Wii U is pretty much Wii HD

The big reveal of Nintendo’s press conference at this year’s E3 was of course the Wii U, or rather, the Wii U’s controller leaving a lot of people wondering what exactly the hardware for the Wii U consists of. Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata spoke with the Evening Standard (via Eurogamer) about the announcement and how he regrets not focusing more on the Wii U itself. His reason for doing so wasn’t out of madness but common sense. To him and the rest of the company, the Wii U “is not drastically different and [its] about the controller. The console itself will be almost invisible.”

What we do know is that the Wii U will be able to produce the same kinds of graphics as the Xbox 360 and PS3 and is capable of 1080p video output. Whether it’s more powerful than the competition isn’t all that essential right now because for Nintendo, this isn’t about a new bit of hardware, it’s about technically catching up with those who are slowly chipping away at the lead they have in the market and be considered a serious piece of home entertainment.

The Wii U doesn’t need to be drastically different from the Wii either. How often have you found yourself thinking that a Wii game would look great in HD and that’ll you wished you could play it that way? Games like Super Mario Galaxy have that unique art style that makes us love Nintendo but imagine it in high definition. That, plus a better use of online (which we’ve already seen steps towards on the 3DS) would be enough for me.

But the real majesty of the Wii U is said to be in its controller – again, why Nintendo decided to put all the emphasis on it instead of the unit which would sit under your TV – and Iwata said people won’t truly appreciate how impactful it will be until they play with it. He believes the new way of traditional video game interaction it offers will once again allow Nintendo to dramatically influence the industry. Bold words but pretty much all I read regarding the controller is how brilliant it is so he may just be onto something with these claims.

However Sony has the opportunity to offer a very similar experience with the PS Vita if it linked seamlessly to the PS3. For all intense purposes, it comes with pretty much the same technology as the Wii U controller so like the PlayStation Move, we would see Nintendo’s idea replicated on a rival platform.

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New details trickle out for top 3DS games

The launch of Nintendo’s 3DS may not have been as game-packed as some would have liked but there are at least one or two games that are worth picking up. As the months roll on and the surprising April sunshine gradually becomes a rain-soaked December, the 3DS will have had a good number of first party titles, the life blood of any Nintendo system. Speaking at a French press event (via VG247), Shirgeru Miyamoto revealed that the next Mario Kart will be arriving by the end of the year. Choosing not to say any more regarding Mario Kart 3D, Miyamoto turned his attentions to Star Fox 64 3D which he says is finished and has gyro support giving “a new dimension to the game.” The same was said about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D whom also includes gyro capabilities for such weapons as the bow and runs at 30 frames per second instead of the original 20 which will make the game appear a lot smoother.

Miyamoto spoke about Super Mario 3D saying it will be fully unveled at E3 and is currently heavily in development. As before, he explained how the game will be a cross between Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy and added New Super Mario Bros too saying that the camera will be fixed allowing Mario to run into the screen or towards it giving the illusion of depth.

Along with Mario Kart 3D, Star Fox 64, Ocarina of Time 3D, and not forgetting Kid Icarus, Super Mario 3D has been promised by the end of 2011. Five top franchises all making their way to the 3DS in its first year and that doesn’t include all the third party game which are said to be coming too. The 3DS should have a rich and diverse twelve months ahead of it. But what lies beyond that? Third party developers will no doubt still create titles and as the system grows in popularity so will the number of games but Nintendo are doing something similar to the launch of the Wii. Throughout 2007 and 2008 (the Wii hit stores in December 2006) Nintendo released at least eight triple A titles (Twilight Princess, Metroid Prime 3, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Paper Mario, Wii Fit, Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Bros Brawl, Animal Crossing) and for a company whose platforms survive on first party games, you’d expect to high number of them. But compare that to now where there’s little if any games coming to the Wii and it seems support is drying up. Could it be the quiet before the storm of Project Cafe or Wii 2? Probably though there are those who believe the Wii may have piqued too early leaving only a handful of games to be excited about.

On the other hand, Nintendo lead the way with games, making sure our waggle machines were more than just, well, waggle machines and giving us the franchises that hold a dear place in our hearts early on and expanded on them. Nintendo could be doing the same with the 3DS only this time they’ve said particularly with launch games that they want third party devs to take centre stage and not have to feel as if they’re fighting with their games for attention. A gallant move and one that will hopefully pay off.

If anything can be said about the 3DS launch it’s that developers needn’t shy away from the system or think their games won’t work. Capcom’s Super Street Fighter IV 3D is often praised for utilising all the features of the 3DS while looking and playing great too. One friend tells me this on an almost daily basis (You know who you are!). So the fact we’re getting five top Nintendo releases in year one of the 3DS is definitely a good thing as I’m hoping come 2012-13 enough third party devs will be on churning out quality games so that the system is no longer reliant on its parent company to provide us the entertainment we’ve paid so much for.

Miyamoto’s numerous confirmations

We’ve seen the logo, we knew it was coming but so far all Nintendo have said about Super Mario 3DS is that we’ll find out more come this year’s E3. Satoru Iwata announced the game early in the year at GDC showing a handful of screenshots and saying how the move from a 2D platformer to a 3D one proved to be problematic for some gamers, specifically precision jumping. Today, Shigeru Miyamoto spoke to Edge about Super Mario 3DS revealing “It’s a combination of Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario on N64. It won’t convey the message if I talk to you today, but if you play it at E3 that will give you more understanding of what I’m talking about.” I think from such a statement like that, we can get a good understanding of what he’s talking about. Both those titles are quite similar with Galaxy adding gravitational elements and ramping up the creativity of levels and suits. If Super Mario 3DS is a combination of the two, we can expect comparable gameplay and innovative gravity physics.

Because the game will be in stereoscopic 3D, Miyamoto believes the difficulties of pseudo 3D Mario games will be a thing of the past. Using floating platforms as an example, Miyamoto said: “In 2D it’s difficult to judge the distance, but in 3D it’s really easy.” He also said that the title is coming this year and echo earlier comments in an Iwata Asks feature about how it’ll be completely original. Adding to the promised originality will be the return of the Tanooki suit from Super Mario Bros 3 whose tail was seen in the logo shown at GDC. “The tail you mentioned on the logo – it’s what you think it is. You probably know what’s going to happen using that character,” said Miyamoto. Flying in Super Mario 3DS? Confirmed? Pretty much.

While he was at it, Miyamoto also confirmed the existence of a Wii successor but said even less about that, pleading for Edge not to ask anymore questions about it: “Don’t ask! Even when the Wii launched we were developing new hardware, work on 3DS had already started. It’s a matter of when we announce it. Please wait. Be patient until we decide.” No one ever thought for a minute that Nintendo wouldn’t be releasing another console but a lot of speculations were about simply a HD upgrade of existing hardware. From the latest rumours, the new system will be more powerful than the Xbox 360 and PS3, have the ability to play Wii games and a controller featuring a large HD touchscreen. Even if Nintendo weren’t planning on announcing anything about Project Cafe at E3, they may be forced to if more rumours keep surfacing. It could be another good year for Nintendo at E3 in June.

The saddening of a nation

PlatinumGames ceo Tatsuya Minami has opened his heart via the company’s official site (via Videogamer) about the state of the current video game industry and how saddened he is by the lack of originality. He revealed that one of PlatinumGame’s founding ideas was to “delivery smiles and surprises around the world,” and after five years of dedication from his staff, the studio’s brand has “truly been recognised.” Even with the complete juxtaposition of mechanics, PlatinumGame’s previous big hitters, Bayonetta and Vanquish, are very much linked with their art style and frantic gameplay that have carved a neat little grove in the respective genres.

Minami went on to say how he and his team are following a new ethos, aiming to be the “Japanese standard bearer in the competitive global video game market,” as he’s one of the many voices who claim Japan as a video game originator is a shadow of its former self. To him, games exist to offer fresh surprises to those who play them, however “the current games business is struggling. The ‘fresh surprises’ I mention are becoming few and far between, especially in our home of Japan. Not so long ago, Japan lead the world’s games business, and it was not a stretch to call games a uniquely Japanese speciality; however, now it appears that Japanese games companies have lost their vigour.” Such a change hasn’t happened overnight with the decline in Japan’s influences spreading at least the last two generations. That being said, the games that truly count still have a foothold in the ideas of Japanese companies. Mario titles, more so the platformers, have almost always revolutionised the genre in their own special way, maybe not originating those ideas but certainly pioneering them. Like the eccentricities of Super Mario Galaxy for example.

But Minami is right, generally when you think of video games you think of Western developers and it’s more crushing when it’s for genres that Japan used to excel in. On a global scale, platformers tend to have been taken over by Indie developers adding all kinds of charm and wit to their games. As for RPGs, BioWare and Bethesda seem to almost have equal share in the future of role playing in a video game space with the term ‘JRPG’ reserved for titles riddled with cliche and tiresome grinding. One of the reasons for this is the frequency of sequels that simply don’t allow originality, “Games with new at their core are disappearing. Japanese games that garner worldwide acclaim are slipping away,” said Minami adding how PlatinumGames must adapt to reflect how they’re one of a few healthy Japanese game studios, delivering titles that now represent the country not just themselves.

I don’t think Minami should be quick to dismiss sequels altogether though. Some carry a great amount of change for the better, much like Mass Effect 2. While not drastically different from what came before, it changed enough fundamentals to be original in its own right. And right now, I’d kill for a Bayonetta 2. The first game was unashamedly Japanese and played like a crazy dream. Furthering its ideas in a second game shouldn’t be seen as unoriginal but simply extending an already brilliant concept. Though from Minami’s comments I doubt we’ll be seeing it anytime soon.

The return of the Tanooki suit?

At this year’s GDC, just a few hours ago, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata took to the stage and spoke about the troubles gamers had with Mario platformers when the franchise moved from 2D to 3D in Super Mario 64. It’s been almost 15 years and now Iwata with his compadre Shigeru Miyamoto believe they have the answer thanks to the 3DS, officially announcing Super Mario 3D. The clever folk behind the highly celebrated Super Mario Galaxy are said to be currently working on the new Mario game with a temporary logo, seen above, including what appears to be a tail. Iwata referenced the tail in his talk but only to say they’ll be discussing it in greater detail at this year’s E3.

I’m not one to jump to conclusions, oh who am I kidding? Of course I am and can only think that the suggestion of a tail would point to the return of Mario’s Tanooki suit, the furry get-up which first appeared in Super Mario Bros. 3 allowing the hairy-lipped Italian to fly. This would add up with Miyamoto’s statements at the start of February when the project was first revealed in an Iwata Asks feature. Mario’s metaphorical father excitedly said “I want to show everyone as soon as possible what the new Super Mario Bros. will be like on the Nintendo 3DS,” specifically using the name Super Mario Bros. whose third game is often argued as the best in the series. Because it is. Super Mario 3D‘s logo and presumably the name isn’t set in stone so could well become Super Mario Bros. 3D adding credence to the idea that the tail is indeed part of a Tanooki suit. The spanner in said theory is how the Super Mario Bros. name is incredibly popular so omitting it at any stage would seem a little odd. Roll on E3 to find out just what’s going on.

I am one of the people Iwata spoke of, those who find jumping in 3D Mario games to be a tad tricky. I can do it, I’m not a complete loss but have always favoured the jump mechanics of the 2D titles while appreciating the ever unfolding creativity found in the 3D games. If Nintendo have cracked it thanks to the optical 3D of their new handheld and have the brains behind some of the most imaginative Mario games working on it, Super Mario 3D could be reason enough to own a 3DS.

Riccitiello’s moving comments

I do like John Riccitiello. Mainly because he’s willing to share his views regarding the video game industry with anyone who’ll listen and his comments spark a lot of interesting debates. The latest musings from the boss of EA are his feelings towards motion controls and whether he believes they’ll ever replace the standard controller. The short answer is no but Riccitiello does see that type of gameplay carving out its own market and taking with it a few existing genres. Speaking with IndustryGamers, Riccitiello spoke of his cautious optimism towards both Move and Kinect with their gesture-based controls actually being a superior way to play certain genres like music, dance and exercise games, “It’s really hard to imagine an exercise game with your thumbs,” he said though the pedantic would point out that true exercise and dance games are a result of motion-based peripherals, superseding those that use plastic floor mats which are arguably just controllers played with your feet.

He added that the idea of solely using motion controls for games like first person shooters isn’t something he’d like to see: “It’s really hard to imagine that I’m going to play a future edition of Medal of Honor, or Call of Duty, or Battlefield, hiding behind my couch, making a gun out of my finger. I’ve tried driving with gesture-based controls; I don’t really like it.” A great example of this is GoldenEye for the Wii. A brilliant shooter that does a good job of using the Wii remote and nunchuck but is still ultimately best played using the classic controller. Riccitiello hypothesised that in the future we could see a merging of hands-free and controller-based gameplay with certain genres combining both mechanics while others only using one of the other. Again, Nintendo have shown that this concept can work remarkably well with their inspiring Super Mario Galaxy franchise. A perfect blend of traditional gaming methods with the waggle added for positive effect instead of shoehorning it in.

The concern Riccitiello has is just how long can gesture-based games last and whether gamers will buy enough of them to make it a worthwhile investment for developers. He uses his family as an example saying that games that primarily use motion controls aren’t ones that are revisited often with only one or two one the go at any one time. Compare that to traditional controlled games and how he could be playing through three or four at once, swapping between them all without viewing them as a novelty experience. Though that could just be down to a volume of quality titles. Take the Christmas season for Wii games. It was full of great titles and in fact is the system I play the most at the moment as I try and work through all of them. In the next few months however I’ll no doubt be going back to my Xbox 360 and PS3 as a wave of triple A releases are on the way.

But Riccitiello is right, motion controls simply won’t replace traditional methods for a number or reasons and I don’t think any of the three platform holders plan to either. Microsoft has always said that Kinect is an addition to the Xbox 360 rather than a successor to the game pad and while their focus on marketing is towards the new peripheral, none of their top franchises are being forced to use gesture-based controls. Sony may have been reported to emphasise the Move over their Dualshock 3 for certain games but again have only really used it where it seems a natural fit. Like LittleBigPlanet 2 for example. Riccitiello is more interested in what happens by the end of the year and if Kinect and Move will receive that killer app to make believers out of the cynics, “what’s going to trigger the hot game? What’s going to use Kinect in just that way?” Something like Infinity Blade maybe…