Wednesday, 6 June 2012

E3 2012: Nintendo conference round-up

It all started out so promisingly. In the wake of Microsoft and Sony's poor showings the hope was there that Nintendo could rock the show. The fact that they have a new console out this year practically guaranteed it, right? What purported to be a leaked trailer for a Wii U remake of Majora's Mask had everyone speculating over its authenticity, and buzzing with anticipation. Expectations couldn't have been much higher, and so to be a bit disappointed in the end could be understandable. Nintendo were never going to give us a new Zelda, 3D Mario, F-Zero, Starfox, et al, no matter how much we wanted them. But maybe we could hope for one or two big reveals.

The ever-loveable Shigeru Miyamoto kicked us off with some delightful Pikmin shenanigans, revealing the third game in the series. It all looks pretty enough, and was a colourful way to show off Nintendo's first HD game. A new pikmin type was revealed, and the whole thing was played on a lush looking black Wii U gamepad. I can only hope we don't have to wait as long for that as we did the bloody black Wii. Shown off pre-release, then takes three years to arrive. Cheers Nintendo, you tease.

After a start like that everyone was smiling, and when Reggie was summoned out to tell us they had 23 Wii U games to cram into the hour long show, we hoped for the best. The 3DS was even getting its own, separate show at another time, because there was so much Wii U stuff to cram in! But something started to go wrong. Reggie wasn't shutting up about the social side of Wii U, despite the promise of a focus on games, and the fact that we'd heard it all on the Nintendo Direct briefing days before. The audience's goodwill was obviously still high, as they cheered the announcement that the console would support more than one game pad. Going mental over the announcement that a console supports controllers seemed a bit strange, let alone when it's the USP of the bloody thing. Sadly, it was all downhill from here.

The new rock pikmin type, looking fetchingly Ghibli-esque
A new Mario game was announced, but it was a follow on from the Wii's New Super Mario Bros, rather than the 3D sequel to Galaxy that almost everyone was after. Its Miiverse integration looks passably interesting, but the whole thing was leaning dangerously close to the casual conference people were expecting months ago. Next a quite baffling amount of time was given over to demonstrating the Wii U port of Batman: Arkham City, a game that many of the assembled journos presumably completed nearly a year ago. The Wii U pad is used in various gimmicky ways, perhaps not impressing me enough to part with another £40 to play the game game. A new Scribblenauts was also shown, reassuring us that the Wii U won't lack for games you'll play for five minutes then never touch again.

A trailer showing off more third-party ports from the last year or so was up next, ticking some boxes. Mass Effect 3? Yup. Ninja Gaiden 3? Uh-huh. I'm sure it'll be great to play Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Trine 2 again as well. Quite why Aliens: Colonial Marines was relegated to a spot in the trailer was anyone's guess. Suppose those hopes of it being a Wii U timed exclusive were wide of the mark, eh? Lego City Undercover looks to be a fun GTA knock-off, but this wasn't what everyone was hoping to see. Where was the killer first-party announcement?

By the time Wii Fit U was pushed up to centre stage it was clear that the audience was losing hope. Applause was becoming noticeably muted, and E3's customary whooping had transformed into deflated silence. Despite giving us what might be the first game you can control with your arse, Wii Fit U wasn't impressing many. Yet another karaoke game, Sing, brought out the backing dancers and loathsome pop soundtrack, and I started to have worrying flashbacks to Usher and Flo Rida's appearances the previous day. It utilises the gamepad to allow one player to control the dance moves for the other players. Reggie was asked how it felt to be a puppet master. "It's like running Nintendo of America!" he quipped. One feels that if he'd added "I can release anything and still get these clowns to part with their money!", the truth would've shown a bit more. And just like that, we were onto the 3DS games. Er, weren't we meant to be getting a dedicated conference for that?

Bums are definitely an underused method of control
Nintendo evidently weren't done bleeding poor Mario, whose withered husk of a corpse must look terrible by now. So instead of one middling 2D platformer, we get two! Yes, a 3DS New Super Mario Bros stunned precisely no-one, nor did its central gimmick of, uh, coin collecting. Lots of coin collecting. Luigi's Mansion seems to look no better than it did during last year's reveal, and we were treated to another trailer reel of games that look more interesting than the ones we'd just been talked through. Well, at least 3DS owners have a fair bit to look forward to this year.

Ubisoft's Yves Guillemot was led out, and my hopes briefly rose that they would somehow save the show. The promising looking ZombiU was shown, and some of its central mechanics were explained. A single-life system is interesting, as is the idea that you have to track down and kill your zombified former character to reclaim your items. But the shadow of Red Steel looms large, and the fear that this could be another set of empty promises will linger until ZombiU can prove itself. After the truly awful demo of a zombie camera, which plants zombie features on your face in the style of a shitty iPhone app, an Ubisoft trailer ran. It featured Assasins Creed 3 and Rayman Legends, which was heartening, but Watch Dogs was conspicuously absent.

Nintendo had about ten minutes to save the show, and of course we were about to get a big reveal! Maybe this is what we'd bee- Oh, it's just a minigame compilation called Nintendo Land. Apparently it's the Wii U's answer to Wii Sports though! The game that makes us "understand" the hardware we're playing on. And what better way to show that off than a confused demo of a Luigi's Mansion themed Pac Man VS, a game that came out nearly ten years ago on the Gamecube. But don't despair, also included are minigames themed around Animal Crossing, Donkey Kong, and other Nintendo favourites! That was their big finish by the way, it just ended after that. Nobody cheered, unsurprisingly. What happened here?

Coming to a Wii U near you soon, more minigames!

In what was a year of bad conferences, Nintendo's might just have been the worst. Perhaps not in terms of its games, some of those looked fine, but simply because it was such a colossal misfire. With expectations so high it was understandable that we might have left a little disappointed, but Nintendo's conference lacked practically everything it needed. No triple-A titles announced, a lack of new third party software, and a quite baffling lack of information about the console itself. Come to think of it, we still haven't seen the machine itself properly. When was the last time a controller took centre stage ahead of the console it's designed for? We left with no release date, no launch price, and little idea of the specs.

Nintendo have made a lot of noise about convincing us that this controller will change the way we play games, but we're left with the impression that they don't really know how or why that's the case. Nintendo may never have an easier conference at E3: The only hardware giant releasing or even featuring a new console, and coming off the back of an intriguing pre-E3 video as well as dreadful showings from their rivals. But as my good pal Gav put it: "You had an open goal and missed. You completely Van Vossen'ed it." And as the post-conference trailer ran, showing off games that should have been included in the show itself (a new Warioware? Platinum Games' latest project?), we were left with the confusing image of Iwata staring intently at a bunch of bananas. Sums it up, really.

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