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We always knew that Nintendo’s press conference would be all about the Wii U, and it was. After a heartwarmingly fun opening by Shigeru Miyamoto (whose stage was nearly stolen by animated Pikmin), it was all business. The focus on Wii U was justified: Some have called E3 2012 the E3 that nearly wasn’t, because for a long time we expected hardware announcements from Microsoft and Sony, but that didn’t eventuate. So Nintendo stole the hardware show with their presentation, and they put everything into impressing with it. Don’t worry if you missed it – there is plenty of online content.
In case you haven’t caught it, the Wii U is the next generation home console from Nintendo, designed as the successor to the enormously successful Wii. Actually, “enormously successful” is a vast understatement: Most would agree that the Wii changed the gaming landscape permanently, by appealing to/creating a completely new market (the “causal” gamer) and paving the way for motion control. Now even Mickey Mouse is trying to catch up.
The Wii U not only introduces high definition graphics for the first time on a Nintendo home console (finally!), it also has a new peripheral, in the form of the Wii U Gamepad - a controller with a touchscreen (stylus optional) and almost everything you would expect from a tablet. Shigeru Miyamoto introduced it by saying that people should be able to play first – without a TV – but it soon became apparent that the real power of the new peripheral lay in the way it would interact with a more traditional home console system. It’s something like the interaction we see between two screens in the 3DS and the DS before it, and Nintendo started by showing its functionality with Pikmin 3. This new addition to the much-beloved squad management franchise looked crisper and more dynamic with up to four leaders and new interactivity based on the Wii U controller.
The key gameplay innovation that Nintendo is putting forward is not motion control this time: It’s what they’ve dubbed “asymmetrical gameplay”. This is a catchphrase that is bound to catch on very soon, given Microsoft’s imitation in the form of Xbox Smart Glass. The idea is that one player can play traditionally on the big screen, and the other can play against the grain, so to speak, on the Wii U Gamepad.
One example: During Just Dance 4, one player can choose to be the “puppet master”, and actually set the moves that the rest of the players have to execute in dance. However, given the lack of a motion sensor, it’s all a bit of a moot point anyway, it seems. There are much more interesting applications of “asymmetrical gameplay” than this, though.
For example, in Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, up to four players play as ghost hunters who have only a torch with a limited battery to find a spirit they can only see by shining the torch on it. The ghost, however, is the master of all they survey through the new Wii U Game Pad, as they attempt to scare their opponents into a faint. The four players then need to work together through communicating and reviving to try to catch the ghost. If well playtested, this could work very well as a party game.
However, the audience was not thoroughly convinced that consumers “demanded” a new Mario game (Super Mario Bros. U) for the new console, and thankfully there were some very appealing offerings for core gamers.
Rocksteady was present to introduce Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition for the Wii U. The new gamepad allows you to keep track of your buildup to BAT mode for special attacks as well as inventory management, dynamic control of batarangs, and controlled detonation of explosive gel. Another exciting core application of the new gamepad is Aliens: Colonial Marines, in which the player will be able to monitor the iconic motion sensor on the separate screen. Fans of Scribblenauts will also be excited to hear that the new Scribblenauts: Unlimited will be playable on the Wii U as well as the 3DS.
For my money, the most exciting application of the Wii U Gamepad was ZombiU, and here it was about a singleplayer experience. In a rather saturated genre we have an impressive new technology to give it life: the separate screen allows for inventory management, a motion scanner, sniper zoom, a short melee/break-free challenge, and door hacking, and makes the kind of jump-scare experiences possible that have been limited by single screens so far. For instance, while busily hacking a door or solving a puzzle, a zombie may attack on the main screen, enabling a survival-horror experience that has only been possible so far on something like Fatal Frame. If Nintendo can pursue this kind of appeal to core gamers they may well recapture that market and still maintain their foothold in the casual realm, or as they put it, “the hardest of the core and the newest of the newbies”.
There were significant efforts to push more traditional Wii titles such as Just Dance 4 and an enhanced version of WiiFit, and Lego City: Undercover did raise a few eyebrows. 3DS was mostly relegated to a separate online press conference at 6pm (Good luck: E3 parties have started by then), and there was some awkward backbiting at the small amount of time given to the ailing handheld in the main press conference. There was also quite some emphasis put on the Miiverse, the new vehicle for social networking via the Wii U, and Nintendoland (a digital theme part with diverse experiences), but these were generally underwhelming.
Overall, given a showing of two dozen games for a new console, some intriguing new appeal for core gamers and loyalty for Nintendo consumers who know what they want (and apparently ask for it), Nintendo’s press conference finally got people talking about the possibilities of new technology, which is something we have all been hoping for.
Chad Habel likes long walks on an irradiated beach, and surviving deadly test chambers. His favourite dish is hadouken stirfry, and his Achilles Heel is gibbing headshots. In an alternate reality he works at a University.