With E3 drawing to a close I finally have a little time to reflect on the highs and lows of the last few days. It’s been something of a whirlwind tour of the good and the great of video gaming, and something I have relished being part of.
For me, Nintendo won E3 by a country mile with a raft of first party games and controls are that not only available next month, but also tick all my friends and family boxes.
The show has its PR successes of course. Project Natal announced at Microsoft’s Press Briefing on Monday is perhaps the most impressive for us geeky types. The new controller changes what we mean by the word itself. Previously controllers have meant plastic, buttons and sticks, but Natal has none of this. A small bar below the TV contains two cameras and a microphone. This stereoscopic vision is then processed by the 360 to enable the player to make gestures and movements with their arms, legs and other parts of their body.
The genius here is the freedom the play can have through playing a game without the need to hold a controller. They have, as they said in the Briefing removed the last barrier between casual players and the game.
Continuing on the hardware front Sony too had some big announcements. The PSP Go takes the slightly bulky PSP form factor and compresses it into a footprint not a million miles from the iPhone. The controls slide out from underneath the unit to provide a nicely balanced fit for two hands just below the screen.
It’s not just this new hardware, but the weight of new PSP games suddenly emerging that make the portable platform once again seem a viable proposition. Little Big Planet, Motorstorm: Artic Edge, Gran Turismo and a proper Metal Gear Solid game are enough to wet the appetite of most mobile gamers and that’s without digging into a host of other new titles bubbling under for the system.
However, for all the professional business execution of Sony, the shock and showmanship of Microsoft, for me Nintendo still have the most exciting products. If I could take one game home with me from the show I can honestly say it would be Wii-Sports Resort. And that, beside anything else is good news because I’ll soon be able to buy my own copy in stores.
But this isn’t just a sentiment that comes from the fact that Nintendo are talking about the games they have to offer now, rather than in a few months or years time. I’m won over by their approach to interaction, and their approach to social gaming.
The greater freedom and real world movements used by the Wii-mote to controls games has always been an experience I have loved. But add to this the fine control of their MotionPlus add-on and you have what is for me the perfect compromise. It takes the fine control of a mouse and keyboard setup but lets you use it in the living room away from a desk like a joy-pad.
Nintendo showed a range of MotionPlus games in their Press Briefing on Wednesday, and each time the point was the fidelity of fine control they could now offer the player. Whether this is the stunning archery, kayaking, swordplay, basketball or golf of Wii-Sports Resort, or the more general swipes of Grand Slam Tennis the message is the same: MotionPlus now offers the one-to-one controls they have long tried to deliver.
The second big win from Nintendo for me is their take on multiplayer games. Whether this is because they have neglected a proper online service like Xbox Live or not, their (some would say old fashioned) focus on local multiplayer matches how I want to play games with my friends and family.
They announced New Super Mario Brothers for the Wii. This takes the original Super Mario Brothers game and updates it much like the DS New Super Mario Brothers did. Here though the focus is on multiplayer action rather than just recreating the single player experience. Four players can play through the main game simultaneously. At the end of each level they are ranked against each other in a competitive meta-game. Simple and a lot of fun.
Wii-fit Plus then expanded on their success of the balance board game with a set of activities that more closely tracked your progress and offered more balance games that complemented those action experiences in Wii-Sports Resort.
Then there were the other titles not mentioned in their Briefing that I’m really excited to play both myself and with the kids and wife. Span Smasher on the Wii offers a super simple platform game. Players use the Wii-mote and MotionPlus to tap a ball around a side scrolling level. The bright colors, power-ups and Sonic-esque rail-rides make it ideal for super young players or real novices. Then there is Endless Ocean 2. This game takes the premise of the first sea exploration title and extends it with new modes, challenges and of course underwater life. This is the only game I came home from work to find my wife playing, so a new version has me more than excited.
So because of all this, Nintendo won my attention this E3. Those eagle eyed amongst you will notice that I haven’t even brought in their strong hardcore games into the equation. A new Metroid game and Mario Galaxy 2 is huge news in itself, but for me is of less consequence.
This may be indicative of their lackluster E3 reception in other parts of the gaming press. Their winning shots simply aren’t aimed at this E3 audience. But for me, they hit all the right notes.
Now, it’s time for me to pack my bags and head home. My E3 encounter has left me feeling a little more part of this big whirling mess of an entertainment industry, and just a little sad it’s all over for another year.