Friday, June 15, 2012

Tickets to NintendoLand: Looking on the Bright Side of E3

E3 2012 has come and gone, and Chris takes a look back at the most polarizing part of the show: Nintendo's unveiling of the WiiU. Were things really as bad as they seemed? Or was this merely a case of a very Japanese company miscalculating what to show to American audiences?

If you follow the videogame business closely for any amount of time, it's easy to find yourself jaded rather quickly. Predictable sequels, games pushed into and out of financial quarters, and "in-engine gameplay" videos that turn out to be pie-in-the-sky daydreams are something that have become all too common in recent years. As the industry has grown, and the Internet has shone a spotlight on once-niche hobbies, game companies have scrambled to become more media savvy. Perhaps the brightest lights are focused on the industry during E3, the annual trade show for videogames.

Just last week, E3 2012 took place in Los Angeles, also known as the Windy City. This years' version of the show was quite an interesting one, if only for how oddly low-key it was. The only major news most people were looking forward to was the public unveiling of Nintendo's WiiU console. That is, if they were even aware that the WiiU IS a new console, and not simply an accessory for the Wii. Seems that CNN didn't catch that one little newsbit.

Most people on the World Wide Internet seem to share the same opinion of the Nintendo E3 showing: underwhelmed. And that's being nice. I, personally, live-tweeted my disappointment in the press conference as it happened, and I don't feel as though I was overly-harsh. Part of the fun of E3 in this day and age is sharing your immediate first impressions via Twitter with the rest of the industry, and Twitter was abuzz with pretty negative feelings towards the WiiU's coming out party.

I confess that it can be easy to caught up in all the Internet snark concerning the flop of a presser Nintendo put on. But after taking a week or so to let it all sink in, I've decided to take a fresh look at what the big N rolled out this year. I truly feel as though there's some pretty great things that came out of the House of Mario at E3 2012, it just takes a little bit of digging.

Pikmin 3 was announced by a smiling Shigeru Miyamoto, who always brightens up the room with his infectious smile. It's obvious that this guy honestly believes in whatever product he is showing off, and simply wants to share his joy with the world. Miyamoto spoke of the new gameplay additions to Pikmin 3 with all the love and affection of a proud father. Whether of not Pikmin is your particular favorite Nintendo series, it was easy to see the graphical upgrades over previous iterations, and was a bright start to the show.

Once Reggie took the stage, it was all business. Reggie doesn't play, and he was here to kick ass and take names. Promising 23 game announcements, Reggie took a few moments to mention that Hulu and Netflix will appear on the WiiU. If you're like me, there are sometimes weeks where your game console will become a Netflix Box, and it's a major plus for these services to be available day one. More and more, game systems are becoming the once mythical "set top box" and Nintendo made sure the WiiU will be a contender in that space.

Among the games announced during this time was New Super Mario Bros. U. And while I have dismissed the "New" Mario games in the past, these games have sold major numbers. The original Nintendo DS New Super Mario Bros has sold over 20 million copies since launching the franchise in 2006. It also scored high with critics, ranking in at 89% on Metacritic. The semi-sequel, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, launched to amazing success and as of December 2011 has sold over 30 million copies. It stands to reason that the WiiU iteration will sell in equally staggering numbers, and will likely be the #1 seller for the system at launch.

You can smell the money. So can Reggie.

It was an odd choice for Nintendo to highlight Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition as their 3rd party centerpiece, and it seemed to take the air out of the room. Far too much time was dedicated to showing off the half-assed motion controls added to Arkham, and it seemed to confirm fears that 3rd parties don't really know what to do with the WiiU's unique tablet controller. Simply bolting on terrible looking minigames is NOT how Nintendo should be courting multi-platform games on their new machine. Lack of third party support led to the demise of all three of Nintendo's last home consoles, and they cannot afford to let that happen again.

Fortunately, some games that were glossed over during the show seemed to hold greater promise for the WiiU. Scribblenauts Unlimited continues the charming series with HD graphics and a great looking new modifier system. The tablet is a perfect fit for Scribblenauts, allowing the player to easily type out new words, and try to get some hot bear on bear action going on. Scribblenauts will appeal perfectly to Nintendo's traditional younger fanbase, and it's smart of them to lock up a new installment for the WiiU.

And for the older gamers, ZombiU seems to provide some pretty intense action. In direct contrast to the infuriatingly paltry additions to Arkham City, ZombiU looks to take full advantage of both screens. Using the Gamepad, players will have access to inventory, scanners, and sniper scopes. It's immersive experiences like this that will only be available on the WiiU, and Nintendo needs to look to 3rd parties to provide more games like this for their new console. Simply having a few M-rated, WiiU specific titles per year will go a long way toward winning back fans who were put off by the cutesy shovelware that flooded the Wii.

The close out the show, Nintendo took a major gamble on dedicating a lot of time to NintendoLand. Ostensibly a minigame collection, NintendoLand looks to be the WiiU's Wii Sports. Those are massive shoes to fill, and it will not be easy to capture as massive an audience as Wii Sports did. You know why? Because Wii Sports sold nearly 80 millions copies worldwide. Sure, it was a pack-in in America, but was sold separately in Japan, where it was also a major hit. NintendoLand has yet to be announced as a pack-in, but all signs point to it being included in the WiiU box.

NintendoLand has an advantage over Wii Sports in that it will feature recognizable Nintendo properties, which are truly where the appeal of Nintendo hardware lies. Knowing that this will be the only place to get the newest Zelda, Mario, Metroid, Donkey Kong, and Pokemon games is a, if not THE, major selling point of the WiiU.  It is no surprise then that NintendoLand features twelve minigames all based around major Nintendo characters. There's a sword game featuring Link, a minecart game with Donkey Kong, and a ghost hunting game with Luigi.

When you add in the fact that the WiiU is known to feature Skylanders-like NFC capabilities, the possibilities are endless as to what kind of unique experiences the WiiU may offer. Perhaps this will be the era of the fabled Pokemon MMO, or a Mario 64-like paradigm shift for the next proper 3D Mario game. Developers will surely need some time to figure out how to properly utilize the touch screen controller, and players should brace themselves for quite a bit of junky additions, ala Arkham City. After some time though, the WiiU could turn out to be a major player in the console wars once again. It's never a smart idea to count Nintendo out of the race, they are a smart company run by smart people. It's going to be an exciting time in the next 18 months to be a gamer, and the WiiU leads the way when it launches later this year.

Maybe. No release date has been announced.


Christopher Linendoll really wanted to enjoy the WiiU. He can be reached via Twitter, or found in the hummus section of your local grocery store.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for putting the "mean bear" Scribblenauts video in there. One of my favorite Ryan/Vinny moments.

    The only thing I took out of the Nintendoland section of the conference was how much the Luigi's Mansion minigame reminded me of Pacman VS. for Gamecube. It's definitely not a bad thing, though. When I was actually able to get some friends over to try that, that whole "asymmetrical" thing really does make for an interesting experience for everyone.

    Hopefully ZombiU shapes up to be a good game, and not just a fancy tech demo. There are some really cool ideas going on in that game.

    Lastly, while Reggie is pure business all of the time, his quip about french food was pretty funny. (just noticed the tag for the article)