E3 Day 1: A Morning with Nintendo
Tuesday morning, E3 started off with a bang. It was a one-two punch of press conferences with Nintendo and Sony. It’s a toss-up depending on your taste as to which of the big developers ‘won’ E3. A very, very small camp is still behind Microsoft, some like Sony’s presentation, which was certainly not bad, and definitely the most energetic of the three… but for myself, I have to vote Nintendo.
My opinion is based on one phrase, casually uttered by Nintendo President Satoru Iwata, “Ultimately, gamers care most about games.”
Now, maybe it was just the bad taste in my mouth left after Microsoft’s shovel-ware presentation the day before, but this really struck a chord with me. Microsoft spent almost their entire show wrapped up in peripherals; Sony was a bit better, but still had to introduce their new add-on, The Move. Both of these really added up to one thing: trying to keep up with the Joneses. Both have their own improvements, to be sure, but let’s not mince words here, both of these guys are just playing at Nintendo’s game. And while the competition was preoccupied playing follow-the-leader, Nintendo was unveiling some big new titles that caught our eye in ways that a couple of Wii-Sports clones never could.
You know its going to be a big show when the first game showcased is The Legend of Zelda. The Skyward Sword is the newest entry into the 23 year-old game franchise. This time the game focuses much more on Link’s sword-play, and new ways to use his classic assortment of weapons. Players have to slash the sword at the proper angles to break enemy guards, or slice through tough defenses. Sub-items gain new life, with functions like bomb-rolling and using the whip to draw enemies closer. This game utilized Nintendo’s Motion Control Plus add-on for the Wii-mote, which gives the Wii system extra tracking ability to match your motions one-to-one. This seems to have a similar function to the orb on the top of the Playstation Move’s Wand, and seems to match that system’s precision.
Following Zelda was a little taste of Nintendo’s other main franchise, Mario. Having just come from Mario Galaxy 2, the feisty plumber goes back to sports. Having exhausted about every other major sport, Mario Sports Mix features all of the interesting, lesser marketed sports into one package. This time you can mix it up with Volleyball, Basketball, Hockey, and my personal favorite, Dodgeball. Just for the variety of different games available, with the same insane Mario cast, this might end up as the best in the franchise.
A few of the games in the middle were a bit of a lull for me, personally. Wii Party is another set of mini-games aimed at Wii-Sports and Wii-Resort gamers. Nintendogs & Cats is a follow-up to the very popular series that just isn’t for me. Just Dance 2 is a sequel to last year’s popular title, and offers over 40 new tracks and tons of new moves for your repertoire; cool but not much I can add to that.
Epic Mickey got a big push at this year’s show. Nintendo’s exclusive Disney platformer seeks to make Mickey Mouse into a home-name again. A lot o attention was paid to Mickey’s “80 year legacy” and the fact that everyone knows who he is… but I have to wonder about that a bit. While I realize that Mickey was once a saturated pop-icon, he’s fallen by the wayside in the last decade or two, and while many kids can likely identify him as Mickey Mouse, I would bet that most kids under 18 right now couldn’t name a single cartoon he was in.
Despite this, the game itself looks fair enough. Mickey, now with a bit of a 60′s throwback added to his look, runs around the world with jars of paint and paint-thinner, adding and removing objects from the world as he needs to complete his quest. Both objects and enemies alike, Mickey can choose to change, or to destroy. Developers promise that the choices you make, what to save and what to erase, will have consequences and rewards throughout the game.
As for myself, I was most impressed that the Steamboat Willie level was animated at the same frame-rate as the original show. While Mickey jumped around totally fluidly, the rest of the cast of the level moved like true products of the Fleischer Animation era. Great visual effect.
Already announced were titles Metroid: Other M on the Wii, and the Dragon Quest 9 port for the DS, both looking great. New titles also included Golden Sun, Dark Dawn, the long delayed next chapter in that series, and also Golden Eye Wii, which is a reworked Golden Eye 64, with enhanced graphics, balanced gameplay, and all the amazing missions you had loved ten years ago, but now featuring Daniel Craig as James Bond. If you haven’t played Golden Eye before (youngins), now’s the chance to get this bit of revisionist history.
For me, the two most exciting Wii games announced were these next two, both of which are part of long-running franchises, and both of which need to be seen in motion to really be appreciated.
First up is Kirby’s Epic Yarn, an odd game where you’re… well, you’re made of yarn. Everything is created from what look like little bits of string and fabric. But much like Paper Mario, this game takes the medium of its creation, and uses it in new, creative, amazing ways. Take bits of string off yourself to lasso enemies with, tear down cloth buildings to make new paths, and use strings to grapple ledges, and pull them over to yourself, rather than swing across. Its a game that has to be seen to be believed. Shame about that milquetoast soundtrack, though.
The last big Wii title, and one that got a huge audience reaction, was Donkey Kong Country returns. DKC was always a great series, but since the trilogy was completed back on the SNES, Donkey Kong has had nothing but a string of weird peripheral games and cameos in Mario Party, Smash Brothers, and the like. This time DK is back, toting Diddy Kong along for more adventure, and it looks like Retro Studios has managed to capture everything we loved about that jungle adventure from yesteryear, and added in an extra helping of explosions and mayhem. Check it out.
Nintendo’s finale was a combination hardware and software announcement. Whispers have abound for months, and we can now confirm the existence of the Nintendo 3DS. We’ve all seen pics online, but now we’ve held one in our hot little hands, and its pretty amazing. The most astounding aspect is that the system generates 3-D images without any sort of special glasses or add-on. Rather, the red-optic light, the two polarized lenses, all of the things that you need to make a 3-D image, they’re all built right in to the system. Its a simple fix to replace glasses, but one a movie theater could never replicate due to the extreme size of polarized plates it would take to cover a movie screen. A handy switch on the side of the screen allows you to intensify, or turn off, the 3-D effect.
And what’s the big launch title to accompany this nifty new gadget? None other than a new Kid Icarus! We expected to see Pit at last year’s E3 on the Wii, but he was strangely absent, even after new character designs had leaked out to the press. Now we see the results of the mysterious Project Sora, Kid Icarus: Uprising. More on these in our 3DS hands-on report.
So there we are, a fun and impressive press conference that didn’t require any sort of weird tech, exercise fad games, or explosions and rap stars to impress. All you need is solid games, and the gamers will come. Nintendo proves, once again, that no one can do as good as they can when it comes to attracting adults and kids, hardcore games and casual games, families and friends alike. Microsoft and Playstation may try to make themselves look big, but lets face it, they’re only standing on the shoulders of the giant.