Saturday Soapbox: Taking the Direct approach

Is the decision to abandon its E3 conference cause for an unhappy Nintendo day?

The gaming calendar's full of days worth celebrating, and days worth excitedly waiting sleepless for, but there's always one special date I mark out with a bright yellow marker pen pulled from a beaten-up metal Mario pencil case. Nintendo's traditional LA conference every year hasn't just been the highlight of E3 - for many years it's been E3, the very epitome of all that's wonderful, surprising and exciting about that one hectic week in June.

It smarts a little, then, that there won't really be a Happy Nintendo Day this year, and that a little of the pomp and a lot of the magic's going to be absent at E3. There won't be an orchestra led by a beaming Miyamoto, and nor will he reduce a crowd to hysterics by swinging around a Hylian Shield and Master Sword or pulling a Pikmin from his pocket.

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The Hero of time.

Nor, for that matter, will there be anyone hellishly pounding a set of imaginary drums, or the ghoulish image of Reggie Fils-Aime's face slowly dripping off as he bellows about how much he loves French food. That's even sadder, really, for as Dennis Norden may or may not have once pointed out, while you should never work with children, animals or corporate executives in showbiz, it's often awfully entertaining when you do.

They're marvelous pieces of nerd theatre, Nintendo's conferences, and E3's going to be a sadder, less entertaining place without them. It's another ritual sacrificed to the march of time, and it's one that will be missed: no more nights spent hammering dial-up collections trying to capture a first grainy glimpse of the Wind Waker, and no more waving around a tatty copy of a post-E3 Edge while trying to convince friends how amazing the Revolution will be.

There's logic to the decision, of course, and it makes sense to a degree: with Microsoft and Sony's new hardware taking centre-stage there's no point getting lost in the noise, and no point spending a vast amount of money only to have your message drowned out by voices that will doubtless be screaming louder and with more ferocity. And, right now, it's perhaps more important than ever that Nintendo has a razor-sharp focus to its messaging come E3.

An exchange rate blowing in its favour does little to hide the fact that only 390,000 Wii Us have been sold worldwide since Christmas, even if it does help soften the financial blow. It's a worrying state of affairs made even more troubling by the fact that five months in to 2013 and there's only been two real games of note that have come out for the console - and one of them is merely an upscaled port of a 3DS title.

It's a far from a disastrous situation, mind. This soapbox bears the scuffmarks of those who've taken to it in the past expressing concern about another of Nintendo's consoles that got off to a shaky start, and the message then was simple: it's all about the games, and that's an area where Nintendo can deliver like no other.

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Of course, bananas aren't his favourite fruit - that'd be an Iwatamelon (sorry.)

The 3DS has since born that out, and right now there's an embarrassment of riches as the west catches up with all the games that helped propel the console to its current status as Japan's number one games machine. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Luigi's Mansion 2 and Fire Emblem: Awakening are all games any console would be proud of, and right now they're helping the 3DS state a case in joining its predecessor as one of the greatest handhelds of all time.

And so it is with the Wii U, which is already storing up a sizeable stack of games for the latter half of the year. Admittedly some of those are sneaking through a launch window that's now as large as the one sitting grandly on the face of the Notre Dame, with Game & Wario and The Wonderful 101 remaining AWOL while Pikmin 3 is still yet to receive a EU release date.

Add a Wind Waker remake, a new Mario and a new Mario Kart to that list, though, and you've got a line-up that Microsoft and Sony would be doing phenomenally well to come close to with their fledgling consoles - and I don't think it's too much of a leap to believe that Nintendo's going to have the strongest selection of software come the end of the year.

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Probably not the best advert for French food ever.

They're all games that can't really afford to get lost in the odd corporate playhouse of an E3 conference that's trying to be all things to all people, either, and it makes sense to keep the focus on them through a series of Nintendo Directs. It was a Nintendo Direct last year, remember, that set up so well a conference that was to truly unmask the power and potential of the Wii U before it so spectacularly collapsed in a scuffle of awkward theatre.

Direct's the better medium, for sure, and with its little flashes of calculated eccentricity - Iwata's white gloves, or his face-off with a ripe bunch of bananas are just two highlights - it's fast become just as entertaining as any of Nintendo's E3 conferences. They're dates that I now regularly mark in the calendar, in fact, and ones I've jostled my way to a computer to experience as they go out live, excitedly texting friends for updates as I struggled to watch one over a 3G connection in an airport lounge.

Thinking back, I'm not really so sure whether Nintendo's decision to ditch the E3 conference this year was simply about steering clear of Microsoft and Sony's showboating, or about admitting it couldn't go toe-to-toe with the next generation of consoles. With the PS4 already having had its own event in February and Microsoft set to show the next Xbox on May 21, there's only so much shouting left to do come the conferences themselves. It seems, at long last, that the platform holders are wising up to the insanity of storing up its big announcements for a few short, hot days in LA. Games have become too big and too splintered to fit into a format that made sense a decade ago but is fast coming across as a little odd. It's something that Nintendo realised long ago, and it's only a matter of time before Sony and Microsoft follow suit. Nintendo's certainly not in the best shape right now, but it's heartening that, at a time of supposed crisis, in some areas it's still quietly, confidently leading the way.

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