Will Legend of Zelda turn out the lights on the WiiU?

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Earlier this evening Nintendo broadcast its E3 presentation as a pre-recorded video. The company unveiled several new games and features… but one thing was for sure: Nintendo shows few signs of changing strategy.

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“No matter what’s going on in our lives, we can always count on these games to deliver fun” said Nintendo executive Reggie Fils-Aime, perhaps in a subtle reference to Nintendo’s current financial problems and disastrous WiiU performance.

And then came the games: We got more details on Smash Bros WiiU and 3DS – including the news that Miis would be playable characters, Palutena from Kid Icarus has been added to the roster (the ‘goddess’ is joining the not-at-all-problematic line-up of no-less than four ‘princess’ characters…).

We also saw our first sightings of Yoshi’s Woolly World, a yarn-themed sequel to the recent Kirby’s Epic Yarn but starring Mario’s sidekick, Captain Toad (some sort of platformer) and the previously announced Bayonetta 2.

Essentially, if you’re not already a Nintendo convert there’s probably very little to convince you… and this is Nintendo’s problem.

The closest sign of a change of strategy was the announcement of “Amiibo” – a brand that will be used for a line of toys with built in NFC chips that can be read by the WiiU gamepad (and soon, a 3DS accessory). The idea is that you can take a Mario toy and use it to summon up Mario in Smash Bros – or other compatible games. Mario Kart WiiU will also be receiving an update to support it, and of course, there’s Disney’s Skylanders.

Whilst the toys sounds vaguely clever: they can also receive data, so can be used to transport around character stats so you can ‘train’ characters in Smash Bros, for instance, it strikes me as something that will have limited appeal: how many parents are going to be thrilled to learn that on top of £50 for Smash Bros that their kids will be demanding additional toys? Are people really going to buy a toy statue of the Wii Fit Trainer? Maybe Nintendo think this will be a nice short-term revenue raiser?

As the WiiU has struggled on, it must be difficult for Nintendo fans to keep the faith: until recently there was Mario Kart to look forward to (and it has performed well), but now the next major release is Smash Bros and… then what?

Even for Nintendo’s hardcore… surely it was a little disappointing? When the presentation did speak of Zelda, it was only the briefest of glimpses – indicating a game that is nowhere near completion. Yes, it looked stunning – the visuals were beautiful and the talk about new game mechanics implied an open-world in the style of Skyrim… but when will it arrive? The trailer said 2015 – though anyone who has ever waited for a Nintendo game knows that should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Given the way the WiiU is going, and given the deafening lack of third party support, could the future Legend of Zelda title (which didn’t even have a subtitle) be the game that – like Twilight Princess turns out the lights on the WiiU?

Heck, if you’re into wild predictions how about this: Could this new Zelda game also be one of the first Nintendo releases to appear on PS4/Xbox One when Nintendo give up on producing their own home console? Almost certainly not, but who would be surprised if it did?

Nintendo really needs to show some radical solutions if it is to remain a major player in the games industry. How long can it survive on the familiar?

James O’Malley