E3: Nintendo Conference
“Epic” and “Experience” were the alliterative buzzwords humming around the Nokia Theater today at Nintendo’s E3 2010 press conference. The biggest of Reggie & friends’ announcements was the unveiling of the Nintendo 3DS. The new version of the DS line was paraded as opening the door to new “experiences” for players and game designers alike. Satoru Iwata was on hand to introduce the device and its features, including:
> Glasses-less 3D
> One user-facing camera lens, and two outward-facing lenses, allowing the user to capture and view 3D images
> A side slider allowing adjustment to the depth of 3D, including the ability to disable it entirely
> A new “Slide Pad” control located above the directional pad which appears to be a type of analog stick
> An upper screen slightly wider than the lower, with touch control only on the lower screen
> Unspecified “graphical improvements”
> Motion and gyroscopic sensors
> Automatic wireless network and 3DS detection, enabling background updating and content downloads for all games, even those not currently being played
If the 3DS’s 3D is in any way tolerable, this device seems poised to do very well for Nintendo. Unfortunately, due to the unique properties of the 3D effect, there was no way for Reggie & Iwata to actually show us what their new toy is capable of doing. As substitute, a video portraying the “experience” of handheld 3D was shown, with the 3DS sucking in Iwata, spitting out bits of popular Nintendo franchises, and Bowser finally escaping the device to roast the oddly curious Reggie. Meanwhile, attendees in the theater were treated to demoing sample 3DSs tethered to a small army of “booth babes.”
While the actual 3D effect proved impossible to communicate, Nintendo made sure that the several games it and its 3rd party developers are planning for the 3DS were prominently displayed. These included the good looking Kid Icarus Uprising, with Nintendogs + Cats in the works. At least 20 3rd party developers have already signed on to produce games for the 3DS with titles drawn from many major franchises including Guitar Hero, Kingdom Hearts, Saint’s Row, Madden, Resident Evil, Assassin’s Creed, and Metal Gear Solid.
If the 3DS can deliver 3D in this user-friendly, mass market format, it could have a significant impact on the way games are played and designed, simply by bringing this typically high end experience to the casual user. Iwata (and a video host of designers) opined on the many new capabilities which would be opened by a 3D visual experience. Regardless of whether these capabilities can be meaningfully exploited, the more players of any level that are interested in and purchase this technology, the easier it will be to bring further tech advancements to the high-end gamer. At the very least the 3DS should cement Nintendo’s dominance in the handheld market for the foreseeable future.
Further, Iwata also hinted that Nintendo will be working to make movies available on the 3DS, representing the first 3D movie presentation accomplished without the need for 3D glasses. This, combined with the device’s 3D camera, stands ready to draw in even more users. While the presentation’s claim that these capabilities might push the 3DS into the realm of a “tool” feels to me a little exaggerated, it’s pretty clear that if the 3DS is able to deliver on these promises, we’ll be looking at a pretty cool piece of gaming gadgetry, which will only help make games, and high end gaming, even more ubiquitous.
With the rest of the conference, Reggie & friends clued the audience in to a number of upcoming games, most drawing heavily on the company’s established franchises. The headliner was a new Zelda game, The Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword. Shigeru Miyamoto was on hand to demonstrate the game’s new combat interface, utilizing the Wii Motion Plus to control Link’s sword swings and shield. Link’s bow and arrow, bombs, and a new fly-by-wire beetle item were also under Motion Plus control. One particular fun looking new toy was an Indy-style whip, accessible via link’s handy new radial inventory. However, despite Miyamoto’s insistence, the motion control “experience” did not appear to be quite “one-to-one”, even discounting the interference suffered during the demo. Outside of the Motion demo, the game appeared pretty much the same as any other Zelda game, graphics included. If you enjoy Zelda games, I’ll wager you’ll enjoy this one (but not until sometime in 2011).
Another standout title previewed was Disney’s new Mickey Mouse game for the Wii, Epic Mickey. Attempting to meld adventure, platforming, and RPG elements, Mickey also includes an environmental modification mechanic which might hold promise. Utilizing Paint and Paint Thinner, Mickey can make his way through obstacles and situations either by destroying them or building ways around them. The choices Mickey makes in solving these challenges will affect the way other characters will react to Mickey throughout the game. One particularly impressive melding of Mickey Mouse and gaming was the game’s travel zones, which feature Mickey jumping his way through a side-scrolling platformer constructed by elements of classic Mickey cartoons, with the demo featuring a level build around Steamboat Willy. If the game is successful in developing and balancing these various genres into one package, Mickey could well succeed in launching an engaging new collaborative entertainment platform between two of the most savvy franchisers around.
Gamers can look forward to a new GoldenEye game for the Wii, due out in November. GoldenEye 007 is to feature the classic feel of the N64 classic, including favorites Jaws and Oddjob, and as seen in a trailer, level design and gameplay that appears simultaneously evocative and nostalgic. The game will include the traditional 4-player split screen multiplayer, as well as online play. Having logged countless hours in the original, I know that I will be looking forward to GoldenEye 007 with a lot of anticipation and high expectations.
Other highlights included a look at the new, more emotionally developed Metroid: Other M, due August 31st (Wii); a new fabric-themed Kirby platformer, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, due out in fall (Wii); a new Mario sports game called Mario Sports Mix, featuring the whole gang playing volleyball, hockey, dodge ball, and basketball, due in 2011 (Wii); a new side-scrolling Donkey Kong platformer, Donkey Kong Country Returns, due out Christmas (Wii); the content-rich Dragon Quest IX, due July 11th, and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, due Christmas (both on DS); a Wii-exclusive NBA Jam; as well as a new casual-player-to-hard-core-gamer “bridge” game, Wii Party (just Mario Party with Miis), for Christmas; and Just Dance 2 for Christmas (Wii).
All and all, a promising application of the proven Nintendo formula – innovative new technology backed by legions of spin-offs and remakes from proven franchises. While other systems might have more flash, on can always count on Nintendo for pleasant, reliable gameplay, with the occasional really neat piece of new technology, and that is exactly what they brought to this year’s conference. If the 3DS is capable of the “epic” 3D “experience” Nintendo claims it is, it’s going to be a lot of fun, while the constant flow of new variations on old gaming favorites hold lots of potential (looking at you GoldenEye) to keep us busy while our 3DS batteries recharge.