Nintendo cannot escape our promise-checking. Last year the world's top video game game company promised some cool stuff for the next year or so in gaming. What came true? Was any of their hype wrong?
We are one day removed from checking Microsoft's Xbox promises from E3 2009. Since than I have re-lived the entire June 2, 2009 E3 Nintendo press briefing. Glorious! (More fun than doing that for the '08 edition.) With Nintendo now under my hindsight-empowered microscope, I can point out a few basic ideas:
1) These Nintendo people declare release dates the way I declare that I am awake... you can take it to the bank!
2) Motion control comments are always kinda fuzzy, but not as potentially misleading as trailers that show motion control devices in action.
3) They just might be right about that Vitality Sensor.
Nintendo and friends, your E3 2009 promises are being checked today - exhaustively.
Background: The Nintendo press briefing occurred on June 2 in Club Nokia in Los Angeles. This showcase lasted one hour and 10 minutes.
Mario For Christmas
Nintendo exec Cammie Dunaway unveiled New Super Mario Bros. Wii. She admitted that Nintendo hadn't figured out how to make a 4D Mario game but did want to make a four-player version. She said the game would be out in "holiday 2009." Added that "players will be lining up to play with and against each other in Mr. Miyamoto's newest masterpiece."
At Last, You Are Mario
Dunaway showed off Wii Fit Plus, highlighting its workout improvements over the original Wii Fit. She also showed the title's new minigames, including an obstacle course. Of that last one, she said, "This is the first time you'll be able to understand what it's like to run in Mario's shoes." She said Wii Fit Plus would be released in the fall.
Verdict: She was right about the game's release timeframe. She was half-right about the novelty of the running in Mario's shoes. I had merely jumped while wearing his coveralls before (and, well, almost thrown up in the process.)
Forget about Natal
Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime took the stage to hype the Wii MotionPlus, the Wii Remote add-on shipping later that month. Here he would be trying to excite people about a new way to control games just a day after Microsoft had wowed people with Project Natal. "Most people won't see the difference until they hit the power button," he said of MotionPlus. "Then what emerges is a new sense of realism in gameplay, not the kind that makes a game look more real but one that makes it feel and play more real."
A MotionPlus concept trailer showed people doing such MotionPlus-ish gestures as playing ping-pong, shooting baskets, wielding a sword (with 1:1 accuracy!), pulling back a bowstring, swinging a golf club, riding a Jet-Ski, paddling with an oar and tossing a Frisbee. The trailer was a hype piece for Wii Sports Resort.
Verdict: I can't vouch for the level of realism people felt when they first played Wii Sports Resort (I thought archery felt authentic!) but I do know that swordplay in that game was not all about 1:1 mapping. Ah, the oversimplification of control nuance that trailer-making people make. Hey, Fils-Aime himself said after that trailer: "That's how it works on video. But on video you can do almost anything." Yeah! Then, to prove the video was the real deal, he played — and dramatically won — a fun round of Wii Sports Resort three-point basketball shootout.
Best Motion Controller Ever?
Before starting a fun demo of Wii Sports Resort's skydiving intro, Nintendo's Bill Trinen told us just how good the MotionPlus add-on is: "Wii MotionPlus detects the position of your Wii Remote. It detects the angle you hold it at. It knows all there is to know about how and where you are holding your controller and applies it to the game. Combined, the Wii Remote and Wii MotionPlus offers precision in motion."
Verdict: The MotionPlus certainly improved the Wii Remote's sensitivity, as any player of Wii Sports Resort, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 or Red Steel 2 could attest. But the MotionPlus doesn't really know where your Wii Remote is if you are holding it still. Combined with the Wii Remote and sensor bar, it is better at knowing how the Remote has been moved and some of the distance information of the Remote vis a vis the player's TV, but it doesn't know it all and can be confused — just not as easily as the Wii Remote. MotionPlus was a big improvement to the Wii Remote, but not the know-it-all motion controller as presented.
Wait, is that game splitscreen?
Trinen and Fils-Aime faced off in a three-point Wii Sports Resort basketball shoot-out, going head-to-head simultaneously. And Reggie said the game would be out on July 26.
Verdict: Very tricky, guys. If you looked closely or simply tried the game yourself when it was released a month after E3, you'd realize that Wii Sports Resort basketball doesn't have a split-screen mode. For presentation purposes, Fils-Aime and Trinen were playing separate copies of the game on stage at E3, simulating a system-link or split-screen mode that wasn't possible in the final product. The real Wii Sports Resort requires players to take turns running the racks in its basketball shootout. The release date, however, wasn't an illusion. The game hit its date.
Fils-Aime promised Wii Motion Plus support for EA's next golf and tennis games as well as for Virtual Tennis 2009 and Red Steel 2, the last of which he said would only be playable with the peripheral. This does deserve an asterisk, though. For a showpiece technology of Nintendo's E3, MotionPlus has had very few games made for it beyond the ones mentioned at the Nintendo E3 briefing.
Verdict: 100% correct.
Nintendo has friends
Fils-Aime said third-party commitment to Nintendo platforms "will only grow this year." This lead into a trailer for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers and a mention of a new Kingdom Hearts for DS coming September 29.
Verdict: Hard to gauge whether that third-party 2009 strengthening panned out compared to the prior year's. But the prevalence of third-party-made Wii games in the fall of 2009, from Dead Space Extraction to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Reflex Edition to Just Dance to Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games support the idea that '09 was a year with plenty of third-party Wii and DS development. Also, Fils-Aime nailed the Kingdom Hearts release date.
Fils-Aime promised a fall North America and European release for Mario & Luigi Bowser's Inside Story.
Hmm, are you sure?
Fils-Aime: "2010 will bring a new dawn with Golden Sun DS."
Verdict: A year has passed and we haven't heard a peep about this game. But there are seven months to go in 2010, six of which have yet to be filled with Nintendo release dates.
Check out these awesome games, really
Dunaway presented three games to showcase the diversity of development for the Nintendo DS. 1) "Beginning on October the 13th, you'll be enjoying [author James] Patterson's work in a new way. His Women's Murder Club: Games of Passion from THQ reads and plays like an interactive novel and will help usher both casual gamers and passionate readers into the wider universe of video games."2) And… "C.O.P. The Recruit will have an immediate attraction for fans of grittier, more open-world gaming." And… 3) Style Savvy.
Verdict: Style Savvy seemed like a pretty good DS title for those interested in a game all about women's fashion, but those other two? They were released, as promised. Whether they thrilled people is another story. Shouldn't they have shown Scribblenauts instead?
Dunaway dated the free sketchbook animation app for the DSi, Flipnote Studio. She said it would be released for download in the summer.
"Other user-generated content is also on the way," Dunaway said, referring to a Mario Vs. Donkey Kong DSi game that would allow players to create their own levels. She dated the game for June 8, the following Monday. She also talked up this idea regarding WarioWare D.I.Y.
Verdict: This was one of the biggest understatements of the press conference as Nintendo would prove to be aggressive about offering DS and downloadable DSi games that allow users to share the content they create. The next year's worth of games like that included Picross 3D, WarioWare D.I.Y., Excitebike: World Rally and more. Dunaway was right about that June 8 date for Mario vs. D.K., of course.
"Another entirely different way of thinking about games."
Nintendo president Satoru Iwata presented the pulse-sensing Wii Vitality Sensor, a method of seeing the "information relating to the inner world of your body." He predicted that "people will be able to use the products we are developing with this Wii Vitality Sensor to achieve greater relaxation. Maybe everyone under pressure in our stressful society could use this as a way to relax, with a video game." He imagined a day when video games would be seen not just as things that could generate excitement but that could instill relaxation and even aid people in falling asleep.
Verdict: The Vitality Sensor was mocked by many onlookers, but, really, who knows? The software could make it awesome. A year later, we just haven't seen any. It is supposed to be showcased at E3 2010 this month.
In retrospect, was that game done already?
Dunaway talked up the fourth Mario-starring game of the Nintendo event, saying that Super Mario Galaxy 2 would be the — get ready — first-ever second 3D Mario title on a single Nintendo console. She then showed a trailer for it.
Verdict: Not only was this true, but the Mario Galaxy 2 trailer showed portions of dozens of the game's levels, all looking polished, as if the game, which wouldn't be out for 11 months, was done already. Very impressive.
The Harder Edge
Fils-Aime said he read the blogs. He knew that people wanted more and wanted the kinds of games not normally associated with Nintendo. So he said he would showcase three games of that type, all of which he told us would be out before the end of 2009: The Conduit, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, and Dead Space Extraction.
Verdict: Yep! All these games came out for the Wii — and only the Wii — before 2009 ended.
A new Metroid from Team Ninja and Nintendo was announced. Metroid: Other M? Say what? Dated for 2010. Fils-Aime said the game is a "historic collaboration [that] is going to reveal a Metroid game unlike any you've experienced before. It will take you deeper into Samus' story and further into the Metroid universe."
Verdict: I sure hope that Metroid game is going to be good. It was supposed to be out late this month but was delayed until the end of August. Usually, delayed Nintendo games turn out to be pretty good. We'll see!
Final Judgment: A job well done by Nintendo, in terms of accurate promises. None of the release date promises was broken and the hype on the Vitality Sensor was kept conservative. I can only dock Nintendo for a little bit of sleight of hand, setting up the MotionPlus as a next big thing in motion control while slightly fudging the device's accuracy — and more importantly — the extent to which it was going to be supported by Nintendo and its friends. Nintendo, your powers of prognostication earn you an A-minus.
Sony, you're next.
(Please also check out our promise-checking of Microsoft's 2009 Xbox hype.)