With both hardware rivals having spotty conferences, many expected Nintendo to steal the show at E3, especially as we were promised a look at final hardware and a greater understanding of what Wii U brings to gaming. The general consensus now seems to be that they blew their chance. Like many others, I was very excited to see what Nintendo had in-store for us; unfortunately, I can’t help but feel like I’m moving with the traffic on this one.

It started off pretty well, with a short video of Shigeru Miyamoto making his way on-stage while a number of Pikmin tried to avoid his gaze, one managing to sneak into his breast pocket to act as a leafy pocket square. He arrived on-stage to show off the long-awaited Pikmin 3, and the game did indeed look gorgeous, benefitting from the Wii U’s extra horsepower to render some clean, naturalistic visuals; the water in general looked very nice. We were introduced to the new rock pikmin, and saw how the Wii U GamePad is used to show a zoomed-out map, allowing us to get closer into the action on the big screen.

With Miyamoto-san’s departure came NoA president Reggie Fils-Aime, and he wanted to talk about the Wii U GamePad. Possibly the biggest news in Nintendo’s entire conference was the confirmation that the Wii U can support two GamePads (like the NES, Reggie assured us…), as after last year’s E3, rumours were rife that the console would only support one. TheGamePads also support rumble, have stereo speakers, and sport mics and cameras for video conferencing.

Nintendo really wanted to show us their unique controller, and indeed much of their conference was turned over to showing what it could be used for, even in specific game showcases; we see it used to steer batarangs in Arkham City, select activities in Wii Fit U and present lyrics for karaoke singers in SiNG.

Much of the functionality seemed somewhat gimmicky to me, presenting little that couldn’t be done on a standard controller. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if the GamePad allows those things to be done in an easier or more immersive way, but I wanted to see something new, something that absolutely cannot be done on a standard controller.

We did see a couple of things that fit that bill, but exactly how compelling they are isn’t really something that can be objectively reviewed, given how specific they are. First off, during a Wii Fit U trailer, we see one player switch channels on the TV while the other continues their workout solely on the GamePad. This is the functionality that originally got me excited in the Wii U at last year’s E3, and it still has the potential to be Wii U’s killer feature. Say you’re halfway through a temple on Zelda, but your room-mate’s favourite program is coming on. You can switch to the tablet, stick some earphones in your lugholes and away you go, continuing on uninterrupted.

For me, this would be a much-used feature. Others may never use it all. And with Sony showing similar functionality with the Vita at E3, many would say the shine has been taken off this feature somewhat. But these people are forgetting one important factor; every Wii U owner will have at least one GamePad. Not every PS3 owner will have a PS Vita.

The second unique feature the GamePad allows for is asymmetric multiplayer, allowing one player to have a different view (or indeed entirely different experience) to those playing on the main screen. I’m not sure what to make of this; it’s a compelling idea, but the execution seems somewhat lacking in the games we have seen so far, including Nintendo Land, which I’ll talk about briefly later.

So far, so undecided.

Nintendo have mentioned their desire to win back the ‘core’ a few times since last year’s unveiling, so you’ll forgive me when I found my resolve start to waver through the more casual end of the spectrum (Wii Fit U, SiNG). In the end, much of the more ‘core’ gaming highlights were demoted to appearing in a couple of sizzle reel trailers, including the fairly large news that Mass Effect 3 is being brought to the system. The one ‘core’-oriented game we got a decent look at was Zombi U, announced at Ubisoft’s conference with a trailer on the 4th.

At Nintendo’s conference, we saw gameplay footage for the first time and it appears to be a survival-FPS, which allows you to do multiple things with the GamePad. Some of these seem very gimmicky, such as raising the tablet in front of your face to use as a sniper scope or shaking it vigourously to free yourself from a zombie’s grip. Door hacking, at least, seemed like a good use for the second screen, bringing up an alphanumeric pad for you to punch in combinations, while allowing the main screen to show the hungry undead closing in on your location.

Towards the end of the conference, we’re introduced to Nintendo Land, something that seems to be, on some level at least, Nintendo’s version of Playstation Home. It’s a multiplayer social theme park, with minigames themed around Nintendo games or franchises. The one we’re shown is based on Luigi’s mansion, and offers a glimpse of the aforementioned asymmetric multiplayer. We’re presented with a top down view of a floor of a haunted mansion, and there are four Miis running around with flashlights. A fifth players wields a GamePad and plays as the ghost, which goes unseen on the TV. The goal for the Miis is to search out and shine their flashlights on the ghost to cause it damage. The ghost must isolate players and frighten them, causing them to faint.

I’m not sure how convinced I am that features like this will sway me into buying a Wii U. After last year’s E3, I was excited, but somewhat undecided on the Wii U, and after this year’s conference, I’m left feeling much the same. Perhaps the concept of the Wii U can’t be accurately communicated in videos? Before leaving the stage, Reggie seems to concede as much, stating, “Just as with Wii, start playing Nintendo Land and you start understanding Wii U.”

Going by the polite applause that follows his exit from the stage, it seems the audience is similarly undecided. If you scour internet forums for reactions to the conference, many predict the Wii U will fail, and fail hard. I certainly won’t go that far. And besides, videogame history has taught us one thing – it’s often foolish to bet against Nintendo.

Besides, I’ll probably drop my cash at the first sniff of a new Metroid…

Advertisements