After teasing some information about their upcoming Wii U console on Sunday night, Nintendo pulled back the curtains at their conference Tuesday morning. Gaming giant Shigeru Miyamoto officially unveiled the Wii U with a mission to make it the "first screen" people go to in their living room.
With the Wii U, Nintendo finally provides high-definition gaming capabilites on par with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but Wii products have never been primarily about graphics. The new tablet-based controller lends to more strategic opportunites, giving users a second screen to complement traditional television gaming.
Nintendo president Reggie Fils-Aime lauded his new console's gaming and communication capabilites, though cautioned that he couldn't unveil all aspects of the system during the one-hour conference.
With Microsoft and Sony's online communites several years developed, Nintendo has been behind the times. Fils-Aime attempted to bridge that gap with Miiverse, an online community centered around the Mii avatars. The Miiverse would stretch from Wii U to the portable 3DS, and players can interact with each other through the course of gameplay. Fils-Aime demonstrated the features in a trailer for New Super Mario Bros. U, another entry in the 2D franchise.
Third-party support has long dogged the Wii, and Nintendo address the issue with several examples of non-Nintendo titles -- like tablet-enhanced versions of Batman: Arkham City, Scribblenauts, and Darksiders II.
Notably, EA's Mass Effect franchise makes its Nintendo debut with Wii U, with Mass Effect 3 displayed in a short tralier of upcoming titles.
Fils-Aime also explored the Wii U's contribution to theWii Fit franchise. In WiiFit U, players use the tablet controller alongside the original board controller to interact with exercise-themed minigames.
Music games got their turn with Sing, a karaoke-themed title that display lyrics using the controller. Being "with the times", Nintendo chose to use "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen in their trailer, to the clear disdain of the assembled audience.
Nintendo 3DS owners had a few bones thrown their way, with another New Super Mario Bros title, a Paper Mario title, an Epic Mickey sequel, and a Luigi's Mansion sequel among others.
The Wii brand has faded in recent years, and it was difficult to imagine how Nintendo could reignite passion with an updated version of the Wii and a tablet-based controller. Unfortunately, their press conference couldn't even meet that standard. Presenters felt stitled and dispassionate, most titles were retreads of other games, and the Nintendoland theme park hub drew sarcastic laughter from the audience.
Of course, it is unwise to write Nintendo off completely, as demonstrated by the company's initial Wii success. But there was nothing in their press conference to inspire the gaming audience, nor enough to justify a yet-unrevealed price tag for the Wii U console. All three companies appear to be treading water right now, and Nintendo is barely staying afloat.
Microsoft's E3 conference relied on entertainment applications and long-standing franchises to market its console. With Nintendo set to show off its new hardware Tuesday morning, Sony struck the middle ground in their conference Monday night. CEO Jack Tretton set a concilitory and sometime self-deprecating tone during the conference, perhaps still stung from the pushback of last year's event and the PlayStation Network outage that preceded it.
Still, Tretton put on his best game face and brought attendees through the next steps for his gaming brand. Sony bookended the conference with new game content, highlighted by Beyond Two Souls, a new Quantic Dream game from David Cage. Starrting Ellen Page as Jodi Holmes, the game will seek to investigate the real concept of death in video games -- something that is usually treated as little more than a nuisance.
NaughtyDog offered a new trailer for their latest project The Last of Us, showing an Uncharted-like combat system in a much darker and violent setting. Middle-aged antihero Joel and young tweener Elle roam through an abandoned hotel before forcing to engage enemies with ample resources. The trailer ends with Joel blowing an enemy's head off point-blank -- further evidence that this is not Nathan Drake's world.
Sony littered the middle of the conference with other franchise staples. God of War: Ascension, a prequel to the original series, provided the same chainblade-wielding carnage that we know and love, albeit with a slightly less menacing protagonist. Sony also played a trailer of seafare battles in Assassin's Creed III, which takes place during the American Revolution. Commanding a boat and waging war with cannons represents a unique change to the Assassin's Creed formula, which started to get stale through recent expansions.
Fans of console mascot fighting games (yeah, Super Smash Bros -- what else is there?) may rejoice at Sony's entry into the genre: Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale. The company showed off a short gameplay trailer, which looks to borrow liberally from the Smash Bros. formula. Fat Princess, Sly Cooper, Twisted Metal's Sweet Tooth, God of War's Kratos, Uncharted's Nathan Drake and Bioshock's Big Daddy were among the game's listed characters.
However, Sony stumbled with two key components in the conference: Playstation Move and the Playstation Vita. The former was tied into a JK Rowling-helmed wizarding game called Wonderbook: Book of Spells. Rowling will contribute new content to the game, which has users waving the Playstation Move wand to cast spells. The demonstration for Wonderbook failed to impress attendees, who may have exhausted interest in motion control game options.
Tretton gave necessary deference to the Vita in the middle of the conference, though the titles mentioned were merely spinoffs of console franchises Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty: Black Ops. A commmunication sync technology between the Vita and PS3 was mentioned for LittleBigPlanet 2, but it pales in comparison to Microsoft's SmartGlass (which can be used by any smartphone or tablet). The Vita is Sony's black-headed stepchild, and they don't seem to have much faith in the handheld's long-term success.
Sony bookended their conference with new and engaging titles, but the creamy center left gamers unfulfilled. Beyond: Two Souls and The Last of Us are powerful exclusives that can help sell consoles, but the company still struggles to market its motion and portable technologies against stiffer competition.
Sony did sweeten their paywall Playstation Plus package with free full-length games, providing an incentive that outpaces similar options from Xbox Live.
Essentially, Xbox 360 looks to become a gamer's set-top box -- providing enetertainment options beyond gaming. PlayStation is still seeking to become a gamer's home console -- with the greater focus on games. We will see which company has the better long-term strategy.
Oh, and Sony isn't launching the Playstation 4 anytime soon. Not even a peep from Tretton or his colleagues. Maybe next year.
After Nintendo teased aspects of its next console in a web-based pre-conference Sunday night, Microsoft offically kicked off this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo with a green-hued feast of gaming, motion control and entertainment apps.
The Redmond, Washington-based publisher began their conference by debuting an in-game and live-action trailer from Master Chief's newest installment, Halo 4. The Chief squared off against non-organic enemies in the trailer, eventually acquiring technology from the ancient Forerunner race.
The future of the Xbox 360, drawn into question before the conference, was addressed by Xbox chief executive Don Mattrick. With no plans to tease or unveil new hardware, Mattrick relied on games and entertainment options to market the seven-year-old console.
Microsoft attempted to boost its lagging Kinect peripheral with franchise-based games like Fable: The Journey, as well as voice commands in traditional games like Madden NFL 13.
The Xbox 360's entertainment options have also been enhanced, allowing for voice Bing search by genre and language. Nickelodeon, Paramount, Univision, and gaming hub Machinma will be added to the console's video app hub. The NBA, NHL and WatchESPN also signed on as content providers.
Microsoft debuted a companion app service called Smart Glass, which aims to supplement console gaming with apps on smartphones and tablets. Windows Phones were highlighted during the conference, but it's reasonable to believe Smart Glass will also appear on iOS and Android devices.
Ubisoft debuted Splinter Cell: Blacklist, further extending Sam Fisher's decade-long stealth franchise. Blacklist will utilize Kinect voice controls, which have surfaced in many action/strategy games since the perhiperal's launch. Still unknown how non-gamers will react to their gamer friends and family yelling at their televisions.
Electronic Arts also tied Kinect controls to their signature FIFA and Madden sports franchises. Former NFL quarterback Joe Montana (nonchalantly) demonstrated the technology. There was noticable delay from Montana's commands to the game during the demonstration.
Treyarch provided a lengthy look into Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which moves the shooter franchise into the future alongside the Modern Warfare series. As a finale to the conference, Black Ops 2 was a safe (if uninspired) choice.
Microsoft played it safe once again this year, falling back on established franchises and further attempting to integrate Kinect into user habits. Unforunately, the gaming community is starting to get impatient with Big Green as its competitors have teased or unveiled new portable and console hardware in recent years.
Still, Microsoft's advantage with entertainment options is vastly outpacing its rivals. New apps for Nickelodeon, NBA, NHL and WatchESPN push the console ever-closer to "cable-box killer" status. The SmartGlass technology could further intergrate Xbox into a user's living room routine, and is a direct shot at the touchpad controller from Nintendo's Wii U.
The Xbox 360 has a clear advantage in melding console gaming with entertainment, but gamers follow these E3 conferences for groundbreaking news. Microsoft offered little beyond Halo 4 to inspire the hardcore gaming base.