Smug Nintendo Coasts
Nintendo's briefing at this year's E3 was decidedly underwhelming. Like Sony's press conferences of old, there was an air of smugness to Nintendo's presentation, but Nintendo added little in the way of real content to the mix. After gloating about Nintendo's admittedly impressive hardware sales, much of the presentation was a tired retreading of previously announced software and hardware.
While Nintendo's new downtown Los Angeles Venue – Club Nokia – was filled with the usual surfeit of screens and swaying club lights, the outlet felt much smaller and more intimate than Nintendo's previous E3 gatherings. Maybe it was because Nintendo had less news with which to fill the space. The biggest hardware announcement was simply an echo of last year's E3 announcement: as you are aware, the Wii Motion Plus will launch in July.
There's already so much marketing momentum behind the Wii Motion Plus' upcoming launch that there was nothing new to say about it. This nub that will plug into the back of the Wii Remote will give even more precise control over games. It could have been a very short press release, let alone media event. Nintendo executives stood up to show off archery and three-point freethrow competitions. They emphasized that EA Sports games and Sega's Virtua Tennis would support the Wii Motion Plus. But this is all old news.
There was a "major unveiling" but I'm having trouble giving credence to the idea that it is "revolutionary." Briefly, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata showed off the "Wii Vitality Sensor." It's a device that clips onto the end of a finger, measuring pulse and looking like a pulse oximeter. Iwata's patter also suggested that it would measure electrical conductivity, saying it would be able to identify how nervous or focused users are. In his own words, "games could be used to make it easier to help people fall asleep."
This is hardly new, we've been playing Healing Rhythms and The Journey to Wild Divine for years. People have been putting quarters into biofeedback machines installed in diners for much longer. This isn't new and revolutionary – the only question is whether Nintendo can sell it cheaply enough and to enough people to make it more than a novelty. The challenge is in making biofeedback fun – whether to gamers or non-gamers.
There was a brief focus on the recently launched DSi, but the emphasis was on the DSi's ever-trendy Web 2.0 strategy. Nintendo is shortly launching titles that will allow gamers to create and share their own content. Examples include Flip Notes Studio (that lets gamers share animations); WarioWare DIY, that lets gamers create and share microgames; and the soon-to-be-downloadable Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again, that will allow gamers to make and share their own levels for the classic Mario vs. Donkey Kong games.
Nintendo plans to support social networking, by giving DSi owners the ability to upload the photos they take and manipulate directly to Facebook. While vaguely interesting, the question is whether the ability to create and share content will spur sales of the DSi.
Much of Nintendo's presentation focuses on upcoming games, most of which are coming out shortly and have already been announced. The more exciting moments included brief footage of Super Mario Galaxy 2 and an upcoming third-person action game from the Metroid franchise called Metroid: Other M. Some of the remaining announcements were just reminders of previously announced games, like The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks.
Other games (even Super Mario Galaxy 2) felt like Nintendo was coasting on previous games and older technology. The Wii will receive New Super Mario Bros. Wii late this year, a spin on the classic platformer that will allow four players to work together. Wii Fit will become Wii Fit Plus, adding six new exercises and 15 new games to the same old software, while streamlining some of the game's rough points. And we'll get another DS action/role-playing game in the form of Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story in which Mario and Luigi are shrunk to microbe size and explore Bowser's innards.
There were a number of games of mild interest that Nintendo presented, and several that I will be certain to play myself. But Nintendo failed to surprise or excite me. Nintendo came across as believing its own success so great, it simply has to keep delivering its same strategy to stay ahead. They're probably right... at least for a while.