Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Nintendo E3 2011 conference/Wii U- My thoughts

This is actually my first time catching a live stream of an E3 conference. Traditionally I'd leave everything till later because the conferences start at exactly midnight where I live! This makes it, under normal circumstances, impossible for me to watch, as this means sacrificing my beauty sleep, which I really like, by the way. This year however...lots of free time, I'm on holiday, I don't have to wake up early the next day, what's stopping me? All the Wii2 rumors were driving me absolutely nuts, from the extended 3rd party support, to the HD graphics, to the queer new controller with a screen on it. And then there were 3DS games to see. And then the final batch of good 1st-party Wii/DS games. My body was ready.

After the Nintendo conference ended, I went back to bed with a bittersweet feeling.

To be honest, it was good, there was a new console. But I wasn't blown away.

The show started with a massive Zelda 25th Anniversary presentation, then went on to 3DS games with a special surprise in the form of Luigi's Mansion 2, then revealed Project Cafe's real name as Wii U, and then talked about the new controller and how it worked, and the massive 3rd parties pledging to develop games for it.

Notice something missing? Yep. There were no games on the press conference. All the 3DS games in the conference save one were leftovers from last year, and it appears none of them are even close to being finished for this year. Paper Mario 3DS is also noticeably absent from E3. No concrete release dates for Mario Kart, Skyward Sword, not even Kid Icarus. When the Wii U rolled around, all Nintendo were willing to talk about was the controller and the graphics. No games were on show save for a few mediocre tech demos. You'd expect it to be announced together with at least one first-party Nintendo title, but no. Nothing for us to get excited about.

The technology behind the console itself, in my opinion, is impressive, but there were no real games to show that technology off to the masses. The 3rd party games, though all well and good, were not playable and again, can't show what the Wii U is capable of yet. Everyone also left the stage without so much as a whisper about Pikmin 3, which supposedly had been worked on for two years. And then what? Nothing! No screenshots, no trailers, not even talked about! At the very least, there was confirmation of the existence of a dual-console Smash Bros. between 3DS and Wii U, but until actual gamplay footage is shown, it's all talk and no walk. Oh yeah, but they do have one more game to announce for Wii U....wait for it....a nondescript Lego game in partnership with Traveller's Tales. I seriously fell off my seat laughing. I waited an hour for this?

That pang of disappointment I felt when there were no surprise announcements coming from Nintendo (or any of the three big hardware makers to be honest) lasted for a few minutes. I'm sure everyone else must have reacted the same way the moment the conference ended but then I got into thinking- hey, at least there was a console. If you don't already know, there was a Wii U console, but poor presentation made sure it stood hidden in the background while the controller gets all the love, to the point where I actually thought it was an extra peripheral to the current Wii.

Really, Reggie has lost his ability to impress this year. Not because of the content of the presentation, but because he wasn't being as lively as he usually is. The Wii U logo just popped out on the screen with no fanfare or glitz while Reggie continued to drivel on without a hint of excitement or tone in his voice, and for the first few seconds no one was sure whether it was a new console or not. By the time everyone realized it was Project Cafe, the climax period had passed and people weren't as excited anymore. Really, if they could put together an entire orchestra performance for Zelda, surely they could afford to give the new console a bigger entry to get people hyped up. They made a grand entrance for the 3DS last year, why not Wii U?

Hearing the name really makes you think it's somehow related to the Wii we all know, but the added 'u' made it an entirely different beast with far better capabilities than what the regular Wii could ever dream of. We were all expecting a fresh new name without the Wii brand- but think of this. Nintendo's aim with this console cycle was to attract both hardcore and casual gamers alike. With the new graphical power (the graphics demo was impressive) and hopefully strong 3rd party support they could pull one group in, and with the new control method and the establishment of the Wii brand in the last 5 years they could very easily pull in the other. Sure Wii has gone down the drain in just a short year's time, but families with money to spare would probably pick one up seeing as they had fun before with the Wii and remember how good it was (for them, not us). The one problem with the casual group would probably be that people would assume this new console is identical to the old Wii. Nintendo are going to have to market the hell out of Wii U, and give it a competitive price so the casuals will keep coming back for more. The console looking almost identical to the current Wii isn't helping.

The controller (above) looks squarish and unwieldy, with a large screen in the middle. Based on the size of the hands relative to the console I'd say it's about the size of an iPad, if not smaller. I won't judge how comfortable it is to hold the thing because I really can't see for myself yet, but there are grooves on the back of the controller along with shoulder buttons which should help. Hopefully it isn't heavy. It's definitely very fascinating to see how it works- the interaction between the screen on the controller and the TV screen is unique and can surprisingly be used in many flexible ways. The part where you can transfer what's on the TV directly to the controller is naff to me however, I don't watch shows and game at the same time. I'll be waiting to see more real uses of this, no tech demos for me! It's rechargeable, meaning no more fiddling with AA batteries, which is nice.

Other important features of Wii U remain under wraps for now. To what extent are the graphics stronger than that of current gen competitors, if at all? How is online coming along? Will there still be friend codes? (unlikely, as 3DS has phased them out by a lot) Hard drive or flash memory? Transferring Wiiware games to Wii U? New apps and bite-sized download games? We don't even know what the menu screen looks like. Hey, late 2012 is a long way to go, and we'll definitely find out more along the way. With such a long time, it's only natural that Nintendo won't have any games to show (though I'd realy appreciate if they did) and you know how secretive Nintendo likes to be, sometimes to their own detriment. They were never good at timing their release of information.

I was skeptical of Wii U and the controller at first (mainly due to poor presentation), but I find myself growing a little more and more intrigued by the minute.

Things took a turn for the better once I had my mind sorted out the next day.

I woke up the next morning (today) and found game trailers from games on the Nintendo show floor. I saw Mario Party 9, Kid Icarus, Rhythm Heaven Wii, Wii Play: Motion, Layton 4, Animal Crossing 3DS and not one, but two different Kirby games, one for Wii and one for DS, most of which were completely unannounced at the press conference. I smiled. For the first time since last night, I smiled. Especially at the Kirby games- you all know what a big Kirby fanboy I am, and seeing the pink blob get so much attention for once is heartwarming. Why this stuff wasn't given more emphasis in the press conference I will never know, but this is what I came for. This is what E3 is about- not just hardware talk and having to hear Nintendo's game-making philosophy for the billionth time- it's all about the software, the games which I can already be looking forward to on consoles I already own. And though it isn't much, at least it leaves me satisfied that I can have at least 4 to 5 Wii/DS games to get, and a bunch of 3DS games which are apparently being dated for 'Holiday 2011'. Overall verdict- it won't top Nintendo at E3 2007 and 2010, but it's definitely a lot better than Nintendo at their worst (E3 2008 ).
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