All the big press conferences are over, so it’s time to sit back and judge the big console makers’ presentations. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? Did Nintendo sell the Wii U? Did Sony get anyone interested in the PS Vita? Is Microsoft moving out of the game business, or what? Here’s a look at how it went.
Of the big three, Microsoft was the clear winner in a race only they were running: the race to create an integrated media machine that also happens to play video games. A huge chunk of their presentation was built around something called SmartGlass, which allows your smartphone or tablet computer to talk to your Xbox 360. For example, you can watch a movie on the 360 and get info about the movie on your phone or tablet computer, such as a live map indicating where characters are located in an episode of Game of Thrones. You can also use your devices in simple ways in games, for example, as an info screen in Halo 4. But one wonders how people will manage to play with the controller in one hand and their iPhone in the other. Some journalists said SmartGlass was a similar approach to the Wii U’s touchscreen-equipped gamepad, but it’s really not.
Microsoft showed that with the Kinect add-on you can talk to your Xbox 360, using voice commands to tell their awful search engine Bing to find a movie to watch or for browsing the Internet, which will now be possible with the addition of Internet Explorer 8 to the console. It’s kind of cool if it works well (which I doubt), but what does any of that have to do with video games?
Not that Microsoft ignored games entirely; they did show off a few. But for me they all ran into one another, macho, sweaty games aimed at post-adolescent boys. The first and third person games they showed off actually looked pretty good, but overall it felt like a bunch of sequels that would make a lot of money in spite of a lack of originality.
Sony did a better job at being an actual game company, focusing entirely on games. And their vague talk about cross compatibility between the PS Vita and the PS3 for Little Big Planet 2 sounded like more of a competitor for the Wii U gamepad than SmartGlass.
Sony offered more variety in its products than Microsoft, showing off games that ranged from an ingenious, J.K. Rowling-penned kids game called Book of Spells that lets the player see themselves onscreen with a magic book and a wand, to the impressive, hyper-violent Last of Us, to the fun but familiar God of War: Ascension to the next David Cage cinematic game without much gameplay. It was a something for everyone selection, only lacking mention of Team Ico’s MIA The Last Guardian.
Sony also presented a few promising PS Vita titles, although nothing that looked like a magic bullet for the system’s popularity woes.
Like Sony, Nintendo was focused entirely on games, which was a little weird, because they were pitching a new games console, the Wii U, and you would have expected them to focus a little on that. There were no specs, nor much talk of the console’s power of capabilities. Just like last year, Nintendo talked so exclusively about the Wii U gamepad that some people weren’t clear that it is anything more than a Wii add-on.
Nintendo’s pitch that the games are more important than the hardware would have much better if they offered great games. But outside of Pikmin 3, a promising title that probably would have played just as well on the Wii, none of Nintendo’s titles worked as major launch material. New Super Mario Bros. U looked pretty good, but a side scrolling platformer is not really a strong choice for a launch title, and there was no mention of major Nintendo IPs like Metroid and Zelda. And no matter how much time Nintendo spent hawking Nintendo Land, which they hope will sell the asynchronous multiplayer gaming concept, it still looks like a fairly standard mini-game collection.
Nintendo also fell short in terms of third-party games, with only Ubisoft showing much love to the Wii U. Most of the impressive multi-platform games shown at E3 have not been announced for the Wii U. Will the console get that new, grittier Tomb Raider with the less sex-toyish Lara Croft or the uber-stylish, uber-violent Watch Dogs or the exciting-looking spacer Star Wars 1313? All we know is, the 360 and PS3 will definitely get them all. Nintendo had promised up and down that they were going to pull in third parties, but most third parties have announced one or no games for the console.
What is frustrating is that Nintendo knew how important E3 was to the future of the Wii U, they knew they had to make a strong case to core gamers and prove the Wii U was truly innovative and they didn’t. If you weren’t excited about the Wii U before E3, you weren’t excited after. They actually did a better job of making the Wii U look cool in their pre-taped, pre-E3 presentation of the Wii U’s social aspects than they did at their big press conference.
In terms of the 3DS, Nintendo did about as well as Sony, offering a couple of promising games but nothing mind blowing.
The bar set by their competitors was low, and Nintendo should have walked away with this this year’s E3 with a presentation that should have sold the world on the Wii U. Instead, E3 2012 it is the event Nintendo will spend the rest of this year recovering from.