Nintendo at E3: Lots of classics, but few demos

Nintendo's E3 demo went off with few technical bugs, but that's to be expected when we only get two live demos of the new stuff.

The new Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo

LOS ANGELES--Nintendo's 2010 E3 press conference was likely a satisfying one for the company's longtime fans. In it, the company unveiled a slew of new software titles slated to ship this holiday shopping season through to next year that bring back old and very popular franchises.

The biggest news out of the event though, and what had lines with an hour-long wait at the L.A. Convention Center, was the company's new 3D DS hardware, dubbed simply the 3DS.

Revealed at the end of the Nintendo press conference, the Nintendo 3DS is a variant of the Nintendo DS portable gaming hardware that adds a 3D element to the top screen that can be seen without the use of 3D glasses. It also has dual external cameras that can be used to take 3D photographs, which can then be viewed on the device.

Nintendo didn't go into specifics on what users can do with these 3D photos besides viewing them on the 3DS. The big deal here, though, is that Nintendo--and not a proper camera manufacturer--stands a chance at getting 3D cameras into a mind-boggling number of pockets when the 3DS is released next year.

Nintendo has also done some neat tricks to make the 3D effect on its top screen work, by including a "depth slider" that physically moves the 3D layer to either apply the effect full-on, or turn it off completely. As explained by Nintendo President Satoru Iwata, this has been included so that players can get rid of 3D in games if they so choose, or simply tweak the effect to their liking.

The 3DS is also the first for any of Nintendo's portable hardware to include an analog stick, which many would say is long overdue. This, along with an accelerometer and internal gyroscope sensors gives developers several new avenues to take control schemes.

What may end up being the biggest hint at Nintendo's ambitions for the system though, is that the company plans to bring 3D movies to it. While Nintendo was not announcing any at the expo, or how they would be delivered, it was showing off a variety of 3D trailers from studios like Warner Brothers, Dreamworks and Disney at its E3 booth. Presumably these will be the studios to offer content for the 3DS when it launches next year.

The rise of the bridge title

Nintendo has long been known for its family-friendly image, and the event the company not only embraced it, but pointed out that it has led to ample hardware and software sales.

"Last year you heard people say Wii momentum was starting to wane," said Nintendo of America's president, Reggie Fils-Aime. "But last December, we set an all-time record for game system sales of any kind, in any month." Fils-Aime went on to say that more games have been sold for Wii in 43 months than any other platform in the same launch period.

Fils-Aime also pointed to a recent NPD study that showed gamers spent a longer time playing the Wii than any other system and to another study that said more people planned to buy the Wii in the next six months than any other system. The reason for that, as Fils-Aime explained, were "bridge" titles--games that can be played by just about anyone.

Nintendo says casual games like the upcoming Wii Party act as successful "bridge titles" to bring in non-gamers. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

In the context of this year's E3 though, the new bridge games were Wii Party, which is a four-player party game, and the Ubisoft's Just Dance 2, which lets up to eight players game at once on a single system.

The benefits for Nintendo with these kinds of games are obvious, as any title that requires multiple, simultaneous players also requires an investment in the hardware and software to play it--both items Nintendo can make a profit on. But the bigger benefit, as Fils-Aime explained, was that it attracts people who might never have considered playing a game on a console.

A classics revival

Beyond the idea of the bridge title, Nintendo fulfilled many longtime Nintendo fan requests with a lineup of first-party software that essentially reboots some of Nintendo's most famous and profitable franchises.

Activision's upcoming reboot of Goldeneye 007, one of the most popular games for the Nintendo 64. Nintendo / Activision

Goldeneye 007 is one of those titles. The original, which was released for the Nintendo 64 in 1997, is widely regarded as one of the best first person shooters, and one that pioneered simultaneous split-screen gameplay.

Fils-Aime introduced the new version, which is being developed by Activision, by rolling some camera footage of a focus group that had been asked what they'd think of Nintendo doing a reboot, to which they became overjoyed. As Fils-Aime explained, the reason to bring it back was not only an advancement in technology that would bring things like online multiplayer, but that there was an entire generation out there that had never played the first one.

Goldeneye was not the only title to get a reboot, though. Nintendo also showed off gameplay footage of a new Kirby series that has been designed to look like yarn, as well as a new Metroid title, a 3D re-imagining of Kid Icarus, and a new Donkey Kong Country game--the last of which is a continuation of a series that has not seen a true sequel in more than a decade. The new Kid Icarus title is also the only one of this bunch that will be in 3D.

Two demos enter, one demo leave

One of the oddities of Nintendo's press conference, in comparison to what Microsoft and Nintendo did, was the lack of live demos. During the one hour and fifteen minute presentation, we only saw one two news games live: the latest in the Zelda series, due out next year, and Junction Point Studios' Epic Mickey, which will be released in November.

The new Zelda game lets players experience the thrill of holding up their Wii controller like a shield, which can be used in combat. It also makes use of the Wii remote's Motion Plus system to give 1:1 motion on sword and other weapon movement. That part worked, but not much else did.

Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto, who was running the Zelda demo with the help of a translator, was having a nearly impossible time targeting enemies, or getting the shield component to work--the latter of which was blamed on electrical interference. At one point, Miyamoto's translator joked that everyone should turn their Wi-Fi off, making a reference to Steve Jobs telling WWDC attendees to do so last week .

Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto demos the latest Zelda game on stage at Nintendo's E3 press conference. It was one of the only two live demos during the event. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

The Epic Mickey demo, on the other hand, went off without a hitch and garnered plenty of ooh's and ahh's, as creator Warren Spector explained to attendees how gamers could either help improve, or completely destroy, the in-game world using paint or paint thinner from Mickey Mouse's magic paintbrush.

Out of shape

As my CNET colleague Scott Stein pointed out in his Nintendo E3 game announcement roundup , there was no sign of the Wii Fit at this year's press event. And likewise, there was not a peep about the Wii Vitality Sensor , which was a footnote during last year's E3 presentation by Satoru Iwata. By comparison, Microsoft spent a solid chunk of Monday's E3 press briefing talking up the fitness benefits of various Kinect titles, even bringing in fitness celebrity Michael George, who had collaborated on Your Shape: Fitness Evolved title.

So why the no-show? It's certainly not for a lack of interest on gamers' part; the company reported more than 22 million copies of the game having been sold as of May, putting it in the No. 3 spot of the best-selling console games of all time.

My best guess on both counts is that the next chapter in the software simply wasn't ready. That, and Nintendo is trying to figure out the best way to package the Wii Fit board, Vitality Sensor, and Wii Remote it in a way that makes sense to consumers who now have the option to do video game fitness with nothing in their hands through Microsoft's Kinect hardware .

What is there to glean from Nintendo's E3 showing then? If anything, it's a company that appears to be listening closely to its fans and giving them more of what they want, as well as a company that continues to build innovative software that takes advantage of motion control and hardware that gets rid of the need to wear glasses to enjoy 3D gaming.

But we also saw a Nintendo that's quite cautious in its willingness to show live demos of upcoming products, in favor of going with a safer--though arguably less interesting promotional video. And if that's all we're going to see at these shows, why not do everything but the hardware announcements on YouTube instead?

 

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