News: E3 2012 – Nintendo and the rest of it

E3 (Electronics and Entertainment Expo) is back for another week long celebration and showcase of gaming and entertainment.  The first couple of days are just pure announcements from the major studios.  We’ve already covered day 1 with Microsoft and Sony.  Day 2 was Nintendo’s turn, along with major third party studios and developers, their goal is to start the build up of excitement for their products.  Some successes, some not.  Competition is stiffer every year and some don’t make it…

 

Nintendo

It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that Nintendo is less and less relevant.  Sure there are a hardcore group of followers that will blindly invest in the house that Mario built, but in the real world Nintendo seems set to meet the same fate as previous mainstays like SEGA.

Last year Nintendo gave a sneak peek to audiences of it’s “next-gen” home console system.  Dubbed the Wii-U, it combines a traditional set top box with a portable slate device.  The Wii-U’s claim to fame was the ability to play not only traditional connected, living room TV gaming, but with the slate device a player would have the ability to take their gaming with them wirelessly.  Not on the road, but say to another room while mom takes over the TV to watch her regularly scheduled soaps.

This year Nintendo dug a little deeper into the capabilities of the system, including the fact that it will allow special gameplay through the slate and with the TV experience.  So, for example you might be able to setup your strategies in a multiplayer game without your opponent (sitting right next to you) seeing and knowing what you’re doing.  Imagine a game of football where you choose which plays your TV bound players will use for the next game and your opponent is doing the very same thing.  All from their slate/controller device.  Pretty cool, right?  Except, 24hrs before this keynote presentation — both Sony and Microsoft had just announced the same feature for their own consoles, but working even better than what Nintendo showed off.

Better graphics, wider possibilities.  Even more devastating,  Microsoft’s similar announcement basically announced the same capabilities except you can use your existing smartphone (Android, Windows Phone, and iOS).  No need to buy a proprietary controller from Nintendo.  That and you’ll be able to start playing this year.  Nintendo? 2013 at the earliest.

Nintendo used to own the handheld gaming market, but that is very rapidly being surplanted by players on their iPhones.  They had a really promising critical mass of sales on the original Wii set top console, but that has leveled and even begun to decline as new gamers mature and realize the value for the money isn’t really with Nintendo’s product.  Having a PS3 or XBOX 360 gives you not only gaming, but streaming sports, movies, television, and other generalized functionality (web browsing, etc).  Sony and Microsoft may have seemed like the grown up, more expensive alternative for families, but due to the rapid deployment of software updates and core functionality — it’s become a no brainer to choose those devices over Nintendo.

This year was not a good year for the man with the stash.

 

Third Parties

Watch Dogs

Ubisoft is one of those developers that just keeps pushing the boundaries of cinematic gameplay and artificial world building.  There were a lot of really impressive looking games (graphically speaking) at E3 this year, but no other demo quite impressed like this extra long demo shown off during the Ubisoft press briefing.

Watch Dogs, their latest original IP, takes the concept of open-world action/adventure gaming popularized by the Grand Theft Auto series and makes it fresh and fun again.

Star Wars 1313

Lucas Arts has been responsible for some of the most enjoyable adventure games in recent memory.  In fact, I’d say that they single handedly brought me into the fold on gaming.  Adventure games such as Loom, Secret of Monkey Island, and Full Throttle still hold top spots in my gaming mindshare.  So, it has been with great disappointment that LucasArts, formerly top of the heap of great game development studios hadn’t made any significant contributions to the industry.  1313 appears to change that.  Of course it’s still quite early in development of the game, but all indications are that this new title will be putting a next-gen coat of pain over the tried and true formula of great gameplay mechanics and compelling storytelling that had originally put LucasArt on the map.

The story itself is set in and around level 1313 of the city of Coruscant. 1313 is essentially the bad part of town.  The place people go to find trouble. If you happen to be trouble, it’s the place bounty hunters come to find you.  The realtime gameplay footage shown off looked literally like playing a movie.  Not in the sense of it looking like photo-real or anything, but in the sense that so much of the environment and NPC action was very “alive” for lack of a better word.  This is the first in hopefully many projects where LucasArts has combined all of their learning in technology and storytelling to build a very compelling world for gamers to play and immerse themselves in.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

Those who grew up with the Castlevania sidescrolling adventure platforming series have probably been following the evolution of the franchise from it’s spritely form in the Nintendo NES debut in 1986 to the most recent incarnation as an Uncharted level epic (and beautifully realized) monster fest.  There have been so many sequels, in fact, that the series was granted a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Lord of Shadow 2 is the most recent and upcoming sequel to 2010’s Lord of Shadow.  A game that brought a decidedly next-gen flare to presentation and gameplay.  Produced by Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear Solid fame, the original title pit our vampire killer against all manner of creatures, great and small.  This sequel as shown off in a new teaser trailer suggests we’ll get even more of that monster bashing goodness with endless skyscraper beasties and hundreds of their nasty minions in toe.  Nothing particularly revolutionary in what was shown off, but not that anything has to really change.  Loved the first game and I am quite content to visit that world again.

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