to accommodate a longer range in order to keep the price of the console down.
Nintendo will also forgo the inclusion of hard drive support on Wii U and instead support SDXC media, which currently supports cards up to 64gb and will eventually support cards up to 128gb. Need more space? Buy more cards–they swap in and out easily. In related news, all your purchased Virtual Console games for the original Wii will be playable on Wii U, but WiiWare will be subject to publisher discretion. All first-party WiiWare will be playable on either console.
10) F-Zero, Yoshi, and Wario franchises headline launch window first-party Wii U titles
Along with the already promised all-new Super Mario game (which will be officially unveiled as Super Mario Bros. 4) and Pikmin 3, all-new games in the F-Zero, Yoshi, and Wario franchises will be unveiled as launch window first-party Wii U titles. F-Zero will be graphically stunning and core audience focused, the Yoshi game will likely be an intriguing, yet tech-demoish showcase for the new controller, and the Wario game will be a console version of the DS’s WarioWare DIY game which will feature surprisingly robust mini-game construction tools and make heavy use of the Nintendo Network for downloading and trading player created games.
One of these five games will be the pack-in for Wii U.
Third-party offerings in the launch window will consist of a mish-mash of 360/PS3 ports (like the ones already announced), but will include a handful of intriguing exclusives from Ubisoft, Konami, and Capcom. There will be no promises of Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto releases on Wii U, but Kevine Levine will appear on stage to demo Bioshock Infinite with Wii U controller support and Crystal Dynamics will also confirm a Wii U version of the Tomb Raider reboot that was unveiled at E3 last year.
11) Launch day freebies on Wii U
Among the launch day Wii U free, pre-installed/downloadable “apps” (Nintendo will continue to distance itself from the “Ware” branding for digital content) will be a drawing and animation studio app, some free mini games (most of which are comprised of E3 tech demos), social media apps (Facebook and Twitter to start), and video streaming apps (Netflix and Hulu on day one, Vudo to come at a later date). A Kindle app will also be available at launch and will be heavily featured by Nintendo, making the Wii U controller an at-home e-reader alternative. Absent will be a Wii U version of the Nintendo Channel, which will relaunch in a different format at a later date.
12) Gamecube titles on Wii U Virtual Console
Gamecube games will make their long awaited debut on Virtual Console, in this case, as downloadable titles for Wii U. Also appearing on Virtual Console for the first time on Wii U will be Sega Saturn and Sega Dreamcast games.
13) Freemium games invade the Wii U e-shop
Led by Ubisoft and EA, the Wii U shop will be stocked with third-party “freemium” titles, many of which will be touch screen-based ports of smartphone games. 3DS freemium games will follow shortly thereafter. Success of these “experiments” in console freemium games will be dictated by whether or not Nintendo elects to support in-app purchases through Nintendo’s own “wallet” system, which they are considering but approaching with caution.
14) Last second megaton: Final Fantasy VII remake to launch as a Wii U exclusive
The long-awaited remake of Final Fantasy VII will launch as a Wii U exclusive, and Square Enix will be sworn to secrecy about the possibility of it launching on competing consoles until a later date. This announcement will be made at the last second by representatives from Square Enix joining Iwata and Reggie on stage, very much like they did at the Microsoft E3 presser in 2006.
15) Wii U launch delayed until 2013
I’m going out on a limb with this one, and I know people will wave this off, but troubles experienced with early dev kits (particularly with streaming video to the controller screen) will force Nintendo to delay the launch of Wii U until Spring of 2013. Nintendo will choose the lesser of two evils and launch after the lucrative holiday season rather than launch with a weak software lineup. Also driving this decision will be the difficulty in ramping up production to a point where they could feasibly support manufacturing enough units for a busy holiday launch. Historically, none of the leading consoles in their own generations had a fast start out of the gate except for the original Wii, and Nintendo won’t view this as much of a priority as getting the pricing and launch lineup right. A ramped-up launch will also satisfy investors as a conservative move to test the waters as opposed to the high costs of supporting manufacturing for a busy holiday season with no sales data to indicate the system will see early adoption in high enough numbers.
So, what do you think? Let us know in the comments or hit me up on Google Plus or Twitter!