Wednesday, June 8, 2011

E3 2011: Impressions of the Nintendo Conference

Reggie Fils-Aimé working his Force Lightning pose.
In many ways the most highly-anticipated of the Big Three this year, everyone was perched and poised, ready to witness the unveiling of the first console to be a member of the next generation. Running at just around half the length of Microsoft’s media extravaganza, Nintendo of America CEO Reggie Fils-Aimé came armed and serious, confident in an outcome that wowed us all.

But not without making us stew for a little while. Firstly, Reggie took us on a safari of the games that will be coming to 3DS in the year to come, most of which seem to be coming in the final quarter of 2011. This was an awkward enterprise, as the 3DS’s major selling point, that which marks it out from any other console on the market, handheld or not, is glasses-free 3D. This major selling point was impossible to exemplify in the videos that followed, and was readily acknowledged by Reggie before he began.

We are treated, then, to range of Nintendo first-party classics: MarioKart 3D looks, to me, pretty much like a polished version of MarioKart DS. Super Mario 3D looks a little smoother and enjoyable as always. The most exciting reveal was Starfox 64 3D, which may come to be Lylat Wars 3D in the UK, in continuation with how the original release worked. It’s a revamped version of the original, with a few 3DS-specific improvements. For one, you can steer the ships using the console’s in-built motion detectors. What really brings the excitement though is the multiplayer. The 3DS uses the front-facing camera to bring you and your opponents’ faces into the game, replacing the old images of Peppy, Slippy, and Falco Lombardi with your own. I don’t recall if there is voice-chat, but if so, it will make for a particularly trash-talky, all-round good time. These titles are all slated for christmas release, if I remember correctly.

We get a few shots of some other releases now, and of them all, Kid Icarus looks like the most fun to me: very fast-paced, fantasy action sort of stuff. Luigi’s Mansion 2 is typically cute and fun, and the footage is mostly Luigi vacuuming ghosts or being alarmed at their apparition (geddit?). The key point Reggie focuses on here is that it will be ‘featuring not one – but several – new mansions’. Perhaps not the most inspiring reason to buy…

He then gives us a recap of 3DS games coming up in the undetermined future. Resident Evil, Sonic The Hedgehog, Ace Combat, Tetris, Cave Story 3D, Driver Renegade, a Pac Man and Galaga Dimensions double-bill, Tekken 3D, and finally Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D. ‘The line-up is unprecedented’, he tells us, and then takes a moment to promote the new E-shop, which will soon be offering videos and screenshots of games, to help you make better choices.

There’ll also be a virtual console service just for 3DS – classic portable games starting with gameboy and gameboy colour titles. Also, classic console titles, ‘games given a new life with a 3D makeover’. Reggie now gears up to announce a big release. For a limited time, we’ll get a 3D version of an old friend – and that friend is… – ’3D Classic ExciteBike’ – Very much a lacklustre announcement, but I’m just not the biggest fan of Excitebike I guess.

Back to the familiar: Pokémon – which gets a whoop from someone in the audience. ‘Owners of Pokémon Black and White will know the pokédex’. Just a bit of a faux-pas there, Reggie. I’m pretty sure almost everyone knows of the Pokédex at this point, or at least people who – gasp – haven’t played the new versions of the Pokémon series . The announcement is thus:


In order to fill the pokedex, you’ll have to physically trade Pokémon information with friends. At a base level, they are like digital trading cards. Pokémon AR (augmented reality) cards will allow you to bring your Pokémon into the real world through pictures. The ‘dex is only available through the E-shop. After performing the system update, the Pokédex will be free – ‘It only takes a few clicks’. Reggie is trying to repair the damage from the E-shop’s tarnished reputation for being previously all but unbrowseable.

The controller looks like a cross
between a DS and an iPad.
WiiU: The New Console

The controller looks like a cross between a DS and an iPad
Reggie poses a riddle to us about the new console being good for everyone, ‘But would it be good for you? Emphatically, yes. So much so, that we’ve put it in the name: WiiU’. Other word associations, he tells/makes for us: Unique, Unifying, Utopian. The new controller looks like an independent handheld – built-in screen, two analogue sliders (instead of sticks, more like the 3DS), D-pad, 4 ABXY buttons, home, start, select, and power buttons.

The showreel here is pretty amazing. It reminds me a lot of the first-reveal for Microsoft’s Kinect. Highlights include when the player moves the game he is playing on the tv screen straight into the controller, with zero delay. It’s impressive stuff. The screen is a touch, and the video also shows a guy sketching an anime-style Link.

You can also play games just on the controller, and two-player Othello, is depicted. The controller also has a gyroscope, and the player tips the controller and slides the tiles clean after he is finished playing. We see a golf game which has controller work as the tee, showing you the ball. Wii Fit uses the controller as a sort of notepad, eliminating the need for your television whilst using it. The applications seem wide-ranging and various here. In a Legend of Zelda segment, the controller screen shows up as the inventory. In another, the controller screen is mounted in a weapon shell, thus making it a rifle scope. We see someone using the screen for picture-in-picture video chat – pretty amazing stuff. It’s not clear on what platform that service will operate, though.

Another example of impressive information transfer is a simple finger slide to send video content to your television. wonder how parental controls will work for that. All in all, it is completely astounding.

After the video, we are given the low-down on Nintendo’s new system from Satoru Iwata, head of Nintendo Japan. The controller features a 6.2 inch screen, but asides from that, there is backward compatibility with the Wii and all Wii-related accessories. It is designed ‘to appeal to most experienced and dedicated players’. Nintendo are quite clearly looking to win back the ‘hardcore gamer’ market, and everything in this speech is geared towards them rather than anyone else. More controller news: it has rumble, microphone, speakers, camera, accelerometer and gyroscope. That’s a pretty impressive range of capabilities for a console controller. Nintendo have certainly raised the bar, here.

They stipulate at this point that the controller is strictly not a handheld; that it still needs WiiU to broadcast video signal to your controller, a mechanic that is ‘latency-free’, but obviously that’s crucial to a conducive gaming experience.

Now we’re being handed off. ‘Let’s talk to the developer who has thought the most about the capabilities’. Ladies and gentlemen: It’s Miyamoto time, baby.

Versatility is the name of the game here. Shigsy talks of ‘new ideas’, ‘new methods’, ‘numerous ways to play’. This thing is most definitely new. There is an announcement of Smash Bros, which gets a huge cheer, alongside the revelation that it will be inter-compatible between the WiiU and the 3DS. An exciting prospect, indeed. Reggie is as intense as ever, now. He knows that we’re all hooked, and so it’s time for a performance demo.

‘Let me show you what this system can do’, and the lights dim. We have to assume that this is political; a move to allay the fears of gamers that it’ll be the Wii all over again. The movie begins: a bird flies onto a dead tree, and pecks it until a cherry blossom breaks out, which spreads to all the trees surrounding it. It all looks very nice, but also seems pre-rendered to me. The audience applaud afterwards, but that applause begins perhaps a little bemusedly.

‘How the controller can change things’

Reggie now gives us a range of new applications for the device. These are conceptual games available on the show floor. A new form of multiplayer: Chase Mii – bit of a kinky name, which made me chuckle. The clip shows people using different methods of control to play it. A space game will show two players using wii controllers to shoot at a mothership, whilst the mothership pilot has the WiiU controller screen and can view the field top-down to bomb his two enemies below. Reggie reminds us that these games are not release titles, but merely proof-of-concept for the device.

TT Games are announced to be releasing Lego City Stories: ‘a new open world game packed with action, humour, and a whole city of Lego vehicles coming to WiiU and 3DS’

Now we get a developer showreel of talking heads from the industry. Here are some of the comments:

Peter Moore – EA Sports – ‘My mind immediately starting racing about what we could do in sports.’

Uncredited – ‘It’s the Swiss army knife of controllers’

Ken Levine – Irrational Games -  ‘A full console experience. My wife can go to bed and I can still have a full, hardcore experience, in bed with headphones, on a screen. It is revolutionary for gamers’. Those are big words.

The list of games that they are immediately associating with the WiiU is telling. Darksiders II, Tekken, Batman Arkham City, Assassin’s Creed, Ghost Recon Online. It’s a surprisingly violent, un-Nintendo range. More follow: Dirt, Aliens® Colonial Marines, Metro: Last Light (the sequel to 2033), Ninja Gaiden: Razor’s Edge. They are strongly sending the message that this is ‘not a kid’s console’. Each and every game is very teen-male focused.

Reggie invites EA to join him on stage. John Riccatello comes on, and talks of the ‘Breakthrough in our relationship with Nintendo thanks to a breakthrough in gaming tech’. He’s here to tell us that it’s ‘great’, basically. Battlefield and NFL are mentioned. ‘Open Online Functionality’ – Open is the keyword there, and it’s a relief. I think we’re all ready for no more awkward Nintendo online experiences.

John goes a little overboard here. EA is undergoing a transformation, he says: ‘Changing games from a thing you buy, to a place that you go’ Nice marketing line, there, John. ‘We can’t wait to see EA games on this new system’.

Reggie invites us to consider the four platforms: Nintendo DS, Wii, 3DS and WiiU – ‘They share a common pedigree: innovation’. He’s certainly right there. But, wait, there’s more! ‘What happens when a second window opens to your gaming world’. I’m definitely excited to find out.

Attendees are informed that they can try them out following the event, including something that is a celebration of Legend of Zelda’s 25th anniversary. Reggie invites those watching online to catch up on all the latest news courtesy of the Nintendo Network, at And the conference is done.

In short, Nintendo have knocked it out of the park with their news. Their presentation  wasn’t necessarily as flashy as Microsoft’s, but certainly comes with a lot of promise. Here’s hoping the WiiU can deliver.

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