You’d think that the only major gaming company to debut a brand new console would own this year’s E3. But Nintendo’s introduction of the Wii U at the company’s press briefing Tuesday morning did not live up to expectations that the console would, in the words of Nintendo of America chief Reggie Fils-Aime, “revolutionize your living room.” It was far from an outright flop — the Wii U is packed with potential (if no price point or firm release date yet other than “the holiday season.”) But if Nintendo was looking to make a big splash at E3, they’ve made something more like a heavy sprinkle. Here are the highlights:
BRING ON THE HARDCORE GAMES! ALL TWO OF THEM!
The presentation forwent discussion of the Wii U’s home entertainment possibilities — it will feature access to Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Amazon Video — in favor of the promise to showcase a whopping 23 titles for the Wii U. But only 10 games got a thorough presentation, and of those 10, only two could be classified as “hardcore” — dark, violent gaming experiences that Nintendo has professed will feel right at home on the Wii U.
Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition appears to be an amped-up version of the critical and commercial megahit that debuted on the Xbox 360 and PS3 last fall, with a renewed emphasis on using the Wii U’s second-screen GamePad controller for “Detective Mode” investigations. But without a full demo of how the Wii U will function while playing the game, it was hard to figure out what about the game would cause anyone who’s already played Arkham City to buy this version.
I was more impressed with Ubisoft’s ZombiU, which made the coolest use of the GamePad I’ve seen yet: Using the controller’s screen for a security door keypad and the main TV to show the horde of zombies closing in behind you. (Click here for EW’s report from last night’s Ubisoft presentation for more on this game.)
There were a handful of other third-party, hardcore games for the Wii U that flashed by quickly in a laundry-list montage, including Darksiders II, Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed III, and Ninja Gaiden 3. But the third-party game that had the biggest impact came from the family-friendly Lego universe: Lego City: Undercover, which I could best describe as an E-for-everyone-rated Grand Theft Auto, but you play a cop, and everything is Lego. I’ve personally never been much for the Lego games — I prefer playing with their physical bricks, not virtual ones — but this version looks to be so expansive and fun, I kinda can’t wait to play it.
BRING ON THE (THIRD-TIER) NINTENDO GAMES!
The de-emphasis on hardcore games wouldn’t be so odd for a Nintendo presentation if the company showed off killer homegrown games to excite “hardcore” Nintendo gamers. But the only new Mario game, New Super Mario Bros. U, was presented more to show off the Wii U’s aggressive expansion into social gaming, with other players in the Nintendo “Miiverse” bragging about their exploits directly inside your game itself. (That won’t get annoying at all.) There was zero mention of new games for Nintendo mainstays like Zelda, Kirby, or Starfox. Instead, the presentation opened with Nintendo guru Shigeru Miyamoto announcing Pikmin 3, the latest in a labor-of-love franchise that hasn’t been a blockbuster. The game itself looks adorably crisp with the Wii U’s HD graphics, but it didn’t appear to make expansive use of the second-screen GamePad controller other than as a secondary map.
BRING ON THE 3DS GAMES! NOW GET OFF THE STAGE!
A-list Nintendo mascots Mario and Luigi got more love from the 3DS, but the presentation made an odd fetish of sparing just a few scant minutes to its not-exactly-a-megahit handheld system. (There will be a full hour-long showcase for the system online Wednesday night.) So we got just brief glimpses of New Super Mario Bros. 2 — which is all about collecting as many coins as possible; Paper Mario: Sticker Star — which has, you know, stickers!; and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon — which will feature multiple mansions.
WELCOME TO NINTENDOLAND, THE THEME PARK NO ONE ASKED FOR!
The presentation ended with a lengthy demo of something called Nintendoland, an abstract theme park-y launch title filled with Nintendo-branded minigames like The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest and Donkey Kong’s Crash Course. After the presentation, I spent a few minutes playing the minigame Luigi’s Ghost Mansion: Haunting Hijinks, a solid example of what Nintendo kept calling “asymmetric gaming” (c’mon, there has got to be a better name). The premise: The player holding the GamePad is a ghost who can see all the other players on the controller’s screen; the players holding the regular Wiimote controllers can see themselves on the main TV, but not the ghost. If the players can shine their flashlight to catch the ghost, they win; if the ghost takes out all the other players instead, the ghost wins. It’s a great way to spend 15 minutes with your buddies, but I couldn’t help but think that everyone’s going to want to be the ghost.
My colleagues Darren Franich and John Young will be checking out more games for the Wii U later this week, and, like I said, there still is a lot to like about the Wii U. But in this economy, Nintendo’s got some serious work to do if they hope to maintain their place atop the videogame market-share mountain.