Another year, another E3 I didn’t get to attend. It’s okay though, because the conferences are my favorite part of the show, and I get to watch them online for free anyway. The biggest take away from this year is that the industry still doesn’t “get it.” Once again we’re being treated to nothing but shooter after shooter, and in a lame attempt to grab the expanded market, we’re shown absolutely insulting “casual” games.
Most eyes were on Microsoft this year since they’ve spent the last year telling us how great Natal, now known as Kinect, would be. It would usher in a new era of gaming much like the Wii and soon we would all be believers in Microsoft’s vision. Well in that year it seems all Microsoft has managed to come up with are a bunch of Wii-too titles including Sports, Kart racing, Dancing, and Fitness. Some games admittedly looked better than others, but nothing on display here is a game changer outside of maybe Dance Central, the latest rhythm game from Harmonix. Of the 15 launch titles, 4 of those launch titles will be Fitness games. Talk about overkill.
While some of these games could end up being fun regardless of looking like uninspired mini-game fests, will the public be willing to shell out the rumored 150 dollars for the device? That’s only part of the problem too. Microsoft wants the expanded audience, an audience they don’t currently have, meaning they need people to buy Xbox hardware in addition to Kinect. I imagine we’re going to be looking at something double the price of a Wii in the end. The people that haven’t bought a Wii yet will most likely pass on Kinect and an Xbox. For the people that already have a Wii, why update to Kinect? What is the incentive? Even if Dance Central turns out great, I get the feeling it doesn’t stand a chance against Ubi Soft’s Just Dance 2.
This is only part of Microsoft’s problem right now. They front loaded their show with “hardcore” games, kicking things off with Call of Duty Black Ops, and then going into the usual suspects like Halo, and Gears of War. The issue with these sequels is that this is the third time gamers have been through this territory with those franchises during this console generation. Sure, there are plenty of people excited for these games, but those people are already an established fan base. Do these games excite anyone else? Personally speaking, I have no interest in those games. In fact, if I saw one more third or FPS shooter during a press conference I was going to scream. So as someone that isn’t interested in the same old shooting games, and a little too savvy to fall for second rate Wii clones, what did Microsoft offer a person like me during that conference? Not much.
Sony on the other hand, while having a stronger conference, still suffered from similar issues that Microsoft did. I’m positive Move is a better controller than the Wiimote in the grand scheme of things, but what are they doing that’s different? It’s almost embarrassing that this is Sony’s second attempt at motion control in one console generation. Does anyone remember the Six Axis, or have we already forgotten that every controller packed in with a PS3 has motion control? Considering that barely any games use motion control for the PS3 these days, I’d say yes. So if developers aren’t using something that is already built into the device, why would they want to use Move?
That said, it seems developers are using Move for the time being. Third party games are going to incorporate it into titles like Resident Evil 5, SOCCOM, and Dead Space. So in that area, Move already has the advantage over Kinect in that the tech will at least be used in some of the more core games. But what about the games made for Move? Again, we’re essentially just seeing Wii Sports clones. Where is the innovation? Why should we upgrade and/or buy a PS3 for Move? We haven’t even talked about price yet. Sony made it sound tempting at first announcing a price of 50 dollars for a single Move controller, but that’s without the EyeToy and the Subcontroller. A Move bundle, which includes a game, the Eye and Move controller is 99 dollars. The catch? It doesn’t come with a subcontroller which sells for an additional 30 dollars. Sony’s answer? You can hold your dual shock in your free hand and it’ll do the same thing. Who wants to do that? So once again, I ask the same questions I had when it comes to Microsoft. Who is going to buy this over a Wii? Who is going to upgrade from their Wii to a PS3 for Move? Where’s the innovation? I guess Sony felt their innovation would be in the 3D space, which ironically was swept up by Nintendo’s 3DS.
Nintendo made a strong point when they stated that no one wanted to use glasses for 3D. As someone that already wears glasses on a daily basis, the idea of wearing glasses over top of my glasses is nauseating. How much dorkier do these people want me to look? I felt like a tool while seeing Avatar wearing those things, and they gave me a headache and dimmed the colors thanks to the tint in the lenses. So it’s interesting that the first device to do 3D right is on a tiny portable console. It makes sense though, because where else can you experiment with those sorts of ideas cheaply and cost effectively? While I haven’t actually seen a 3DS myself, apparently the image looks fantastic. Nintendo did an amazing thing by getting the device into people’s hands the moment the show was over so that they would be able to understand the product. Just like when they originally got the Wii remote into people’s hands, it worked. It’s pretty amazing that Microsoft held a big glitzy show the night before their conference to hype of Kinect, going more for spectacle over function, and then in knowing they just disappointed the enthusiastic press in attendance, decided to butter them up by giving them a free Xbox Slim just for being there. What did that get them? Nothing as far as I can tell.
To say Nintendo stole the show this E3 would be an understatement. They captured the imaginations of everyone in attendance as well as those of us at home with the promise of 3DS. The features sounded great, the Kid Icarus reveal was shocking, and the list of developers and games that Iwata casually flipped through was astounding. That doesn’t even include the things that were reveal post conference, like new versions of Mario Kart, and remakes of classics like Ocarina of Time and Star Fox 64. And that’s just on the DS side of things.
While this E3 has shown us that third parties have essentially bailed out on Wii, minus a handful of great exclusives Nintendo showed at their conference, Nintendo itself is still committed to the console. People probably don’t realize this, but Donkey Kong Country Returns was probably one of the secret most important games of the show. Last year Nintendo proved that big budget 2D platformers can still be sold for full price and become huge hits with New Super Mario Brothers Wii. Being that Donkey Kong Country was the game that single handedly tipped the scales in Nintendo’s favor during the 16-bit wars, this is not a game people can ignore. With Zelda being delayed until next year, it’ll be the second year in a row where Nintendo will push an important 2D platformer as their main holiday title. I don’t expect it to New SMBW numbers, but I’m going to imagine it’ll be one of the biggest games of the year. Donkey Kong Country has the same nostalgic appeal of Mario Brothers, and it has the strength to appeal to new gamers that weren’t around during the time where DK reclaimed his spot as one of gaming finest icons.
Donkey Kong is backed by an interesting new take on Kirby with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, another 2D game that Nintendo will back with their all during the holiday season. On top of this, there is a new take on Metroid, Goldeneye (which I personally don’t care about, but I’m shocked at the number of people that are) and NBA Jam. Then there was Warren Spector promoting and demoing Disney Epic Mickey, an interesting 3D adventure game developed for the ground up for Wii. Unlike something like say, Kingdom Hearts, Epic Mickey handles the source material with the kind of respect you don’t often see in a Disney game. For the extended audience, there is Wii Party and Mario Sports Mix, two games that don’t look half as insulting as something like say, Motion Sports. These are the types of games that will keep expanded audience Wii owners loyal to their machine. These games probably don’t appeal to the people that will be lining up for Call of Duty and Gears of War 3, but there’s no denying the variety on Wii this year. If there is one thing that was impressive with the Wii line up, it’s how colorful everything was compared to most other games shown.
One thing I noticed this year was the lack of lifestyle trailers during Nintendo’s conference. The lifestyle trailers, in which you usually see people playing Wii games more than the actual game, served the purpose of making people understand the Wii console. Now that we’re four years into the game, it appears that Nintendo doesn’t have to rely on these trailers in order to teach people how their software works. Unlike Microsoft and Sony, which featured a number of lifestyle trailers, and numerous situations of people acting like goof balls on the stage. We haven’t seen performances this bad since Nintendo showed Wii Music two years ago. So in a sense, Nintendo is no longer insulting the audience by beating them over the head with the “this is how you play our games” commercials.
I find it interesting that in the four years since the Wii has been out, we’ve continually watched Microsoft and Sony try to play catch up. This year we’ve seen that their biggest issue is that they simply don’t get it. They don’t understand how to balance the entire framework of their library, latching onto shooters as their Triple A titles, and crapping out lazy me too ideas in a sad attempt to grab a market they obviously don’t understand. It isn’t just them however, as third parties that have developed me too games for Wii have also taken a beating and as a result abandoned the Wii long ago. What they don’t understand is that the expanded audience isn’t stupid, they simply have different taste.