E3: Nintendo is smug – but with good reason

By Mathew Kumar, Special to CBCnews.ca

LOS ANGELES - Still riding high on the continuing buzz surrounding the Wii following the recent launch of Wii Fit, and with the Nintendo DS still performing strongly thanks to recent hits like Guitar Hero: On Tour, Nintendo opened the first day of E3 proper from a position of near unassailable strength. Nintendo didn’t have anything to prove, and as a result it held a press conference that was both infuriatingly smug and embarrassingly awkward.

While some games on offer underwhelmed, Nintendo showed some titles that shined with innovation and polish.

Snowboarding fans might be excited for Shaun White Snowboarding, a newly announced Ubisoft title that uses the Wii Fit balance board to recreate the snowboarding experience, but it was an incredibly flat start to the conference. An appearance from Shaun White didn’t make it any more exciting - perhaps thanks to the cringeworthy performance from Nintendo’s vice-president of sales and marketing, Cammie Dunaway.

Nintendo's Reggie Fils-Aimé introduces Wii Sports: Resort.

Thankfully Nintendo’s CEO Satoru Iwata was charming as always, joking at Wii Fit’s expense that five years ago Nintendo’s staff could never imagine that they’d be “shipping millions of bathroom scales across the world,” and promising that the Mario and Zelda development teams were hard at work.

But it wasn’t until Nintendo started showing its first party titles that the “magic” that has made the company a success became apparent. The latest title in the Animal Crossing franchise, Animal Crossing: City Folk was announced, and while it was surprisingly similar to previous incarnations, the new addition of online features was welcome – especially with the surpise announcement that the title would include the WiiSpeak peripheral, a microphone that sits near the Wii’s sensor bar and allows players to (for the first time on the Nintendo Wii) talk to each other.

Nintendo’s other new accessory, the MotionPlus that was announced yesterday, didn’t disappoint in demonstrations. Due to ship with new Wii Sports Title - Wii Sports Resort – the MotionPlus does truly seem to allow the Wii to understand the exact position of the Wii Remote in 3D space, and the demonstration of three of Wii Sports Resort’s games – Frisbee catch, jet skiing and sword fighting - was not only exciting for the Wiimote’s new potential, but looked incredibly fun.

Nintendo's Cammie Dunaway plays Frisbee with her Wii puppy.
(Mathew Kumar)

Of course, curmudgeons (myself included) must complain that this is clearly functionality that should have been included with the Wii Remote in the first place. And now we’ve seen what the Wii is capable of with the MotionPlus attached, it’s going to be pretty hard to make do with the current Wii Remote until Wii Sports Resort ships next spring.

(The author is a Canadian freelance writer blogging for CBCnews.ca from the Electronics and Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.)