Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My thoughts on Nintendo's E3 2011 Press Conference

The last of the Big 3 to deliver their press conference was Nintendo, and they were in the position to completely dominate this year. As the only one to be releasing a new home console anytime soon (2012) and with their recently-launched 3DS handheld, they definitely had the most potential to impress. Unfortunately, I have to say, this ended up being a pretty forgettable conference overall, with Nintendo putting all of their eggs into the Project Cafe basked (now officially known as the Wii U) without having anything truly compelling to show for it.

Things started out on a fan-related note with a full orchestra playing Zelda music, some of it off the upcoming Wii Zelda game, Skyward Sword, which was otherwise completely absent from the conference. Nintendo made some exciting announcements for Zelda fans and the series' 25th anniversary, including free downloadable goodies and upcoming soundtracks CDs and nationwide performances. Okay, good stuff, but where's the trailer for the new Zelda game, Nintendo? The one that's coming out this year for your Wii system? There was a noticeable lack of the Wii at this press conference, with expected titles like the new Kirby game, and the long-awaited Xenoblade and Last Story announcements, totally absent. Instead, Nintendo jumped right into the 3DS, with a truly mixed bag of a showing. Mario Kart has some cool new track features but otherwise is looking like the same old Mario Kart.

The upcoming 3DS Mario game looks like it'll contain some more of the amazing platforming we saw in the Mario Galaxy series, though the art direction, to me, doesn't look quite as nice. Star Fox 64 we didn't get to see much of, but I'll assume it's Star Fox 64 with a new paintjob and 3D visuals.

They also surprise-announced a followup to Luigi's Mansion, a pretty cool idea that can be fun in 3D. Interestingly, they also mentioned that there would be multiple mansions to explore, which I think suggests a bit more of a linear, level-to-level structure than the exploration-heavy first game in the series. I guess we'll have to wait and see how this one plays out

The game that actually looked truly awesome and definitely caught my attention was Kid Icarus: Uprising, a title that looks like such a fun and epic adventure that, if the 3DS had more games like it, I might be more compelled to throw down the $250 for it. Voice acted, cool visuals, likable-looking characters, and fun flying action, it's looking like a must-have title that hopefully demonstrates the types of games Nintendo will bring to the system in the future. Granted, I like Mario as much as the next guy, but I'm getting to a point where I want to experience something new. And driving a go-kart underwater isn't really cutting it.

Anyway, moving to the heavy-hitter of the show, the Wii U, as it's now called, and it got its big reveal this morning. We only got to see the controller itself, not the system, but even the controller looks like a lot to take in. It's a device loaded with potential and clearly something that can push console gaming forward; there's nothing else like it. Some things definitely bothered me, including its use of analog sliders instead of analog sticks, which seems like a big step down, but at least there's 2 of 'em. There's a lot of potential for the touch screen, and the way it communicates with the TV is cool to say the least. Definitely not a VMU clone.

I guess what bummed me out a bit was that the games shown for it were underwhelming. We got a tease for an HD Zelda (another Zelda game already...) which looks really cool, and the announcement of an upcoming Smash Bros game, which will undoubtedly be amazing. But then, all Nintendo had to show were Mario-related (sigh) tech demoes. One of which demonstrated the power of the system, and it looked really great. The others were pretty gimmicky. I guess I was just hoping for something a little more concrete, though the system is still a year away, I suppose. What nearly saved the conference for me was a montage of upcoming Wii U titles, proof that, at the very least, the system will be getting some 3rd party multiplats, a huge improvement over the Wii. The focus on hardcore games shown from 3rd party developers was refreshing, and I can't wait to see what Ken Levine and his team at Irrational have planned for the system.

But then....the conference ended. Nothing really new for the 3DS except a Luigi game, really no announcements from Nintendo on a price for the Wii U or their software, nothing at all about the Wii itself, and at the end of the day, I have to say, Nintendo had the potential to blow everyone out of the water at E3 and instead they merely put on a show that just felt so....safe. With the Wii U not arriving until 2012, it would have been nice for Nintendo to show us what we'll be playing on our Wiis until then, and no luck. And the 3DS, which looks like it'll be making Nintendo fanboys happy with more franchise titles, isn't offering much else for people who want something new.

Grade: C+

A bit disappointing, only because I felt like it could have been so much better. Nintendo teased a new system, which looks like it really has potential, but it would have been nice not to see the Wii forgotten. Still a decent press conference to watch and definitely better than Microsoft's. Nintendo knows casual gamers, and they also know their devoted fans, and they know how to appeal to these groups. It'd be great to see them branching out and trying to appeal to a wider audience of core gamers. The Wii U seems positioned to do that, and hopefully it's successful.

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