All Nintendo had to do was get up and wow us.
Given that it is launching a new console this year, the Big N has me worried. Compare this E3 presentation to Nintendo's pre-launch conference for the 3DS and the difference is night and day. The 3DS had a slew of titles from first- and third-party developers. The WiiU is due out before Christmas. For a system that is going to be out before the end of the year, Nintendo showed and told us nearly nothing.
Nintendo started off strong with "Pikmin 3," ever near and dear to my heart (and if you watch the conference video closely you'll see me covered in AR Pikmin-a nice touch). But it just seemed to go downhill from there.
The third-party showings were good, but not stellar: "Batman: ArkhamCity, Armored Edition" offers an expanded version of the already-released title, but will players want a game they played already? "Scribblenauts: Unlimited" was a good addition, and "LegoCity: Undercover" looked interesting, like a Lego version of "Grand Theft Auto." But where was something entirely new that we didn't know about last year, or that hasn't come out on other systems already? I'll give a nod to "Mass Effect 3," but everything else was mostly old trailer reels, nothing groundbreaking or that showed Nintendo is taking a huge investment in third parties this time around, which the company really should be doing. "Zombiu" may be the only stand-out title on that front. My worries continue.
The biggest first-party title Nintendo had for show was a new-ish IP that seems to be Nintendo's hope of repeating the magic it had with "Wii Sports" in demonstrating the Wii's potential. "NintendoLand" is its answer for the Wii U, but I don't think it is the IP crossover fans have always hoped for. And the company spent way, way too much of its previously 'short' conference time talking about it.
We also got a look at "Just Dance 4" and "Wii Fit U," and as much as neither of them are my cups of tea, I understand their importance in Nintendo's showings.
Sure, the conference did give us not one but three new Mario titles, two for the 3DS and one for the Wii U, but two are entries in the "New Super Mario Bros." series. That's something, but I never set my hopes too high for any of them. The new "Paper Mario" title looks good, but was briefly shown in some attempt to save all the 3DS for tomorrow's 3DS software conference, which was just silly (especially since it felt like Nintendo spent more time talking about how it had too little time to show all its games, yet didn't end up showing that many). So many key franchises were missing (I can deal with Zelda's absence, I didn't expect anything so soon after "Skyward Sword") and if Nintendo is planning on launching the Wii U with just "Pikmin 3" and "Nintendo Land," it is going to have rough waters ahead of it, because I don't think Mario can do it alone. (But at least it's better than "Steel Diver.")
So, even though I bleed Mario red, I have to say that I was disappointed in Nintendo's conference this year. It's hard to pick any of the three major systems for a winner. All of the conferences made major errors in judgment, and Nintendo's just hits closer to home, and it had the most to prove. I needed to be convinced to buy a Wii U and blown away, and frankly, I really wasn't. "Pikmin 3" almost guarantees I'll be there at launch regardless, but Nintendo needed to come off strong and prove its vision, and it just didn't follow through.
With all three conferences over, today was also the first day of the floor and game demos opening. On the floor, things weren't horribly impressive for anybody either. It was almost like the big three sat down and decided not to show off very many games this year. The biggest titles all seemed to be reserved to behind-closed-doors video features, and Nintendo, for crying out loud, didn't even have any 3DS titles featured at its booth, focusing almost all their floor space on "NintendoLand." But, for the games I did get to play today, here's a quick run-through of what to keep an eye on.
"Pikmin 3" (Wii U)
About time. There's not much else to say about the return of one of my favorite GameCube franchises. Now, Nintendo is kicking off another home console launch with "Pikmin 3." The game allows you to control a space captain (notably NOT Olimar this time around, though we don't know why) with either the Wiimote and Nunchuck or Wii U Game pad, which is interesting for a first-party launch title meant to demonstrate the new console's abilities. I took time with both methods but found the Wiimote much more fluid for aiming. The Wii U pad was helpful sitting nearby as the map screen, but didn't offer much else in terms of extra functionality. I also found the motion controls to be super touchy; something that either needs calibration or tightening before the final release.
The place that "Pikmin" really benefits from is the Wii U is the new horsepower. The originals were always pretty games and perhaps a rare attempt at near-photorealism for Nintendo. "Pikmin 3" looked quite good stacked up against today's HD games...but it wasn't blow-away breathtaking.
But then again, "Pikmin" doesn't need to be. The core of the game doesn't seem to have changed much, except that you can now control 4 captains at once, which is sure to make for some crazy puzzles. A new Pikmin type, rock Pikmin, was shown, which operated very similarly to Purple Pikmin and even had purple buds on their heads, but all of the original colors are slated to come back so hopefully my purple plumpy pals will make a comeback, too. It was interesting that the old "herd" Pikmin button, which was mapped to the C-stick in the originals, was absent, and that was a control method I abused all day long. Either way, I'm blooming with happiness to see Pikmin return.
"NintendoLand" (Wii U)
Apparently the new flagship title for the Wii U, "NintendoLand" combines minigames from various Nintendo franchises into a theme park where players can explore and battle and fight and all that fun stuff. Sounds great?
Well, some of it is.
The games on the floor were all taken from the "Animal Crossing," "Luigi's Mansion," "Donkey Kong," "Zelda," and weird ninja franchises.
The Zelda battle-type game had the most promise, with the player with the Wii U gamepad controlling an archer Link and the rest using swords. It required strategy and, depending how long the experience actually is, could be something worthwhile. Although it had me feeling a little blasphemous playing through Hyrule in such a bastardized and patchworked carnival setting.
I found the Donkey Kong mini-game the worst, mostly because I sucked at it. You were controlling a cart through a throwback original "DK Country" stage by tilting the Wii U gamepad, but man was it touchy as all get go. I couldn't get the hang of it.
The rest of the games were very little more than mini-games, which is what they are supposed to be, but has me scratching my head on what Nintendo has been working on for a year. "Nintendo Land" is a title I expected to be shown off at last year's E3, not something they devoted an entire conference and system to this time around. Though I suppose at least it isn't "Pac-Man Versus."
And speaking of Pac-Man, the "Luigi's Mansion" game was a interesting spin on the classic ghost chasing franchise, with one person playing as a spook running around after the other flashlight-wielding players. It was interesting, but the "Animal Crossing" game features similar 1 versus 4 gameplay, and I'm not sure how well asymmetrical multiplayer is going to translate online (if Nintendo puts it online) or at all. Takamaru's "Ninja Castle" was a return to the ninja-star-throwing demo from last year's E3, and was about as fun as throwing virtual ninja stars can be. The way it used the Wii U gamepad to slide your fingers and actually fling the stars was interesting, but again, nothing stunning.
So yes, "Nintendo Land" is fun and shows promise, but it faces many of the same problems as "Wii Sports:" it will be fun for a little bit but doesn't seem to offer anything lasting. Though my money is Nintendo is hoping to use it to get casual players to advance to their other franchises, and in that vein, "Nintendo Land" may be the best marketing game since Smash Brothers. But it's not a system seller.
"Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two" (Wii, PS3, Xbox 360)
I'm all about my "Epic Mickey." The first game was one of my favorite recent releases, and a sequel that is a musical, and includes full co-op, full voice acting, and addresses the first game's issues, sounds like a total win in my book.
This time around it really is shaping up quite nicely. I got to play through a boss battle with a mechanical version of Pete's dragon, which was quite awesome. The paint and thinner game play mechanic of the first title seems really ramped up here: Just in that battle alone there were several branches of decisions I could have made, and this time around almost all of them (I'm told, at least) will lead to different rewards and game elements later on. Completionists are going to pull their hair out, but if "Epic Mickey 2" fulfills the promise of the first game and expands on it, I'm already painting myself in time for this one.
This time around the game is also multi-platform, which leaves me torn, as the Wii version will get a pretty nunchuck paint brush (that lights up this time!) and remote, but the other consoles versions will be in HD. I was really crossing my fingers for a Wii U release, so we'll have to see. Now come on Disney, just give me that "Epic Mickey" ride as Disney World we both know you want to build.
"Project P-100" (Wii U)
From Platinum Games, creators of such blood fests as "Madworld," comes "Project P-100," which is an interesting Wii U title that actually reminded me a bit of "Pikmin," and not just because I played a lot of it today. In the game you control a mob of super heroes all at once, and work to attack giant robot things that I'm guessing are evil for some reason that was lost on me. I'm not really sure of the dynamics here, but it didn't matter: the game showed off some interesting uses for combining gesture-based combos on the bottom screen and swarming action on the television. Plus, take Platinum Games and combine the company with superheroes and I'm interested either way.
I'm working to get some videos and photos up from today, so keep an eye on City Newspaper's Facebook, as well as online here for continued coverage through the next two days on the floor. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and my feet aren't quite falling off yet, so look forward to more game goodness tomorrow. Oh, and I've also got the Zelda Symphony concert, which has me maybe more excited than Carley Rae Jepsen when she finally got called back.