Now seal the deal!
It took you long enough, Ninty.
I love my Wii U as a lifelong gamer, someone who craves that meticulous hand-crafted quality that only Nintendo lavishes on their exclusives, and the system has a lot to shout about. Its best games put both next-gen systems to shame in terms of variety, polish and fun factor. Not to mention frame rate. The GamePad controller is fantastic, MiiVerse is fascinating and did I mention those awesome games? I did? Just checking.
And yet I've been forced to write and say some rather damning things over the last few months, both about the Wii U and the way Nintendo has handled it thus far. The game selection is just as famous for its gaps as its content, the wrong games were prioritised too soon (sorry, but a Pikmin game releasing before a Mario Kart title is criminal), the message was confusing and Nintendo were left making the worst of a bad situation. I'm as sick of reading hyperbolic 'Nintendo are doomed' stories as I am of writing about sales figures -- you know, since we're GAMERS, not marketing executives -- but there's no denying that the Wii U stumbled off the line in a disappointing false start.
However, this week saw the oft-sluggish Nintendo suddenly roll up its sleeves, throw itself headlong into the fray and start fighting hard to make the Wii U a success. And more importantly, finally competing with their home console rivals on the fundamental issues.
The Wii U has spent the last two years quietly amassing a games library that makes dedicated gamers go weak at the knees. From the superlative Super Mario 3D World to The Wonderful 101, Wind Waker 3D, Tropical Freeze and even New Super Mario Bros U, supported by backwards compatibility that lets gamers catch up with the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles and Wii Sports, the rampant quality of its offerings has only increased even as the price has steadily fallen to tempting levels. It should be a no-brainer purchase, a perfect second console if not a coinoisseur's dream buy, yet... and let's be honest with ourselves here, people... the Wii U just doesn't have a system seller.
Pikmin, New Super Mario Bros and Donkey Kong are fan-pleasers that delight existing console owners, but they don't shift bundles (they never have). Niche powerhouses like Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and The Wonderful 101 have quality in spades, but can't shoulder an entire system. Nintendo Land was a tech demo that never captured the imagination to anywhere near the extent that Wii Sports did, while even the exquisite Super Mario 3D World couldn't make a dent, partly down to its ill-advised release date and uninspiring name.
As such, Nintendo haven't really had a hook to grab gamers in beyond us longtime veterans, and little to shout about or market, leaving them to vaguely waffle about 'quality of life' and backwards compatibility where no-one could hear them.
But Mario Kart 8 is a system seller. A big, juicy fat one of the first degree. Two-and-a-half killer apps sellotaped together. An opportunity to finally make some noise and drum up some real excitement beyond existing fans... and a company infamous for being sluggish and slow-to-act suddenly galvanised into a flurry of decisive action.
Taking clear inspiration from the impact of surprise album launches (see also: including Beyonce and David Bowie), Nintendo released a massive Nintendo Direct presentation with no warning, tweeted up a storm and deployed a huge number of Youtube adverts. They showed off Mario Kart 8 to full advantage, letting us behold its eyepopping visuals, tracks, new features, powerups, characters and sheer honest-to-goodness wholesome fun in a truly emphatic thirty minutes. Surprise!
The effect was dramatic to say the least. Mario Kart instantly started trending on Twitter and Facebook. Blog posts were written, forums lit up and news outlets went berserk as the news spread like wildfire. By cutting out the usual channels and creating genuine excitement about Mario Kart 8, Nintendo hit hard and took no prisoners.
And then revealed that everyone who buys and registers Mario Kart 8 before the end of July gets a free game; not just shovelware fluff, but a massive first or second-party title. Existing fans get to double their money, but for those who were sitting on the fence and waiting for the Wii U to offer them a killer app, suddenly they've got two reasons to get involved this summer. At a ludicrously low price.
Which is the perfect message they've been desperately waiting for. The Wii U has great exclusive games and offers great value. That's actually something worth shouting about, that's something worth getting excited about - and lo, surprise surprise, we are. Curve Studios' newfound support also dropped at an opportune time, demonstrating that indies are getting excited about the eShop's potential too.
A masterstroke. Nothing less than a masterstroke. But now Nintendo has to maintain has to maintain this momentum for the rest of the year.
Indeed, they have to seal the deal. They've made an offer we'd be mad to refuse, but now they need to build on this foundation with an emphatic E3 showing; demonstrating big new games to shout about (new Zelda or GTFO), give us new details on the likes of X (Monolith Soft are absolute legends and we desperately need more info - otherwise I'm flying out to Japan and making a scene) and cement their position; demonstrating that a great impulse buy won't just gather dust after playing Mario Kart 8 to death, rather becoming an investment in future gaming pleasure.
Nintendo needs to continue ramping up their advertising and hammering home their message -- great games, great value -- while also doing a better job at courting mainstream media (the broadsheets, rags and news networks) with media-facing events too. After all, though us gamers watch embedded livestreams and pore over gaming news, the massive dormant Wii-owning casual audience don't. But they do read newspapers, glossy mags and watch TV. Whether their digital-only E3 showing can accomplish that remains to be seen.
Yes, questions do remain. Nintendo are historically poor at maintaining momentum after the SNES years - can they do it this time? Will they deliver the games we crave in a timely fashion - for years to come? Can they get their message out to everyone? All important concerns, but whatever the answers, it's great to see them actually getting involved, being proactive and competing.
Nintendo came out swinging this week. Now, hopefully, they'll deliver the knockout blow.