Not Live From E3 – The Nintendo Conference

As E3 officially ends, here's my look at the last of the big three conferences from earlier this week.

Everybody was expecting Nintendo’s conference to be all about the WiiU and that’s exactly what we got, beginning with an adorable pre-filmed segment about the secret world of Shigeru “Shigsy” Miyamoto and his army of Pikmin. The man himself walked out on stage moments later to explain the design philosophy behind the WiiU, what it has to offer as a “game machine”, and why it inspired him to create Pikmin 3 for the new console. Hearing him talk (through his translator, Bill) about his through processes while designing Pikmin 3 gently reminds you why he’s one of the most respected figures in the industry. I tried to muster some cynicism and failed miserably.

Nintendo of America’s Dark Lord Reggie Fils-Aime stepped up at precisely the most ominous part of his otherwise innocuous entrance music. Thankfully he immediately shed his newfound aura of menace by declaring “I feel just like a purple Pikmin” and transformed back into his usual teddy bear self. Reggie’s next statement was a breath of sweet summer air after the pavlovian nightmare that was Microsoft’s conference, with its psychotic aversion to the G-word and obsession with the wishy-washy term “entertainment”. “It’s all about the games” he said bluntly, promising to show 23 of the blighters over the course of the hour. I didn’t bother keeping count but boy there were a lot of them. We couldn’t entirely escape the dreaded E-word since Reggie talked about the WiiU featuring Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Amazon Video, but games remained the main point of the conference. It was comfortably refreshing to hear “games, games, games” instead of vague wishy-washy exclamations of “Entertainment!”

The other buzzword of the conference was “asymmetric gameplay”, or games in which the player wielding the WiiU gamepad tablet thing would be cast “in a solitary role” against other players wielding regular Wiimotes. Speaking of the new controller it was officially confirmed that the WiiU will support two separate gamepads at once, not just one as was originally announced last year. This was followed by a shot video detailing the new controller’s twin analogue sticks, trigger buttons, motion control and a built-in camera and mic. All I could think of during the video was how perfect it would be for a WiiU version of Fatal Frame.

After Entertainment and Games Reggie talked a bit about the Social aspect of the WiiU built on a new social networking platform they’re calling the Miiverse. The first thing you’ll see when you switch on the console is visual representation of a “main street” or plaza populated by Miis with games represented by “billboards”. Among the features promised are messaging, the ability to share screenshots and a version of the 3DS’ Swapnote feature (“Nintendo Letter Box” inEurope). It’s Nintendo finally taking online functionality seriously. Better late than never I suppose.

Oh-so-exploitable Reggie.

You can’t have a new Nintendo console without yet another sodding Mario game of course and the overused plumber’s first outing WiiU will be “New Super Mario Bros U.” It’s pretty much New Super Mario Bros Wii in HD with the same friendship-destroying multiplayer. One interesting feature however is the ability to leave comments in areas of the game for other people to read, making it a kind of Super Mario Bros’ Demons’ Souls. There were no mentions of a WiiU Zelda or Smash Bros but don’t bet any money on never seeing them in some form at some indeterminate point in the future.

Third party titles were the bulk of the WiiU games being shown and the range was a broad one, although this breadth came at the cost of depth. The “show” part of “showing 23 games” really just meant “brief clips” since only a handful of games were treated to the luxury of a proper presentation, many ones we’ve seen before only with some WiiU-specific features. Darksiders 2, Mass Effect 3 and Ninja Gaiden 3 to name but a few. Another familiar title was Batman Arkham City which is coming to the WiiU in the form of an “Armored Edition” with WiiU gamepad functionality. Warner Bros’ el presidente Martin Tremblay took to the stage to talk about it and suffered the same curse of the autocue that afflicted much of the Microsoft conference, making him sound stilted and wooden.

The next game demonstrated in any real detail was Scribblenauts Unlimited although not as comprehensively as Arkham City, to my great dismay as a Scribblenauts fan. What we did learn is that it has gorgeous cartoon visuals, a huge continuous world, an actual storyline and the ability to create monstrous cyborg dog-car hybrids you can use as in-game objects. Instead of writing words to summon objects into the world like in previous Scribblenauts games you draw or select pictures instead and can then inflict them upon your friends. It looks like a pretty damn sweet iteration of Scribblenauts and is due out holiday 2012, or Christmas-time for  non-Americans.

After Scribblenauts was the announcement of Wii Fit U that Reggie threatened would “leave you happier, livelier and quite frankly sweatier”, giving me an awful flashback to the smirking Nike incubus from the Microsoft conference, followed by a third-party party game called Sing, “the performance game where everybody plays.” It looks like your standard drinking party sing-a-long game except the WiiU gamepad screen displays the lyrics, so you can stare creepily at your friends instead of the TV whilst singing “I wanna sex you up.” Sing will also occasionally give orders for other party goers to fulfil like clapping their hands or dancing, and failing to comply means they get taken outside behind the chemical sheds and shot.

That’s not an official feature by the way. My party game forfeits are just really extreme.

So who's that female Maxwell-alike on the left called? Maxine maybe?

Nintendo’s Scott Moffit then took to the stage bearing a remarkable resemblance to Agent 47 with slightly more hair. Instead of garrotting someone with piano wire however he just talked about upcoming 3DS releases like New Super Mario Bros 2 and Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon. Third party titles due sometime in the near future include Castlevania Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate, Disney Epic Mickey: Power of illusion, a 3DS version Scribblenauts Unlimited and Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, which continues the rambling storyline of the Kingdom Hearts series of incoherent fever dreams.

The trailer for Lego City Undercover for WiiU and 3DS came out of nowhere and slapped a smile on my face so hard it almost broke my jaw. As all-action minifig cop Chase McCain on the mean yet whimsical streets of Lego City you get to solve crimes, do shady criminal stuff undercover, drive fast cars and get into kung fu fights. It’s best described as Lego GTA with a 70s cop movie vibe and looks to be possibly the greatest Lego game ever, narrowly beating Scribblenauts Unlimited as the game I’d consider buying a WiiU for. Needless to say I fell in love with it instantly.

Ubisoft’s Eves Guillemot skipped onto the stage with a mischievous smile like some strange French Leprechaun to say a load of “fantastic” words, then introduced Ubisoft’s Xavier Poix to demonstrate Just Dance 4 and ZombiU to The Reg Meister. The former needs little explanation while the latter looked promising but felt more like a series of scripted scenes than an actual game. If it can achieve half of what it depicted in tangible gameplay form it could well be a cool little zombie survival sim. I remain sceptical for now although the ability to scan your face into the game and zombiefy it is a cool touch. It was the Beyond: Twin Souls of the Nintendo conference in that it showed a lot of fancy footage and talked a big game without really showing or telling us anything.

Nintendo’s capstone on the proceedings was the unveiling of NintendoLand, a virtual theme park without the queues or sex offenders, designed to showcase the WiiU controller the same way Wii Sports showcased the Wiimote. It’s essentially a party game collection where the games are called attractions and are based on “classic Nintendo titles” like Animal Crossing and Zelda. “Luigi’s Ghost Mansion” was the “attraction” selected to demonstrate it and looked quite fun for an otherwise simple party game. Resembling a cross between Pac-Man and Left 4 Dead it pits four players with Wiimotes, playing as ghost hunters armed with flashlights, against one player on the WiiU controller as a ghost stalking. Whether it’ll be any fun or not remains to be seen, it was a great demonstration of asymmetric gameplay for people who didn’t quite get what it meant.

Best game of E3.

Of the three big conferences I have to say Nintendo’s was the most tolerable by virtue of focusing on games, rather than trying to sell the WiiU as some all-in-one multimedia entertainment wankbox. A lot of moaning Myrtles have complained about the absence of any Zelda or Smash Bros but I’m glad there weren’t any. I’m more excited by the potential offerings from third party developers than yet another Zelda game and the titles on show were able to shine without being overshadowed by such fanboy fodder.

Despite the strong focus on games however the conference felt vague and unfulfilling at times for the way it emphasised quantity of games without going into much detail about them. Nintendo’s cop-out solution to that was pimping but I don’t sit through hour-long conferences to then look up extra stuff on a website afterwards. Tell me why I should want to play Darksiders 2 on a WiiU instead of my 360 or PC or don’t show it. Similarly why should I play games on WiiU that I’ve already played on other platforms? I understand developers might be hesitant to go all in on the WiiU after getting burned so badly on the Wii, and I’m not sure Nintendo can do much more than it already is to reassure them, but they need to figure out something to get more new exclusives if they want to make the WiiU a day 1 purchase.

Overall if I had to be a twat and pick an “E3 winner” then my choice would be Nintendo, hands down. Microsoft’s conference was all about forcing their idea of what a console should be down our throats and Sony’s was a festival of self-congratulation with one or two real items of interest. Nintendo came to E3 to promote the WiiU and the games that’ll be available for it, and they succeeded. None of the conferences were shit-your-pants-and-hyperventilate amazing but Nintendo’s was the least insufferable and, dare I say it, rather enjoyable.

You can’t say fairer than that.

Matt McDermott

About Matt McDermott

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