As Summer Games Fest has replaced the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), early June remains a special place on the video game calendar. Gamers of all stripes are conditioned to expect a slew of announcements around this time of year—especially from Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony. One decade ago, however, the House of Mario decided to forego a live showcase. Instead, they held a “Nintendo Direct”. This game-changing move helped Nintendo better show off the concepts of their games and hardware and made it easier for consumers to consume information with less talking and more games to show off. Yet, their final live conference will hold a strange place in history as the end of an era with a monumental announcement.
The year is 2012, and the Wii is on its way to six years on the market, bucking the console maker’s trend of five-year life cycles. Gamers know the Wii U is on the way, the only question was how will Nintendo handle the launch of the successor to their most successful console? The answer isn’t so clear, however. While the motion control console is in almost every household imaginable (over 101 million units over its lifetime according to Nintendo), the fanbase is more fractured than ever. The term “casual gamer” was popularized during this time largely thanks to the accessibility of the Wii, though it was not used as a term of endearment. That said, Nintendo was clearly at the forefront of conversations heading into E3 2012 as a result.
Broadcasting from the Nokia Theatre at 9 a.m. on June 5, 2012, the “Nintendo All-Access Presentation @ E3 2012”. It starts with a pre-taped video of Senior Managing Director at Nintendo Shigeru Miyamoto, getting ready to hit the stage while little Pikmin hide in his dressing room. He walks out to the applause of everyone, and he tells the crowd he wants to talk about Pikmin 3—the first big game reveal for the console. With improved visuals, multiple ways to play, new Pikmin, and multiple new characters, this was the strongest possible way to start the show. It also doesn’t hurt to have an absolute legend in the industry showing off his latest creation.
Despite the strong start, things started going sideways once Miyamoto walks off the stage. The morning’s emphasis was on how the console maker is ready to jump into the world of modern gaming. The only issue was, Nintendo’s plan to highlight their first ever HD console came when the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are at the end of their respective life cycles. By 2013, the Wii U would find itself in the same place the Nintendo Wii was in 2006, an interesting console that lacked power.
Still, it’s clear from the presentation that Nintendo wants their game box to be central to the living room, without being bound to the TV. The controller also doubles as a remote control, and with the inclusion of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and YouTube, it’s clear the intention was for the Wii U to be a go-to entertainment unit. Though, it lacks any ability to play Blu-ray discs.
The hook of the day is “Asymmetric gameplay”—a style of gaming where one player experiences a different way of playing compared to others at the same time. It’s interesting to see Nintendo lean into this type of gameplay this far back, especially with games like Dead By Daylight exploding onto the scene later in the decade. There is also a strong emphasis on the number of titles, though it did mean there is a surprising amount of underwhelming content on offer.
For instance, we got: New Super Mario Bros. U, Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition, Darksiders II, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, Tekken Tag Tournament, Mass Effect 3, and Wii Fit U. Sure, the Wii U has the appeal of the gamepad to allure players back to, say, Mass Effect 3, but most of the third party content is already available on other consoles, and their first party offerings, which include the reveal of Nintendo Land, don’t exactly set the world on fire.
“By 2013, the Wii U would find itself in the same place the Nintendo Wii was in 2006, an interesting console that lacked power.”
Later in the show, we see Ubisoft’s commitment to the console, and while we are treated to Rayman Legends and Assassin’s Creed III, the most notable title is Zombi U. A revived franchise returns as console exclusive for a breath of fresh air. More importantly, Nintendo is willing to show off a violent M-rated title as something you can only play on their new console.
This is a stark contrast in comparison to how the company operated during the Wii era, where fans were drip-fed small adult-oriented games here and there. Of all the titles shown, this is one of the strongest. Upon its release alongside the Wii U on November 18, 2012, Zombi U stands as a genuinely unique experience with its integration of the console’s gamepad. Despite later releasing on the PlayStation 4 in 2015, the Wii U edition of Zombi still holds up as the definitive version.
The Wii U isn’t the entire focus of the show, however. There is a small segment for the 3DS with a smaller-scale second show to show off more content for the handheld console the following day. Still, at this main showcase, Scott Moffit, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Nintendo America Inc walks out to unveil New Super Mario Bros 2 and Paper Mario: Sticker Star along with Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. This is followed by a highlight reel of multiple third-party games, including but not limited to: Castlevania: Lord of Shadow – Mirror of Fate and Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance.
By the time the show ends, fans are left underwhelmed. In fact, according to Vulturebeat, NeoGaf users really dislike this show with most of them reacting negatively to everything except for Pikmin 3, New Super Mario Bros. U, and Scribblenauts Unlimited. Interestingly enough, users also like the ability to use the gamepad alongside other controllers.
In our own wrap-up of Nintendo’s E3 2012 broadcast, Phil Brown said he feels “excited, but underwhelmed” following the presentation. It’s not the foot Nintendo wants to start off on, and unfortunately, their console never took off the way the Wii did. In fact, it felt like the Big N couldn’t wait to ditch the Wii U for the Switch. It’s a shame things shook out the way they did for the Wii U right from the get-go. If the Switch is any proof, the follow-up to the Wii is home to some great titles that eventually got a second life on the Nintendo’s hybrid console. The messaging for the console was just off, and it wasn’t long until the concept of Directs were introduced to take the place of live shows.
Overall, Nintendo’s last live E3 All-Access Presentation will be forever immortalized. At the time, it was so poorly received, fans wrote off the console before it even launched. No one felt as though it was a historic moment for the company. Yet, over a decade later, it holds an interesting place in the history of gaming. It was the last time the company ever held a live press conference to unveil video games or hardware. As a result, they managed to change the way announcements are made.