No surprises from Nintendo at E3 2013

LOS ANGELES—Microsoft and Sony spent all day Monday pushing console gaming into the future with a focus on cloud-connected features, mobile integration, and a parade of new games like Titanfall and The Crew.

However, the 45-minute Nintendo Direct video aired Tuesday at E3 proved that the Japanese gaming giant is taking a decidedly different—and much safer—tack for the foreseeable future.

Nintendo is kicking it old school.

No doubt hoping to silence the complaints about the dreary selection of titles available for the Wii U, Nintendo unveiled a slew of games this morning that heavily relied on the star power of the company’s deep bench.

Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, Pikmin, and even former arch-rival Sonic the Hedgehog are all putting in time on Nintendo’s platforms in the coming months. It’s enough to make an older gamer swoon.

Mario Kart 8 looks great, but it's not particularly innovative.

But still…You can’t help but shake the feeling that Nintendo played it safe this year.

Game round-up

Super Mario 3D World looks like a four-player open-world blast, but at its heart, the game basically seems to be a mix of last year’s Super Mario Bros. U and the classic Super Mario Bros. 2 NES game. (Toad and Princess Peach join forces with Mario and Luigi, each bringing a unique power to the table.)

Smash Bros. is back, with Mega Man and the Wii Fit lady.

Mario Kart 8 tosses in new, gravity-defying carts, but it’s essentially just another refresh created solely to bring the crowd-pleasing game to the Wii U. The as-yet-unnamed Super Smash Bros. sequel adds Mega Man to the mix (Yessssss!) but little else.

  • The 3DS-bound Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, set in the same universe as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) Link to the Past.
  • Pikmin 3, once a launch title for the system, now due on the market in August.
  • The platform adventure Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (from the aptly-named Retro Studios).
  • An HD update to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
  • Pokemon X and Pokemon Y. (Can you get excited about "new Fairy type" as a feature?)
  • Numerous ports of big-name third-party titles, including Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Batman: Arkham Origins, and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.

I could go on and on. (Adding insult to injury, the one update I’d love to see—a Metroid refresh—was nowhere to be seen.)

Donkey Kong Country is great, but it's not a system-seller.

What’s more, many of these games won’t even be available until the very end of this year, and some—including Mario Kart 8, X, Bayonetta 2, and a mech-tacular new RPG from Monolithsoft, the maker of Xenogears and Xenoblade Chronicles—won’t hit the streets until 2014.

A solid single, but Nintendo needed a home run

Now, that’s not to say Nintendo’s newly unveiled software lineup is a complete disappointment. Even though all these titles stick to safe, well-known themes, they’re still mostly in-house Nintendo properties—and Nintendo games are always a blast to play.

I’d go so far as to say that most people who have bought a Wii U have done so just to have an opportunity to go hands-on with modern updates of Nintendo classics.

Nevertheless, all the buzz here at E3 is about the Microsoft Xbox One and the Sony PlayStation 4. Nintendo’s software lineup shows that die-hard Nintendo fans will get more of what they’re looking for in the coming months, but it isn’t dazzling enough to steal any of the thunder away from Microsoft or Sony.

Nintendo Wii U

The Wii U was the first next-gen console out of the gate, and it’s the lowest-priced one to boot. Even still, sales of the console have been lackluster at best . Staring at the list of games announced by Nintendo this morning, one can’t help but wonder: Is sticking to its roots really the best move for Nintendo, or would the gaming giant be better served by reducing the focus on its links to the past and shaking things up a bit?

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