E3 2014 Press Conference Recap & Review: Nintendo

Now that all three console makers have had their big conferences, it's time to break them down and see how they performed. Though they were the last to go, I'll start with Nintendo, mainly because they had the shortest presentation, making them the quickest to write about. Don't judge me. Let's get to it.

Nintendo had a lot of work to do going into this year’s show. Wii U sales are stagnant, third-party support as all but dried up, and the software release schedule is spare to say the least. Once again, the big N opted for a pre-recorded, Nintendo Direct-style presentation over a traditional press conference. After being something of an afterthought last year, was Nintendo able to reclaim the spotlight?

A bizarre skit by Robot Chicken of all people kicked things off. Between this and the Mega64 trailer, it seems Nintendo is trying a little too hard to up their "cool" factor. The funniest part, however, was an annoying journalist that loudly complained about the idea of more Mario announcements and screamed at Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime to bring the Japanese-exclusive Mother 3 to the west. Reggie responded by consuming a fire flower and setting him ablaze. Nice to see what Nintendo thinks of its detractors.

We got more of these segments throughout the show and they got progressively unfunny, such as a lame skit with Bowser apologizing to Peach for all the kidnappings when asking for the final donut in a break room. Nintendo likely kept the Robot Chicken guys on a short leash, preventing them from going all-out with their satire.

This was followed by an even weirder scene of Nintendo President Satoru Iwata and Reggie having an elaborate, life-action Smash Bros. fight. The purpose was to announce that Mii’s will be playable fighters in Super Smash Bros. Not exactly Bayonetta or Wonder Red, but I can live with this. The 3DS version of the game has also been delayed until the fall. The big news was the unveiling of the Amiibo figurines.

Amiibo is Nintendo hopping aboard the Skylanders/Disney Infinity gravy train with collectible figurines of their characters. These toys can be scanned into a variety of Wii U games using the GamePad’s AR reader. For Smash Bros., using an Amiibo summons an AI controlled version of that character that can grow stronger and take on other player's Amiibos, basically leaving players to spectate these matches. Not the most thrilling prospect, but at least they aren't required to unlock fighters like some people feared. Amiibos will launch this holiday with several upcoming titles supporting them.

After the normal Reggie gave us a proper welcome, we finally got an extended first look at the yarn Yoshi game, titled Yoshi’s Whoolly World. A benefit of the Nintendo Direct format is being able to mix up the presentation of announcements, such as having two of Yoshi’s principle designers have an interesting discussion about the game’s creation and features while sitting in a yarn store. The game looks like a mix of Yoshi's Island and Kirby's Epic Yarn and will have two-player co-op. Whoolly World also looks beautiful, with impressive yarn effects. We’ll have to wait until 2015 to play it, which is unfortunate as this would have been a great summer title.

We then got a trailer for Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, which is the Captain Toad puzzles from Super Mario 3D World in it's own game. I loved those challenges and remember thinking how great a stand-alone, downloadable version of that would be and it seems like we're getting exactly that. Treasure tracking will commence this holiday.

None of that mattered though, as Eiji Aonuma showed up to talk about the next Zelda. He showed us a possibly in-game scene of Link (atop Epona) standing in a vast and peaceful field. The big takeaway was that the game will adhere to a non-linear design, so you can travel to location in whatever order you desire ala A Link Between Worlds.

A thrilling scene then unfolded with a monster suddenly appearing and firing laser beams at Link, chasing him through a forest before Link, remembering who he is, retaliates with a barrage of bomb arrows. The art style and Link’s appearance strongly reminded me of Skyward Sword, to the point that I’m wondering if this is a direct sequel, though I doubt it. While the trailer was very brief, the game looked fantastic and did its job of getting me totally pumped. I can’t wait to see more of it in the coming months. The not-yet-subtitled Legend of Zelda arrives in 2015.

Once that awesomeness passed, the first gameplay trailer for Pokémon Omega Red/Alpha Sapphire – remakes of Ruby and Sapphire - showcased the game’s new 3D graphics (the game runs on the X and Y engine). I never played the originals, but these enhanced remakes have my attention. Pokémon fans will relieve their GBA memories on November 21st.

Bayonetta 2 strut onto the non-existent stage with another cool trailer that finally delivered the one thing I’ve been waiting for: A release date. Bayonetta 2 squeezes its way into the absolutely crowded month of October, which isn’t going to do it any favors in terms of sales. We also learned the game will come with the original Bayonetta on disc, along with a ton of Nintendo-themed costumes and attacks. That’s wonderful for people interested in the second game but were hesitant due to missing the first one.

We got another look at Hyrule Warriors, with Aonuma returning to chat with the Dynasty Warrior devs about the game’s features and characters. Twilight Princess’ Midna joins Princess Zelda and Impa as a playable fighter, and other characters from Zelda’s history are promised. Sheik and Dark Link or GTFO. I'll also take "Error".

Anyway, there will also be two-player co-op, with one player on the TV screen while the other uses the GamePad, eliminating split-screen. The game looks way better than it did in its initial reveal, but I can’t get truly excited about it until I play it myself. Hyrule Warriors slashes its way to store shelves September 26th.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, the sequel to the DS title Kirby Canvas Curse with a claymation art style, is coming to Wii U in 2015. I enjoyed Canvas Curse so I’m looking forward to this.

Next up was Metroid Prime 4 - whoops - Xenoblade Chronicles X. It was the first-ever story trailer of the game and was made up entirely of cinematics as opposed to the gameplay shown in past trailers. I’ve yet to play Xenoblade Chronicles for Wii, but have heard nothing but praise for it so I’m hoping this is great as well. Like seemingly everything, Xenoblade will launch into orbit next year.

The earlier-leaked Mario Maker made its proper debut next. This Wii U title gives players all the assets to Mario titles and lets them create their own levels. You’ll also be able to switch between the classic NES look and the New Super Mario Bros. graphics. The trailer didn’t’ state if you could share your creations or download the works of others, but I’d be shocked if you couldn’t. We’ve seen what talented gamers can do when their creativity is unleashed in titles like LittleBigPlanet and Minecraft so I can only imagine what great ideas they’d dream up for gaming’s premier platformer. Players will have a chance to get their Miyamoto on in, say it with me, 2015.

The most surprising and intriguing game of the presentation was a new IP called Splatoon. It’s a 4-on-4 multiplayer shooter where players battle for control of maps by spraying everything with brightly-colored ink. Covering as much of the map in your team’s ink is crucial, as your characters can transform into squids that can swim through their ink at a much faster pace than in human form, as well as jump farther. You can also hide within your ink for ambush attacks. Furthermore, opposing players move much slower when walking through enemy ink. Splatoon looks like an incredibly fun and family-friendly shooter with a vibrant color palette, charming character designs, and a very creative gameplay mechanic. Prepare to be drenched in ink in...2015.

After that we got a pretty slick anime video of Link and Pit battling until Kid Icarus goddess Palutena intervened as the new Smash Bros. fighter. She looks good and it’s nice to see another Kid Icarus character on the roster. There was also a slight tease of Dark Pit at the end.

Nintendo concluded its video with the obligatory Shigeru Miyamoto appearance. We catch him playing a blurred-out game Wii U game as he reveals that he’s working on some upcoming projects that utilize the GamePad and television and to stay tuned for more E3 announcements. As most of you probably know by now, the secret game Miyamoto was playing was the new Star Fox.

Overall

While not perfect, this was easily Nintendo’s best and most-focused E3 event in some time. We received confirmations and release windows on long-announced titles, a brand-new IP, and, most of all, our first look at the new Zelda.

However, at just above 45 minutes, this was a very short event that could have made a bigger splash if some of the announcements made later in the day happened here instead. Itakagi's The Devil's Third becoming a Wii U exclusive, the Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney western release date, and, most of all, Star Fox, would have been great to see during this event but were instead shown behind closed doors or on the show floor. I'm also surprised that Fire Emblem X Shin Megami Tensai didn't make an appearance. Add 15 minutes, cut out the dumb Robot Chicken skits and replace them with that news, and this becomes an even stronger showing for the house of Mario.

Many upcoming projects arrive in 2015 but nothing seems to be happening beyond that, fueling rumors that this may be the last batch of Wii U software before Nintendo abandons it for a new console. Also, there's almost nothing major coming for Wii U for this summer. Unless something is announced this week, that means the next big Wii U title won't come until Hyrule Warriors in September. As I said earlier, Yoshi's Wholly World would have been a great July title.There was also a surprising lack of new 3DS games. Finally, and most disappointing, was the continued lack of Metroid news.

Despite my complaints, I did enjoy nearly every game shown. Captain Toad looks fun, Bayonetta 2 will be a blast, and they actually conjured some sort of excitement for Hyrule Warriors. I'm not sold on Amiibo, though. As a Wii U owner, I'm not looking forward to another summer drought but Fall should be better, especially with Smash Bros. and 2015 is looking bright, even if it turns out to be the Wii U's last hurrah. News is still pouring out from E3 so Nintendo could always unveil some new surprises before the event comes to a close.

My analysis of Sony and Microsoft's conferences will be coming soon. Stay tuned.

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