Thursday, July 17, 2008

E3 2008: Nintendo's Casual Gaming Focus

Courtesy of Penny Arcade

Despite constant reassurances from Nintendo that they haven't forgotten about the "hardcore" gamer that got them through the rough times, it seems like their immense casual market has them reevaluating their priorities. While last year's E3 showed them focusing on both markets with announcements on games such as Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Mario Kart Wii, another forgotten accessory (Zapper), and Wii Fit, this year showed them entirely developing for their burgeoning casual audience. Despite rumors of classic franchises returning such as Kid Icarus or Punch Out, they instead gave a very disappointing press conference that showed more new accessories, more casual games, and very few innovative titles.

While third-parties have been struggling to find the Wii's audience, Nintendo has been putting out a mix of hardcore and casual games and a constant slew of accessories. It has been joked that the Wii has more unneeded peripherals than games, and Nintendo has once again revealed a pair of new accessories that will seemingly force consumers to buy them in order to get the most up-to-date gaming experience. The first one is being bundled together with the sequel Nintendo said wasn't going to happen, Wii Sports Resort. Back in September 2007, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata firmly denied the development of a Wii Sports sequel. While the game still remains the most popular and perhaps most-played Wii game to date, he was quoted saying, "We're not going to take such an easy way" and "We're not closing our doors to the possibility of a sequel, but it's definitely not coming out soon." With their desire to innovate, expand the gaming market, and provide "true entertainment", they seemed opposed to making cheap cash-ins just to make more profit. In less than a year, they simultaneously continued their trend of new accessories and put out some new cash-ins.

The MotionPlus add-on will increase controller accuracy and come with an expanded Wii Jacket.

Wii Sports Resort is coming with the MotionPlus add-on, which is a multi-axis gyroscope that attaches to the Wiimote to give increased accuracy and true 1:1 motion. While this sounds great for improved control, it's going to cause a lot of developer problems for those who don't buy it. The game itself sounds very unimpressive with three games revealed so far. The demonstration felt very hokey and lame, with a dog frisbee game, jetskiing, and a sword dueling game revealed. The frisbee game looked uninspiring, but the other two seemed decent. Either way, they seemed to fit more in the Wii Play tech demo than to sit along side the games in Wii Sports. The game will arrive in Spring 2009 at a $50 pricepoint, which will probably see sales similar to Wii Play due to the MotionPlus accessory rather than the game itself. The often-rumored Wii Music was officially unveiled, but it became a much different from the orchestra mini-game from the Wii's big E3 2006 debut. Much like the DS title, Jam Sessions, it's more of a simulation rather than a game. With various public-domain and Nintendo music on the disc and over 50 instruments featured, you get to jazz up and alter the music rather than making your own unique tunes. First impressions of the motions for the instruments were questionable, and Nintendo seems to be focusing more on creating and sharing video performances rather than DLC.

The Wii Speak community microphone will expand communication features in titles such as Animal Crossing: City Folk.

The other big accessory is a "community microphone" for a new feature called Wii Speak. It's a speaker/microphone combination that goes on top of your sensor bar and was seen demoed with the newest iteration in their life simulation game series, Animal Crossing: City Folk. Besides the new setting, it looks to be very similar to the original GameCube game with the new communication feature, similar graphics, and very limited Wi-Fi features. Besides those announcements, there wasn't much else that was noteworthy. They showed off some extreme sports titles using the Balance Board, but that was expected. The DS received its own share of news with the surprise announcement of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. Besides the new game engine, characters, and the series' trademark sandbox gameplay, nothing else is known about the game. Air travel and cookbook applications were shown off, but they didn't look very useful or exciting. The DS version of Sims creator Will Wright's Spore is still looking impressive. And perhaps as no surprise to anyone, they have already announced a sequel to Guitar Hero: On Tour, which only released a few weeks ago. Entitled Guitar Hero: On Tour Decades, the game will feature song sharing and expanded microphone functionality. There may be some scattered third-party gems out there, but first-party announcements were very disappointing.

Overall, the general consensus of Nintendo's E3 outing is very underwhelming. The Mario and Zelda teams are supposedly "hard at work" on new titles, but nothing else was revealed. Outside of a side comment from Shigeru Miyamoto about a new Pikmin game and rumors of the M-rated action game Dead Rising coming to the Wii, there's nothing to really get excited about. The Wii Speak feature seems to be mostly for Animal Crossing and pointless Wii messages, while the MotionPlus add-on might end up becoming a mandatory accessory in order to accurately play future titles. The Balance Board has shown little outside of extreme sports titles and Wii Fit, and there's nary a real "hardcore" game to really sink your teeth into. It seems like third-parties aren't focusing on those kind of games, so we'll just have to wait once again for Nintendo first-party to deliver the next Mario, Zelda, and Metroid titles for some real gaming experiences.

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munjey86 July 19, 2008 at 4:24 AM  

I was really looking forward to a Kid Icarus game to get me into the series, especially after playing him so much on Brawl.

Redskyy July 19, 2008 at 5:00 AM  

Shigeru Miyamoto apparently said they're not announcing "core" games at E3 anymore, but only mentioned Mario and Zelda. I was hoping for a Kid Icarus game myself, as Pit deserves a true comeback.

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