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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

There was an Iron Maiden video game?

And I never knew....

Armchair E3 2011: Nintendo

Of all the big three gaming companies, Nintendo probably had the most to prove. It's not really a terribly good time for the big N. Their sales, while still solid in comparison to the other consoles - have dropped considerably from their previous heights and probably will continue to do so. The 3DS hasn't managed to sell as well as the DS, despite plenty of technical prowess. Microsoft and Sony have both released their motion solutions to the world, and while Sony's isn't doing poorly by accessory standards - the Kinect has sold incredibly.

When the Wii was released, HDTV adoption was slow on the rise and the concept of motion controlled gameswas absolutely and utterly new. The console was inexpensive, easy to use and surprisingly social. The Wii Fit was a brilliant add on, continuing on the theme of user controls that weren't controller based and also giving gamers a reason to learn yoga.

HDTV prices have dropped considerably - and the competing consoles are not only cheaper than when this generation first hit, but they have an excellent library of exclusives, mainstream and indie titles. The Wii has continued to struggle to bring anything but their own first party titles to real success, and while the post Fit era has seen a few gems, it would be hard to imagine a lot of third party developers lining up to release on hardware which is now, to be diplomatic, a bit quaint. This is probably why the vast majority of third party Wii titles are licensed based shovelware.

So E3 would certainly be Nintendo's time to shine.

I would probably describe what they announced more as ... glimmering? Maybe a bit of a glisten?

Since this post is late out of the gate, the Wii U is probably not a surprise to anyone. Quick recap: it will backwards compatible with the Wii, it sports a tablet styled controller with a 6 inch screen surrounded by the expected set of game controls as well as motion sensing and a camera.

The feature Nintendo seemed to thump the podium the most was the ability to display either a secondary screen on the controller, or to send the the main (TV) display to the controller, or flip them, or do a tango, etc., etc. Technically speaking, it's pretty some pretty neat stuff and I can imagine they have cool VNC style tricks going on.

The problem is that unlike the announcement of the Wii controller, the Wii U controller doesn't feel as revolutionary. We've seen this kind of trick before from all the way back to the Dreamcast's VMU and recently with Sony's tethering of the PSP. And while I know I'm missing out on some of the first person experience wow factor that distincts it ... it's also hard to get excited about something that seems like a tablet in a world that is getting increasingly ruled by tablets. If the 3DS is having trouble competing against iPhones ... how will the Wii U not have trouble competing against the iPad?

It's not that Nintendo can't answer these questions - the problem is ... they didn't answer these questions. Mainstream press walked away from E3 still not quite understanding what the console itself was capable of accomplishing. While it's not been confirmed that the hardware should be more powerful than the PS3 or 360 - Nintendo failed to display anything that proved that fact.

Worse, in fact, they showed demos of other platform's software. And then someone in the press realized Nintendo hadn't shown the Wii U working with multiple Wii U controllers, leading Nintendo to confirm that they currently have it only designed for a one controller to work with one console ... which promptly kicks in the shin some of the more interesting concepts of having the secondary display.

For a company which changed the industry with innovative ideas, the Wii U feels like a jumbled bag of other people's tricks. While it isn't surprising that Nintendo didn't talk cost - it is hard to think that a console with next generation hardware and a touchscreen controller is going to be cheap, which was one of the big factors of the Wii's success.

After their announcement, Nintendo's stock dropped sharply. Then it dropped a little more. Nintendo has about three quarters before it has to show the goods ... and they have a lot of information to nail down and offer up before then.