Project Cafe: Nintendo’s Return to Glory?

Last E3, Nintendo came out swinging in a press conference redemption story that seemed too good to be true. Suddenly, the company that peddled to the casual was very non-casual. We had new Metroid, Kirby, and Donkey Kong titles coming out. We had a new Zelda title announced. We had a remake of an old (arguably the best) Zelda title announced. And to top it off, we had an industry-changing handheld that, coupled with a lavish albeit goofy reveal, sanctimoniously pocketed (nearly) every journalist’s blessing.

It was like watching someone play a perfect game. We just kept waiting for a fatal mistake, some slip-up that would shatter any hope of flawlessness. Maybe Nintendo would get its timing off. Maybe it would dodge too quickly or step too late. Something would go wrong, we thought.

But it didn’t; Nintendo knocked one out of the park. As months passed, so did the sublimity of E3, and what should have been a glorious year for Nintendo ended prematurely. Metroid: Other M petered out and was forgotten. Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby’s Epic Yarn, after receiving positive responses, didn’t seem to have the revitalizing impact some anticipated. And the 3DS? While it’s still too early to call it a disappointment, it definitely isn’t the interactive media mecca we were all expecting.

Now, we have another announcement: the Wii HD. Or the Wii 2. Or Project Café. Or Project Stream. Whatever; it’s new hardware, which means everyone is back in a tizzy. But before we all get our hopes up as we have before, let’s take a minute and think about Nintendo’s new system:

1) Price: Already expected to be $350 – $400 out of the gate, the new system is going to have a hard time marketing toward the casual crowd. Unlike the Wii’s modest $250 price tag, Project Stream Wii HD Café 2 (PSWHDC2) will have to rely on trust rather than affordability. What I mean is, fans will have to trust that Nintendo isn’t selling something that won’t be worth the initial price (3DS, what?). Since casual gamers aren’t known for their long-lived affinity for video games, this means Nintendo is going to rely on, say it with me, the hardcore fans.

2) Hardcore fans: Ah yes. The Nintendo diehards. The forgotten group that swears this company is still the exclusive, avant-garde publisher/developer we all once knew and loved. These will be the people Nintendo looks to for selling its new system. The question is, are there enough of them to make it lucrative from the get-go? Probably not. Most of these fans gave up on Nintendo when the Wii sold its soul and played host to any project that moved. So if this once-inexhaustible well has run dry, how will Nintendo approach a new audience? How will this aged company appeal to the cool, young crowd?

3) Power and Innovation: The 3DS became the target of overzealous dribble after E3 for one reason: its gimmick. Nintendo has always been the one to break from the pack when it came to new ideas. Remember the first time you saw the Wiimote? It’s no different with the PSWHDC2. Controllers with touchscreens may be a bit too premature to note, but make no mistake: Nintendo has something up its sleeve. Whatever it is, it will have some serious power to back it up. Sporting graphics that will be comparable or even more powerful than the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Nintendo’s new system is swinging for the fences. It’s just a question of the final, and most problematic, element…

4) Third-party support: We all know Zelda and Mario will be forerunners for selling the system, and we all know their games will most likely be titillating, but these franchises can only do so much. They certainly won’t be the convincing argument in terms of money. That needs to come from new IPs and a sturdy online experience. The Nintendo execs have made it clear they now want to tussle with the big boys of hardcore gaming. This means they need to incorporate serious third-party support, which they infamously do poorly. Sure, they can talk all they want about “closer ties” with non-Nintendo developers, but that doesn’t mean anything. Until there’s some proof behind their quotes, this system will make a big fuss but have no real substance for support. The Wii always sold on its accessibility. The PSWHDC2, on the other hand, needs to pull a one-eighty and sell on its grit.

Nintendo has a lot of work to do. It has thrown down the gauntlet and taken the first step toward the next “next-gen.” In the coming months, Sony and Microsoft will be watching closely to see what the company does. Nintendo is, for the first time since I was a kid, taking the helm. It’s pushing the envelope in a direction that yearns for the long-lost hardcore crowd — a crowd we haven’t seen in full since the N64. If it doesn’t, the contemporary, easy-listening products of late will have a hard time saving the company.

Maybe the trick up Nintendo’s sleeve will be enough to push sales with the casual crowd despite the price. Maybe this company, which now seems infallible, has solidified its position with the casual crowd enough to make families interested in all the PSWHDC2’s bells and whistles. Maybe they’ll finally bridge the gap between “us” and “them” — between the core videogame fans and those who bought the 4GB Xbox 360. The evidence, it seems, suggests otherwise.

I hope the new system is a success. I hope Nintendo earns back the same level of trust that it enjoyed from its old-school audience of the 80s and 90s. I hope there will be a slew of titles aimed toward a more mature audience. I hope all the gamers who inject melted-down copies of God of War and Modern Warfare into their bloodstream start bro-ing out over a Nintendo title. I hope Nintendo returns to all its pre-disc glory. And, to appease my seven-year-old self, I hope they finally bring back Killer Instinct.


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Author: Greg Galiffa View all posts by
Greg Galiffa is an Associate Editor at GamerNode. He's also an apologist for the first TMNT film. You can follow him on Twitter @greggaliffa

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