E3 is just getting started, but as always it always seems like a whirlwind tour as it happens. With all of the big press conferences down and just the exhibition floor yet to come, there’s still quite a good chance that there might be a surprise or two yet to eke its way out of the show. Yet with most of the big announcements already quantifiable, we’re already in a good position to look at this year’s offerings and see where the big N is heading in relation to its competition.
Obviously the big news at Nintendo is the re-reveal of the Wii U in all of its black and white glory. However, perhaps just as interesting as this is the fact that both Microsoft and Sony have maneuvered themselves in a position to possibly steal a bit of the Wii U’s thunder before it even launches.
Sony is actually pulling a page out of Nintendo’s old playbook by trying to tie its portable device, the PlayStation Vita, to its PS3 console. The initiative is called Cross-play, and it allows gamers to use PS Vitas as wireless controllers to games running on the PS3, very akin to the age-old Gamecube/GBA connectivity from years past. As Vitas are touch-sensitive, this in effect emulates the Wii U Game Pad, albeit at a cost. What’s also unclear is just how that connectivity will work, if the Vita has to run with a game installed or not, potentially adding to the expense if the answer is bad.
Microsoft, however, has an even sexier response to the Wii U, and that’s called Smart Glass. In total, it allows gamers to use their existing Internet-enabled devices—whether they be Windows Phones, iPhones/iPads, or Android devices—as a secondary window into their games and/or a smart display for other entertainment purposes. And honestly, the idea is so interesting because it leverages devices that you may already have to do the work. If you already have a smartphone or an iPad and a 360, then you effectively get this new ability for free. No new console required. Now granted, your Smart Glass-display won’t have the buttons of a standard controller or perhaps even the same spatial awareness as the Wii U’s Game Pad, but it could easily be the poor man’s Wii U in many ways.
And of course, that brings us to the Wii U. The Nintendo presser didn’t show much of the hardware, instead choosing to reveal those details before the conference proper and on their E3 Internet hub. The biggest change is that the Wii U will now support two separate Game Pads, which provides many more exciting possibilities than just a single Game Pad would. Nintendo yet remains mum on the specifics of the processor and graphics card buried within… and from my experience in the industry, that’s often telling that it doesn’t paint as good a picture as they truly want to reveal. To me that reads like they’re making a slight compromise in the arena of power versus cost; the Wii U therefore probably isn’t that much more powerful than current-gen platforms, but that’s likely an effort to curtail the cost of the system as the Game Pad is probably going to add a hefty bit to the price of the device (not to mention two). Other than for the fancy tablet, HD output, and the other unknowns, it otherwise looks functionally and technically equivalent to a Wii.
But ultimately, who gains the most steam and momentum from E3 isn’t about who has the nicest hardware but about who has the best games to look forward to. Unfortunately for us, while there are good games to be had on all three of the major consoles, there’s also a number of games that seemed to flop before they were finished.
Microsoft is running strong with Halo 4, Gears of War 4, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and another timed exclusive Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. On the negative was a continued focus on Kinect; while the Kinect is an amazing piece of technology, it really has yet to sell me on a fun game for me outside of the Dance Central games. Sony had Beyond: Two Souls, God of War: Ascension, and The Last of Us, but it’s Wonderbook demo seemed to be a little unpolished, and PlayStation All Stars: Battle Royale demoed poorly as well (not to mention is inspired by You-Know-What).
Nintendo wasn’t a stranger to this trend either. Beginning strongly with the long-promised Pikmin 3, it seemed like Nintendo was ready to bat 1.000 and knock it out of the park. It was after this when things started to get a little more sketchy. New Super Mario Bros. U looks like a lot of fun, but truth be told I was more enamored by the 3DS’ New Super Mario Bros. 2, which looked just as good if not more fun than the Wii U title. While I’ve no doubt Mario can sell a system, it does seem weird for me not to have a 3D Mario as the flagship Mario game for a new system. Project P-100 should have been shown at the presser because that just looks quirky and fun (as was made by the Okami guys, so I have to give them props), but surprisingly it wasn’t. (Really, it should have been!) ZombiU has the makings of something good too if you’re into that. Lego City: Undercover looks interesting as well. And I have tons of respect for the Scribblenauts Unlimited guys over at 5th Cell. Yet Nintendo Land, other than reminding me of the first website that I ever worked on, left me puzzled; did Nintendo really put a mini-game, Mario Party-esque festival as their capstone announcement at E3?
But that caps it off for all the exclusives. Everything else that Wii U has to offer can be found on other systems or, worse yet, has already been released for other systems. While it’s cool to see that Assassin’s Creed III (a personal favorite franchise of mine), Mass Effect 3 (a title with some weight to it), and Ninja Gaiden 3 are all coming to Wii U, I was shocked to see that Nintendo made such a big deal over Batman: Arkham City, a game that was released for 360 and PS3 last year, even if it is a special edition. It’s comforting to see that the Wii U really can hold its own against the weight of its cousin consoles; however, if you’re like me and are a two- or three-console household already, then it’s hard to give the Wii U tons of love when the best argument is that you can buy games that you might already own… or can already play as is.
While Wednesday evening is supposed to give a little more love to the 3DS and all that it portends, I was a bit surprised to see the extent of first-party titles limited to a Mario, Luigi’s Mansion, and Paper Mario game. Spirit Tracks, the last portable Zelda game to date, was released in 2009. The last portable Metroid title? 2006. The recent Fire Emblem game launched in Japan in April is so far MIA. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn came out in 2010. There have got to be a good number of things that Nintendo is working on in-house, but so far none of it has taken center stage. While there is another Castlevania title for 3DS on the way, the third-party 3DS lineup so far hasn’t been stellar.
Now all this sounds doom and gloom, but honestly Nintendo didn’t have a terrible show. There are a good number of things to be looking forward to with them. If you’re a Nintendo hardware exclusive household, then the Wii U is bound to be an excellent purchase for you. Nintendo, if nothing else, has put a lot of thought into the questions that they want Wii U to solve, and they’re certainly going forward full steam in that direction. And in that market, I think Nintendo is exceptionally strong.
The question for me lies as to whether or not the Wii U as it’s currently being portrayed is a worthwhile purchase. As much as I want to say yes, it so far hasn’t clicked. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been giving my PS3 quite a bit of love of late and can otherwise get almost all of what the Wii U currently has to offer on it or 360. So far, the slam dunk hasn’t been made. As for the casual market, one of the focuses Nintendo mentioned wanting to focus on back at E3 2011, I remain skeptical as to whether the Wii U can replicate the Wii’s success in that realm. The tie ratio for Wii games was exceptionally low; will casuals buy Wii U for whatever it costs just for more casual sports titles and the likes? The jury is out on that one, but then again I’m also not one of them; my guess is as good as any.
By no means do I think Nintendo “lost” E3 however. At the same time, though I’m not sure, out of the Big Three, that there’s a clear winner yet. I feel that each company in their presser had a series of missteps alongside some bold and interesting strides towards the future of gaming. And perhaps that’s for the best. The best thing about having multiple consoles on the market is that companies inspire each other to go outside of the box to try new, interesting ideas. And there are certainly a lot of them out and about.
That said, if you really need a winner to E3, my recommendation for Grand Poobah of E3 would go to Ubisoft. Honestly, they showed some amazing things at their presser, the best of which was Watch Dogs. I know that got most of the folks at my studio talking!