So Reggie claims that Nintendo has a major game coming for holiday '08, and that "gamers will be pleased." What's it gonna be, Fils-Aime?
This is a great time to tease the gaming public, since there's a hotly debated Question Mark on what new games are coming for Wii, given that we already have a Mario, a Zelda, a Smash Bros, and next month, a Mario Kart. I mean, that's it, right? This is the tactic that the Nintendo Secret Haters like to employ... acknowledge the handful of high-quality games but focus on the lack of new IP and erroneous idea that Nintendo has nothing left to produce.
Of course, the honest answer is that Nintendo will simply make another Mario and another Zelda. The N64 had two Zelda games. The GameCube had two Metroids and two Starfox games. Getting Twilight Princess and Mario Galaxy so early in the Wii's lifecycle almost guarantees we'll see at least another Zelda... in fact, I think Nintendo has already dropped hints to that effect. Mario is more ticklish; dude's in a hundred other games each year and no matter how distinctive they are, Nintendo still catches flak for whoring Jumpman year in and year out. Still, Galaxy sold so well, and Mario appeals so dearly to that audience, that Nintendo would be crazy not to pencil in another core Mario game for 2009 or early 2010. Maybe we'll get a true sequel to Sunshine! I seem to recall the Sunshine team talking about how they would like to explore other domains of the Mario Universe - like ice or forest or factory - since Sunshine was so clearly about a tropical venue. Mmmm, I do so love that word explore. Wishful thinking, sorry.
If you look at Nintendo's top selling video games, you see variations of the Mario / Zelda / Kart / Smash quadrangle over and over again. That's your Top Tier games and there's no way we're getting any more of those for this holiday season (unless that secret Zelda game is farther along than anyone can guess). If it's something Reggie says will excite us, it almost has to be a known property... because heaven knows gamers could give two shits about new IP, despite pitching fit after fit about Nintendo not having any. Sales prove this over and over again. So what's left beyond those four franchises - the Middle Tier and Low Tier properties - and what are the most suspect titles to warrant a huge holiday release?
Metroid. The Metroid franchise is Middle Tier at best, but only because Nintendo wishes it so. Metroid Prime 2 and 3 sold like dead dogs in August. Smash Brawl sold more copies in one week than Metroid 3 has sold to date. Metroid Hunters and Metroid Pinball can't even make the One Million Sold list on the DS, a system that is issued at birth to all children everywhere. Let's face it: nobody likes Metroid. Nintendo tried to make people care about the franchise, and failed. It was nine years between Super Metroid and Metroid Prime... and it will be another nine before Nintendo decides to give it another go.
Holiday 2008 prospects: forget it. Forget it forever.
Kirby. Reliable Middle Tier performer. Just about every Kirby game (that isn't a puzzle game) sells a million, regardless of system... which isn't much compared to Mario or Pokemon, but it's at least dependable money and, apparently, immune to the whims of time. Currently, a Kirby Wii game is slated for sometime in 2008... could it be the mysterious holiday title? I doubt it. Despite an increased Kirby Universe presence in Smash Brawl, the series is not the kind of thing that gamers flock to. It would be a pretty dirty trick to hype up Thanksgiving '08 and then give us Kirby.
Holiday 2008 prospects: possible, but Kirby is just not marquee material.
Pokemon. On consoles, Pokemon is a desperately Low Tier property muscled into Middle Tier simply by association with the Top Tier handheld originals. We already have one Pokemon game for Wii, and it was the usual crapped together battle simulator. It would genuinely be a HUGE DEAL if Nintendo slipped a genuine Pokemon RPG into the Wii's holiday lineup. And not a faux RPG like Colosseum and Gale of Darkness. A real one. The trouble with Pokemon is that it is so divisive. Imagine the internet's hoots of laughter once Pokemon MMORPG Wii is announced as the system's big holiday saviour. Of course, Nintendo is rightly proud of the Pokemon success story, so much that Reggie pimps it as proof that their online strategy isn't built on twigs and stunted by fear. So I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility.
Holiday 2008 prospects: 50/50, but hampered by its own reputation and Nintendo's unwillingness to make a console game as good as a handheld game.
Starfox. Just barely Middle Tier; the Prodigal Son that can't wait to leave again. Always showing up with new games that we all hope are great but somehow are not. A good, new Starfox game would indeed be brilliant, but Nintendo has cried Wolf too many times. Every new Starfox is initially reported as just as great as Starfox 64, and then they all show up weird and screwed over.
Holiday 2008 prospects: sure, but who's going to believe it?
Animal Crossing. Ah, now this could be the one. Nintendo has had a cloak on this for years now; we really have no idea what AC Wii will be like, except that it can post to your Wii Message Board. One thing in AC's benefit: it doesn't have the track record of failure like Starfox, Metroid or console Pokemon. If Nintendo comes to the table with a substantially reworked game, full of online surprises and heretofore unimagined play (I'm thinking a stellar combination of Home, Harvest Moon, Virtual Console, and Second Life), it could be a breakthrough.
Holiday 2008 prospects: very, very possible.
Mario Party. This is Middle Tier only due to sales. Although any given Party is almost always a good game, the yearly updates have become an industry joke. Nintendo would have to be completely out of touch to declare Mario Party 9 the Big One. Even if it has online play.
Holiday 2008 prospects: not Reggie's mystery game, but certainly coming anyway.
Paper Mario. Like Starfox, Paper Mario has lost some shine lately... Super Paper Mario just was not as good, and it really wasn't intended to be the "Paper Mario" for the Wii anyway. Although I hope we get a core Mario RPG for Wii, it's too soon after Super to expect one for Christmas '08 and be excited about it.
Holiday 2008 prospects: nope, too soon.
Wii. And let's not forget Nintendo's newest successful franchise, the Wii series: Sports, Play and - almost certainly - Fit. We know Wii Music is coming; a second Wii Sports seems inevitable. Nintendo assuredly has other Wii X titles in development... could one of them be the showstopper? Nintendo does so like the surprise.
Holiday 2008 prospects: likely, but who knows what it will be.
Mario Sports. Subtracting Kart, it's kind of a mixed bag. Between Golf, Tennis, Baseball and Strikers, you've got four reasonably good titles that probably just ought to be combined into one incredible mega-game, a la Wii Sports. A gestalt Mario Sports game might actually be huge enough to be Reggie's Holiday 2008 Hit, but it's not in Nintendo's DNA to put four potential sellers into one package. (And anyway, Strikers is already on Wii, and a new Baseball has been announced.) On their own, they just don't have the hype force to move the needle this fall.
Holiday 2008 prospects: just like the Party, they will merely be present.
Donkey Kong. An ape without a Country, literally. Should Nintendo revert back to the Rare years of platforming and collectaquesting? Should Nintendo continue the arc of bongo peripherals? Should Nintendo settle on lackluster photocopies of Mario games (Diddy Kong Racing, Barrel Blast)? Should Nintendo try to make DK the king of retro-styled games and puzzle games, like his latest GBA and DS roles? All we know for certain is that, aside from being a tank in Smash Bros, nobody really gives a shit.
Holiday 2008 prospects: no.
Yoshi. Another lost hero. Although fondly remembered from the SNES era, Yoshi really hasn't done much on his own since. His big problem is common perception: that he takes a gay series (Mario) and makes it gayer. Nintendo is not going to stake 2008 on him.
Holiday 2008 prospects: nuh-uh.
Wario. Warioworld was a forgotten Gamecube game, the character's Game Boy heyday is well behind him, and Nintendo has actually kind of nailed WarioWare into the ground with at least two too many releases. Smooth Moves, as an early Wii title, was good enough but made a bunch of really stupid mistakes. Sure, a better WarioWare title would be great, but at this point it's hardly fap material.
Holiday 2008 prospects: sorry.
EarthBound. What makes this possible is Reggie's hint that gamers will like the Holiday 2008 schedule. This would be a total fanboy move, and Nintendo can always benefit from that. But is it enough to sustain Black Friday sales? No way.
Holiday 2008 prospects: EarthBound fans are well accustomed to silence.
Pikmin. I guess the second Pikmin's crappy sales scuttled this franchise's future. Anybody who played either game totally wants a Wii version, but there's just not enough voices there. Like most of these Lower Tier games, Pikmin does not have the wow factor that Reggie needs for a big holiday release. And you can apply that to F-Zero, Chibi-Robo, Kid Icarus, Custom Robo, Clu-Clu Land, Ice Climber, Geist, Brain Age, and whatever other first party stuff I have overlooked.
Holiday 2008 prospects: nope.
What Nintendo does best is surprise us. When we're talking about Game Boy Advance 2, they toss out a dual-screened gizmo with stylus controls. When we're expecting a next-gen Mario game for launch, they show up with Luigi's Mansion. When we want games to get slicker and more complicated and more adult, they bring out a standard-def system with channel-changer controls and a bowling game. When we're planning on their demise, they sell in the millions.
So naturally Reggie's surprise holiday game could be something totally new... but maybe something that leverages their properties in a new way, similar to Smash Bros. Maybe a Mario Party/Kart that covers all their gameworlds, instead of just the Mario family. Maybe it's a new peripheral. Maybe they're buying Sega and making a good Sonic game. Maybe it's a second SKU, an HD Wii console. Maybe it's integration with iTunes and Apple TV. Maybe it's GTAIV.
Or maybe it's just a really awesome Animal Crossing. I'll take that.