E3 2009: Nintendo Impressions

By Andrew Shin

At last year’s E3, Nintendo’s media briefing was somewhat forgettable. The only announcements I had any interest in was GTA: Chinatown Wars for the DS and the introduction of the Wii Motion Plus accessory. However, if we look a bit deeper and base judgement on the fact that their focus was to push casual gaming, then they did a good job. I’ll admit that much.

At this year’s E3, my wish was for Nintendo to bring more to the table. Sure it’s ok to appeal to the casual and non gaming masses but it would be an injustice to those of us who are more serious gamers and own a Wii, DS or both. So let’s get down to the nitty gritty as I share my take on Nintendo’s E3 2009 media briefing.

The briefing began with Cammie Dunaway, Executive VP, Sales and Marketing at Nintendo making an introduction. She talked about video games being a form of entertainment that is as large as any other form of entertainment such as listening to music, reading books or watching movies. She also made it clear that Nintendo would be sharing “innovation” and “surprises” during the briefing. The speech was standard Nintendo fare that almost had me lose interest early on. That was until Cammie ended with a segue to introduce a new Super Mario game.

The New Super Mario Bros Wii game was the first announcement. Great start indeed. New Super Mario Bros Wii is your standard side scrolling Super Mario Bros game but with the addition of multiplayer which gives gamers the ability to play alongside friends or against them. During a brief demo of the game, Nintendo demonstrated some of the multiplayer gameplay features which included the ability to pick up and carry other players, battling each other for coins and power ups and being able to jump between single and multiplayer modes during the gameplay. Being a big fan of the Super Mario Bros titles, I was quite excited about this game. I will definitely pick it up when it launches Holiday 2009.

Next was the introduction of Wii Fit Plus. My excitement was brought down a notch so to speak. There was mention of the original Wii Fit being the best selling video game and that the Wii Balance Board could be considered in the console category based on its 15 million units sold (comparable to other hardware sales numbers). Impressive? Yes, but not all that interesting. I wanted to hear more about great games and less braggadocio on sales or hardware installation figures. Getting back to Wii Fit Plus, there are some useful new features here. The most notable is the ability to combine a series of exercises without transition breaks in between for a seamless and continuous workout. The release date for Wii Fit Plus is Fall 2009.

At this point, Reggie Fils-Aime walked out on stage to take over and do a little talking himself. Most of his discussion centered on the Wii Motion Plus. To be honest, I began to have déjà vu from last year’s E3 briefing where they first announced it with the same acclimation about how it would enhance gameplay with more precision control. I’ve heard it all before and really didn’t care to hear it again. All this talk about the Wii Motion Plus culminated into the announcement of Wii Sports Resort and a demo to showcase the Wii Motion Plus in a few mini games including archery and shooting basketballs. I would have liked to have seen something more impressive for a demo. Reggie noted that the game would launch on July 26th.

Other Wii Motion Plus compatible games announced were Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 (a package deal that comes with the accessory), EA Grand Slam Tennis, Virtual Tennis 2009 and Red Steel 2 which can only be played with the Wii Motion Plus.

The briefing continued with Reggie commenting on how more 3rd party games were sold on the Wii compared to the other game consoles. Now let’s put this statement into perspective. How many times have you walked into your local game retailer to find a ridiculous amount of very subpar 3rd party Wii games that sell at the regular price of about $20? I’ve personally lost count. What ever happened to Nintendo’s Seal of Quality?

Moving on, the next series of game announcements were RPGs. These included Final Fantasy Chronicles: The Crystal Bearer for the Wii and Kingdom Hearts 358/2, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story and Golden Sun all for the DS/DSi. For me Kingdom Hearts and Golden Sun sparked great interest. More game announcements came in the form of James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club: Games of Passion, Style Savvy (a game for female pre-teens and 20 somethings) and Ubisoft’s Cop: The Recruit.

Cammie Dunaway was back on stage again to talk DSi. There was again more talk about hardware sales figures. In case you were wondering, the DSi sold 1 million units in the 2 months since its launch. She then introduced Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again, available June 8th only as a download for DSi via DSiware and Warioware DIY. These games will allow gamers to create and share as Cammie put it. She also spoke about taking pictures with the DSi and automatically uploading them to Facebook, a feature that will be made available come Summer 2009. I suppose you can never have enough ways to transfer you photos to Facebook. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks was also announced for both the DS and DSi. Many gamers including myself have been looking forward to a new Zelda game on the DS platform.

Saturo Iwata the President of Nintendo made a presence on stage. He basically discussed how there exists a large population of people who are “maybe” gamers and that there would be much work to do to expand the overall gaming population. He mentioned that Nintendo’s goal is to “create individual titles that will satisfy all gamers regardless of skill”, once again the emphasis that Nintendo is a casual gaming company. Mr. Iwata then went on to introduced the new Wii Vitality Sensor and how it could be utilized to help you monitor body’s internal queues through your heart rate. I’m not sure I really understand what usefulness this will bring to the gaming experience other than it looks like another gimmick.

To end the show, Nintendo surely saved the best for last. Super Mario Galaxy 2 was announced to audience approval and applause along with a line up of 3rd party games that Reggie described as titles with a harder edge. They were The Conduit – a great looking and promising FPS, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles – another RE rail shooter and Dead Space Extraction – a rail shooter with impressive looking graphics and fear inducing atmosphere. Reggie then ended with a preview trailer for a new Metroid game titled Metroid Other M. This is a joint effort between Team Ninja (the Ninja Gaiden franchise) and Nintendo. The trailer revealed the game as a 3rd person action game with first person elements. I’m really looking forward to seeing more on this game knowing that Team Ninja is involved.

All in all, I feel Nintendo brought more to the table this year. There were a good number of new title announcements and the greater offering of titles geared at hardcore gamers will no doubt have Wii, DS and DSi owners excited and waiting with anticipation to get their hands on them. On the other hand, there weren’t any big surprises or significant announcements that got me fired up about what Nintendo is doing or planning to do in the near future. It was standard Nintendo fare where once again, the focus was for Nintendo to address casual gamers. Mission accomplished Nintendo.