This E3 was, in some ways, a reversal of what most gamers expected. Typically, we see everyone clamor over whether Sony or Microsoft came out on top, while we all wonder how Nintendo continues to bumble their way to success. This time around Nintendo schooled everyone, while both MS and Sony looked lost in their own ways. At least, that’s the general consensus that I have seen. From my perspective, Nintendo certainly did better, but I can’t say that anyone has lit my fire.
Breaking them down in order, Microsoft continued to slowly ape every successful feature on the Wii, while trying to find some angle with which to convince everyone that they have made it as good or better. The Kinect motion device is still in the same position as it was when it was called Project Natal: great potential that still hasn’t passed muster outside of a controlled environment. Some of the games looked absolutely terrible, but there were enough decent ideas floating around to at least give people hope. The fact that they integrated so many key franchises into the Kinect library probably did a lot to bolster the excitement, though I’d think that it would have the opposite affect. Beyond the Kinect stuff, Microsoft didn’t really have much else to show for themselves. Everyone has their mind set about Gears of War 3 by now, and until we see more of it, Metal Gear Rising could be a trainwreck in so many different ways.
Microsoft’s showing feels like they are still desperately trying to follow the model of their competitor Apple, waiting for someone else to create a technology, and making a version that everyone will actually care about. The problem is, they aren’t Apple, and they wind up making themselves look silly. The Sunday preview with the cult-like robes and robot elephant is too absurd to mention, and the Monday presentation didn’t do much to cement any concrete details. Of course, there is also the matter of what I still consider the biggest moment of E3 – announcing a 360 Slim that is already shipping. I know MS wasn’t doing games back when the Saturn launched, but holy shit. What a terrible idea.
Despite all that, Microsoft’s showing still gave me a strong “second place” vibe. It really shouldn’t, but I know from the past that MS has an odd ability to make apparent blunders work in their favor. Netflix and Avatar support on the 360 have become big deals for them, and something tells me they’ll find a way to make Kinect more than a failed experiment. They may be dumb shits, but judging by what they thought they could get away with, they’re also selling to dumb shits. It will smooth out in the end.
Now to Nintendo. They rarely have a great E3 showing, but everyone seems to agree that they knocked this one out of the park. They had their own blunders, most notably the poor showing of Zelda, but they made up for it with strong games everywhere else. A nice new Kirby is always welcome, and the Mario sports push is always a good idea. But the deciding factor came down to the 3DS. Hardware showings often lead to pessimism more than anything, but Nintendo did all that they could to make the 3DS look bulletproof. The design is familiar, and the 3d feature can be toggled off, which negates the single greatest concern that everyone had about it. There are still some issues in regards to backwards compatibility with DSiWare but they softened the blow with an insane lineup of games. Kid Icarus, Pilotwings, Paper Mario, Starfox. They even tried to sabotage Sony’s conference by announcing an Ocarina of Time port in the middle of it. They seemed to finally act like they’re in control of the industry, and it gave them some serious ammo.
People like to compare Nintendo, rather than Microsoft, to Apple, but I think this E3 proved that they are quite different. Ever since the DS, Nintendo have been the trail blazers. Touch screens, motion control, and now 3d graphics are all trendy features that they got in on right away, which allows them quite a bit of flexibility. If the new features turn out to stick around, then Nintendo winds up in the driver’s seat. And if they should flop, Nintendo can most easily duck out and move on to the next big thing. In this way, Nintendo are the closest the industry has to evil geniuses. They suckered us into buying Wiis by promising technology which didn’t exist, and now that they have it via MotionPlus, they’re keeping us around by offering everything we’ve been waiting for. Not to mention that the 3DS lineup is so strong that it simply cannot be ignored. Nintendo also doesn’t get me too excited, but I know that eventually I will have something good to play from them.
I didn’t follow much of Sony’s conference, so I won’t go into detail, but I know that everyone has been ragging on them for what many considered to be the poorest showing. Move looks a little too much like the Wiimote to get anyone excited, and there were no great surprise reveals (the lack of info on Last Guardian was a major fault). When your big surprise is a new Twisted Metal, something just isn’t clicking. There were also blunders like the Coke promotion and PSN+, which might actually work if it were a Gametap style subscription service in which tons of PS1, and maybe even PS2 games were available on demand to subscribers. Something tells me that such features will eventually come to light, but knowing Sony, it will happen after it is too late.
All in all, Sony has the most to prove. They need to show that Killzone 3 is no longer second banana, and they need to convince everyone to become interested in Gran Turismo 5 again after all the delays. Originally, I was going to praise them for their efforts in getting 3d effects into a home console, but then I discovered just how maddeningly expensive it is to get a 3d TV setup going. With that in mind, it was probably the last thing they should have been worrying about. The trouble comes from the fact that they have probably struggled the most this generation when it comes to execution. They need to start delivering good ideas right away, rather than putzing around until they smooth everything out. The fact that they somehow coaxed Valve Software into giving a shit about their console may be a sign that they’re simply going to let others do the work for them, and if that means things like Steam support on a console, then I’m all for this approach. Otherwise we may see them do something stupid and drastic.