Another E3 has come and gone and as usual the video game industry’s foremost event where developers and journalists gather to show off and play the newest hardware and software was not short of talking points.
Being a massive Nintendo fanboy I will, of course, be focusing on Nintendo’s showing but it would be remiss of me not to give some mention to Microsoft and Sony so here goes. Microsoft was the first hardware manufacturer to take to the big stage and although their press conference featured the news that the Halo franchise is returning with a remake of the original game and an all new trilogy including a teaser trailer for Halo 4 a lot of the online reaction to the company’s performance was pretty negative. I didn’t see the conference but it seems the company disappointed its fans by concentrating on casual games for its Kinect hardware. I did, however, watch Sony’s press conference live and the PlayStation manufacturers seemed to do rather better. The president of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, Jack Tretton opened the brief with a sincere and admirable apology to Sony fans for the PlayStation Network’s well-publicised outage. With that necessary issue neatly handled the focus shifted to the company’s upcoming handheld hardware and successor to the PSP. The handheld’s new name PlayStation Vita was announced and a number of games that exploit its nifty technology were demonstrated. The revelation that AT&T would handle the machine’s telecommunications was met with an amusing smattering of boos but when the competitive price of $249 was greeted warmly when it was announced. What the conference lacked was big announcements. With the exception of Sly 4 the conference had little for the hardcore gamer to get excited about in an E3 uncharacteristically devoid of big surprises.
Nintendo’s was the last big press conference taking place on the Tuesday morning in LA. It was known long before the show that the company would be unveiling its new console to replace the Wii and rumours had been swimming around the net for weeks speculating what it could do, the most convincing of which suggested the new controller would feature a sizeable touch screen making it vaguely reminiscent of the Dreamcast controller.
The conference opened with a great musical tribute to the Zelda series for its 25th anniversary. A live orchestra played a medley of classic tunes from the series while a montage of clips from the games played on the big screen culminating in the first showing of the newest trailer of Skyward Sword. Zelda remained the focus of the show and we were told of Nintendo’s plans to celebrate the anniversary detailing plans for a series of concerts dedicated to the series and revealing that The Legend of Zelda – Four Swords will be made available as a free download for the 3DS. Nintendo’s new handheld took centre stage after that and we were given a taste of the big first party franchises upcoming for the system including Star Fox 64 3D, Kid Icarus Uprising, Mario Kart 3D and most importantly Super Mario 3D as well as revealing Luigi’s Mansion 2 for the first time.
Nintendo saved their biggest news for the end and their new HD console, dubbed Wii U was finally showcased. As rumoured the console does feature a large touch screen in a design that resembles an iPad. The new controller also features forward facing cameras, a gyroscope, a microphone and a traditional button setup including two circle pads, D-Pad, four face buttons, two shoulder buttons and two triggers. We were given a fair amount of detail regarding what can be achieved with this system such as the possibility of switching gameplay from the TV to the controller screen, a feature useful for when someone wants to use the TV for something else whilst you’re playing. We were given a few tech demos and a promising list of big third party titles in development for the system including Batman Arkham City, Assassin’s Creed and Dirt but there was nothing on any first party titles except that Masahiro Sakurai’s team will soon begin work on a pair of new Smash Bros. games for both Wii U and 3DS. We didn’t get a clear idea of the machine’s specs either. There was some confusion among the watching public regarding the showing as Nintendo showed nothing of the actual console during its briefing leading many to mistakenly believe that the Wii U was nothing but a new controller but Nintendo officially released shots of the console itself after the show to allay these fears.
It was a good show, maybe the strongest of the three but it wasn’t as good as last year, nowhere near. I was hoping for more big game announcements for new and existing consoles but Nintendo chose to leave its announcements until after the show. The promise of new Kirby games for both Wii and DS were quietly shown alongside Mario Party 9 and a similar looking game called Fortune Street that matches Mario characters with Square Enix ones. The best news was the confirmation of Pikmin 3 for the Wii U but I was hoping to see a new Star Fox or Fire Emblem or at least news that the newest Fire Emblem game for the DS will see release outside of Japan. Most frustratingly though we still don’t have any news on a new F-Zero game. Nintendo’s futuristic racer is one of their best and most consistently excellent franchises, my favourite after Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Fire Emblem and we haven’t seen a new entry in the series in ages.
So what about the Wii U? I’m cautiously excited. The name is pretty bad but the tech is highly intriguing. Nintendo’s demos caused quite a stir by showcasing some of the possibilities for the new controller. Since the show we’ve gained a bit more information about the console. It seems each one will probably only support one of the new controllers with existing Wii controllers necessary for multiplayer games. The console won’t play DVDs or BluRays but, we’re promised, will feature a much more robust online setup. There are some concerns regarding the timing of the console since rumours regarding the specs suggest it will be roughly on a par with the PS3 and Xbox 360 although some sources claim it will outstrip them a fair amount. Either way Nintendo could still find themselves lagging behind in the hardware stakes if either Sony or Microsoft decide to one-up them in the near future. Still, the prospect of Nintendo franchises in HD is too good to ignore, a point most obviously shown by an HD Zelda demo. The demo is not that of a new game in development but an example of what the series might look like in HD. It featured an interactive movie of Link fighting a giant spider that allowed the player to alter things like lighting in real time. We’ll have to keep our eyes on the Wii U as we near its release next year.
In terms of software the 3DS was at the centre of attention for Nintendo with its big names attracting plenty of praise. Super Mario 3D is looking great mixing some of the conventions of Super Mario Bros. 3 with the design ethic of Super Mario Galaxy. The fixed camera limits the sense of freedom found in Mario’s non-stereoscopic 3D games so far but Nintendo have always put plenty of effort into their mascot’s games so it should be great. Mario Kart 3D looks like a fairly typical game for the series except for a few additions. Your kart will become a glider when making big jumps and gains a propeller when underwater as well as featuring the option to swap different machine parts. Let’s hope Nintendo gives the title a deeper one-player mode than the series is known for too. Star Fox 64 3D is looking great as the second big N64 remake to hit the system and the announcement of Luigi’s Mansion 2, though not what I most wanted still looks like a fun follow-up to a fine title.
The star of the show for me was undoubtedly The Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword. The Wii was given very little attention at the show but this last big release still yielded plenty of praise and has me very excited. The new trailer is great, finally giving us a look at Link’s world above the clouds. Skyloft is a fair bit smaller than I was hoping but it looks like an interesting community and the bird riding gameplay looks a lot more fun than Wind Waker‘s sailing. At the this stage it bears a striking resemblance to Skies of Arcadia. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. The new trailer featured the same theme tune as before, the same music from the last trailer, which, it was discovered a few weeks ago, is actually Zelda’s lullaby backwards. Zelda herself features in the trailer, playing the part of Link’s childhood friend as she did in Minish Cap. Her new design resembles her character art for A Link to the Past and I have to say she’s adorable. We also were given a first proper look at the new villain, Lord Ghihiram who featured in a gameplay demo on the show floor. He seems an interesting baddie at this point perhaps filling the same role as Zant in Twilight Princess. We were also given an idea of the game’s structure. It seems the line between dungeon and overworld will be blurred in this game and the story will see you revisiting dungeons (which I called). It’s looking brilliant, the stylised graphics may lack technical greatness but they’re lovely to look at nonetheless and by all accounts the Motion Plus swordplay is fantastic. The game looks set to eclipse Twilight Princess which suffered from a lack of defining features. Hopefully Nintendo will give it the same depth and originality of Majora’s Mask. We can only wait and see.
So that’s how E3 2011 panned out. It wasn’t the best show we’ve seen down the years but it certainly had its moments. We’ll wait and see what Nintendo does with its new hardware and keep a close eye on its games until we return to LA next year.