E3 '09: Nintendo Media Briefing

Nintendo's presentation revolved around innovation in game control and finding surprises in places we though didn't have any left, beginning with a new way to play a Mario game.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii bring traditional Mario-style gameplay to up to four players simultaneously. Some of the new features here include carrying other players around, coming back to the game screen in a bubble if we die (shake the Wii-mote will pop the bubble, or another player can do that to bring us back), the camera pans out when the players get too far apart from each other, and once one player reaches the flagpole, the others have 3 seconds to get there in order to grab bonus points. A score tally is shown at the end of each level, but it's up to the players to progress co-operatively or competitively.

But Nintendo went on stating that Mario wasn't enough to attact all kinds of consumers to their game, and explaining how Wii Fit has brought a whole different audience to Wii gaming. They have been working on finding ways to make Wii Fit easier to apply to daily life, and presented us with Wii Fit Plus.

Wii Fit Plus is more about customization of the exercises you prefer. In the Locker Room you can become your own personal trainer and choose from the 6 new yoga and strength activities and 15 balance games (including Perfect 10 - described as "Brain Age for your backside" - where you pick numbers by swinging your hips, juggling, skateboarding and jumping over rolling timber.). You can mix and match them, repeating the ones you prefer, even omit intervals between exercises to create your personalized exercise session.

Wii Fit Plus is supposed to arrive this fall, as stand-alone software or in a bundle with the balance board.

The next item on the list was WiiMotion Plus, which we had already know from last year. This new add-on for the Wii-mote adds more precise controls and movements to the gameplay, exemplified here by WiiSports Resort. A number of activities were shown in a trailer: sword fighting, ping-pong, canoeing, basketball, golf and archery. The actual demo of the game started by showing how we arrive at the resort: by jumping out of a plane. While you skydive, you can tilt your remove in whichever way you want to cause your Mii to do some acrobatics, twist, turn and grab onto other Miis.

In archery, the Wii-mote becomes the bow while the Nunchuk turns into the string. You press Z to draw it back and you actually hear the stretching sounds. Panning the view with the Wii-mote is reflected on the screen, and you must also pay attention to the wind and compensate to make your shot.

Basketball was a quick 3-point game where you reach down to grab the ball, aim, and with a flick of the wrist shoot some hoops.

WiiMotion Plus was confirmed to be used in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 (software will be bundled with the hardware), SEGA's Virtua Tennis 2009 and Red Steel 2, which is ONLY playable with WiiMotion Plus.

From here to RPGs and other titles, we watched quick trailers of:
- Final Fantasy: The Crystal Bearers (Wii)
- Kingdom Hearts 358 / 2 Days(Wii)
- Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (DS), a very awkward story where the heroes are microsized and swallowed by the villain, expected this Fall
- Golden Sun DS, aimed at 2010
- James Patterson's Women's Murder Club: Games of Passion (DS)
- C.O.P.: The Recruit (DS)
- Style Savvy (DS), a fashion-oriented game for girls
- The Legend of Zelda: Sprit Tracks

And with the DSi being the latest toy in the Nintendo family, there had to be some announcements on this front as well. The system is more about personalization and how you customize the content you have downloaded. Flip Notes Studio is now coming to the system, offering a portable movie-making software option.

As for downloadable content, DSiWare will soon contain Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again with a level creation option, as well as WarioWare DIY which lets you create your own microgames from scratch.

To facilitate photo sharing, Nintendo also announced a partnership with Facebook, which lets DSi owners upload photos to their Facebook profiles automatically.

For something completely different, we were presented with the Wii Vitality Sensor, something like the clip they put on your finger at the hospital to measure your pulse. The sensor helps you see and monitor information pertaining to your inner body.

Satoro Iwata was the last speaker, offering a somewhat more coherent statement in contrast to all the rest of the logrolling. Mr. Iwata was such a convincing speaker that none of the people crowded in around me had any idea that he was actually a hologram, transmitted by a tight-beam signal from the enormous schoolgirl 'mech parked several blocks away (which, incidentally, is why traffic was so horrible the rest of the afternoon.

From his secret lab deep in the underground Nintendo labs below Megatokyo, Iwata informed us that all human life on Earth can be classified into one of three forms: people who play video games, people who might play video games at some point in the future, and a third breed, who for the sake of discussion we'll simply call the Doomed Ones. The Doomed Ones have no hope to survive in Nintendo's future world vision, and instead will have to eke out a pathetic existince in the shantytowns outside the enormous domed cities, emerging occasionally to battle one another to the death in junkyard arenas for our amusement.

The maybe-possibly gamers, however, aren't a lost cause, and to Iwata's near-term strategy is simple: there are a lot of these people (one in three of everyone in North America and Europe, by their estimate), and Nintendo's development direction is aimed at creating a middle-ground gaming culture to bring these agnostics to the warm, inviting, supple yet yielding Nintendo bosom.

As Iwata puts it, politic without being insulting to the intelligence, the key is to redefine

accessibility by redefining what it takes to play video games- to reorient the skillset, in other words, to avoid presenting an impenetrable learning curve to newcomers while at the same time maintaining a level of depth and challenge to appeal to longtime gamers.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Iwata's vision is pretty coherent, though, and not simply another round of placating core gamers while enticing everyone else with all the pretty lights (though admittedly there's still plenty of that going on). The point is that as Wii's progression of human interface- including the forthcoming Vitality and Motion Plus- is such that gaming will involve more real-world cognitive and motor skills, rather than the generally quite abstract processes of traditional games.

The maybe-possiblies, therefore, can be attracted to gaming by seeing their familiar skills and understandings mapped understandably into a gaming experience. Content can still appeal to core gamers, though, with the level of depth offered- anyone can understand the intuitive concepts of a game mirroring human movement, but increasing degrees of challenge and diverse elements encouraging exploration can, Nintendo hopes, offer equal appeal to the traditional gaming mind.

To wrap up the show, there were more trailers to be seen of titles exclusive to the Wii: Super Mario Galaxy 2, The Conduit, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, Dead Space Extraction... But the one title that got the most response from the crowd was the one shown in the last trailer. Metroid: The Other M, developed by Team Ninja, will offer a deeper look into Samus' story and will take the player further into the Metroid universe.

While nothing was particularly impressive and most of the announcements were predictable at best, more RE, Dead Space and Metroid were definitely the best surprises, while the Wii Vitality Sensor remains a bit of a mystery in terms of possibilities. Relaxation exercises? Calming down a nervous character in a survival/horror title? Cheat a polygraph? I guess we will have to wait to see.

Nintendo still stands by their strong belief of a place in gaming for everyone. They may have been the first one to say this out loud (remember those first Wii commercials?), but in the current market the idea of a broader market base is about as original as using cows to make beef. No matter how rosy a picture Nintendo paints, inclusion is always going to be a balancing act- it may not be zero-sum, but Iwata and company would be fools to think they can please all the people all the time.

You know. Except those Doomed Ones.

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