E3 2007: The Wii Report

Joe Blancato | 15 Jul 2007 01:26
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Despite the loud booth, bad air conditioning and low ceilings, EA's E3 booth away from the West Hall affirmed their investment in Nintendo, if nothing else. About a quarter of their real estate was dedicated to the Wii. A mix between party and sports games, their lineup represented a company-wide belief in the console's marketability.

EA's most interesting demo was Family Play, their application of Nintendo's fun for all ages mission. The game offers two distinct play modes bundled with three games (either Madden, FIFA or NBA Live): the normal mode, which plays just like Madden and FIFA on the Wii, and simple mode, designed to help acclimate non-gamers to sports games' confusing control schemes.

In simple mode, the game takes care of where your players run. You just provide additional stimuli, like speed bursts, jumps and stiff arms. In typical Wii fashion, when you want to stiff arm, you push your hand out abruptly, and when you want to swat a passed ball, you swat in the air. The motions were pretty spot-on, in their way, but not being able to decide where your ball carrier should run got old fast. In terms of barrier to entry, I can't imagine non-gamers getting confused by the act of running away from a linebacker, and I'm not sure losing that key agency is going to attract people for long. But it is a step in the right direction, and provided the guys working on Family Play get some feedback from Mom and Dad, it could go a long way to introducing more people to intricate games.

Over at the Barker Hangar, Atari was only showing off two games, both of which on the Wii. The first, Godzilla Unleashed, didn't quite grab me. While giant monsters battling for supremacy over the streets of New York and San Francisco was awesome to watch, the control scheme was too clunky and unresponsive for me. Russ and Dana, however, loved it, so it may just be me.

However, Atari did strike gold on their latest take on the Dragonball franchise. It was a 3-D fighting game on both the PS2 and Wii, and while the PS2 version was about as clunky as Godzilla, the Wii version was just amazing. The hand-to-hand combat was necessarily simple, but elegant: Mash "A" to hit and kick, but you could change where on your opponent you were hitting by moving the remote up and down. And really, you don't watch Dragonball for kung fu, you watch it for the high-flying energy attacks. And in the Wii version of the game, performing them never felt cooler. After you build up enough power to launch a special attack, an indicator appears in the bottom-left corner of the screen, showing you how to manipulate the controller to mimic the character's signature move.

(Super Nerd Mode on: Say you're playing Goku and want to launch a kamehameha, you actually have to pull your hands back and to the right, then shove them forward as though you were pushing the energy in the direction of your opponent. Oh God, my pocket protector went flying.)

I'm really not an anime guy, but I could definitely see the appeal, especially if Atari would port the mechanics over to a superhero game. And it answers the question of how someone could make a fighting game on the Wii that actually works.

Buzz around the Conference
And while a lot of developers weren't working on the Wii directly, it's the console everyone loved hearing stories about. Pretty much everyone I spoke to who didn't get a chance to tour the show wanted to know about what was coming on the Wii (including the concierge at our hotel).

Even the tech-happy guys at id have shown interest. In our brief chat with Todd Hollenshead at the show, he said, though he noted id doesn't have anything in the works yet, the Wii would be the logical place for John Carmack's pet project, Orcs and Elves to go, if they were to bring the game to consoles.

Regardless of what the Wii is actually capable, it's certainly kept its buzz among the development community, which says to me more is on the way, even if it wasn't there at the show.

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