Nintendo have never really subscribed to the idea that one lives and dies by the third-party sword. Far more likely to be hoisted by their own petard, relationships between the Big N and third-party partners have been inconsistent, to put it mildly. Infuriatingly fractious would be another way of putting it. We've said it time and again on this site that Nintendo have always held their destiny within their own hands. These days, gamers don't buy Nintendo consoles for third-party titles, some may well argue that we never have. It's all about the first-party exclusives.
Looking at the Wii U as it stands now, though, it's difficult to argue that there's not a damn fine line up of games to be had on the system. With titles like Pikmin 3, The Wonderful 101, LEGO City Undercover, Super Mario 3D World, and Wind Waker HD, not to mention definitive versions of the likes of Rayman Legends and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The future is bright, too, with Mario Kart 8 just around the corner, Bayonetta 2, Smash Bros. and the mysterious X still to come.
Satoru Iwata believes one game can change the fortunes of the Wii U, and he's absolutely spot on.
"The fate of a video game system is often influenced greatly by the introduction of a single title. As many of you probably remember, before the release of the Pokémon game, Game Boy had been showing slow growth, and many people wondered whether it was the end of Game Boy. But the Pokémon game singlehandedly changed the landscape of the system, which then started to show the strongest sales in the lifecycle of the system."
We've seen it time and time again, particularly from Nintendo. But one can't help but feel that the One Game Iwata is referring to is yet to be unveiled.
Mario Kart 8 will certainly help, as will Nintendo finally getting up off of their arses and at last making a song and dance about one of their exclusives. Hiding Super Mario 3D World in an existing Mario bundle at the time when Sony's incredibly loud PS4 launch party was kicking off was tantamount to sheer idiocy. But the new Wii U MK8 bundle, along with that incredibly attractive free game offer designed to showcase that, contrary to popular belief, the Wii U actually has a pretty good lineup of exclusives, is a great package. With top tier reviews having been propelled out of the gates very early indeed as the embargo lifted today, Nintendo finally look like they're ready to do business.
But is Mario Kart 8 the game to turn the fortunes of the Wii U around? The answer, I fear, is no.
I'd posit that Mario Kart has always been the second game you buy with any Nintendo console, but rarely the first. It's the game that everyone who has a Nintendo console buys -- because why the hell wouldn't you?! -- but it's not the game that you buy your console for.
Regarding my own personal history with Nintendo consoles, with the SNES it was Super Mario World, Street Fighter II, and A Link to the Past that excited me before Mario Kart. When it came to the N64, I bought that console for GoldenEye, first and foremost, with Super Mario 64 coming a close second. I think back to my time with my lovely purple GameCube and I think of Metroid Prime and Super Smash Bros. Melee and, the reason I got a GameCube in the first place, Rogue Leader. The Wii really went no further than Wii Sports. It was the perfect pack-in, and the only game we'd ever really need to be honest. Wii Sports got that console into everyone's homes, Mario Kart Wii then released to take advantage of the vast install base.
And that's the point. Mario Kart has never been used to assemble an audience before, it's always been the game that comes along a couple of years after launch and capitalises on the existing install base.It's a cracking title for when you already own a Nintendo console, it's a must-buy uinder those circumstances. But I'm not sure you'd ever drop a few hundred quid on a console just to play Mario kart, especially when the iterations (especially lately) have seemed so similar.
In Mario Kart 8's defence, it looks like the most promising instalment in the series since, well, Mario Kart 7, itself arguably the finest karter since MK64. But that might not be enough to make it Iwata's One Game. Worse still, there's nothing on the horizon that looks like filling that gap and becoming the hero title Nintendo so desperately needs (but probably doesn't deserve). Bayonetta 2 and X might well be astonishingly good titles, but they're niche propositions at best. And Smash Bros. suffers from the same issue Mario Kart does -- it's a great IP to have in your stable for when your console is in a large number of homes. But it won't smash those doors in for you.
Only Mario can do that. Or Link. Or Ash Ketchum. Or maybe, just maybe, Samus.
But Nintendo have to be bold, and they'd better bring it to E3. It feels like this is a do or die E3 for Nintendo. They've had so much time, two completely free consecutive convention seasons that they've completely squandered, and now Microsoft and Sony are done talking about hardware and services. They're going to be bringing their massive games to E3. Their third-party partners are going to be bringing their massive games to E3 (most of which, I'd wager, will struggle to find their way onto the Wii U). Nintendo have to go big or go home when it comes to the Wii U, and that means a decisive new Mario game -- a true successor to Galaxy. That should mean a brand, spanking new Zelda title too, not a sparkling rehash of former glories, however pretty they may look in HD.
For my money, and Zeipher's too I'm sure, a huge, epic, fully-fledged, 3D Pokemon RPG that syncs up with your handheld collections and your Pokemon Bank, would be a wondrous thing to announce. It would be cataclysmic (for the Wii U anyway). Iwata says that the Wii U is waiting for its Pokemon moment. So give the Wii U its Pokemon moment, Iwata!!! The President is right: one game could very well be all it takes to truly get people excited for the Wii U. The question is, do Nintendo still have it in them?