It’s a shame that I’m following this standard format in my titles for all the E3 press conferences because they lack a bit of creativity that I’d like to have in my titles. It’s even worse for this post in particular because I’m not able to convey my enthusiasm for the showing by Nintendo this afternoon. Nintendo has this great way of constantly kicking ass at E3. Even if later on we complain about the products they show, the is this weird aura of hype and wonder after a Nintendo press event. Last year it was the 3DS that stole the show and this year Nintendo dropped their next major console and great new games. Let’s run through what we saw.
First up, Nintendo’s master game design Shigeru Miyamoto came on stage to talk about the evolution of the Zelda series in its 25 years. A full orchestra accompanied Miyamoto and his translator as they announced a series of concerts based around Zelda music. I’m very excited for that. Miyamoto also announced that 3 Legend of Zelda titles will be released this year: Link’s Awakening as downloadable title on the 3DS’s new Virtual Console; the Ocarina of Time 3DS remake with upgraded graphics and new features; and Skyward Sword for the Wii. There were no further demonstrations of these games (in fact there were no game demos at all during the conference), which is a shame because I want to see how Skyward Sword is coming along. Skyward Sword was the only Wii game discussed at the conference. Face it folks, the Wii is dead.
However, much of the show was devoted to boosting the 3DS’s meager software catalog. Sales for the new handheld have proven to be disappointing and many believe the cause is poor software choice. 3DS versions of classic games like Ocarina of Time and Star Fox 64 will grace the system with new graphics and features, while venerable franchises like Mario Kart and Super Mario will also get brand new releases. Kid Icarus from last year got a more proper showing and looks like a ton of fun (multiplayer doesn’t hurt). A new Luigi’s Mansion looks pretty good too. Closing this section was an announcement that Super Smash Bros. will be released on both the 3DS and Nintendo’s next console. Bringing us to…
Nintendo’s next console. Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata discussed the philosophical need for a new console. Iwata-san addressed that while the Wii expanded the gaming audience, it also divided the market by making itself a symbol for the casual market against the “hardcore” consoles of the Xbox and Playstation. This new machine is designed to be “deep and wide” – allowing for deep experience and wide appeal. I can dig it. And the name of this new console? The Wii U… yeah. Not a great name that again tries to convey a very convoluted message (it emphasizes what “you” want). Still, stupid. I would have tried to distance the new system from the Wii name, but then again Nintendo has a bug install base for the Wii and may want to use that branding to keep people interested…. because Wii 2 or Wii HD was taken?
The huge, groundbreaking appeal of the Wii U is its controller. The controller is more like a tablet, sporting a 6.2″ LCD touch screen, two analog sticks, face and trigger buttons, an accelerometer, forward facing camera, microphone, stereo speakers and gyroscope. It’s huge and packed with capabilities. The basic concept is that the controller will allow you to have alternate perspectives on what your seeing on the TV. This could be a simple menu, or entirely different content. Best of all, this controller can actively stream what the console is processing to its own screen, so you don’t actually need to play the game on a TV if someone else wants to use it. I assume that the processing is done on the console and sent over wi-fi or bluetooth to the controller, so no it can’t be used independently of the home console. There are a lot of ways this can be used, and Nintendo’s video showed tons of ways developers could use the second screen. The Wii U is also compatible with existing Wiimotes and Wii peripherals, as well as being backward compatible. I worry that this controller is going to be very expensive and having some games need the Wiimotes might mean that you need a lot of controllers to get full functionality. Still the possibilities are there and it’s exciting. I just wish there had been a demo.
The console itself is very powerful. A tech demo showing it’s graphics power was far beyond the capabilities of the Wii and seemed taxing for something like the 360. Some poor texture work was noticeable but hopefully that’s a product of unfinished hardware and software. An HD version of Zelda looked fucking amazing and it better come out soon after launch. So far we know the Wii U is 1080p over HDMI, has flash memory and support for USB mass storage. IBM confirmed today that their POWER7 processor (famously used in the Jeopardy! winning super computer Watson) is on the console and is multicore. I can tell you that the POWER7 may be one of the most powerful processors available today, so this console will decimate the 360 and PS3, assuming the GPU is the rumored R700 from AMD. It also uses a high-density disc based on Blu-Ray, but playback has not been confirmed.
And that’s good news because developers are paying attention. Huge studios like EA, Ubisoft, THQ, Eidos, Irrational Games, and Tecmo declared their support for the console with overwhelming enthusiasm. Nintendo has doubled down on getting third party developers interested the console. EA’s CEO came on stage and said that this was the best relationship EA and Nintendo have ever had and committed Battlefield 3 to be on the console. Other confirmed games include Darksiders II, Assassin’s Creed, Batman Arkham City, Ninja Gaiden 3, Ghost Recon Online, and more. The third party support pouring out for the Wii U gives me a lot of optimism for the console. Third parties are also enthusiastic because Nintendo has revamped their online system. There are few details but DLC and patch support has been confirmed along with support for friend lists and leader boards.
It looks like another year that Nintendo has taken the crown. There’s still a lot to know about the console and we will wait until next year’s E3 for pricing and a launch date. Until then, let’s hope the demos at E3 prove the console’s worth