Picking up the Slack – Nintendo Frolicks At E3

By Phil Harris

Following the launch of the Wii U, Nintendo have been struggling to make up ground on the other two competitors. Whilst they were in attendance in force in the games play section of E3 last year they replaced the normal press conference with a rather sterile video, containing the CEO showing us an empty room telling us it would be full of developers working on content – note: always show a full and bustling room.

Nintendo's problems formed around the vast differences between the pick up and play Wii, where anyone could easily learn and take part and the far more complex systems of the Wii U. This is not to criticise the hardware itself, its solid, but you can't expect a audience of first timer casual gamers, which formed about the Wii, to suddenly be bothered to learn something more complex.

Another loss last year was their product guru Reggie Fils-Aime, but an early teaser trailer for the company had him back in full force and so, with some anticipation and the hope that I wasn't going to get annoyed at Nintendo's navel contemplations I sat down to watch the video.

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Nintendo started by taking the piss out of themselves, promising no new Mario game, a first for E3 (we'll believe it if we see it), and concentrating on fan favourite Super Smash Bros; a great way to start a press conference. Not that we knew it wasn't coming but really showing off the possibilities the game provided. Not only that, but explaining the development cycle in friendly and fun terms for the viewer; including player Mii's ability to fight in the game.

Understanding the failing of their last video conference and keeping things light,  Reggie talked to us about amiibo, a toy that integrated with the Wii U gamepad and evolved through your gameplay, the amiibo, giving further individuality throughout the Nintendo catalogue, with links to Disney and unsurprisingly Skylanders, the masters of this mechanic they were using.

Pushing on, we looked at the future projects in development the fabric based Yoshi's Wooly World became the centre of attention. Whilst the casual viewer could potentially see a variant of Little Big Planet, the game took a slightly different tack, and game mechanics. Unlike this, Captain Toad: Treasure Track Holiday 2014, looked and felt like a Mario game with a new lead character… perhaps the plumber has got another job?

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A new Zelda game, dedicated to the Wii U, provided welcome news for many. Zelda with an open world too, allowing them to place the emphasis and focus back on the exploration of the very early titles, but using the new technology to dismiss the boundaries needed to create such a world, so the players were encouraged to go and discover. A positive brief and even more positive but tantalisingly short look was granted, making 2015 seem even further away.

Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire for the 3DS and Bayonetta 2 for the Wii U provided more Nintendo fan candy but not as much as Hyrule Warriors, a second Zelda related game, brought the action battle format to the series using the classic and well established Dynasty Warriors format. Players operate classic characters, with Zelda style bosses to fight in the midst of mighty armies, so the aesthetic of learning the tricks to beat them wasn't lost. Another potential hit, merging two classic franchises to create a new game with elements of both.

On the way to an overlong tech demo of Mario Maker, a way to create your own 2D Mario games, (Yeah, I guessed he wasn't dead) we got big mech Manga action with Xenoblade Chronicles X, which certainly looked like another game in the series, and met Kirby in his new plasticine form. None of these really inspiring the viewer with anything truly ground breaking.

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Luckily this was the only brief dip as we were shown early footage of Splatoon, a four on four, online multiplayer paint-balling game. The concept, for each team to try and paint more of the level in their own colour, allowing the player and their team to move more freely on their own "turf". Looking colourful and crazy this game is liable to be a sure fire hit, proving yet again that the simplest of mechanics works when engaging the player.

If we had missed style and presentation in the previous press conferences, then lord knows where Nintendo got it from, but they had it in droves. Not simply fun but frolicking in the opportunities they had to show off, but with products and seamlessly talk about the future which might simply save their platform.

Their main problem, lack of third party developers, a real issue in the burgeoning and difficult market the company face but, with more press conferences like this, a potential gap they can reduce, if not breach.

Phil Harris (@PhilipGHarris) is a games developer who is currently working with One Thumb Mobile on their MMORPG Celtic Heroes. He also writes for Pixels for Breakfast.

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.

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