SAN FRANCISCO--Nintendo continues to rake in gobs of money, but it showed signs of slowing in 2009. During the same year in which lifetime Wii sales topped 67 million worldwide and the DS sold its 125 millionth unit, the Japanese gaming company saw profit dive 9.4 percent to ¥192.6 billion ($2.14 billion) on sales that had slipped 23 percent to ¥1.18 trillion ($13 billion) for the first nine months of its in-progress fiscal year.
The reasons for Nintendo's current travails are multifarious, ranging from appreciation of Japan's currency in the world market to slowing sales of its juggernaut console and handheld. More ominously, though, recent research indicates that the publisher is losing the support of the third-party development community. As one recent example, Ubisoft said that it would be deemphasizing its strong Wii and DS support in favor of refocusing resources on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Nintendo also finds itself challenged in its bread-and-butter handheld market, thanks to Apple's ubiquitous iPhone. That situation could complicate further with the introduction of the iPad, though Nintendo has been quick to marginalize the device. Plus, the publisher's console may lose its greatest competitive advantage later this year, when Microsoft and Sony are expected to launch their respective motion-sensing peripherals.
All that said, Nintendo plans to go back on the offensive this year with a number of new installments in its mass-appeal franchises. At the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo, the publisher announced potentially blockbuster games, such as Super Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid: Other M, and a new installment in the Zelda franchise. Rumor and speculation persist that the publisher is also on the verge of releasing new hardware revisions for the Wii, as well as a possible all-new DS beyond its as-yet-undated DSi XL.
With the 2010 Game Developers Conference fast approaching in March and this year's E3 not long after, Nintendo set up shop in San Francisco today, inviting the press to check out its upcoming wares as part of its Q1 Media Summit. Nintendo is kicking off the media day with prepared opening remarks--ones that may preempt the two onrushing industry expos to provide word on just when and how Nintendo will strike back.
[9:07] Nintendo allows attendees to file into one of the W Hotel's conference rooms right at 9 a.m. The room seats about 100 people and is full up with chattering press and a handful of analysts.
[9:09] Nintendo of America PR director Mark Franklin welcomes the audience to the media event and then lays down some ground rules for the show.
[9:09] Live blogging is allowed. Phew!
[9:11] Franklin introduces Cammie Dunaway, NOA's executive vice president of sales and marketing.
[9:11] Dunaway says today is about less talk and more play. It's also about the first half of 2010. Gamers are going to have to wait until E3 to hear about Nintendo's second half lineup.
[9:12] Dunaway looks back at 2009, taking a statistical victory lap.
[9:12] The DS had its best month ever in December, and annual sales hit 11.2 million systems sold.
[9:13] December also saw another record, with the Wii selling 3.8 million systems for the month.
[9:13] Finally, 24.9 million Wii games were sold in December--another record for any system's one month software sales, Dunaway said.
[9:14] That's it for 2009. Now the DSi XL, which comes out March 28 in the US for $189.99.
[9:14] Dunaway stresses the system's new features, like its larger screen and pen stylus.
[9:15] Another benefit of the system is that the DSi XL fills the gap between portable experiences and console experiences, she said. It's a portable system that multiple people can gather around and enjoy at once.
[9:17] Dunaway moved on to talk about America's Test Kitchen for the DS, touting its user-friendly features.
[9:18] Dunaway said another title on the way shows how expanded entertainment experiences can work, as she turned to the "new" DS "game," 100 Classic Books.
[9:19] The title launches June 14 for $19.99 and includes full versions of classic literature like Bram Stoker's Dracula.
[9:19] Dunaway then moved to Super Mario Galaxy 2, saying the game looks different and feels different from the original.
[9:20] Another Nintendo representative presides over a live demo of the game, pointing out the return of odd-shaped planetoids and the new drill tool.
[9:21] By grabbing a drill and doing a spin jump, players will be able to tunnel straight through planetoids to the other side. That led to a variety of puzzle-solving applications for the tool.
[9:23] The representative said the basic rules of the game will change from level to level, and half the challenge of the game is determining what tweaks each new galaxy will make to the game.
[9:24] The rep showed off a boss fight with a hopping walker that moves along a wheel-shaped level.
[9:25] To beat the hopper, Mario had to grab the drill tool and tunnel through the wheel-shaped level so that when he pops out the other side, he launches himself into the weak spot on the boss's underside.
[9:25] Finally, the representative introduced Yoshi to the crowd, explaining how he'll work in the game.
[9:26] Mario will once again have to rescue Yoshi from an egg, and players will be able to use the Wii's pointing mechanic to aim where Yoshi's tongue attack will go.
[9:27] Yoshi will be able to get different powers by eating various things, like blimp fruits that will cause him to inflate and then gain altitude as he blows out excess air.
[9:28] The level shown switched to a 2D-style side-view camera for one segment that showed Yoshi and Mario working their way around the side of a giant tree.
[9:29] However, instead of falling to his doom when missing a jump on the tree, the trunk would merely keep rotating, with Mario effectively falling endlessly around it as a spinning cylinder.
[9:32] The Mario Galaxy 2 portion was capped with a sizzle reel of gameplay showing a variety of worlds and boss characters, including a giant worm that burrowed holes through a tiny planet on which Mario was standing and a Bowser-helmed, clown-faced machine reminiscent of the final boss in Super Mario World.
[9:33] Super Mario Galaxy 2 will come out May 23.
[9:33] Dunaway came back to the stage to talk about Sin and Punishment: Star Successor.
[9:34] She mentioned the game's popularity in Japan and then mentioned the action shooter will arrive June 7, with online leaderboards.
[9:35] The next game is FlingSmash, a Wii MotionPlus-compatible retail game arriving this summer that allows players to thwack a ball-like hero through a variety of levels.
[9:35] The quick run through Nintendo's lineup continued with mentions of Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, which launches in stores March 14.
[9:36] Picross 3D for the DS was next. The game will come out with more than 300 levels, but Nintendo will be adding to that throughout the year with downloadable updates. The game will come out May 3.
[9:36] Dunaway then introduced Dan Adelman, NOA manager of business development, to talk about the company's WiiWare and DSiWare businesses.
[9:38] Adelman said DSiWare now has 127 titles (games and applications) available but said the quantity doesn't matter as much as the quality. He added that the quality "seems to be increasing every week."
[9:38] Adelman talked about WarioWare DIY for DSi, which launches March 28.
[9:38] He explained how the game's minigame construction and sharing features will work before moving on to the ArtStyle lineup.
[9:38] ArtStyle Light Trax will put players in the role of a beam of light racing other beams of light on a darkened track.
[9:39] Rotozoa is another ArtStyle game on the way, with players controlling a many-tentacled creature with color-oriented gameplay mechanics.
[9:40] Moving to WiiWare, Adelman talked about Mega Man 10, which launches March 1.
[9:40] Max & the Magic Marker will arrive for American gamers on March 8. Then, there's the indie darling Cave Story, which is set for release March 22.
[9:41] Another indie game set for WiiWare is Super Meat Boy, which will launch this summer.
[9:42] And Yet It Moves is yet another indie hit coming to WiiWare. Adelman said it would launch this summer, but a PowerPoint slide clearly listed it as a spring release.
[9:42] The last WiiWare title Adelman touted was Rage of the Gladiator.
[9:44] Back to DSiWare, Adelman mentioned Metal Torrent for spring, as well as X-scape, an exploratory adventure with 3D graphics and giant robots.
[9:45] Adelman introduced Bill Trinen to show off Photo Dojo, another DSi application.
[9:45] Rather than explain the game's appeal, Trinen jumped into a demonstration of the game, which mashes together photos and fighting games.
[9:46] The game has players strike 13 poses of their character, including shots for punching and taking damage.
[9:47] It also requires players to record their own sound effects. For example, Trinen tied a clip of himself yelling, "Obey the captain!" to his fireball attack.
[9:48] Once the characters are made, gamers can take them into battle in single-player or multiplayer modes.
[9:50] Players can use their own photos as level backgrounds, and Trinen played through a side-scrolling level, kicking and punching, with a wealth of scattered sound clips and a few special attacks.
[9:50] Next up was multiplayer mode, where Trinen fought a friend who warned, "Watch out for my girlie parts."
[9:50] Trinen lost when his opponent grew to twice her normal size and kicked him in the face.
[9:50] Then she bellowed in a bass-heavy voice, "You've been beaten by a girl."
[9:51] Trinen said the game would be available on the DSi Shop this spring.
[9:51] Dunaway returned to the stage and said the event was also intended to showcase Nintendo's third-party partners.
[9:52] She introduced NOA vice president of licensing Steve Singer, who said support from third parties for the company was strong.
[9:52] He pointed out that while Nintendo has 22 games that have sold a million units worldwide on the Wii, third parties have 54.
[9:53] On the DS, Nintendo had 45, while third parties had 63 games to have sold at least a million units.
[9:53] Singer mentioned that third parties had four of the top 10 best-selling Wii games in December, including Just Dance, Madden 10, EA Sports Active, and Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympics.
[9:54] Singer talked about Majesco's Ghostwire, saying the game uses the DSi's cameras to bring "augmented reality" gaming to the system. Ghostwire launches in October.
[9:55] Singer showed off a trailer for the title, which featured a wealth of horror movie cliches that drew laughs from the crowd.
[9:56] Singer moved on to Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands for the Wii, which will support cooperative play, and exclusively on the Wii, the 1992 SNES remake of Prince of Persia. The game launches May 18.
[9:56] Disney's Guilty Party, developed by Wideload Games, was next.
[9:56] Singer said it was inspired by a "mystery board game," but didn't mention Clue by name.
[9:56] The game is set for release in the second half of the year.
[9:58] Finally, Singer brought up Monster Hunter Tri for the Wii. He said the subscription-based Wii exclusive sold well in Japan and reminded the audience that it will be bundled in the US with the Classic Controller Pro.
[9:58] While the game is subscription-based in Japan, it will be free in North America.
[9:58] The game will also be compatible with the WiiSpeak accessory. Singer introduced Seth Killian from Capcom to talk about the franchise.
[9:59] Monster Hunter has sold more than 11 million units franchise-wide to date, Killian said.
[10:00] Killian recaps the basic premise of the Monster Hunter franchise, explaining how players will help rebuild a devastated village in Monster Hunter Tri.
[10:01] Killian said that Monster Hunter Tri will launch April 20.
[10:01] It will come in stand-alone and Classic Controller Pro-bundled editions.
[10:03] Killian then narrated a demo of a single-player quest in Monster Hunter Tri. It started in base camp, where the player had been given the quest to hit a major sea monster.
[10:03] Before getting to that, the player killed a dinosaur-like creature, harvested meat from its corpse, then cooked and ate a pre-fight meal.
[10:05] Killian called it the most accessible Monster Hunter ever before mocking his live demo partner for running away from a pack of other creatures to reach the goal of his quest.
[10:05] Upon reaching a beach, the player dove into the sea and began swimming in search of the boss.
[10:07] The player finds the boss: a giant sea serpent that swims around unpredictably and combines electrical attacks with an assortment of biting lunges and tail swipes.
[10:07] Killian discussed a number of strategies that could be employed against the boss and ended the demo.
[10:08] Killian touted a GameStop demo disc for the game will be available on March 8 and include two quests.
[10:09] Also, if players preorder Monster Hunter Tri at GameStop, they will receive a card for 500 Wii Shop or DSi Shop points ($5).
[10:09] Killian cut back to another demo (this one taped), which showed a team of hunters fishing a sea monster up onto land in order to combat it in a weakened state.
[10:10] The game will have WiiSpeak compatibility, as well as text-based chat, so players will be able to coordinate their attacks however they prefer.
[10:11] Outmatched on land, the sea monster in the demo fled back to the water, with the players following to finish the fight.
[10:13] The creature flees once more and buries itself in the sand, where players must (naturally) hunt for the monster's hiding place in order to finish their quest.
[10:14] Killian ended his presentation and Dunaway retook the stage.
[10:15] She said she had one more bit of news about publishing partners and said that Nintendo would be publishing Square Enix's Dragon Quest IX: Sentinel of the Starry Skies domestically.
[10:16] Dunaway brought up Club Nintendo, saying the fan loyalty program received plenty of feedback on what kind of rewards gamers wanted.
[10:16] Dunaway mentioned that Club Nintendo members will be able to get a set of Mario posters, as well as Game & Watch Collection 2 for the DS.
[10:17] Finally, Grill-Off with Ultra Hand! for the Wii will be another new reward offered to club members.
[10:17] Dunaway said that in 2010, there's something for everyone, but particularly for the hardcore gamer.
[10:17] That brought Dunaway to Metroid: Other M.
[10:18] She said it will combine new Wii Remote gameplay with expansive exploration, seamless transitions from action to cinematics, and a melding of the series' original vision with that of Team Ninja.
[10:18] Dunaway said the game launches June 27.
[10:19] Marc Franklin retook the stage to thank the audience and bid everyone farewell.
[10:20] That does it for Nintendo's Media Summit opening remarks. Be sure to check back later for continuing impressions and hands-on coverage of the games.