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Roundtable: Nintendo E3 2011

The last of the hardware giants, Nintendo, held their conference Tuesday morning, showing off a slew of games for the 3DS. But perhaps most importantly, they dropped the Wii U bomb, announcing a brand new HD console with a screen built into the controller.

Quick recap: Nintendo kicked off their event with some orchestrated Zelda music and a few Zelda series announcements in honor of the 25th anniversary of the franchise: Link’s Awakening on eShop, free Four Swords, and Zelda CD’s & concerts were revealed. 3DS titles shown included Mario Kart, Star Fox 64, Super Mario, Kid Icarus, Luigi’s Mansion 2, along with some third party footage. Then, BAM! The Wii U was unveiled with its funky tablet-like controller and HD graphics, followed by a montage reel of Ghost Recon: Online, Assassin’s Creed, Batman: Arkham City, and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. EA announced their support for the console and a big partnership with Nintendo, and then it all faded to black.

 
Kyle: To open up our round table discussion for the Big N, let’s start where Miyamoto did: for the Legend of Zelda’s 25th anniversary, Nintendo had a few small surprises for its fans, including a Link’s Awakening release on the eShop, Zelda: Four Swords to be offered for free to DSi owners, and an announcement of a world tour for a Legend of Zelda orchestra. I didn’t think this was a particularly strong section of the show, and it definitely seemed off-pace from the way the other big players opened their conferences, but you can’t really knock a free, awesome 4-way co-op game. Link’s Awakening is a nice treat too, one of the better Zeldas in my opinion. Concerts? Eh, at least it wasn’t a Wii Music 2 reveal. What’d you fine gentlemen think?

James: I think they were really clutching at straws when they were using the orchestra for the Zelda news. It was a tad un-necessary, and only served to gain a few fan-service rabbles from the crowd. It served a bit of purpose, in terms of announcing the orchestral tour, but I wasn’t buying it. I think that it was a bit of save-face due to the fact that Skyward Sword still hasn’t been released, and that they had to take a portion of time to bring that back to attention rather than solely focus on the new hardware and 3DS. Four Swords could be an interesting title, especially for free with no pre-order gimmicks attached, but other than that, colour me unsurprised by anything here.

Declan: It was nice to see them give some time to celebrate the Zelda anniversary but that much time? It really started to drag on. A free copy of Four Swords is nice for DSi owners but I don’t think it’s as cool as Nintendo thought it would be. The Zelda Orchestra going on tour is cool but again, not too interesting. For the company that went into E3 with everyone thinking they were going to come out top, Nintendo really started things off slow.

Miodrag: Nintendo? Do something to gain fan-service rabbles? Why, I’d never! I think the whole Zelda portion could have used a much better delivery. It really bore me. But yes, free games are always fun. I applaud such gestures from companies. You’d never see Activision giving you free CoD DLC, let alone games. The idea of a Zelda orchestra world tour is also something I like. It’s a cool idea. Aside from a lack of Skyward Sword footage, my only real gripe with that portion was that it REALLY dragged on.

Kyle: And on, and on, and on… yeah, it got pretty awkward for a bit there.

Johnny: The concerts thing I don’t really care that much for. It’s neat and all but I watch the E3 pressers for information about upcoming games, not to hear about some concert that’s never likely to come anywhere near Sweden. Links Awakening on Virtual Console is neat, but not really anything mind-blowing. For me the highlight of this part was the four swords announcement. It’s one of the rarer Zelda games. The only one, I think, that none of my real life friends have played. Like Miodrag, I felt this dragged on a lot.

Dean: I’m not so sure that Four Swords is so much free to DSi owners as free to the guys in the audience. At least that’s the impression I got. I’ve not played Zelda games, nor own a 3DS or DSi so it means little to me. The orchestra was a very classy touch by Nintendo though, shame they didn’t use them the way I thought they might (just playing Nintendo theme tunes every now n then to match games shown off) but instead an overly long session of just simple sound effects. I do agree that on the whole the opening of the Nintendo conference was a bit slow paced, especially with everyone chomping on the bit for Project Cafe news.

Kyle: I’m pretty sure the Four Swords was free for all, but yeah, we were all waiting to see what the new console would be like, and it seemed like they spent 15 minutes patting themselves on the back for the Zelda anniversary.

Kyle: Nintendo focused on its infant portable, the 3DS, quite a bit before moving on to the Wii U announcement. We saw a trailer for Mario Kart (it looked like Mario Kart, with some twists), Super Mario 3D, Star Fox 64, Kid Icarus, and (gasp!) Luigi’s Mansion 2. Mario Kart is gonna be a system-mover for sure, even if it looked samey, but Super Mario 3D really looked like something special. As a fan of the franchise, I am interested in following it further. Some third party game trailers were shown, including Metal Gear, Ace Combat, RE: Revelations, and Driver: Renegade. We’ve seen most of these before, not much new there. Oh, and a little later on we were told a Smash Bros. is in development; that’s probably the biggest piece of news for the 3DS right there. If it’s got a big Melee influence, I may need to buy a 3DS.

Miodrag: I wanted to punch someone because of Star Fox. It was first revealed in the montage, and even if it was for the 3DS, I was all “HELL YEA NEW STAR FOX!” Then it turned out to be yet another N64 port…

James: I done the same thing too. Not to mention the cheesy use of that “DO A BARREL ROLL!” line from Peppy. I fanboyed there, because I loved StarFox, but it being StarFox 64, a game I’ve played, and not anything new, worries me. The same applies to a few other games that the 3DS are reliant on to push for sales. I’ve already played most of them, like Street Fighter 4 and Metal Gear Solid 3. Admittedly I’ve not played Ocarina of Time (astounding, I know), but is it enough to make me upgrade from my DS Lite? Probably not, when I can just buy it on Virtual Console at a relative’s and play it there with a GameCube controller. The news of a new 3D Super Smash Bros might be the game changer, but again, nothing that makes me want to get a 3DS now as opposed to waiting until later when that or Mario gets released, whichever comes first.

Declan: My thoughts exactly, Miodrag. Nintendo were lucky to have some new 3rd party titles to show off because while I love my Mario Karts and Star Fox games, there was nothing really new; though it does seem like they shaken up Mario Kart a bit. Has Nintendo given up on creating new IPs now? They could really use one right about now.

Kyle: I remember reading that Miyamoto was working on a new IP a while back, but we have not heard any news since then. It was later mentioned that the Pikmin in development for Wii will now be a Wii U title, though. I digress: they need to stop with the N64 ports.

Dean: Mario Kart is a game they tend to knock out for each console, surely with 3 current versions out it would get stale? Super Mario 3D looked pretty neat, like a mini-SMB Galaxy. Not enough to make me go and get a 3DS, but if I got one it’d be a title I’d certainly hunt down. Super Smash Bros on a portable would be quite neat. Oh in Starfox the camera thing for multi-player is going to end up abused.

Johnny: I’ll be honest the only part that really intrigued me here was Super Mario 3D. I was tired of Mario Kart by Double Dash and StarFox is just yet another re-release of a N64 game. I feel Kid Icarus gets a bit of a free ride due to the fact that it’s a Kid Icarus revival. I really don’t see what people think it looks great. Looks like a huge clusterfuck to me. The third parties didn’t really catch my interest either. I’m a huge fan of Super Smash Bros. Melee, but after Brawl I have no hope left for the franchise.

Miodrag: Yea, Super Mario 3D looked pretty good. Actually, when looking over what was all announced, there are some new 3DS games, but the conference made me (and a few other people I know) feel like only N64 ports were announced. I think the Star Fox thing left that bad a taste in my mouth. The Pokedex thing also seemed very unsavvy, considering everyone will download and print the cards and fill it up in one afternoon. The exclusive OST for the first XYZ people as well. People are just gonna torrent it the next day.

Kyle: Of course, the biggest part of the show was the reveal of the Wii U, an all-new HD console controlled by either a 6” screen-endowed gamepad or traditional Wii remotes. Players can stream full games from the console to the controller’s screen or just play on the TV as preferred, and some other conceptual tricks were shown off. Honestly, and I say this as someone whose mind was blown at the Wii’s reveal, I was a little disinterested, if only because any potential I fear will be wasted in place of dozens of Ubisoft ports and Babyz gamez. If developers spend time utilizing its unique elements, it could be pretty cool though. The mini-game demo footage was just awful, including a golf gimmick and a cumbersome-looking pitching thing. Anyway, I suppose you could say I’m a hopeful skeptic.

James: I’ve been a tad skeptical for a while now of the Wii (I’m one of the oft-clichéd “had it, didn’t play it often, sold it” people), but I think this is a colossal mistake. First of all, I’ll address the controller/screen/camera/tablet. I don’t think it can make up its mind what it wants to be. While the whole notion of game controller design seems to be pretty consistent across the board, this looks like a horribly bloated PSVita. It looks clumsy, awfully big in your hands, and I’m not 100% certain about how it actually works in regards to “play on when someone else is watching TV” like they demoed. Is there some sort of magical sensor that can tell if your TV’s not outputting the console? Because when they were showing it off with New Super Mario Bros Mii, I sure as hell didn’t see a pause menu that showed how the transition from TV to portable works. It looks like it could be one of those crazy peripherals with horrible battery life, especially if all the games require heavy use of the bottom screen. Overall though, while it seems like it’s going to slot in as a “Generation 7.5-esque” console (due to the obvious tech advancement), I think it’s a gamble for Nintendo that won’t pay off. You’ll need a new base console to play the games, and one of these new tablets to play them on, as well as your Wii Remote for certain games. All that is bound to clock up some serious bank, and that’s probably the one thing that’s going to scare people off from getting it.

Miodrag: Aside from not daring to waggle that Wii U controller because it’s obviously gonna be expensive, I am not sure what to think about the console. I think it was a mistake to show it without any exclusives announced and showing only concept demos for it. They even over-emphasized “This is JUST a tech demo!” I think they were aware of how bad it looked. The versatility of the Wii U controller looks very good and in an ideal world, we’d get some mean exclusives, but I’m guessing publishers and devs will be to busy porting and making stuff for the other two consoles to care. We’re gonna have a few gems in a sea of shovelware again, because third party support will be lazy. It’s not really Nintendo’s fault alone. It’s more profitable for publishers to just port stuff on three platforms (MS, Sony and PC)  than devoting an entire team to take advantage of one single platform.

Dean:  The Wii U was a very badly handled reveal. It took until the third party line-up for people to definitely catch up on the fact they were announcing a new HD capable system, not just this chunky tablet controller. The naming was kind of expected, especially given the 3DS sticking to the DS naming scheme to keep up popularity. So keeping the Wii naming in tact certainly helps things. I’m kind of unsure if I’d call this an 8th gen consoles though, seems more of an evolution of the Wii than a major iteration. And given it’s games line-up it’s very 7.5th gen. Talking of the games line-up showing PS3/360/PC footage (with fraps watermark included) is not the best way to go about showing what your new system can do. Huge lack of professionalism n polish there.  The new controller could add a fair bit of heft to the consoles price without adding much to the consoles, almost seems like it’ll get mostly used for adding in menu/map/inventory. Which on other consoles is normally just a button press away. Given Sony had just shown the Vita and PS3 allowing you to move from the TV to the portable it did make the new controller, which isn’t as portable as Vita, lose some of it’s sparkle. I just don’t really see how the new controller helps much at all, it’s cumbersome enough that it won’t really fit into the “it makes you active” features of the Wiimote n Balance board. And the new PS3 n 360 games won’t really win over the core given they most likely already own a PS3 and 360 to play them on anyway. We also need to hear on the power of this console. If it’s on-par with the PS3 and 360 then in a couple years time when PS4 and the new Xbox are shown off then Wii U goes right to the back of the line like the Wii did this gen.

Kyle: I agree completely with your point about the controller’s actual use being delegated to maps & menus. I mean, yeah, kidnap the entirety of Valve Software and force them to develop for Wii U, and they’ll come up with some mindblowing stuff, but unfortunately instead we’ll see 20 Ubisoft ports that hardly touch on the controller’s capabilities.

Declan: I actually think the porting could work in the WiiU’s favour, at least in the short term. Think about all of the gamers who bought the Wii just for the Nintendo titles so they could enjoy those while also having a PS3 or 360 to enjoy the multitude of multiplatforms (and their exclusives as well). This time, Nintendo will have that bit of an edge at the start where they can say “Hey, look at this. It has more more than the 360 and PS3, it has loads of the same games BUT it does Nintendo too!”. As soon as Microsoft and Sony come out with their next generation console however, that advantage will be gone. The controller seemed like it had a lot of potential but I doubt we’ll ever see it truly realized. As was already mentioned as well, if the PSP is going to just as much but be its own system as well then it’s not so special anymore. I agree with Dean, it was a very bad reveal. Hell, the only shots of the actual WiiU were tiny second-long looks at the thing under the TV in videos. I don’t know, I think Nintendo is going to have to try very hard to sell this to everyone…Then again, I said the same thing about the Wii.

Johnny: I was incredibly underwhelmed. The announcement was as Dean mentions horrid and I ended up just being more confused than informed. I hope the online isn’t terrible this time.

Dean: It was a bit worrying that they didn’t touch on the online aspects of this console at all. Especially given some of the titles shown off for it.

Kyle: Yes, it seems the announcement of this thing was almost rushed, as though they had to scramble when Wii sales began to stagnate.

Miodrag: By the way, was I the only one who thought the Bird Tech Demo looked pre-rendered rather than an actual real time demo?

Kyle: It was interactive on the show floor. Not playable, but apparently the player could mess with it, camera angles and such. So supposedly it’s real time.

Miodrag:  Ah, good. I knew that about the Zelda demo, but the Bird demo got me worried.

Kyle: Finally, Nintendo closed up shop with a laundry list and some footage of ports they expect at or near the Wii U’s launch. This part, to me, was the weakest, if only because there’s nothing of substance being shown, only promises of potentially poor ports that may or may not be fulfilled. Still, some big names were dropped, including Assassin’s Creed, Ghost Recon, Battlefield 3, Arkham City, Metro, Tekken, and of course Ninja Gaiden 3. EA’s creepy-looking CEO then came up and told everyone that Nintendo’s online functionality was being brought up to speed, and promised a big partnership between EA and Nintendo. That’s cool and all, but let’s see it happen: I’m wary of promises of third party support after I believed these guys 5 years ago. Please, Nintendo, follow up with these guys and make sure they come through on their promises. If they can really do that, and do it well, I’m definitely on board with Wii U, even though the name sounds like a bad online university. What about U?

Miodrag: This round table is gonna prove we’re Sony fanboys, isn’t it? There are no exclusives announced, but we did get the Illusive Man say that a bunch of EA games from this generation will be ported over to the Wii U. My main gripe with this is that the console seems about the same power as the PS3 (I do not know this for a fact, I’m just saying this based on the tech demos via an Internet stream). We know “for a fact” that the PS3 is more powerful than the Xbox360, but of course, most multiplatform titles look identical on both. I’m thinking the Xbox is gonna drag Wii U visual capabilities until the other Big Two throw out there next-gen console. Then the Wii U will have the worst graphics, and I kind of doubt devs will sacrifice PS4 and Xbox720 capabilities over the Wii U. Based on the Wii, I am expecting a bunch of lazy ports for the Wii U which will use the screen only for inventory, maps and HUDs. I am hoping for some nice exclusives. A Fatal Frame or D&D game would be perfect for the Wii U.

Johnny: None of the games caught my eye. A lot of multi-platform releases for sure, but where’s the exclusives? Games I can already play on other systems I own won’t convince me to make the jump.

Declan: The line-up was really weak, especially for a reveal show. I would have at least expected them to have some sort of Mario game mentioned or even more than one crappy tech demo. At this point, it really does seem like the WiiU is going to be a port-machine.

Dean: I’m confused why they showed any of those games though, given that the consoles isn’t expected for at least another year (I believe they plan to spend next E3 finalising, pricing and dating it) so surely none of those games will be on the console due to it being so late? Unless anyone here is planning off waiting until next Christmas to pick up Battlefield 3?

Declan: Not a chance in hell, Dean. Not a chance in hell.

Kyle: Exactly my thoughts during the show, Dean. In fact, I don’t think BF3 was even confirmed or announced; many of those titles were simply a “we’re looking into it” from the third party devs. And I don’t think anyone on this site wants to wait any longer than we have to for BF3.

James: I think that most of what they showed is definitely a tad ambitious, given that the most of the games shown in the montage will be out for the best portion of a year, if not more, by the time the Wii U comes out. Darksiders might be the only one that would be released across the board in time for the Vita’s release, making it a pretty good launch title, but show of hands here, who’s going to get one of these to play Darksiders 2 when you can get the other consoles for way cheaper than this?

Kyle: Well, personally, I don’t own a 360 or a PS3, and I’d rather get something that’s not terribly out of date if I were to buy a console next year. Darksiders 2 isn’t coming to God’s Gaming Platform, is it?

James: Well, the first one eventually got a PC release, so I wouldn’t rule it out completely.

Kyle: So? What were your high points and low points? For me, the high point was probably the hardware reveal because of its potential, or perhaps the Smash Bros. announcement for both 3DS and Wii U. The presentation bottomed out with the mini-game / tech-demo montage.

James: As a Nintendo skeptic, there wasn’t really any serious high point for me throughout the conference. Obviously I’m going to go with the new technology, because if it’s properly invested in and properly implemented, it could be a huge, huge payoff for Nintendo, especially now with its ability to play games on the same level as the other home consoles. The low point however, is the lack of any new first-party IPs. I’d have liked something that is totally fresh and innovative from Nintendo, or even a first party team (not necessarily any of Miyamoto-san’s brainchildren). A lot of the games they showcased are extensions of current franchises like Mario Kart, StarFox, and the Smash Brothers 3DS announcement, but while the new Kid Icarus revival might be the closest we’ll get to an all-new series from Nintendo over the next 12 months, it just isn’t quite enough.

Johnny: There really wasn’t anything that got me interested, but if I have to pick I’d guess it was the brief snippet of Super Mario 3D. I was expecting more interesting 3DS games, but as of now there’s really nothing that makes me want to make the jump, especially with the Playstation Vita on the way. The low point, for me was the clips they showed of well-known developers talking about how great the Wii U will be. It feels a bit insulting when they don’t actually say anything of substance and expect us to buy into the whole “Ken Levine likes it so we should buy it!” crap.

Miodrag: Oh god, yes. I pictured Miyamoto holding a katana above the developers’ heads during that “The Wii U is the best thing ever!” I thought the lack of “actual games” for it and an abundance of tech demos to show the concept was the low point, though. The high point for me was the idea behind the Wii U controller. I’m just worried its potential won’t be used by developers like it should be.

Kyle: Thanks for that Miyamoto visual. I won’t be able to sleep tonight.

Dean: I’d say my high point was their very snazzy use of architectural projection to give the illusion of depth to their very creative trailers. I’m always a fan of people using projection that way. (Go back, watch it, you’ll notice that at times they use the entire stage and not just the screen in the middle to show off trailers). Nintendo have always liked to be more creative with the stage space, such as the theatrics of bursting through the wall last year.  The low point was the Wii U. It was just very badly handled in giving out information and confusing, I don’t really know what they want to do with it and I’m pretty sure they said that it’s a case of see what the devs do, which is never a good idea. First party leads, everyone else follows. Also Reggie telling us that we “Want what you always want” which was very “wha?”.

Miodrag: That was one of the worst speeches I have ever watched streamed.

Kyle: We want you to want what you want: and, guess what? It’s what you want to want!

Miodrag: I want a device that lets me punch people via IP. I hope the Wii U does that.

Declan: Yeah, I noticed that architectural projection, it was a great way to get across the 3D-ness of the 3DS. My high point? It was probably the reveal of the WiiU controller. While I haven’t been very positive about the WiiU or its controller here today, I do feel like it has a chance to succeed, especially if Sony repeat the mistake they made with the PSP and don’t sufficiently support the PSV. My low point has to be the very start of the show. I hate to say it but I didn’t need to listen to Shigsy, hear Zelda music or watch highlights from the Zelda series for what seemed like 10 minutes.

Johnny: Yeah, I kinda liked the architectural projection as well. Doesn’t make up for the lack of actual interesting games though. /cynic.

Miodrag: Don’t worry, Johnny, every great gaming blog has its resident cynic.

Johnny: Then call me up when we’re great. Until then, I’m not needed.

Thanks for following along with our banter at the round table! Tune in tomorow for our fourth and final E3 2011 Round Table as we take a look at EA and Ubisoft’s respective conferences.