E3 2007: Nintendo Takes a Bow

The show was yet to begin, but already the differences between the Nintendo event and Microsoft’s from last night were readily apparent. To begin with, the music was bubbly “everyone loves everyone” pop (The Monkees, The Beatles, etc.) as opposed to Microsoft’s “you’re not cool enough for us” techno synth. It was just as loud (or perhaps that’s my 30 year old aching head talking), but happier and friendlier. Like Nintendo.

Presentation-wise, we had fewer lights and colors to contend with. (Think: your friend’s band at a small night club versus a Pink Floyd laser light show.) Whereas Microsoft seemed intent to destroy our senses until we saw the world in shades of green and hues of adrenaline fueled muscle, Nintendo’s tactic seems far more family friendly. Pictures of joyful consumers project on the walls, while happy, dizzy circles of light kiss the crowd, highlighting faint wisps of smoke. The message is clear: Nintendo is back, and they don’t have to try to win your heart; they already have.

After the show started it was even more clear what the differences are. Whereas Microsoft’s presentation began with Peter Moore hitting key talking points, trying to make news with impressive numbers, Nintendo began with news they’d already made: a five minute reel of news clips, morning show demos, internet videos and print clippings from mainstream media, all displaying how popular their latest offerings have become. All hammering the point home that they’ve won. They were last to the party, but they won. It’;s not even over yet, the numbers still aren’t all in, and Nintendo is even showing dead last by some reckonings, but they’ve nevertheless won.

Nintendo America President, Reggie Fils-Aime, took the stage at the conclusion of the video montage and said simply, “I am happy.”

He has reason to be.

Today, 33 weeks after the launch of Nintendo’s Wii console, there is still a shortage. Nintendo has sold over 4 million of the devices and they are still flying off of store shelves as fast as they come in. And it is a hit among key, market growing demographics. Mainly with adults and adult women ( a third of all women polled in households with a Wii report using it “regularly”), the demographic frequently called “the other 90%.”

“We see today as a celebration,” said Fils-Aime, “for all of us.” And by “all of us,” he means the entire industry.

“The reality is this,” he says, “Nintendo is not a fad, Nintendo is the future. …Everyone’s a gamer.”

But we haven’t come to Santa Monica and waited in line to look at the décor and regurgitate sound bites. We’re here for the games, and without much delay, we get them.

Fils-Aime reports that Nintendo will be rolling out 100 new games for Wii and 140 new games for DS by the holiday season. Including a number of long awaited games, Super Mario Galaxy among them.

And that, really, is all he had to say. The event could just as well have ended with that pronouncement.

But it didn’t.

The next slide on the screen was a smallish, plastic housing for the Wiimote and Nunchuk called The Zapper. You hold it with both hands, and it looks like a submachine gun. And you can play Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles on it. And yes, it’s very, very cool.

Sega is also getting into the act early with “Ghost Squad,” an arcadey title which promises to resurrect the dying light cabinet ember and bring it into the flammable environment of the home consol arena. Reggie also promised that Nintendo is working on their own lightgun game, and that it will come bundled with the Zapper. And that the whole package will be $19.99.

And at this point even, the show could have ended, leaving most Nintendo die hards in tears in the aisles, weeping with joy over the boon. But still it didn’t.

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On the Wii front, trailers for Medal of Honor, Soul Caliber, Mario and Sonic Olympics and Super Smash Bros. Brawl were shown, and release dates hinted at, if not promised outright. For the DS, we were shown Ninja Gaiden and given a brief, but enervating demonstration of the latest Zelda adventure, Phantom Hour Glass.

Then the Wii was brought out again for a brief look at Metroid Prime: Corruption, which looks like a game that will definitely be more fun to play than to watch, but should wet the pants of Metroid fans.

The celebratory note faltered a bit when the discussion turned to online play. Reggie said a lot of folks had asked him when Nintendo would get serious about online. “What if we already did, and you didn’t notice” he said. Which, in and of itself, is still a bad thing.

What happens when you throw an online party and no one logs on? It’s not a party.

Nintendo aims to staunch the flow of blood with a new channel called “Check Mii Out,” a kind of “hot or not” for Miis, and made mention of a few new games that promise to offer online play (Pokemon Battle Revolution, Mario Strikers Charged, Madden 08, Mario Kart Wii and Guitar Hero III) but as far as content goes, no major revelations were made. Nintendo appears to be following the same path as Sony in the online arena: opening the doors and allowing people to play, but offering little in the way of content.

“All of this should at least suggest that we’re serious about letting your show your stuff online,” he said. And I’m sorry, but it did no such thing. You’re late to the party on this front.

Iwata hit the stage to talk about the company’s vision, saying “Our next challenge at Nintendo is to destroy the psychological barrier … to state simply: we must accept that games are for everyone. Yes, everyone will have different tastes, but anyone can develop a taste for video games.” Which is about as clear a statement that Nintendo is (and has been) aiming for that other 90% for some time.

Which is as good a segue as any for talking about the piece de la resistance: Wii Fit, which I’ve taken to calling “Wii’s Killer App.”

Wii Fit comes with a large, flat, square-ish, wireless peripheral called “The Balance Board,” which you lay on the floor and then stand on. It senses the changing pressure of your feet and can thereby determine how you’re standing, what motions you’re making with your arms, legs and body, what your posture is like and how much you weigh. All of which makes it the most physically-inclined game peripheral ever mass marketed.

“The Wii needed to be relevant to all members of the household,” said Miyamoto. “One subject we felt we had to have to achieve this is health.”

But the software is where it really shines. Wii Fit offers four types of training: aerobics, muscle control, yoga positions and balance. The game displays what looks like an interactive workout video, and judges your performance in real time, offering help and encouragement. It’s bizarre, fun and brilliant. And given the Wii already encouraging acceptance by the key “other 90%” demographic, will undoubtedly sell millions more Wiis.

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