If Nintendo wants to win E3 2017... it needs to be itself

2017 has been a fantastic year for Nintendo. After years of wandering the Wii U wilderness, putting out great games on a console no one owned and struggling to find its identity in a post-Wii world, Nintendo is finally back where it needs to be. With the Switch, it’s got some of its most solid and interesting hardware ever, and, more importantly, that hardware is actually in people’s hands.

Despite a few wobbles along the way - particularly the thin launch line-up - Nintendo has been steadily gaining momentum since the Switch’s release in March, and right about now it’s looking like a well-stoked locomotive. It doesn’t need a hammer-blow of explosive headlines at E3 2017, and it certainly doesn’t need to beat Sony or Microsoft at their own game - if it was aiming for that, it’d still have a press conference on the show floor. All it needs to do is consolidate its recent successes.

PS4 and Xbox One are, basically, very similar machines. More than ever, Sony and Microsoft’s offerings are PCs in shiny boxes, machines differentiated from each other by software and strategies, not fundamental hardware differences. It’s one of the reasons the competition has gotten so fierce this generation - when the choice is Coke vs Pepsi, the fight is on to prove one brown, bubbly liquid is objectively better than another. The Switch isn’t off-brand cola. It’s not even a fizzy drink. I’m not sure what it is. A packet of Jolly Ranchers, maybe?

The point is, it’s something entirely its own, so radically different from the competition in form and function that… half the time it’s not even in competition with them at all. Perhaps the Wii U’s biggest failure was initially pretending to be one of the cool kids - “Look, you can play Call Of Duty on me, too!”. The Switch makes no such mistake, embracing wholeheartedly the qualities that make it different and wonderfully weird. By simply giving the world a broadcast during E3, rather than a managed stage show, Nintendo is embodying the spirit by which it makes consoles. Whether that’s a good thing or not really depends on your perspective.

Two for one

Now more than ever the Switch - Nintendo’s core console - unifies the company’s output, and plays off the substantial 3DS fanbase, which thrived as the Wii U dived.

There’s a huge opportunity here to bring the best of both worlds together in its game library, and E3 is the perfect place to set out that strategy. Series once confined to the small screen by handheld demand in Japan can enjoy glorious new resolutions and still please everybody - the hugely successful Monster Hunter franchise being a standout example. Meanwhile, Breath of the Wild has laid down the template for adventures once too huge and spectacular for a handheld to be taken on the go. There are so many gimmes to announce that would benefit hugely from this newly-possible dual identity: Pokémon, Animal Crossing, and Fire Emblem to name a few. Fans will be demanding more of these at the show.

The only thing holding Nintendo back here is its seeming reluctance to give closure to the 3DS. Official statements claim the handheld, and its many offshoots, will continue to live on alongside the Switch. It’s a clear attempt to please existing owners and sell a few more of the latest models before the market drops off, but it’s muddying the waters. Nintendo needs to make it clear that the Switch is the future of its handheld output - that its on-the-go mode is not a novelty, but a way of bringing all of the company’s fans together around one machine.

To my mind, now is the time to announce the final 3DS games - and declare them such - to give the new console the best possible chance it can have. But, given Nintendo’s track record when it comes to clarity of messaging, it’s an unlikely move. Maybe in a few more 2DS models’ time…

What about the actual announcements?

All that talk of strategy and messaging aside, the one thing Nintendo really has to do at this E3 to walk away smelling of roses is announce games. On launch, the console was rightly criticised for its sparse line-up, and even now, with Arms and Splatoon 2 fast approaching, it’s going to feel like a long wait for winter’s Super Mario Odyssey if Nintendo doesn’t get some heavy-hitters on the docket for us all to look forward to.

A couple of strong first-party announcements will go a long way, but for a real home run, Nintendo needs to start making good on its 3rd party promises. Earlier in the year, via the medium of infographic, the company announced partnerships with… well, pretty much everyone. Big boys like Activision, Ubisoft, and EA as well as fan favourites such as From Software, Sega, and Atlus, and many, many more all featured - but given the Wii U’s disastrous early relationships with many of the developers featured, it’s hard not to be sceptical until we start to see some of these promises bearing fruit. If Nintendo’s got allies up its sleeves, now is absolutely the time to reveal them to cement the Switch’s fortunes. And no, that Mario/Rabbids crossover doesn’t count. Skyrim is coming in ‘Autumn / Winter’, but that isn’t nearly enough.

Nintendo may not need to scrap with the big boys, but it’s still got plenty to prove this E3. The time is now to show the world that the Switch has a great future ahead of it - one entirely unlike any other console’s.

Robin Valentine is Editor of GamesMaster magazine. The latest issue will be on sale 15 June, featuring a huge Destiny 2 cover story, all the latest on Far Cry 5, Call Of Duty: WW2, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2, reviews of all the hottest new releases, and much, much, more!  You can buy it in shops or online now.