Resident Nintendo Fanboy Checking In

The short, short version: I want to purchase a Wii U on launch day (midnight that morning).

The short version: Before E3 I'd already decided I want to purchase a Wii U on launch day. Nintendo's press conference and other E3 goings didn't create that want in me, but they didn't lessen it either.

The normal length version (it's actually quite long):

It was Tuesday. Liz, Nigel and I had already eaten the traditional day-of-Nintendo's-E3-press-conference breakfast of muffins and milk (a tradition started last year, though last year Nigel didn't partake). It was almost 11 am CDT. Liz and Nigel were about to leave for the afternoon (him to be babysat, Liz to work), and I was about to be blown away by Nintendo's press conference. Or, so I'd hoped.

Don't get me wrong, and don't believe the anti-Nintendo hyperbole out there. The presser was not a smouldering epic pile of fail with a helping of weaksauce on the side. But it wasn't spectacular either. Having contemplated the reasons why for a day or so, here's my conclusion: What was missing was something new but also familiar enough to understand without yet playing. But I'll get to that in a more opinion-oriented piece later. But for now, a rundown of the event with my commentary.

The show began by highlighting Pikmin 3, an action-strategy-management title originally for Wii but not clearly coming out for the Wii U. I say "clearly" on purpose. The HD resolution of the Wii U was immediately noticeable. Gone were the jaggies of the past. This was crisp, clear, smooth, and well lit (i.e., some nice shader work going on). Now I've never played a Pikmin game in my life, so the reveal of #3 didn't blow me away. What it did do, however, is make me want to play it (and the previous two games in the series). I'd say that's pretty good for the first shot out the box with a game that seems spiritually connected with Lemmings (Let's Go!!). Also of note, the primary control scheme for Pikmin 3 doesn't use the Gamepad (that's what they're calling the new tablet controller). Instead, it's the good old Wiimote/nunchuck combo. As a guy who was initially skeptical of the Wiimote, then upon seeing it in action with the nunchuck was academically excited about it but bummed because he didn't think he'd be able to use it, and then upon getting a Wii (on launch night, with Zelda) found out that for him it might be the best control scheme ever, finding this out was good news.

Next up was a confirmation that the Wii U will have Netflix, HULU Plus, YouTube, and other media content that will apparently blow our minds. But this presser was all about the games, so that would have to wait for a later day. (Oh, you can use the Gamepad as a TV remote. I think that's cool.)

Then came a discussion of Miiverse. This is Nintendo's on-line social component to Wii U. With it you'll be able to see what games are popular amongst everyone who has an account on that particular machine (did you catch that? "Account"), as well as on-line friends, and everyone in your region. But it's more than that. You'll also be able to read comments left by these people regarding the games. They might be praising it, or perhaps asking for advice on how to clear a level or beat an enemy, or perhaps giving advice on how to do said things. It looks pretty interesting, and Nintendo says there's more to it than what they've revealed. So we'll have to wait and see.

Then the reveal of New Super Mario Bros. U. Like the other NSMB games, this is a 2D sidescrolling Mario game, but done with 3D graphics. And it looks great. Again, the HD visuals stand out immediately, as does the complexity of the backgrounds (there appears in some places to be 8-10 parallax scrolling layers). Gameplay-wise, it's a new 2D Mario game. Running, jumping, and stomping are the name of the game. Four-player simultaneous multiplayer returns (which is big fun, folks). And new powerups are definitely in store (one of them, which  gives Mario a flying squirrel suit, has already been revealed). Gamepad innovation comes in the form of "Boost Mode," which has the player with the Gamepad placing blocks on the main screen in an attempt to help (or hinder if you're evil) the other players. On the whole it looks very good, though like sports games and FPS sequels, one could complain it's simply more of the same.

Next up some folks from Warner Bros. Games joined Reggie on-stage. (Third-party developers on-stage at a Nintendo presser...this is progress from years ago). They showed two games.

The first was Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition, an enhanced port of the very popular 3rd person action game on the PS3 and XBox360. And here I must pause and point something out. Here's a "core" game, one with a dark asthetic at that, showing up on a Nintendo console and not being of lesser quality than the other versions in anyway (graphics, audio, gameplay). This is new. This hasn't happened in many years. How long will it continue? Who knows. But for now, Nintendo has a console that is not doomed to get the short end of the stick because of hardware. Ok, back to the game itself. It looks good, with some nice use of the Gamepad (inventory selection, batarang steering, etc.), and some new gameplay ideas. But, as I said, it's a port of a game that's already out. Time will tell if folks who already have it will be inclined to purchase a Wii U and an enhanced version of a game they already have. I think Nintendo is hoping that there will be enough compelling games and experiences for Wii U that these folks will want to get a Wii U anyway, and once they have the system maybe they'll not mind plopping down some money for the Batman in armor. As for me, a guy who doesn't already have the game, I'll be contemplating a purchase when the time comes.

The second was Scribblenauts Unlimited. If you know anything about the Scribblenauts franchise, you know it ain't Batman. These are not 'core' games, but rather puzzle games. But, having played two others in the series I can attest, they are good. The whole idea since the first one on the DS is that you can summon any real world non-copyrighted object in order to help your character (Maxwell) solve the puzzles he faces. With Unlimited, one (maybe both) of those limits has been curtailed. This is due to the addition of an object editor that allows you to mix and match elements of pre-programmed items to make your own, which you can the share over the internet. So if you want to make a ride-able toaster with skulls for wheels that shoots trout, you can do that. This is one I'm definitely excited about. Oh, and this might make Todd happy, Unlimited has a story. In a first for the series, Unlimited explores Maxwell's history, why he solves these puzzles, and how he got his item conjuring notebook.

Next up was a 'sizzle reel' of upcoming games. Each game only got up to 15 seconds or so worth of screen time. This is unfortunate because some of the games in this montage, like Tekken (with super mushrooms from the Mario games?!?) and Mass Effect 3, could have generated more excitement among certain demographics had they been highlighted more. But, they will have to wait for another time.

Then Wii Fit U was announced. This is an extension of the two previous games. There are new activities, Gamepad usage (both for some of the activities, and as a replacement for the TV in others), and a pedometer, but so far it looks to be more Wii Fit. That isn't a bad thing at all. Wii Fit is a fun way to be more aware of one's own health and work to improve it. But 1) being more of an enjoyable utility than a game in the classic sense the excitement it can generate is at best different from that generated by traditional games, 2) it's a sequel to an enjoyable utility as opposed to a story or mascot driven traditional game.

Another 'expanded audience' game was shown, this time a music game called SiNG (working title). It's, as the name suggests, a singing game, but one that seems to emphasize multiplayer. Lyrics are displayed on the Gamepad (so everyone doesn't have to stare at the TV but can look at each other), some sections ask that everyone sing together, and the game encourages those not currently singing to dance along. Looks like fun, and hopefully it will sell well. But again, not the sort of thing that's going to pump people up at a press event.

Then the 3DS got a few minutes of love. The next day Nintendo did an hour presser just on the 3DS (which in my opinion was a bit less awkward than the Wii U one was at times), and I'm planning on writing about that later. So, moving on...

Next up was a game I'd been interested in since I heard about it last year at E3. It's one of those games that seems to blend genres and styles. Imagine Grand Theft Auto. Gritty, violent, full of prostitutes and gang bangers. Now image LEGO. Shiny colorful plastic bricks and minifigures, creative play, innocent fun. Now put them together. That's what Travelers Tales is doing with LEGO City Undercover. I'm not kidding, it's LEGO GTA. A large open world (LEGO City), mission-based and open gameplay, vehicles of all types. The only difference is, you play as a straight up good guy (a cop, Chase McCain) as opposed to a gangster. I'm definitely looking forward to this one. Oh, and at the end of the trailer something intriguing happens. Chase finds a pile of bouncing green LEGO bricks (which in the world of LEGO games means they can be assembled). As he puts them together it becomes apparent he's building a green warp pipe. Upon completion he hops on top of it, and is sucked in, accompanied by the authentic Mario warp pipe sound. Hmm....two non-Nintendo developed games with Mario elements in the trailer....

Then folks from Ubisoft come up on stage, like their WB counterparts earlier, to show off two games.

First up was Just Dance 4. You know where this is going. Dance games can be a lot of fun. The Just Dance series is well respected. And this one includes a mode where a player with the Gamepad can arbitrarily choose what dance moves the other players must perform.'s a dance game. It sounds good from a business standpoint, and a one day when I play that it'll probably be fun standpoint, but it doesn't generate that certain type of excitement.

The second game is called ZombiU, and it looks like the one to watch. Exclusive to Wii U (at least initially) ZombiU is, as the name suggests, a first-person survival horror game featuring zombies. Been there done that, it might be said. But it has some surprises. First is the whole concept of the game. You don't play as just one character. You start off the game like normal. You fight off zombies, collect items to help you in your quest, and perhaps even level-up your character. But the first time said character gets bit, that's it for him/her. The character becomes a zombie from there on out, and the player switches to playing as a new character. Your first task? Find the zombie you were just playing as, kill it, and get your stuff back (he/she was the one who had it, afterall). This continues presumably until you beat the game. I for one think this is a neat idea. Yes it limits character-driven storytelling a little, but makes up for it in the atmosphere it creates. The second area of surprises comes from the use of the Gamepad. It is used as a map, a scanner, a way to interact with certain objects in the game, an inventory, and so on. And about that inventory. Unlike some games, the action doesn't pause when going to the inventory screen. This means in tense situations you'll be looking down at the Gamepad (as though shuffling through your backpack), but also glancing up at the TV to make sure zombies aren't about to eat your brains (and they might be, I mean, they are coming to get you Barbra). I've read some reports from the show floor saying ZombiU is the sleeper game people should be looking forward to. Now, all of this info wasn't revealed in the press conference, and the zombification easter-egg using the Gamepad's forward facing camera they were demoing on stage glitched up. So even here the conference felt mixed to some people.

All totaled Ubisoft has 8 games coming out for Wii U during the launch window, varying from 'expanded audience' games like Just Dance and Rabbids Land, to classic platforming with Rayman Legends, to core offerings like ZombiU and Assassin's Creed 3 (which was not highlighted on stage but is playable on the show floor, and is confirmed to be in no way a watered down port of the PS360 versions; it's the same game made by the same team, with a few Wii U-specific enhancements thrown in).

I just read that although not mentioned among the 8, Ghost Recon Online is still coming to Wii U. And that confirms what I've been suspecting. Nintendo isn't giving everything away just yet. They've done this in the past, staggering the outflow of information to continue to build momentum. So, as Anakin said, "I know there are things about the Wii U that they're not telling me."

Ok, so, so far so good, right? Yes, there was some expanded audience stuff that people aren't going to go nuts over. But there was also some stuff of a more 'core' persuasion. Indeed, there was something for everyone. Well, at this point there's maybe 10 minutes left in the conference. I, and others also, were thinking how is Nintendo going to end this? What are they going to do to blow us away? Well, what they came up with is, in my opinion, a big reason why folks are so down on Nintendo's presser (even though many of them later have said the game in question is quite a bit of fun). What they came up with was...


Ok, so Reggie says the name, and asks what would happen if the game worlds of Nintendo's franchises collided, and I'm starting to get excited. Some sort of huge crossover game (a la the rumored Star Fox / Metroid crossover that people were talking about a few days ago)! But no, this is instead more of a minigame compilation. The eponymous Nintendoland is a virtual theme park, with 12 minigame attractions from different Nintendo franchises. Ok, I'm not a minigame complilation hater, so I keep listening with an open mind. One of Nintendo's game designers (who worked on titles like A Link to the Past) comes up on stage to explain a game based on Luigi's Mansion. It's a pac-man style chase game where four players are mii's with flashlights trying to find another player who's a ghost. The ghost-player has the Gamepad, the other players have Wiimotes. The four players can't see the ghost on the TV, but the ghost player can see everyone on the Gamepad. There's some strategy involved that I won't go into now. But he did, and that's the problem. This individual, speaking in Japanese and having someone translate for him, stood on stage with the game paused for about 4 minutes explaining how the game would work. Four minutes of explanation. Oy, this killed momentum. As I said, folks at the show report the game is actually a lot of fun, but the way it was presented obscured that.

Now I think on some level some folks at Nintendo knew that would happen. Reggie said a few times that with Wii U, you have to play to understand. (He said this is how it was with Wii. And while I kind of agree with him, WiiSports Tennis didn't need a big explanation. You saw someone playing it, and you got it.) This does seem to be Nintendo's PR puzzle. It's similar to the one they had with the 3DS (explaining glasses-free stereoscopic 3D doesn't really get across what it's like), but perhaps even more pronounced. However, Nintendo handled that just fine. The 3DS has actually sold more units than the DS had at this point in its lifespan. So I'm fairly confident Nintendo can find a way here as well.

For me the big question is 3rd parties. Nintendo can't reach sales dominance without the Wii U being perceived as the place to get the best of both Nintendo and non-Nintendo titles. For that perception to be out there, it needs to be true that the Wii U is the place for quality 3rd party games. Thus, 3rd parties need to support it seriously. I'd say there's already some big time support here, no doubt. But right now it remains to be seen whether it is enough to get jaded cooler-than-thou gamers who think PS360 is all that's needed and Nintendo is totally only for kids man (you know, the kind who spend a decent amount of money on their gaming hobby) to give the Wii U a try (since, it seems to me anyway, they're not likely to do so just based on the possibilities of a new control scheme). And if they don't give the Wii U a try in sufficient numbers, 3rd parties won't be inclined to continue to make their big games for Wii U (especially when the new PS and XBox systems come out, and porting a game to the Wii U will mean downgrading the graphics at least). And then you'll have a snowball effect / self-fulfilling prophecy. But more on that later.

Anyway, that was it. They ended the show with footage from the common hub area of Nintendoland, which virtual fireworks (in HD, granted) going off over the little Mii's heads. Not a great ending.

So that's it. Some very good stuff, but surprisingly little that wasn't already known about in some way. And no big Nintendo franchise revelations. (I saw some comments by folks super upset at Nintendo that a new Zelda wasn't announced. This is, pardon me, a bit silly, given that Skyward Sword just came out not even a year ago.) This, I think, is what made people feel like the presentation was lacking, and why some have taken that feeling and run to extremes with it, gloom-and-doom predicting the downfall of Nintendo as they always do.

But as I said, I still want to purchase a Wii U on launch. What say you?

Oh, and check out IGN, GoNintendo, NintendoLife, and GameTrailers if you want more info.

Pray for a true peace in space!

 - Nic

Posted on June 7, 2012 .