Earlier this week, Shigeru Miyamoto revealed two of the Wii U games Nintendo will have on display at E3 2012: a new Mario adventure and Pikmin 3. Further comment from the company confirmed these plans, and specified that the Mario game would be based on the prototype shown at E3 2011, which featured a 2D, New Super Mario Bros.-esque approach combined with the presence of Miis. Nintendo also registered SuperMario4.com, lending more support to some sort of 2D-styled platformer.
Though it’s too soon to tell if Nintendo intends both of these games to be ready for the launch of Wii U, both seem to have been in development for some time. We know Nintendo has been working on Pikmin for years, and the Mario demo was at last year’s show, and conceptually wouldn’t seem to need a lengthy development time. At this point, it would be more surprising if the games didn’t make the launch of the system – or its release window.
But will they be enough? While Mario’s last several adventures have burned up the charts, the prospect of returning to the ‘New’ approach yet again isn’t too enticing. Meanwhile Pikmin, which certainly has plenty of potential on Wii U, never found a sizable audience. Either way, it seems like two games won’t be enough for Nintendo.
From a historical sales perspective, Mario makes the case that his next game will give Wii U strength. The Nintendo 3DS’s fortunes were reversed when two games hit worldwide – both starring Nintendo’s mascot. As of earlier this year, Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 are the two best-selling titles in the 3DS’s lifespan, selling 5 and 4.5 million copies respectively. The first New Super Mario Bros. game, on the DS, still stands as that system’s biggest seller, with 26 million units sold. In terms of Nintendo’s home console, all three major Mario titles for Wii have performed incredibly well. Looking at statistics released at the end of 2011, New Super Mario Bros. Wii has accumulated an astonishing 25 million units sold, ranking just behind Wii Play, Mario Kart Wii and the Wii Sports titles as one of Wii’s all-time best-sellers. Super Mario Galaxy has racked up over 10 million units and its sequel, Super Mario Galaxy 2, cleared 6 million copies sold.
Yet of all Nintendo’s demonstrations at E3 2011, the ‘New Super Mario Bros. Mii’ one was the least impressive. Aside from being able to shift the sample levels to the Wii U’s controller, there wasn’t much substance to what we played – or any real innovation for that matter. Granted, that was no doubt a starting point for a much larger experience, but we’re somewhat reserved that an enhanced New Super Mario Bros. is going to be so impressive that it attracts the kind of attention that a launch window Mario game demands. To be completely honest, the ‘New Mario’ experience on DS and Wii, although certainly entertaining, always felt a bit stripped of some of the magic that makes Mario games so endearing. Gone were some of the most interesting power-ups, level designs and challenges that made even the most seasoned gamers break a sweat. They were, in a sense, ‘Mario Lite’, despite their quality in craftsmanship (and innovations, like co-op multiplayer on Wii). For meatier experiences, we still had to wait for the Galaxy entries and 3D Land.
Bring on the power-ups and world maps from Mario 3 and Mario World. Bring on the insane, outlandish level designs from the Galaxy games. Bring on Yoshi, the Koopalings, the difficulty and the fresh concepts that have come to define so many iconic Mario adventures. While some of these elements were certainly present in the ‘New’ titles, we’re looking for all of this, plus the innovation of Wii U and the creativity of 3D Mario adventures. Nintendo’s last couple 2D Mario games were charming because of their retro flavor (and multi-player entertainment), but once the novelty wore off, there was something missing. We weren’t as stunned as we were with the Galaxy titles – or 3D Land, for that matter.
All of that makes us wonder if Mario will accomplish all the Wii U needs it to. The E3 2011 demo failed to impress us not just for its ‘New Mario’ feel, but because it really didn’t strain the imagination. Having a semi-portable home console experience is great, but it’s not stunning. It’s hardly the stuff that will make us drop the $300 or so that Nintendo will no doubt ask. (And if Nintendo’s most dedicated fans resist, how will more casual consumers react?) If what we’ve played, both last year as well as on Wii and DS, sums up the majority of the Mario experience Nintendo is preparing, there’s substantial cause for concern – at least for those waiting for (and needing) proof that Wii U will deliver a new way of gaming.
Perhaps predictably, Pikmin would seem to be in the opposite position. The franchise has never really set fire to the sales charts, with the first installment barely sliding past 1 million units sold globally and the second never even seeing a Wii upgrade here in North America. Yet as Nintendo’s answer to a real-time strategy game, Pikmin is a perfect candidate to prove the value in having a second, touch-enabled screen built into a home console’s controller. One of the few genres that PCs command almost exclusively is now open to Wii U owners. Add in HD graphics and Pikmin could be a real powerhouse – assuming Nintendo can market it properly.
Therein is Pikmin’s weakness – it doesn’t entirely match up with Nintendo’s “bring the hardcore back” messaging. Pikmin definitely falls in line with everything else the publisher does. That’s not good or bad – it’s just the reality of the situation. Pikmin hits explored territory, and doesn’t necessarily find the audience that Nintendo has supposedly lost on its quest to court casual players. There’s no reason to suggest Nintendo needs to suddenly dig deep and find its M-rated roots, but Pikmin isn’t likely, no matter how innovative it is, to really turn heads.
Whatever versions of Mario and Pikmin appear at E3 2012, they’re likely to be good. The pedigree of both franchises has long been established. But will either title provide the kind of support Wii U actually needs? Mario, if it is based largely on the demo we saw, wouldn’t seem poised to convince people to buy a system, even if its predecessors lit up the sales charts. There certainly wasn’t much that had us running to our friends and families the way we did with Super Mario Galaxy or Wii Sports. At last year’s E3, New Mario Bros. Mii was the last game we mentioned when talking about the potential of the system. Pikmin has an even steeper climb, being a title that doesn’t fit Nintendo’s branding needs, nor being an established hit that (most) fans eagerly anticipate. Unfortunately it’s also the one that could prove the concept of Wii U. But what good is that if no one buys it?
Will either title really step beyond the formulas we’ve seen in iterations past? Will Nintendo still need to find more? Will these games be enough to establish Wii U in the minds of the millions that bought its predecessor? Those are the sorts of questions that stir in our minds as Nintendo’s critical showing creeps closer. They are, yet again, indicative of the pressure that looms on the horizon, as Nintendo faces intense scrutiny over its strategy towards the ever-changing video game market.
E3 2012 is less than seven weeks away…