Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata spent a good chunk of time in the most recent Nintendo Direct discussing the upcoming changes to the Wii U online features, namely forthcoming improvements to the Miiverse social network and the campaign leading up to the official launch of the Wii U Virtual Console. He then showered praise on third-party developers and used up a lot of air time with new trailers from Platinum Games.
From the first-party side, however, we were informed of new titles in the works, but very little information was divulged on those. I have decided, therefore, to dissect these in-house announcements, postulate some theories, and deliver my expected release dates for the lot of them.
Wii Fit U was announced at last year's E3, and Nintendo has since delivered bits of information for us to mull over. With seventy-seven total activities, including old mainstays like yoga and strength training and new modes such as Dance, as well as all new fitness related games, Nintendo is trying to cover all the age bases. Moms will be all over the yoga and aerobics, now incorporating the GamePad with the Wii Balance Board. The kids, on the other hand, will dive into the games, which are great as family activities as well. Nintendo seems to have found a rare sweet spot, with the games being fun to play while giving kids a workout at the same time. The new Wii Fit U news revolves around the Miiverse, which will allow closed user communities where people can discuss their workout schedule with peers.
There are two minigame titles in the works right now. The first is unnamed, but is undoubtedly the successor to Wii Party, thus I would bet my three-figure savings account balance it will be called Wii U Party. A set of game boards will allow your Miis to romp around venues, tackling minigames against friends and family. Though with the GamePad, it appears as though many activities, such as a dice-rolling game, baseball, and foosball, will function independently from the television, allowing players to enjoy some casual matches on the GamePad while freeing up the TV for other people to watch programs.
The other title is Game & Wario, which appears to have less in common with Game & Watch and more of a resemblance to WarioWare. The game will retain the wacky and varied art styles now synonymous with Wario games, but the escapades will be more traditional minigames rather than five-second “microgames.”
Next on the list is everyone's favorite digital dinosaur, Yoshi. The makers of Kirby's Epic Yarn are transforming the cuddly, green dino into knitting material. The patchwork background will be instantly recognizable to anyone who's played NintendoLand, and though only some scared Shy Guys were shown in the trailer, you can probably expect the full cast of Mushroom Kingdom meanies to make an appearance. Nintendo hasn't revealed a title yet, but if I had to make a wager, Nintendo will simply call it Yoshi's Epic Yarn.
Now let's move onto the mustachioed mascot himself, with the usual suspects of games being confirmed by Mr. Iwata as in development. First is the next version of Super Smash Bros., which I'm guessing is extremely early in development since all we've been promised at this year's E3 is a few screenshots. We were told the final product is coming to both the Wii U and 3DS, though whether it will be two separate versions or a combined title with cross-platform compatibility is still a mystery. There will likely be a more robust online multiplayer feature than the random skirmishes in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and maybe even some Miiverse organized tournaments (hint, hint Nintendo). Also, the roster will likely expand, and with Nintendo's strong ties with Ubisoft, perhaps we'll see mascots like Rayman added to the bunch (though Ezio would be much cooler).
A new 3D Mario action game was mentioned, though no specifics were given. I honestly can't even guess at what new venue could trump Super Mario Galaxy. Though, like Galaxy, I would wager a limited co-op feature will be present with the GamePad controlling Mario and Wii Remote(s) providing supplemental support. If a TV screen is mandatory to play, there may be some touchscreen applications for either special moves or item manipulation, though this is all speculation. I’m sure we’ll be able to answer these burning questions when we get our hands on the playable demo at E3 this Summer.
The new Mario Kart for the Wii U (one guess at what the official title will be) will also be in playable format at this June's convention, though that was all the info we got from the Nintendo Direct. However, that hasn't stopped me from theorizing some of the features it may contain. A multiplayer game first and foremost, the main controls will likely use the Wii Remotes for steering (promoting the Wii Wheel once again). Perhaps a fifth player on the GamePad can manipulate the track or item box placement during the races. The touchscreen could also be used to custom-build tracks. This should be another title that takes advantage of Nintendo's revival in the online community, with Miiverse integration and worldwide matches.
The final first-party reveal was reserved for Zelda, with not one, but two titles announced. The GameCube classic, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, is being given an HD makeover with some new features added, and will be released later this year on the Wii U. Of course, this remake is only an attempt by Nintendo to satiate our Zelda appetite until the new, original title is completed. The design crew is rethinking the formula, trying to find that perfect balance of Zelda tradition and modern action-RPG features. Linear progression is on the chopping block, and I would love to see an open world Zelda concept, with the freedom to explore Hyrule as we see fit. Also, questing solo is being reconsidered, though I wouldn't expect four Links to be racing around Death Mountain together. I would imagine a multiplayer feature will likely mirror Super Mario Galaxy, with a supplementary role such as controlling a fairy companion.
So here we have a hefty batch of first-party titles, "But when will get our hands on them, Sean?" you may be asking. Well, not a single game mentioned has a specific launch date, but considering Nintendo's release history, we can make some guesses as to the timeline.
Wii Fit U missed the New Year's resolution window for all the weight-conscious women (and some men, I guess), but it will be the first out of the gate, probably late March or early April. The new Mii party title and Game & Wario will come out shortly thereafter (likely before E3), so Nintendo can showcase the variety of GamePad applications early and hopefully pique the interest of third-party developers and gamers alike. Despite just being announced, the new Mario 3D action game and the new Mario Kart could both see releases this year, one coming in Fall (probably late October), and the other over the holidays. The new Yoshi game could also see a holiday release to boost the first-party Christmas lineup, though it may also see light early next year. The new Super Smash Bros. is going to take time, and I would guess it won't be ready until late 2014. As mentioned above, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker remake has been confirmed for a fall release, but the new Zelda game will take an insane amount of time, especially since they're still in the initial design phase. This puts a new Zelda release in the 2014 holiday season at the earliest, though I expect it may even be pushed back to 2015 sometime.
So that wraps up my first-party forecast. We'll see how accurate my prognostications are as Nintendo continues to deliver new information in the months to come.
Date: February 13, 2013