Wii expectations: Nintendo's position at E3 2013

What can we expect from Nintendo amid new consoles everywhere? The answer: improved software.

Yarn Yoshi: one of several anticipated Wii U games. Nintendo

E3 2013 will feature big, traditional preshow press conferences from both Sony and Microsoft focused on their upcoming PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles, but Nintendo is stepping half-out of the spotlight.

The company is instead opting for a lower-profile "Wii U Software Showcase" on Tuesday, just as the E3 Expo is about to open its doors. With expectations thus lowered, the hope is that anything Nintendo unveils will be a case of underpromising and overdelivering.

Nintendo's problem is simple: the Wii U is suffering sluggish sales and has failed to excite gamers. And with the PS4 and Xbox One on the horizon, the challenge is only set to ramp up.

Can Nintendo stage a comeback? Here's what I expect the folks at Big N to do at E3 -- mixed in with some free advice on how the House of Mario can get its mojo back .

Wii U: The second big wave of games
Nintendo lined up an impressive list of third-party launch titles for the Wii U last year, but neglected to stock up on AAA-exclusive games. Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U remain the only two significant Nintendo games on Wii U, nearly eight months later. (You could count Lego City Undercover, too.)

This year's show promises popular fan franchises like Super Smash Bros., a new Mario game or two, an entry to the Mario Kart series, and a remastered version of the classic GameCube Zelda game Wind Waker , plus the trotting out of long-awaited but not-yet-released games like Pikmin 3. There might be more. Forget about third-party gaming; this is Nintendo's big chance to show that the Wii U's game library can be something worth investing in.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Wii U price drop: Be wallet-friendly(er)
The Wii U's already been on the occasional fire sale at certain retail stores, and with rumors of the 8GB Core $299 Wii U going away , the time seems ripe for a discount and/or added value package for the Wii U, especially if there's no new hardware.

The Nintendo 3DS faced a similar challenge a couple of years ago, and managed to overcome it -- in part, because of a price drop. So, there's hope. The Wii U has plenty of hurdles, and facing the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are just two of them. A price drop on the Wii U Deluxe package from $350 to $300 would be a start.

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon. Nintendo

Nintendo 3DS: Keep the good times rolling
Nintendo's once-maligned successor to the Nintendo DS has become a bit of a critical darling in the wake of an excellent run of first-party games: Luigi's Mansion , Fire Emblem, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Animal Crossing have given the system relevancy, even if it isn't anywhere near as vital as the DS once was. The 3DS still feels like a niche product; it's up to Nintendo to push the system farther and keep the flow of games coming strong. A price drop here would be helpful, too, but the 3DS has already seen several price cuts since its 2011 debut. A new version of the 3DS with improved battery life would help, but don't expect anything at E3.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Forget the 'next-gen' arms race and TVii -- just be Nintendo
Nintendo doesn't need new technology and games that take advantage of the Wii U GamePad -- it just needs great games. And family-friendly games, at that. Nintendo's strength over its competitors is a truly kid-safe spirit. Competing technologically against what Microsoft and Sony can bring to the table is nearly impossible. Sound familiar? This is the same challenge the Wii has faced over its entire life cycle. If Nintendo can try not to directly compete and instead just be the best maker of classic Nintendo games it can be, there's a chance of carving a niche. The 3DS has gotten traction by revisiting great franchises; expect the Wii U to copy that formula at E3. Hopefully.

The new style of Nintendo news: direct address. Nintendo

Talk directly to the fans (at their local Best Buy)
In fact, Nintendo's press conference-free showing is a nod of acknowledgment to the strategy shift in the way the company spreads its news: numerous "Nintendo Direct" streaming broadcasts have taken the place of physical events. Some of Nintendo's key hardware, including the 3DS XL, were debuted at surprise moments: the XL was announced last year in late June, just weeks after E3, and it debuted in mid-August.

Nintendo has already promised to show some of its future software at certain Best Buys around the U.S., taking some of the mystique away from the show in Los Angeles and putting it into the hands of local gamers.

Conclusion: Keep expectations low
In the end, E3 might still bring a number of new game announcements, but these announcements now happen year-round. E3 is just another show to Nintendo. Just because things are quiet here doesn't mean that the company won't reveal something else down the road. But for next week, expect Mario to take a back seat to Sony and Microsoft...by design, and by necessity.

 

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