If you’re even remotely into video games then you know that every June the Electronic Entertainment Expo (better known as E3) takes place in LA and all of the major players in the video game world unveil to the public what they have in store for the masses. Often times E3 is the first chance for gamers to get a look at the next big “thing” from the major developers, be that thing a new console or the return of a beloved franchise. This year’s E3 promised to reveal more about Nintendo’s next machine, the Wii U, and the public figured to get its first look at the latest in long-running franchises like Halo and Super Mario Bros. As for surprises, well it was entirely possible, though not likely, we’d get some info on the successors to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 and maybe a new 3DS. Now that E3 2012 is in the books, what did I think of it? I’m glad you asked!
I’m lumping these two together for reasons that will be obvious once I’m done. Both console publishers weren’t expected to unveil new hardware at E3 and instead would aim to boost their current market share. Microsoft, predictably, threw a bunch of Kinect stuff at the attendees since that’s presently making them a boatload of money even if the “hardcore” gaming community couldn’t care less about it. There was Halo 4 though, which was the game most Xbox fans were interested in. As the first Halo not developed by Bungie, there is some uncertainty surrounding it but it seems like most were satisfied. Beyond that it was mostly third party games that were spotlighted and some kind of fancy touch-screen junk. Ho-hum.
Sony was expected to tout the Vita to PS3 connectivity in hopes of boosting the Vita’s severely lacking sales. Sony’s presentation ended up looking like a business meeting at times and was a total snooze-fest. They did talk up the connectivity of the Vita and PS3, but really didn’t get behind the Vita like I thought they would. Like Microsoft, the emphasis was on third-party releases but Sony did flash some new exclusives such as The Last of Us and the latest from Heavy Rain developer, Quantic Dream; a new title similar to Heavy Rain called Beyond: Two Souls. I was surprised at how shitty 2012 looks for the Vita as the best titles coming to the handheld are PS3 ports like Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time and Guacamelee, making me feel less secure in my purchase.
If you can’t tell, I was pretty unimpressed with the offerings Sony and Microsoft made. The game that excited me most on their machines was probably Ni No Kuni, the Level 5 and Studio Ghibli collaboration for the PS3 that’s already out in Japan. I already knew enough about that title though, so it wasn’t like E3 was some big unveiling for it. Plus it’s a JRPG which doesn’t attract much attention these days. There was really nothing from Square-Enix, which surprised me, other than their produced revival of Tomb Raider which got a lot of people talking (IGN gave it the title of best game of E3), but I just can’t get excited about a Tomb Raider game. Microsoft and Sony essentially punted on E3, and with next year’s E3 expected to showcase their new machines, I suppose it’s understandable.
Nintendo had the most to gain with E3 2012 so I expected the Big N to pull out the big guns. After all, E3 marked the best opportunity for the company to sell the public on its latest console the Wii U, while also pumping up the money-printer known as the 3DS.
Before I get to the Wii U, let’s look at the 3DS. Interestingly, around this time last year the handheld was floundering and Nintendo was already contemplating a price cut which it would eventually implement. That price reduction, along with some better software, propelled the 3DS to the top of the sales charts. Nintendo may be losing money on each unit sold right now, but it’s better than having them sit on the store shelves. It was thought that Nintendo would show off a 3DS Lite, or as media reports before the show appeared to leak, a 3DS XL which would basically combine the existing hardware with the Circle Pad Pro attachment. These reports proved erroneous, for now anyways, as Nintendo did not have a new 3DS to show off. This probably has a lot to do with the current model both selling well and at a loss. Why sink more R&D into it now? Nintendo will likely wait for sales to slow down before unveiling a new SKU.
As for the games, well the 3DS didn’t show off much new, and instead finally gave the public a glimpse into games it had already announced but had yet to really show off. These games included both a new entry in the Paper Mario franchise and a sequel to the decade-old Luigi’s Mansion. Both were on display at E3 this year and both pretty much delivered what I think most gamers were expecting. Neither one appears to break the mold much, and Paper Mario: Sticker Star has some weird sticker gimmick that I’m not sure I like, but gameplay-wise both titles appear solid. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is perhaps slightly more interesting just because it’s a franchise Nintendo has yet to exploit. The first game, released as a Gamecube launch title, was a solid enough title but one that felt like it needed a sequel to fully realize its potential. It’s surprising a sequel has taken this long and hopefully it’s a more complete game this time out.
The big, new, title for the 3DS announced just before E3 is New Super Mario Bros. 2. New Super Mario Bros. is one of the DS’s all-time best sellers, while New Super Mario Bros. Wii is one of the all-time best sellers period, so it’s no surprise the game is returning in 2012. NSMB2 looks to be more of the same. Nintendo is bringing back the leaf power-up, much as it did with Super Mario 3D Land, though this time it’s function is identical to it’s original powers in Super Mario Bros. 3, complete with P Meter and all. It’s also incorporating the Wii version’s simultaneous play, as two players can play as Mario and Luigi at the same time, which sounds like more fun than it looks. This edition also places emphasis on coin collecting (one of the new power-ups, a gold fire flower, lets Mario turn pretty much everything into coins) with the goal being to collect a million over the course of the game. It’s unclear if that’s some sort of requirement or just a challenge, but it’s not something that has me excited at all. Coin collecting, and collecting things in general in platformers, is mundane. I don’t mind a few hidden items, like the star coins, which are usually some-what challenging to get, but just grabbing coins is often an after-thought. The games are so easy that the player doesn’t really have to go out of their way to get coins and yet will still end up with over 100 lives. I’ve recently been playing a lot of the Super Nintendo classic Super Mario World and I wish Nintendo would look to that title for inspiration. The challenge in that game was finding numerous secret exits and extra levels which was far more gratifying than coin collecting. NSMB2 does at least return the Koopalings, something I wish had been included in Super Mario 3D Land, so that’s a plus.
It also wasn’t enough to have just one new entry in the New Super Mario Bros. franchise as Nintendo also showed off New Super Mario Bros. U, the lead title for the new Wii U console. It’s basically what you would expect, though Nintendo hopes to high-light the Wii U’s new controller. By doing so, the Wii U game uses the Wii remotes for general play, but one person can use the new controller to add items to the levels, kind of like a Dungeon Master or something. The game will have co-op play and will have a different set of levels than the 3DS game plus Yoshi and a new suit; the flying squirrel.
That little segue brings me to the Wii U and why I really couldn’t care less at this point. If you weren’t aware, the Wii U’s main selling point is this new controller. It’s basically like a DS only with one screen and two analog sticks. The touchscreen on it will be used differently for each game. In ZombiU, it’s used to display little puzzles like key-code readers for doors and it’s designed to get the player to look away from the screen while hoards of zombies are descending upon the player to enhance the excitement. In Batman: Arkham City, it just displays Batman’s gadgets and instead of selecting them with a touch of a button you use the touchscreen. It’s also used to steer his remote bat-a-rang and control his de-encoder device. A new title called Nintendo Land figures to show off other uses for the controller (the game is basically the Wii U’s version of Wii Sports, though marketed better by using Nintendo characters) but Nintendo hasn’t committed to it as a pack-in title, which would be a huge mistake, in my opinion.
If the uses for the controller do not wet your appetite, then I’m afraid there isn’t much going for the Wii U. For me, it just doesn’t sound all that interesting. It’s basically taking the DS experience to the home console. And it’s being reported a single charge will only get you about 2 and a half hours of gameplay out of the controller which will make owning two a necessity for anyone looking to game for that length of time. Also hurting it is the fact that some titles, like Arkham City and Mass Effect 3, will have been available for quite some time on other consoles by the time they’re released. Do the additions to Arkham City make you want to buy it again? I think for most the answer will be “no.” And it’s also being reported that the Wii U may not even be as powerful as the 360 and PS3. All of this tells me that Nintendo needs to get its big franchises onto this thing fast if it expects to move a bunch of units, because I don’t see any system sellers for it right now.
Have you heard about this one? E3 isn’t known for movie reveals, but there’s also never been a movie like Wreck-It Ralph. Best described as video game’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Wreck-It Ralph is an animated feature from Disney that’s like a love letter to gaming. The main character (voiced by John C. Reilly), is the antagonist in a Donkey Kong-like game who is sick of being the bad guy. The trailer features a visually amusing gag of Ralph sitting in a therapy session with some of gaming’s biggest villains including Bowser and M. Bison. The CG-animated film is directed by Rich Moore who was the lead director on the first several seasons of Futurama which certainly bodes well for the film. I love the concept, but honestly found the trailer underwhelming. The jokes just weren’t very funny, but I’ll refrain from passing judgement until I actually see it. The film is currently set for a November release.
All in all, I think E3 2012 was one of the least interesting E3’s in recent memory. Perhaps if Nintendo had yet to unveil the Wii U it would have been more exciting, but we already saw this thing in action a year ago and this year it was all about the launch-window software, which really didn’t impress. Nintendo also didn’t unveil any pricing, which has me concerned, as I’m sure the company doesn’t want to sell this thing at a loss like it currently is doing for the 3DS. I’m expecting a bare-bones release, as in one controller and no pack-in games, for around $300. Any higher and Nintendo is crazy.
And if Nintendo failed to seize the moment, Microsoft and Sony weren’t willing to steal the spotlight. Neither company really unveiled anything new and preferred to rest on its laurels. Sure this year’s E3 was the public’s first look at Halo 4 and The Last of Us, but I think we all have a reasonable expectation of what they’ll play like. There were no new games shown that have me excited, and the most interesting for me was Beyond: Two Souls but that one is still a long way off. 2012 started off with a bang, but the fall looks to be easier on the wallet, I’ll leave you to decide if that’s a good thing or not.