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Nintendo's E3 2012 Press Conference: Still Chasing Dads After All These Years

You couldn't have asked for a better opening to a Nintendo conference. You probably could have asked for a better, or at least more consistent remaining 45 minutes, however.

It looked promising. Opening on a smiling Shigeru Miyamoto (as if any other kind exists) and a bunch of CG cartoon Pikmin skittering around the cheerful designer's press conference dressing room, Nintendo had seemingly set the tone for what was to come. As Miyamoto bounced out onto the stage to introduce Pikmin 3 for the Wii U, it looked as though we were in for a fun ride. Maybe, just maybe, Nintendo was going to come at us with a slew of interesting games. We knew third-party stuff was there, and we knew there had to be other Nintendo originals kicking around. Maybe Nintendo was going to wow us. Maybe they were going to be able to punch through the cynicism and skepticism and actually show us something awesome.

That feeling did not last.

Pikmin 3 looked really great. I mean, it's Pikmin, but it's not like we've had one of those in a while.
Pikmin 3 looked really great. I mean, it's Pikmin, but it's not like we've had one of those in a while.

Miyamoto was on stage demonstrating Pikmin 3 for maybe 5 minutes. The game looked great, in that it looked like an extremely crisp-looking Pikmin game. Then Reggie came out to regale us with the myriad games Nintendo planned to show us for the Wii U. 23 games, he said, would be shown to us. This number sounded fantastic, we of the Internet-watching audience were pumped to see what they'd bring us.

Then he started talking about Hulu and Netflix. It all kind of went downhill from there.

The apps were not the problem. Of course the Wii U was going to have apps, and it's good that they have them. It wasn't the awkwardly explained revelation that the Wii U can totally support two GamePads now, (translation: Hey guys, you can buy another one of these things!) It wasn't even Reggie. Despite talking in his frequently parodied stilted tone, Reggie was pretty much the expected Reggie, outside of a few strangely dark moments. The problem was, Nintendo didn't deliver on the promise. They showed games, but they didn't show very many that offered anything beyond the expected, or the inexplicable. Some of these games looked reasonably fun, but Nintendo games aren't supposed to be reasonably fun. They're supposed to be cheery rays of sunshine that put permanent grins on the faces of all the company's fans. There didn't appear to be too many smiles in NintendoLand today.

Let's deal with the obvious stuff first. Yes, there is a New Super Mario Bros. game for the Wii U, and it a New Super Mario Bros. game. To be fair, it did look really sharp. If that had been one among several big game announcements, then I doubt people would have been so critical of it, but beyond NSMB and Pikmin, Nintendo had surprisingly little to show for its own work on the platform.

Instead, Nintendo put the focus on third-party support. This has, for many years, been the proverbial football that Nintendo's Charlie Brown has thus far been unable to kick. So Nintendo doubled down on the third-party action, bringing out Ubisoft and WB Games reps to show off a few scattered new games, like Scribblenauts Unlimited and ZombiU, and then showing us a whole lot of Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition. You know, that game you played last year, except without touch-screen controls shoved in there for fun and profit but let's be honest it's actually mostly profit.

If you're going to make Mario obsessed with collecting gold, why not just make a new WarioLand?
If you're going to make Mario obsessed with collecting gold, why not just make a new WarioLand?

The expected montage showed yet more games we have already played, or at least will have possibly played by the time the Wii U launches. Darksiders II, Ninja Gaiden 3, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, and yes, Mass Effect 3, will all be there at launch. But are any of these system sellers? Do you look at this slate of games and say, "Yes, this is why I will buy a Wii U." More likely, you're saying to yourself "Well, I already own hardware that plays these games, and enhanced boomerang control isn't really enough to get me to plunk down on a new console." If I am mistaken in presuming this, by all means say so in the comments. However, if the general reactions I've been reading following the conference are any indication, if anything, I'm being polite.

There will assuredly be better third-party games post-launch, of this much I am certain. But Nintendo is not in a great position to be waiting around for great games. Remember the 3DS launch? And if they are going to be waiting for third parties to get on board, they needed to show more than a New Super Mario Bros. game and Pikmin. For as fun as those games look, NSMB has kind of been worn down at this point (case in point, the OTHER NSMB game shown for the 3DS at the same conference), and Pikmin is perhaps a bit too niche to get the mainstream audience on board.

And instead of showing interesting, broad-spectrum games, they showed us NintendoLand.

NintendoLand is, of course, Nintendo's hub for small-scale gaming experiences with a theme park, er, theme. There are going to be several of them at launch, including a Zelda-themed game, an Animal Crossing-themed game, and a Luigi's Mansion game, which we got a very, very lengthy demo of. By the end of said demo, I was not exactly chomping at the bit to take a trip to NintendoLand.

Maybe NintendoLand is great. I have no idea based on the demos showed today.The lengthy demos shown on stage today just didn't seem to inspire excitement in anybody. Granted, us journalist types rarely get excited about "family gaming experiences," AKA the kind of minigame focused stuff Nintendo pretty much predicated the Wii on. But even as someone who liked Wii Sports and subsequent iterations of it, I found myself increasingly disinterested as Nintendo went deeper and deeper down this theme park rabbit hole. The Luigi's Ghost Mansion demo, which lasted for several minutes longer than it needed to, somehow managed to become less informative as it went along. It's as if it was sucking knowledge out of my brain as it continued. After reading about it elsewhere, I understood it--players are being chased by a "ghost" character controlled by the GamePad, while also trying to track down the ghost with flashlights--but watching it on screen, my eyes just kind of rolled back into my head. It sucked the life out of a show that was already breathing with some distress. And that was the closing segment.

Do with this image what you will.
Do with this image what you will.

I'm quite sure I'm being branded a negative nelly in the comments by now (possibly in more profane terminology), so for the sake of positivity, here are a few things I did genuinely enjoy besides Pikmin.

The 3DS actually made a good showing at the conference. In addition to the other NSMB (in which Mario somehow catches Wario's gold obsession), a new Paper Mario game, subtitled Sticker Star, was shown, and it looked pretty cool. Plus we got more Luigi's Mansion 2 footage. That's one I've been looking forward to since last E3, and seeing it get a bit of highlight time was great.

And then there was that one other Wii U third-party game. The one you may recall being titled Lego City Stories. It's not called that anymore. It's called Lego City Undercover, and it looks bonkers. Like, Lego parodying Grand Theft Auto bonkers. It's a hard-boiled open-world crime game with Lego people. Watch the demo for it when it goes up on the site. You have to see it to understand it.

It's distinctly possible that after getting my hands on more of these NintendoLand minigames and third-party endeavors that my mind may change altogether. Maybe the conference just didn't highlight the strengths of the system properly, and maybe my disappointment here will ultimately be for naught. If that's the case, I'll be the first one to yell it out to anyone who will listen. I want to like the Wii U. There are games I want to play on it. But few of them grabbed me strongly enough to shake me into an excited state. Little of what I saw today thrilled me, or even really put much of a smile on my face. I know my cold, callous heart is still capable of being warmed, because in the early goings, during that first Pikmin demo, I was all smiles. I want those smiles again. Hopefully after I hit the show floor, I'll get them.

Random Thoughts:

  • If you missed the post-conference live stream with Satoru Iwata, you missed some high comedy. Expect "Dad Chasers" and Iwata holding bananas to be this year's major E3 memes.
  • I didn't talk about the Wii U fitness stuff because I hate health. If it doesn't make me slower, fatter, or stupider, I don't want it.
  • I genuinely don't know what got up Reggie's craw today, but his interactions with the other business guys on stage seemed...a little brusque? He seemed especially harsh on that Scott guy, who had to go through all the 3DS stuff. Scott looked the kind of nervous that only a man who fears a severe beating can look.
  • Reggie's association of two GamePads being supported as being "like the original Nintendo Entertainment System" is either a brilliant piece of shady nostalgic marketing, or the rantings of a lunatic. I really don't know which.
  • They really pushed the black Wii U GamePad today. The future is black.

No more conferences, but stay tuned for plenty more commentary from us during our live broadcasts and during our wrap-ups from the show floor. There will be much to discuss!

Alex Navarro on Google+