Tuesday, June 7, 2011

E3 2011 Impressions - Day 2. The Day Nintendo Stole The Show

The second day of E3 2011 was indeed a special one for gamers who have been chomping at the bit for news on Nintendo's next console, and depending on how you liked their presentation, you are either very excited or extremely disappointed right now. Nothing could be more hyped up than the upcoming release of a new system and Nintendo, currently experiencing a regression with Wii sales falling, has a mountain of expectations to scale with their first foray into the HD realm.

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of one of Nintendo's flagship franchises, the Legend of Zelda, and it was clear from the opening of the press conference that Zelda fans were in for a treat. The announcements of Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Ocarina of Time 3D came as no surprise to anyone since these have long since been confirmed, however the big surprise was the addition of Link's Awakening, previously exclusive to the Gameboy Color, to the eShop and the announcement of Legend of Zelda: Four Swords being available as a free download later this year. The opening of the conference saw fans treated to a Zelda montage with a live orchestra playing a selection of songs from the various games, so it's safe to say that the Zelda series was well served at this years E3.

After the strong opening, we were treated to a selection of 3DS games planned in the near future that will no doubt win over any franchise fans who have yet to purchase the system. The expected titles like Super Mario 3D, Mario Kart 3D and Kid Icarus: Uprising were showcased and they all looked fantastic, as did new entries into Starfox series and a sequel to the long dormant Luigi's Mansion series. Rounding out the news were short videos for a variety of games that 3DS owners can look forward to, including Resident Evil: Revelations, Driver Renegade, Pac-Man and Galaga Dimensions, Tekken 3D; Tetris Online and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D. It's good to see that Nintendo is properly supporting their new handheld with a
solid roster of quality first-party titles combined with entries from quality third-parties franchises. For those who adopted the 3DS early and those who have yet to take the plunge, the future for the 3DS looks bright.

However, the big news of the day was the grand unveiling of the new console, dubbed "Project Cafe", and the successor to the mammoth-selling Wii. Everything from the name to the specifics of the console have been a source of rabid speculation for weeks and the time has finally arrived. Officially called "Wii U", the new console boasts full 1080p HD support for games and a confirmed library of games that include exclusives and cross-platform titles such as Darksiders 2 and Ninja Gaiden 3. Given that Wii owners have never been well served with cross-platform titles, the HD capabilities of the Wii U definitely level the playing field with the competition. The biggest draw of the Wii U is the unique controller, which was the focus point of the presentation and the source of some initial confusion. They started by showing the controller and this led to initial speculation that the Wii U was going to be a handheld. Bearing a closer resemblance to a tablet PC than a game controller, the Wii U "New Controller" boasts a 6.2 inch touch screen, a rear-mounted camera, gyroscopic functionality, full web-browsing capabilities and the ability to play Wii games remotely from the console.

The console itself is currently seen only in prototype photos, but it bears a strong resemblance to the original Wii and looks to be just as compact, in keeping with Nintendo's minimalist approach to console design. Nintendo also revealed the technical specifications and this also reveals the first weakness. While the Wii U does support 1080p and boasts a powerful processes, there is one basic element that has been once again left out - the hard drive. Like the Wii before it, the Wii U only comes with internal flash memory, unlikely to be enough to keep all of the downloadable games, so purchasers will need to rely on SD cards for extra storage. Given that downloadable games are the perceived future of gaming and high definition titles will no doubt take up a lot of room, omission of the hard drive seems nonsensical when it is a standard in other consoles. However, this may also be a calculated move by Nintendo to keep the price low at launch. Other specs include support for up to four Wii controllers, support for peripheral controllers like the Classic Controller, and backwards compatibility for Wii and WiiWare titles. It is not known if backwards compatibility for Gamecube titles will carry over from the Wii, but it is unlikely given that a special control jack and memory card slot would be required.

So will the new console be the home run that the Wii has proven to be? It's too early to tell. Nintendo's focus on the unique controller leads me to believe that the presentation was rushed for E3 and more substantial details will be known a we get closer to launch. How the console's online functionality will be improved upon is unknown, though I hope they finally drop that horrible friend code system, and what is included with the console also remains to be seen. My biggest question is whether or not the "New Controller" will be included with the console or be a pricey extra. Given that Wii remotes are $40, I can only imagine how expensive the Wii U controller will be and I wouldn't be surprised if were to be sold at an extra cost. In terms of branding, I can't say that I'm a fan of the name Wii U. While it's "we, you" inference that pushes interactivity and portability is clever on one level, the name seems unfitting for a game console. Additionally, a new platform should have a name that differentiates it from the previous generation, rather than a name like Wii U that implies that it's an add-on or an augment of the Wii as opposed to being an entirely new platform. That's what I say now, anyway. The name could still catch on.

Part of the fun of this years E3 is following the reactions of the gamers I know on Twitter and Facebook, and it became clear that Nintendo's presentation went over very well. There is some discontent over the name of the console, some skepticism on whether or not the Wii U will improve on the weakness of the Wii, and the occasional fanboy/hater debate. Either way, it's too early to get overly hyped or overly cynical about the Wii U and what it has to offer. Nintendo is five years late to the party in terms of HD gaming, but Nintendo is more about pushing innovation rather than following the crowd, hence the feverish consumer loyalty they have cultivated over the past 25 years. I am excited to see where this technology will go, but I am reserving judgement until the console is launched and we see what it is capable of.

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