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The first official day of E3 2011 started off with big news from the Nokia Theatre, where Nintendo held its annual press briefing, and ended up at a cowboy bar on Sunset Boulevard. In between, there were some impressive presentations of huge new games coming in the next year or so, and one new indie game that parents should check out for their youngsters at holiday time.
Say what you will about Nintendo, but they give great press conferences. They started this year’s briefing with a full orchestra and chorus performing themes from Zelda games in celebration of the series’ 25th anniversary this year. As part of Zelda’s birthday party, it was announced that Link’s Awakening would be coming to the Wii Virtual Console and GameBoy, a 3D version of Oc arina of Time (with new added material) is on the way for the 3DS, Four Swords will be available for the DSi on DSiWare in September, and the new Skyward Sword is being released for the Wii (complete with a gold-colored Wiimote) for the holidays. Also, a symphonic presentation of Zelda music scores is planned for a world tour in the fall, and the Ocarina of Time soundtrack will be available for free with new Club Nintendo memberships.
Sales of the 3DS have been disappointing for the House of Mario, so a slate of new games has been announced to whet the appetites of those still on the fence (and who won’t be buying the similarly priced PlayStation Vita). Included are 3D versions of Mario Kart, Star Fox 64 (which you can control by tilting the console instead of using the buttons) and Super Mario (the first Mario game made completely from scratch for a handheld). Also new for the 3DS: Kid Icarus: Uprising, featuring 3v3 multiplayer and Augmented Reality Card support; Luigi’s Mansion 2; and third-party games from Ubisoft, Capcom and others.
But they saved the most impressive for last. The new Nintendo console finally has a real name: Wii U (formerly Project: Café). Nothing was said about the console itself; it was the controller that got all of the attention. It features a 6.2-inch touchscreen, two buttons on the rear, two on the shoulders, two thumbsticks, the usual four buttons on the front, a D-pad, speakers, a microphone, a forward-facing camera and an accelerometer. And it can do some really amazing things. If your spouse wants to watch her soaps on the living-room TV, you can transfer your game from the TV to the controller and continue playing. It can be used in conjunction with the Wiimote in games that support both; in a golf game, for example, the touchscreen can be used as a virtual tee. Take your stance with the Wiimote as the club, look down at the ball on the touchscreen and swing away; the ball leaves the screen and flies onto your TV. You can also make video calls to others who have the system. Launch titles include a version of Smash Bros and LEGO City Stories for both the WiiU and the 3DS. And hardcore gamers, who’ve never taken to the Wii because it lacks content that interests them, will be very pleased with the WiiU. Games in the works for the new console include Darksiders 2, Assassin’s Creed, Ghost Recon Online, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Tekken and Ninja Gaiden 3. The only thing that wasn’t revealed about the WiiU: storage. One of the things players hate about the Wii is that it has no hard drive; no mention was made about whether or not this problem has been addressed about the WiiU. We’ll have to wait until sometime in 2012 to know for sure.
To anyone who might attend E3 in the future, heed my warning: don’t schedule any appointments for right when the doors open! The sea of humanity waiting to get into the halls is biblical in proportion. Unless you get into the convention center early enough to be at the head of the throng, you’ll be guaranteed to be late to your first meeting. Such was the case with me today, as I was about 10 minutes tardy for my visit to the Bethesda Softworks booth to see perhaps the company’s most anticipated new game, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The game, three years in the making, is powered by the new Creation engine and the Havok Behavior animation system, and it looked stunning during the 30-minute gameplay demo lead by Bethesda’s Todd Howard. The usual menu interface design has been replaced by a very pleasing, graphics-intensive layout that gives you a clearer and more-detailed look at your inventory and quest log. You can explore five major cities and 150 dungeons, and travel quickly from one place to another on horseback if you choose. Also, you can equip both of your character’s hands with whatever spells and weapons you want to use. Skyrim launches on November 11.
My most pleasant surprise of the show so far came at the Sony Online booth, where I had a chance to play the first few minutes of Papo y Yo, from developer Minority Inc. The game’s creator (also creative director and company president) Vander Caballero describes Papo as “a metaphor for growing up.” Set in a favela in an unidentified South American country, Papo casts you as a young boy who has a robotic friend named Lula, who helps him navigate his environment and solve puzzles. Eventually you make friends with a playful monster that joins you and Lula in your adventures. This game is a breath of fresh air in an industry awash in violent action games. Look for it on the PlayStation Network in November 2011.
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