E3 2011 – Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony Report Cards
With E3 2011 now a thing of the past, it’s time to answer the question on the tip of the tongue of every gamer at the conclusion of the convention: Who won E3?
Well, rather than just give a simple answer, let’s break down each of the big three and assign a grade based on how they did at their press conference and what they had to display on the show floor.
Microsoft’s press conference started promising. They kicked the show off with a great demonstration of a new “Modern Warfare 3” mission and then moved on to a first look at the extremely exciting reboot of the “Tomb Raider” franchise. When Peter Moore came out, the focus then started to shift toward talking about the Kinect and how gamers would soon be able to incorporate it into popular gaming franchises like Madden,” Fifa, “The Sims,” and even “Mass Effect 3” and Ghost Recon.
To be clear, things are still looking okay for Microsoft at this point. The idea of being able to use Kinect to enhance a gaming experience rather than having Kinect be the gaming experience is one that I always thought suited the motion control device much better, and I was happy to see it start moving in that direction.
Then things started to go downhill. Microsoft touted another New Xbox Experience, which would make the entire dashboard Kinect compatible and announced a bunch of different partnerships that managed to elicit not much more than a “well that’s cool I guess,” out of me.
Even the expected Gear of War 3 demonstration couldn’t save the rest of the Microsoft conference, which spent the remaining hour or so going over mostly kiddy and/or shallow Kinect titles with actors that were trying way too hard to seem like they were having the time of their lives.
Finally, the big surprise of the conference was the announcement of Halo 4, but with no actual gameplay, no story details, not even a ballpark release window given, all it really amounted to was Microsoft saying “Hey guys, that series that makes us a lot of money? There’s going to be another one in the future.” Big shock there.
Fortunately, the games Microsoft had on display at E3 this year fared a bit better, but still paled in comparison to Sony.
While previous years of E3 had Microsoft proudly showcasing a variety of exclusive AAA titles for their console, this year nearly all of those retail exclusives outside of Gears of War 3 were for Kinect.
The redeeming factor for Microsoft though is in its downloadable lineup. Once again, summer signals the start of the Summer of Arcade promotion, which always features several of the best downloadable titles of the year. This year’s lineup looks particularly strong with “Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet,” a stylish 2D sidescrolling adventure; “Bastion,” a beautiful action RPG with a unique dynamic narrator that tells the story according to your actions in the game; “From Dust,” a fascinating and unique title that has players acting as a god and using godly powers to lead a nomadic tribe.
That’s also not to mention Twisted Pixel’s “Ms. Splosion Man,” and the HD and online version of “Street Fighter 3: Third Strike,” both of which come out later in the year and exclusively for the 360.
After the whole Playstation Network outage, eyes were on Sony to see how they would bounce back from such a major blow to their brand. Fortunately, they faced the situation head-on, with Sony of America President Jack Tretton coming out and immediately addressing the elephant in the room right from the start, devoting just the right amount of time to it.
From there Sony’s conference started off having a similar feel to Microsoft’s. It started off strong with impressive demonstrations from hotly anticipated titles like “Uncharted 3” and “Resistance 3,” then moved on to some kind of cool new applications for motion controls, then it kind of started to go a bit downhill. Do we really need a trailer for Infamous 2? A game that comes out the very next day at a conference that’s supposed to be showing off what’s in store for the future? As exciting as the announcements of a new Sly Cooper game and sequel to WarHawk are, couldn’t we get a gameplay demo rather than just an announcement trailer? StarHawk was playable on the show floor and Sly 4 had playable demos available behind closed doors, so why choose not to showcase gameplay footage at the press conference?
But the difference between Sony’s and Microsoft’s conferences is that Sony managed to pick itself back up, and in a very significant way. The latter part of the conference was dedicated to the Playstation Vita, and in those final 30 or so minutes, Sony managed to make a believer out of this Vita skeptic.
The demos of “Uncharted: Golden Abyss,” “Little Big Planet” and “Mod Nation Racers” showed that the Vita wasn’t just going to be a PS3 that you could hold in your hands. This is a system that has unique features in addition to some serious hardware power, and the games that are going to be on it will actually use these features to create an experience that can’t be had on any other platform.
Then came the moment where Kaz Hirai was about to announce the price and in my mind I’m saying, “All right, here comes the buzz kill.” But there was no buzz kill. $250 is ridiculously reasonable for all of that cool technology, perhaps giving the Playstation Vita the best launch price of any video game console or handheld ever.
In terms of exclusive AAA titles, Sony stole the show this year at E3. With “Uncharted 3,” “Twisted Metal,” “Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One,” and “Resistance 3” all available by the year’s end, in addition to a surprisingly stellar line up of PSN exclusives as well, it’s a great year to be a Playstation 3 owner.
That’s right, the Playstation Network has a line-up of exciting titles that can actually stand toe to toe against those on Xbox Live Arcade. ThatGameCompany’s “Journey” was easily one of the most anticipated downloadable games at the show, “Papo and Yo” is looking to be a very intriguing puzzle platformer with a rare heavy emotional impact, and “PixelJunk Platformer”continues the fantastic tradition of PixelJunk downloadable games on the PSN.
And then you can’t forget the Vita, which already is looking to have a strong starting line up with an entirely new Uncharted adventure in Golden Abyss, a new “Little Big Planet” with entirely new levels that innovatively utilize the Vita’s touch screen, back touch panel and accelerometers to create an experience completely different than the console version and several other cool titles that also make good use of the handheld’s unique features.
One of the things I’ve always liked about Nintendo as a company is that they’re all about the games. While Microsoft spent time talking about the Xbox 360 becoming a television that you have to plug into your television and Sony putting on a Home Shopping Network ad for their new 3D TV, Nintendo’s entire press conference was devoted to gaming.
Nintendo really came out of the gates this year looking to bring back the hardcore gaming audience that they’ve all but completely lost in the past two or three years. They managed to strip the fat from their conference and focus only on things their core audience really cared about. On the Wii front, there’s the announcement of Skyward Sword finally being done and coming out holiday season this year.
On the 3DS, we got new details about four games that we previously knew very little about, along with the surprise announcement of Luigi’s Mansion 2. Mario Kart 3DS looked great, as Mario Kart usually does; StarFox 3DS… Well honestly, Star Fox 3DS actually doesn’t excite me that much; Super Mario 3DS looks incredible and is enough to be a system seller by itself and the Kid Icarus Uprising trailer continued to impress with its fast paced combat and flashy visuals.
Of course, the main purpose of the conference was the introduction of the Wii U, and while I still have a few reservations about Nintendo’s new console, it’s hard to deny that the potential of the system is extremely exciting.
The only main issue I had with Nintendo’s conference was the lack of any actual games displayed on the Wii U. Sure, it’s nice to see what a Zelda game could look like on the system, but its hard to be sold on the system’s power when all of the videos of actual games shown in the montages were actually running on Xbox 360 or PS3 hardware.
Still, as a fan of videogames, Nintendo’s conference was the one that had the most surprises, the most innovation, and was overall the most watchable of all the three.
Now this is where Nintendo falters. As mentioned earlier, Nintendo had no actual games on display for the Wii U, only prototypes that highlighted some of the unique features of the system. The thing is, the Playstation Vita did this too, except it did it with actual games. With virtually no games worth mentioning on the Wii outside of Skyward Sword and Kirby Wii, the weight of Nintendo’s booth pretty much fell on the 3DS.
Fortunately, the 3DS had the games to support much of that weight. All of the games featured in the press conference – Super Mario 3DS, Mario Kart 3DS, Star Fox 3DS, Kid Icarus Uprising, and Luigi’s Mansion 2 – were all playable with lengthy and satisfying demos. In addition to the Nintendo games, there were also plenty of booths that featured big name third party titles like Resident Evil: The Mercenaries, Resident Evil Revelations, and Metal Gear Solid 3DS just to name a few.