I’ll be blunt here; Nintendo’s in trouble.

Pikmin 3
Great opener, but afterwards… uh…

It’s been a hard crash for them. Wii sales fell off of a cliff, and the 3DS has faced challenges in the marketplace. Nintendo had to cut prices far earlier than anticipated, and the company is losing money for the first time ever. But there was a beacon of hope on the horizon, their new console – the Wii U.

Wii U’s defining feature is a gamepad with an embedded touchscreen, sort of recreating the DS experience with a console setup. While the touchscreen is the main controller, Wii remotes can be used as well, and the console finally supports HD visuals. Beyond that and a few demos, large questions remained about the WiiU.

That would be saved until this year. Nintendo had said beforehand that no price or date would be revealed at E3, but more concrete details on the system itself, and the exciting new games for the console, would be there. Nintendo always tends to have memorable press conferences. With the new console and a new stated core gamer focus, Nintendo was presumed to be the automatic winner of E3.

But there’s a reason the games are played. Nintendo did indeed have a memorable press conference – for all of the wrong reasons.

They started out beautifully. Pikmin 3 was anticipated for years, even if it wasn’t a big seller on the GameCube. Shigeru Miyamoto strided on stage and demonstrated the new installment. It played like the older installments, and really didn’t take advantage of the new pad (Wii remotes were used), but it looked great – and if they were opening with that, the rest of the games had to be stellar.

Batman Batman Batman
Hey, it’s Batman! And presumably something that might make you buy a year old game on a new console!

Reggie Fils-Aime took the stage, and proclaimed they were talking about games this conference. He then proceeded to talk at length about Netflix and Hulu. He then introduced the head of Warner Bros. games, who unveiled the lead third party launch game: Batman: Arkham City: Armoured Edition. It’s the same game you loved last year, but with touch control maps! And Batman wears armor now! And… and…

You know how they make Barbie dolls? Where they make Ballerina Barbie for $8 and they charge you $25 for Princess Barbie, but they’re both the same damn doll just with slightly different accessories? That about describes Arkham City Armoured Edition. That will be a $60 game when the old ones for PS3 and 360 are $20. Yet they kept going on and on about it like a new game. That was the first sign of trouble.

But wait – Mario’s launching with the console, the day is saved! Unfortunately, it’s New Super Mario Bros. U – one of two installments of New Super Mario Bros. arriving this year (the other one is for 3DS) and the fourth in the franchise. The original Super Mario Bros. had three games (okay, four counting lost levels) in the series – all very different from each other. The two announced NSMB games look alarmingly similar to the first two, and that’s frightening because Mario has long been a reliable producer of unique sequels.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii U
More 2D Mario is always great, but this is the fourth one of these revivals and it looks exactly the same as the one on Wii…

Following up that thrilling announcement, two more games were announced. One of them was Wii Fit U – a game that uses the old Wii Balance Board and the gamepad for… something. The excruciating teaser video wasn’t clear. Then something called SiNG! – karaoke on the Wii gamepad! Yay! Ubisoft tried to save the show by showing off ZombiU via some pre-taped footage, and that looks incomplete but sort of awesome.

Then came the grand finale. NintendoLand.

Oh god, NintendoLand.

NintendoLand is supposed to be the next Wii Sports. So it’s yet another minigame collection. This time you’re in a theme park dedicated to Nintendo characters, and you dress up as them, and you can participate in maze games and shooting galleries and other stuff. They spent 20 minutes on this, and not once did I know what they were doing. Reggie came back on stage, and… okay, new Metroid? New Zelda? Legitimate Mario? …nope, fireworks from within NintendoLand! End of press conference- and beginning of fan rage on interweb.

In just over sixty minutes, WiiU went from must have to “hmmm, I’ll wait”. We STILL DON’T KNOW why the thing is cool, we don’t know what they’re working on to make it cool, and -more damningly – who they are targeting. If it’s as underpowered as feared, core gamers will still have to buy Xbox/PlayStation stuff and not the gimped Wii port. Casual gamers will be spooked by the main pad and the casual games probably don’t seem as fun they were on the “Wii 1”. I don’t see how anyone could buy this thing.

So how bad was the Nintendo press conference? It will sort out in the long run, but it’s not as bad as Sony’s epic PS3 disaster. But it’s going to hurt. Nintendo needed to have something – SOMETHING – that would attract attention, even if it’s a quick shot of the Metroid logo to say something’s on the way. Instead, they chose to twiddle their thumbs, while the smoke slowly builds into a full-on blaze.

Nintendo is in deep trouble. And I think it starts with a U.

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