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Nintendo buys time with games while NX news awaits in 2016

We know Nintendo's making a new console, but we won't hear about it this year. Meanwhile, the 3DS and Wii U are being kept alive with a batch of familiar spinoff titles.

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Nintendo's E3 2015 video announcement was full of Nintendo 3DS games. Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

LOS ANGELES -- After Amiibo and Splatoon and Super Smash Bros. stole the show last year, this year feels like a waiting game...but at least the Nintendo 3DS got some love.

Before the Electronic Entertainment Expo, it started to feel like handheld game systems have been slowly fading away. In fact, Sony's E3 press conference on Monday practically buried the PlayStation Vita.

On the flip side, Nintendo's E3 2015 video announcement was full of Nintendo 3DS games: not many of them surprising, yet enough to fill a year easily. Yet, why did everything from Nintendo this year feel more than a little empty?

Mainly, I'm guessing, because of Nintendo NX. Nintendo has a mystery piece of hardware: a new console, or handheld, or maybe even both, but news on it won't arrive until 2016. Now that word on a new platform is official, it made everything that Nintendo announced at this year's E3 feel like a waiting game.

Nintendo looks like it's holding back, just a bit. There were no wild new games this year, like last year's debut of Splatoon or Super Smash Bros. Instead, we saw Star Fox, and two games we already saw last year: Yoshi's Wooly World and Mario Maker (admittedly, two nice-looking games for Wii U). The rest consisted mainly of many new 3DS games...with familiar faces.

There's a new variation on Animal Crossing, a new Fire Emblem, a Metroid multiplayer game, a multiplayer Zelda, and a Paper Mario RPG, all on their way between 2015 and early 2016. Nintendo covered the bases...but lots of these games look like spinoffs. For a 3DS owner, it's nice to see such strong support. But these games didn't exactly reach for the stars.

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The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes. Nintendo

Nintendo's bound to be working on bigger, bolder ideas. But maybe these ideas are being saved for the Nintendo NX. Resources are probably being diverted. 2015 feels like an in-transition year, all of a sudden.

The Nintendo Wii U and 3DS look like they'll be flush with games. Still, few look like they'll make new would-be players come aboard. They look like games to keep existing owners and fans satisfied.

The Nintendo 3DS is Nintendo's most successful current console. Keeping it alive is important, essential: Nintendo just released a revamped 3DS over the past year. But if the NX is a sort of handheld successor, or replacement, which it almost certainly needs to be, then the 3DS is already a system on its way out.

Nintendo's new batch of 3DS games are aiming squarely at keeping the flame alive, but none of them are doing anything we haven't seen before. If you weren't interested in the 3DS before, you won't be now. And it's that feeling that made Nintendo's whole press event feel a step behind Microsoft and Sony, companies that are currently working much harder to reach out to new audiences through emerging technologies. This was a dip back into Nintendo's comforting bag of characters. I wanted more.

For Nintendo, 2016 seems like a big year for new ideas. 2015...not so much.

Follow all the latest news from E3 2015 on CNET and GameSpot.