Sunday, June 3, 2012

My thoughts on Nintendo's Pre-E3 Event

While the Electronic Entertainment Expo, an annual trade fair for the electronic gaming industry, is only two days away, Nintendo apparently couldn't wait. The Japanese gaming giant held a surprise pre-E3 show this afternoon. During this 30 minute event Nintendo’s president Satoru Iwata unveiled key features of Nintendo’s next generation console, the Wii U. Obviously Nintendo wanted to get a jump on its rivals, Sony and Microsoft, whose E3 press conferences are scheduled a day before theirs.

The 30 minute presentation began with President Iwata greeting his online audience from a plain conference room in Nintendo’s Kyoto headquarters. He starts out by saying Nintendo’s strategy has always been to offer unique experiences and that this is what we should expect to hear about in the coming week.

After declaring this, Iwata's presence on the screen is replaced with a picture of what has to be the most stereotypically shallow American family I’ve ever seen. Two nerdy middle-aged parents and their aloft teenage daughters are shown gathered in their living room, starring mindlessly at their electronic gizmos as if oblivious to reality’s existence. Iwata uses this dismal scene to show that while new technologies have made life easier, they have also changed the way that people interact socially. Nintendo however wishes to fix this by uniting people with technology instead of dividing them, or so Iwata says.

The screen flashes and Iwata is now shown holding the Wii U’s tablet controller. Dubbed the Wii U GamePad, its overall design has stayed consistent to its original debut at last year’s E3. Differences to the original include a more attractive rounded design and the dual analog sticks that have replaced the prototype’s circle pads. The sticks are also no longer positioned directly over the d-pad and face buttons.

The Wii U GamePad’s main selling point remains its large touch screen, which allows gamers two screens when playing the system. Motion and Gyro centers are also included in the controller, so overall it sounds like the Nintendo will be offering a plethora of different ways to control games with their innovative controller.

 The Wii U’s signature tablet controller wasn’t the only one on display. Iwata also revealed the Wii U Pro Controller, a traditional controller geared towards “those interested in multiplatform games.” As you can see, it shares the general look of an Xbox 360 controller and in Iwata’s words is: “more attractive for longer more intense forms of gaming.”

Nintendo is throwing a huge bone to the hardcore gamer with this Pro Controller. Obviously it offers a potential alternative to motion controls for gamers who haven’t yet warmed up to them. It should also make it easier for companies to port Xbox and Playstation titles over to the Wii U. The controller itself looks pretty darn cool and is almost certain to become the controller of choice for the inevitable Wii U Super Smash Bros game. I imagine it'll also be utilized for Virtual Console titles and HD rereleases of GameCube games.

After finishing talking about the Wii U’s multiple controllers, Iwata devoted the reaming time to the system’s online and social media components. Unfortunately Nintendo decided to demonstrate them with one of the worst commercial skits I’ve ever seen in my life.

Anyone watching the live stream was forced to sit through an unbearable nerd named Tod and his sad attempts at humor. The skit starts out with Tod gunning down the undead in a generic zombie shooter. After getting his ass kicked by a Zombie boss, Tod falls into despair. Following a short conversation with his action figure (don’t ask) he uses the Wii U controller to read messages of other gamers struggling with the same part of the game.

The scene flashes to an outdoor cafĂ©, where another loser is reading the comments on his cell phone. “Oh, Tod, Tod, Tod” he sighs melodramatically before calling the geek to mock him. Unfortunately for “Waren” Tod doesn’t need to hear his crap, because OctoG123 on the Wii U comment board has posted a tip to help him with the boss. This leaves Waren sad and he immediately sets out to pathetically flirt with the nearest chick in sight. 

Of course, Tod still fails at killing the Zombie so he calls OctoG123 using a video chat option on the Wii U. An old geezer in a yellow sweater appears on the TV screen and gives his “best friend” Tod the final tip he needs to get past the boss. Tod defeats the Zombie and then proceeds to jumps around joyfully like an idiot.

After this hilariously awful skit is over, Iwata thankfully comes back onscreen to return the presentation to tolerability. “I think you may agree, that was a little different,” he says (yeah, no crap Iwata)

Anyway, we move onto Iwata introducing the Wii U startup screen. It features huge crowds of Miis in the background, all of whom represent other players connected to the Wii U network. These are seen gathered around icons representing different games, which is meant to show how many people are currently playing them. Iwata explains that this is the hub of Miiverse, the Wii U’s network communication system. It allows communication between players via text messaging, along with the posting of screenshots and player created content. Other details about the Wii U’s online capabilities are that its network will be used for all future Nintendo hardware and that the Wii U will also have a dedicated Internet Browser. Overall, it really sounds like Nintendo is serious about its online support this time around and is latching onto the social media craze.

I’m glad Nintendo got the reveal of the Wii U’s online components out of the way before their E3 conference. Honestly, I’m not very interested in Miiverse’s socializing capabilities. Nintendo blew their demonstration of it with a god-awful skit and I’ve never even gotten around to hooking my Wii up to the internet anyway. I’m certainly not going to use the Wii U to get gameplay tips when I can just go on GameFAQs or YouTube.

Of course, all this social media nonsense pales in comparison to the real driving point of any game system: its games. These were absent from the mini-conference, though Iwata promised that Nintendo’s actual press conference will be focused entirely on games for the Wii U. Hopefully Nintendo will also shed light on what the Wii U’s specs are, a topic they completely avoided today. While the Wii U certainly looks promising, we’re going to have to wait for Tuesday to see what it’s really capable of.

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