LOS ANGELES — They have charm. They have talent. They have humor. The only thing Nintendo was missing at their E3 press conference this year was news.
“I believe it is no longer common sense that players only seek new titles with new […] graphics and more sophisticated content,” said Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo. “We at Nintendo continue to challenge ourselves to meet these needs.”
The problem is, Nintendo only had two brand new franchises to announce.
The first game was a snowboarding game for the Wii featuring Shaun White, a professional snowboarder and Olympic gold medalist from 2004. The game, simply called Shaun White Snowboarding, relies heavily on the Wii balance board to simulate a true snowboarding experience.
“Once we got the board involved, it just enhances the game play,” said White of the game that his input helped create. White credits his first-hand view of the mountain as an aspect that makes the game so great.
Beyond that, the next and only unique Nintendo title released was Wii Music, the last game of the bunch. Wii Music is a brainchild from early Wii development, Iwata said. The game incorporates Wii’s new Motion Plus device to capture every slight twist of the wrist to create a very unique music video game. Unlike games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Wii Music does not have buttons that coincide with musical notes, but rather hand movements that do. The Wii balance board can even be used as foot petals for the drum set.
Beyond those two titles, there were relatively few big announcements from Nintendo.
Animal Crossing: City Folk was a surprising but anticipated title that was announced, which incorporates the new Wii Speak hardware. Wii Speak is a microphone that allows players to communicate with one another during game play. This is a first for the Nintendo Wii. City Folk moves players from the typical town setting to a new city one where there are additional shops like an auction house and hairdresser. Animal Crossing: City Folk will be released by the end of this year.
Other Wii titles include Star Wars: Clone Wars for a holiday release, Rayman: Raving Rabbids TV Party in the fall, Call of Duty: World at War coming “soon,” and a Wii Sports sequel called Resort which features new games to play, and comes with a new Motion Plus.
A custom version of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars will arrive for the Nintendo DS this winter, as well as a new game in the Pok©mon Ranger universe coming November 10. In addition, the DS will be the only portable system to have Spore Creatures, and Guitar Hero: On Tour Decades, a sequel to DS’ Guitar Hero On Tour.
Executive vice president of Nintendo Cammie Dunaway said that the people behind Zelda and Mario were working on projects, but gave no details or tentative release dates. In fact, the only reference to Mario, beyond talk of the previous successful games, was a performance of the Super Mario Bros. theme song by the Wii Music production team in game play.
“I’m here today to tell you that fad is no longer operable. It’s inevitable that when the paradigm shifts, imitation is just around the corner,” said Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo in America. “[Nintendo] is not just the evolution in look, but the revolution in feel.”
While he can say it all he wants, Fils-Aime did little to prove to their audiences that they really are revolutionizing the market. The incorporation of more balance-board dependant games has the potential to be interesting, but there was no big reinvention for Nintendo like there was for Microsoft.
“For all of us in the videogame industry, there is danger in standing still,” said Iwata, and yet Nintendo looks to be not moving.
Fils-Aime spent about half of the shortened press conference talking numbers instead of games. The Wii and DS have accumulated more than $5 billion worldwide. This year almost 50 percent of DS purchasers are women. The lifetime global hardware unit sales of the DS are expected to be more than 100 million systems sold by next March. Nintendo expects the Wii to be the best-selling console of this generation.
Dunaway spoke of some new potential uses Nintendo was testing for the DS, like the ability to claim luggage in an airport or check the scores of other baseball teams while watching the Red Sox in Fenway Park. The problem was that all of the ideas were extremely pre-production. All concepts were in the trial stages, and none were confirmed as definitive new ideas for Nintendo. They introduced the potential to revolutionize the handheld device, but they just didn’t follow through on it.
“In many ways the DS may be transforming itself […] into a natural companion for everyone,” said Dunaway, which seems to be true as Nintendo showed proof that it has a wider audience than previous years. Iwata said that the DS has sold more than 200,000 units each week worldwide.
“In a very unexpected way, we are seeing a new form of social interaction,” said Dunaway of the Nintendo console systems.
They’ve stated that fact enough. Next year there had better be some pay-off.