E3 '07: Wii Mario Kart pulls drive-by on Nintendo gathering
All-new installment in blockbuster series due in early 2008; new fitness games revealed, Smash Bros. Brawl and Super Mario Galaxy dated, Wii and DS success promoted.
Microsoft kicked off the new-and-possibly improved E3 Media and Business Summit last night with a show that was heavy on gameplay, but light on earthshaking news announcements. The speculated Xbox 360 price cut never materialized, but the company did show off a new Halo 3-branded system and games including Call of Duty 4 and Mass Effect.
Today Nintendo gets its turn in the spotlight. The company's strategy to target non-traditional gamers has resulted in a banner year, with massive sales success for the DS and a quick start for the Wii, which launched last November and remains difficult to find on store shelves.
The conference is set to kick off at 9 a.m., with attendees first getting to rush into the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium around 8:30 a.m. to the tune of The Partridge Family's "Come On, Get Happy." Three screens span the length of the stage with the classic Nintendo logo in gray on a blue and white background. On either side of the stage, Nintendo is projecting pictures of exactly the kind of easy-on-the-eyes non-traditional gamers it seeks to entice into buying a Wii or DS. The auditorium reflects the new downsized E3, with room for fewer attendees than would have attended in previous years.
With minutes to go until the conference's scheduled kick-off, it seems there's little time left before Nintendo delivers its payload of announcements for the show. New looks at confirmed 2007 releases like Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption are almost assured, but what will the publisher announce for the first time? Will Nintendo mine its powerful stable of characters and brands for longtime fans? Will it continue to court non-gamers with unusual and unexpected titles like Brain Age and Nintendogs? We're about to find out, as a voice comes on the loudspeaker and tells us the show starts in five minutes.
[9:02] The lights dim and a voice asks the attendees to take their seats.
[9:03] A stop-motion video comes up with an old NES complaining about how gamers forget old systems once new ones show up. It's a montage of pop culture references to the Wii and DS, including South Park, the Daily Show, and more.
[9:04] From news reports about games as exercise to YouTube videos featuring unusual uses of the Wii controller, it's a barrage of media that ends as Reggie casually walks on stage.
[9:04] "My name is Reggie. And I... am happy."
[9:05] The Nintendo of America president calls today a celebration, a "conclusive turning point for the video game market," welcoming more players to our form of entertainment and a coming out party for the entire industry.
[9:06] Reggie says the video game business is up 46 percent over the same period last year in the US, 42 percent in the UK, and up 114 percent in Japan.
[9:07] This kind of explosion is simply not possible by targeting the existing market, Reggie says. It has to be because of an expanding market.
[9:08] Because this is a Nintendo show, Reggie says it shouldn't surprise us that 69 percent of the industry growth this year comes from the sale of Nintendo products. He also points to strong portable growth, as handhelds now represent half of all game system sales, as opposed to 30 percent in 2002.
[9:09] Reggie shows stats that say the DS is responsible for most of that portable industry growth, and attributes the Game Boy Advance for the rest of it, which gets a chuckle from the audience.
[9:10] He shows some graphs showing that gamers 18-24 are accounting for an increasing amount of gaming revenue, and the 25 and older group now accounts for a third of the market.
[9:11] Next is the gender barrier. Reggie says the industry spending is 80 percent male, but for Nintendo, women represent a full third of its revenues.
[9:14] In Japan, Reggie says the growth of female and older audiences is even more pronounced. While the Wii hasn't been around long enough to track trends on it. Reggie shows stats that indicate if there's a Wii in the household, older women and men are more likely to try it than they would be with other systems.
[9:15] Games like Wii Sports, Big Brain Academy, Brain Age, and Nintendogs are attributed to growing the market with the help of core influencers. He acknowledges that people are calling the Wii and DS a fad--adding that he'd say the same thing in their shoes--but talks about the staying power of the systems. The Wii has been sold out worldwide for 33 straight weeks.
[9:15] "The reality is this: Nintendo is not a fad. Nintendo is the future."
[9:16] In the US, there are 60 Wii games and 300 DS games, with another 100 and 140 on the way, respectively. He also gives some stats to tout the effectiveness of third-party software on the systems.
[9:17] It's another video montage of people enjoying the Wii and DS, as well as more media coverage and fan-made videos.
[9:19] Reggie comes back and welcomes the first offspring of the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk. It's the Wii Zapper, a new housing for the two controllers.
[9:20] Reggies says it could change the first-person shooter the way the Wii Remote changed sports games. Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles will be on display this week, and Reggie says it's evolutionary and revolutionary. Sega is also bringing Ghost Squad to the Wii to use the Zapper.
[9:21] EA's Medal of Honor Heroes 2 for the Wii is being designed to take advantage of the Zapper, with 10 different Zapper moves. More third-party partners will have Wii Zapper news this week, and Nintendo is working on its own Wii Zapper game. Reggie is saying Wii Zapper every chance he gets.
[9:21] The Zapper will come packaged with a game and sell for $19.99, which gets some applause.
[9:22] Now Reggie is showing off quick glimpses of third-party games like Soulcalibur Legends and WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008.
[9:23] Moving to the DS, he shows Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword. He makes mention that maybe gamers want something deeper, and talks about Square Enix's new Dragon Quest game and the Mario and Sonic Olympics game.
[9:23] They show a footrace between Mario and Sonic that comes down to a dead heat. Poor Sonic. Running is all he does and he doesn't even get a clear win over Mario.
[9:24] Reggie talks a little about Super Smash Bros. Brawl. It's set to release in the US on December 3.
[9:25] Reggie calls it "the best Smash Bros. ever by far." The whole lineup is intended to demonstrate that there's more than enough action coming to DS and Wii. Now it's a video profile with a pair of game site writers.
[9:26] The writers (Mike and Jackie) are invited onto the stage to put some upcoming games through their paces.
[9:27] Mike is out first with Nintendo's Bill Trinnen to talk Zelda: Phantom Hourglass on the DS.
[9:28] They go over the touchscreen interface. Mike is playing the game with one hand as the DS sits on the table. He runs Link around, negotiates menus, uses a grappling hook and swings his sword using only the stylus.
[9:29] He uses the stylus to draw a tight rope for Link to cross a pit with. Trinnen promises a deep single-player adventure and calls it his favorite Zelda game ever, emphasizing that it isn't just E3 hyperbole.
[9:30] Jackie Goehner is up on stage now to play Metroid Prime 3 on Wii. She shows off the visor system, which allows players to switch views on the fly.
[9:32] Trinnen says the game features lock-on free aiming, where you can lock on to something that serves as an orbit point, but then use the Wii Remote to aim anywhere you want. Jackie is taking out a few enemies and showing off the hyper mode, which makes her more powerful but "corrupts" Samus.
[9:32] Trinnen says Metroid Prime 3 will be the best blockbuster first-person game this fall. Reggie retakes the stage.
[9:33] Reggie brings up the issue of Nintendo getting serious about online. He says the company might have already gotten serious about it; we just didn't notice. Cue another mainstream media video montage.
[9:34] Today, 5.5 million DS owners have used the system's Wi-Fi connection, representing 230 million gameplay sessions. Reggie emphasizes that it's free to play.
[9:36] It's Virtual Console time, as Reggie says they've had 5.6 million game downloads already. He brings up WiiWare and introduces a new channel devoted to Miis. It's "Check Mii Out," where gamers can have their Miis voted on by other users.
[9:37] He mentions that Wii users are already battling Pokemon online, and says players in the US will be going online with Mario Strikers Charged. "But I know you want more, so let's go."
[9:37] Madden 08 and FIFA 08 will both be online.
[9:38] Square Enix's Dragon Quest Monsters - Joker will go online using the Wi-Fi Connection, and Activision's Guitar Hero III will let you "rock into the 'Wii' hours with a wireless controller."
[9:39] Mario Kart Wii will burn rubber online in the first quarter of next year, and the crowd cheers and claps a bit.
[9:40] "This is not your father's Mario Kart." He says this is the first Mario Kart where first-timers can compete directly with veterans, including a custom Wii wheel controller that will debut with Mario Kart Wii.
[9:40] Reggie holds up the controller, which will come packaged with the game.
[9:41] He moves on from making games feel fresh again for veterans to expanding the audience, and it's another montage.
[9:43] To emphasize the mass market, Reggie intros Nintendo worldwide president Satoru Iwata.
[9:44] Iwata thanks the audience for coming, then talks about playing his first game 30 years ago, when there weren't many gamers. He said it would be wonderful if everyone could experience the enjoyment he first felt, but to do that he'd need new proposals and tangible products. So far, he says Nintendo is seeing some positive results from games like Nintendogs and Brian Age.
[9:44] He mentions Wii Sports and says that when people sweat playing tennis in their own living rooms, it attracts many people who had never played before.
[9:45] Iwata hypes up new DS cookbook software available in Japan, and says he uses it to prepare dinner for his family, and finds that he forgets his work worries when he's chopping onions.
[9:46] He hears sometimes that Nintendo has lost its passion for traditional games or that the expansion products like Brian Age have nothing to do with them. He hopes what they've shown today convinces people otherwise.
[9:47] He asks gamers to remember their first time playing games, and the frustration they felt playing against better players and hearing people say they were wasting their lives. Today we're seeing it's not impossible to expand the gaming population, he says.
[9:48] Iwata wants to destroy the psychological barrier that separates veteran gamers from novice gamers. He doesn't want Nintendo products to be narrowly classified as "for beginners" or "for core players." He wants games to be for everyone.
[9:49] "You may think this sounds impossible, but think about the Wii Zapper. It erases the kind of complexity that has always created a high barrier for even casual players to overcome."
[9:50] Iwata wants titles easily playable by everyone, but content needs to be scalable with enough to entertain and challenge even skilled players. In a few minutes, Shigeru Miyamoto will show off a new title that meets those criteria.
[9:51] It's another profile, this time of Robin and Rigo, parents from Austin, Texas who also happen to be Wii fans. They talk about how great Super Mario Galaxy is.
[9:52] It's a whirlwind of testimony about Mario Galaxy, followed quickly be family members talking about Brain Age 2, then the video ends. Reggie retakes the stage.
[9:53] Reggie says Brain Age 2 is already more popular in Japan than the original. It will be available in the US August 20. As for Super Mario Galaxy, Reggie says it's simply "over the top," and says it is--in one sense--the first worthy successor to Super Mario 64.
[9:54] Super Mario Galaxy comes out November 12.
[9:56] Now he's back to expanding the audience. He says Nintendo is just getting started on it, and says puzzle game like Picross DS have always expanded boundaries. EA's My Sims follow as Reggie talks about its instant appeal. Likewise, he says High School Musical will appeal to anyone who likes singing and dancing. And then there's Rayman Raving Rabbids 2, which Reggie says is "even nuttier."
[9:56] Now he's talking about the "improvement games" like Brian Age and Big Brain Academy, which have sold 15 million units worldwide. He intros a vision training game that will be called Flash Focus in the US.
[9:58] He brings up Ubisoft's My Word Coach, a vocabulary building software title and "one game where your mom may end up schooling you." There's also My Life Coach, which promises "to make not just your vocabulary, but everything better," according to Reggie.
[9:58] It's another media montage.
[10:01] Reggie comes back out and says the last game they're showing today is Wii Fit. A video comes up showing a new "controller," essentially a pad that sits on the floor. One "game" asks the player to stand on the pad and balance their weight between their feet within a specific zone. It goes through a number of exercises using the pad, including push-ups and using hula hoops.
[10:01] One game asks the player to head away incoming soccer balls. Apparently the pad can determine which way the player's head is tilted from how much weight they're putting on each foot.
[10:02] Yoga exercises are also included, and as the video ends, three people take the stage to demo it, followed by Miyamoto, who the crowd greets with the loudest applause yet.
[10:03] Speaking through a translator, Miyamoto says that the one game he wanted to introduce at E3 this year was Wii Fit. When they were first thinking up the concept for the Wii, they thought it would be placed in the living room, and so had to be relevant to everyone in the household, and provide opportunities for everyone in the household to interact with games.
[10:05] The three people on stage are fitness trainers who will demonstrate exercises. There's a ref pointer shaking around the screen as one demos a one-legged stretch.Apparently the calibration is off.
[10:06] The next exercise is step aerobics, which has the player match their steps on the pad to the timing of music. It's a little like Dance Dance Revolution.
[10:07] The last demo is a sideways twist. Miyamoto hopes people will demo it at the Barker Hangar so they can get a feel for how it works. The game features four genres of activities, more than 40 in total.
[10:08] Miyamoto holds up the board and explains how it works.
[10:09] He says they're going to do a "body check" on someone, so they bring up Reggie.
[10:09] Reggie stands on the board, and it asks him how heavy his clothing is, then tells him to stand in a relaxed position.
[10:10] The board takes a few seconds to measure, and then tells Reggie how his center of gravity shifted while he was standing on the board. That's what the red pointer in the previous test was. It says Reggie leaned to the right as he stood and asked if he had good posture.
[10:11] As you play the game over time, you can build up data tied to your Mii and track it for months to see your own fitness progress for your body mass index over time.
[10:13] The game calculates Reggie's BMI as 27.51, and then calls him "overweight" and adapts his Mii to fit.
[10:14] Now Miyamoto and Reggie are going to compete in a soccer heading competition to see who can play that Wii Fit game better. The first one to 20 points wins.
[10:14] Reggie dominates Miyamoto, whose Mii is eventually struck in the head by a cleated shoe as the demo ends. Trinnen and Miyamoto leave the stage.
[10:15] Reggie says Nintendo still isn't close to being satisfied, with tons of creative talent in many companies fueling the industry's growth. But he also says leadership counts, and this is Nintendo's moment to lead.
[10:16] There are 24 hours in every day, Reggie notes. "And only a small amount of time is available for leisure entertainment. Minute by minute, we intend to steal more of that time for video games."
[10:17] He says Flicker, YouTube and other such sites show that people insist on getting inside their entertainment, and Nintendo is the ultimate interactive entertainment. He thanks the crowd and leave the stage as another montage plays and the crowd applauds.
[10:17] The montage ends with the Nintendo logo and the show is over.
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