Nintendo at E3: Wii U and endless unanswered questions

Nintendo has just finished its E3 press conference and as many had predicted they did show off their new console which has been named Wii U – but in true Nintendo fashion they did their way by only showing off the revolutionary controller and not the actual console itself. It was more like a half unveil with the actual console being shown off properly sometime in the future.

Nintendo-E3

Quite why Nintendo thought it would be a good idea not to show the actual console is puzzling. Either they wanted the controller to take centre stage or they haven’t actually got a console. Were betting on a bit of both. It’s almost as if they forgot to show off the console for us it was one of the most bizarre console unveiling in E3 history.

They did have some small wafer thin box next the screen in some of the videos on show, but they didn’t show it off physically or go into detail about it. Today it was all about the controller, not the box that powers it.
The Wii U has what Nintendo and others are calling the most advanced controllers ever. It looks like a small 8-inch tablet device with DS-like screen and traditional Xbox/Playstation controls all baked into one rather impressive looking controller.

Nintendo showed off how you can play games on a normal HDTV using the controller like you would any other consoles. And how can play games on both your HD TV and on the 6.5-inch on the controller at the same time or just on the 6.5-inch on it’s own.

They then went on to show innovative ways on how future games could use the second screen. One eye catching example was the new controller laying on the ground showing a golf ball in a bunker on the screen. The user was the stood over the controller with the original Wii remote and nunchuk and the game on the HDTV in front of the player. It looked mighty impressive. All at the same time seamlessly with no lag or latency.

Nintendo went on to promise that all the controllers from Wii would be backwards compatible; so you’ll be able to use your Wii Fit Board, Wii remote and nunchuck for the new console.

The tech demos showed off new types of gameplay you’d usually expect to find on the DSI and 3DS on the new console. Players can use the touchscreen with your fingers or Nintendo Stylus a la DSI or 3DS on the controller, which then appeared on your TV seamlessly with no latency. One such example was painting on Art Academy on the new controller then appearing in real time in high-def on your TV.

They promised that the controller would have gyroscope, accelerometers, front facing camera and microphone. The console and controller would have internet browsing as well as video chat all through the controller and TV.

What didn’t say anything about is how long does the controller last on battery, does it even run on batteries or have they created all-new power source? Most worrying was the lack of price or release date during the press conference.

They went on to announce a new partnership with EA, which will see all of its massive gaming franchises coming to the new console including BF3, Madden and FIFA. There will be full online gaming for all the titles, as well as exclusive support of the second screen capabilities. This was shown off with Madden, where all plays were handled on the screen on the controller leaving the TV for the actual gameplay.

We’re slightly concerned that there wasn’t any mention of the actual console. Call us old fashioned but how can we make a judgment on the console if we can’t even see it. We have no idea how powerful it is, what media will the games come on? Is it Full HD? Even little things like how many controllers can play together. Most of all is how much is this very impressive new controller going to be? What storage solutions will be offered? All of this was not mentioned during the press conference.

Nintendo always do things a little different, but for consumers to take the new console serious we need to see some bricks and mortar. Today’s announcement has left more questions than answers. There’s no chance that you’ll seeing this console anytime soon. They haven’t even got a console from the looks of it. They’ve got a controller. All be it a very nice one. So we need to be patient and see what they come up with. The controller looks incredible. But it looks like it is going to cost an arm and a leg. Then you have to buy the yet to be seen console. Were slightly worried. But Nintendo has a lot to still show off. When. That is the million-dollar question. Nobody knows.

Although they didn’t say any of this Nintendo during the event – the new console will run in full HD, via HDMI, but the touchscreen isn’t HD. The console has internal Flash memory which can be augmented with “SD Card or USB solutions”. It will play optical disks and downloadable content, and will be backwards-compatible with Wii software. And it will launch some time between 1 April and 31 December 2012.

It will be the oddest console ever, and possibly the best, too. Or it may turn out to be a complete cul-de-sac. But one thing is for sure: it won’t just be another generic games console.

Batman: Arkham City, an Assassin’s Creed game, Dirt, Ghost Recon Online, Tekken, Metro Last Light,Aliens Colonial Marines, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, and Darksiders II all got a mention as coming to the Wii U. Yes!

Zone – console gaming on the cheap

Everyone loves a bargain. Unfortunately, when that bargain happens to look like something more expensive with much worse functionality, people are bound to be disappointed. Enter the Zone 3D, 60 and 100.

Each of Zone’s products closely resembles a market competitor: the Zone 3D is Playstation-like, the 60 is all Wii (complete with accessories) and the 100 has a more-than-passing resemblance to the Xbox 360. Still, if you can’t afford any of the main consoles, you can always buy one of these and hope your friends are stupid. It’s a shame, because if they didn’t try to look like the major consoles, they’re not without some positives.

Zone

Zone 3D

Still in development, the Zone 3D should have between 20 – 30 3D games. This’ll be bolstered by around 80 bonus 2D games, meaning that everyone should find something to gauge their interest.

We played a skateboarding gaming, which responded well to the wireless controller. The graphics and gameplay were about on-par with a Playstation One. The 3D is powered by anaglyph – the old style green and red offset with compulsory goggles. It does mean you get 3D gaming without buying any special (expensive) kit, but it’s not the most impressive.

The system is available in the summer for around £50.

Zone 60

The sequel to the original Zone 40, the new system has bumped up the graphics to 32-bit. We didn’t see any 3D, so expect lots of SNES-style gaming. It didn’t look the best on the HD LCD TV was saw it on, but it’s not finished yet so it’s hard to pass judgement. There will be around 25, 32-bit games, the rest 16-bit ports from the old system.

We got to play a Table Tennis game on beginner mode, and thoroughly thrashed the opponent by simply mashing the A button. Although it looks like a Wii, swinging the remote was completely unnecessary for our victory. On the other hand, there’re plenty of accessories to tack onto the remote, which was half the Wii-fun. Summer, £50.

Zone 100

This one was out of batteries when we got to the stall, but simply it looked like a white Kinect. The benefit is that you can plug it into the TV without plugging in a power cord, so it’s highly portable. The downside? Running out of battery while gaming is frustrating.

Pucca Noodle Rush iPhone app review

A someone who has played Get a Better Lover and Go Densha Go! I’m sure you can build a game around most things. But being a waitress? Even I was a little sceptical. But as I watched a whole weekend disappear to Game Dev Story, an engrossing game that simulates people sitting in an office making computer games I was prepared to give Pucca noodle rush a chance.

Pucca-Noodle-Rush

If you don’t know Pucca (and take a look at the screenshot above – she should seem pretty familiar) she is the 10-year old niece of three Chinese noodle house owners … and also the face of a multimillion dollar cross platform franchise, originally from South Korea and featured on lunch boxes, pencil cases, tv shows, bill boards and now iPhone apps (and a Wii game which we’ll be reviewing next week hopefully).

The game plot revolves around Pucca trying to save her uncle’s noodle restaurant when a tough rival opens up across the street. You control Pucca who is in charge of customer service, which means seating customers, taking orders, serving up, clearing tables, pocketing the cash and of course chasing away the ninjas hired by meddlesome rivals. Like any time management game, there are numerous split second decisions to make when seating customers: prioritise friends, loyal customers, and take rivalries and thorny personalities into account to avoid trouble.

A host of familiar characters from the Pucca-verse, including Abio, Chang, Ssoso and of course Garu (if you enjoy playing with the game, I’d spend ten minutes boning up on the Pucca-verse) will show their faces along the way, either to lend you a helping hand or to try to throw a spanner in the works.

Seating people, taking their order and collecting their empty dishes is the crux of the game and once you give over to the charming silliness, it’s a cute distraction that is deserving of your £1.79 – especially if you are a Pucca fan.

***Update***
The Pucca app price has just been slashed to 59p. So if you are keen then jump on it.

I am of course, waiting for the game about reviewing iphone apps. Guaranteed 10/10.

Star Wars fans of the world unite with the best Star Wars gadgets available

Since it was released in 1977, Star Wars became an American epic, possessing a longevity only a handful of movies manage to achieve and crafting the very essence of the term a ‘classic’. Naturally such a blockbuster has been followed with a steady string of memorabilia, intensifying in sophistication and innovation with each passing decade. So recognisable is the Star Wars franchise, that when Darth Vader himself marched in to this year’s CES, nobody blinked an eyelid. With such an immense amount of toys, gadgets and memorabilia dedicated to the timeless classic, we thought the Star Wars fans amongst our readers may want to learn of some of the best gadgets available dedicated to their unhealthy obsession.

Star-Wars-Gadgets
Picture courtesy of @lilstormys

Star Wars Anakin Replica FX Lightsaber

This official reproduction of Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber from Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith, ignites, glows and produces sound effects digitally recorded from the movie, with such realism that you think you have been beamed out of your living room and straight into Star Wars itself. The FX Lightsaber features a robust polycarbonate bright blue blade and will naturally prove to be a sensation in a home which includes any Star Wars fans. Although it will perhaps be only the most die-hard of Star Wars fans – or the parent’s of the most persuasive of children – who will part with the 360.00 euros to own one.

Star Wars: R2-D2 USB Micro Fridge

If having a cold beer easily within your reach whilst you are at your desk takes your fancy, then simply plug R2-D2 into a USB port and pop a can down his throat and by the time you’ve surfed the net for some more crazy Star Wars toys, he’ll have regurgitated the can a whole lot colder than when it went in!

Darth Vader Nintendo Wii Sensor Bar Holder

With this Wii Darth Vader Sensor Bar Holder, you can channel the force of all your games. This high-quality sculpture would make a great addition to any Star Wars-themed bedroom. Specifically made to Nintendo standards, this uniquely crafted Lightsaber has been engineered to safely support the sensor bar whilst maintaining full range and performance.

Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-Ray Disc

Ahh so that’s why Darth Vader made an appearance in Las Vegas this year, he was there to promote Star War’s announcement of Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu Ray Disc. These highly anticipated blu-ray titles will be available to own from this September. What still a whole nine months away?!

Microsoft Kinect vs Playstation Move: World in motion

This Autumn, the biggest console conflict in recent years is set to begin. Will Sony Move the Xbox out of its way, or will the Xbox Kinect itself to the champion’s trophy? We demoed both at the EuroGamer Expo last weekend and are ready to give you our verdict.

Move-vs-Kinect

Sony: Moving You To Tears of Joy and Frustration
You’ll never forget the first time you play the Move, especially if the game is Hustle Kings. To quote PJ Hruschak, “The few minutes I played Hustle Kings in the Sony Booth at E3 2010 were easily the most frustrating of all my gaming endeavors and time spent at the expo.” Perhaps the game isn’t terrible, but using the Move to control it makes you want to take the motion-controller and smash it through the television – especially if that is also made by Sony.

It’s an example of everything that went wrong with the Wii, and what is going wrong with the Move and Kinect. Move support feels random, bolted-on and awkward. Then, when you understand it, it feels pointless. The same goes for the KungFu Rider, which made CrunchGear “want to turn off the PS3, curl up into the fetal position, and cry [their] pain away”. For us, it simply led us to the next stand and a revelation in Move gaming: SOCOM 4.

Andrew Yoon describes the experience best. For SOCOM 4, “PlayStation Move worked exactly as we thought it would, resembling the experience of playing a Wii FPS. Aiming is very fast and responsive.” With the graphics prowess of the PS3 combined with pointing-to-aim, the Move has created one of the most immersive first-person experiences. The same is true for the Heavy Rain integration, where you shove the control forward to push people out the way, or roll it to the side to avoid a fatal stab to the neck.

The controllers themselves are what you’d expect from a Sony-copy of an older technology – refined and beautified. The black finish, no matter how beaten up, will never look as gross as a well-used, dingy Wii controller does. The ergonomics are also a massive improvement. The controllers are light, and the hands wraps easily around the curved design. The big light-orb at the top is much smaller and less dorky in real life, too.

And unlike the Wii, there is no wire running between the main controller and the one with the analogue stick – independent motion is much easier without a flailing cable.

Xbox: Sort-of What You’d Expect, Given That There is No Controller

Although Apple has hijacked the word, the Microsoft Kinect truly is magical – more so than anything Apple has ever produced.

By using your body as a controller, using the system is as easy as it is intuitive. You poke your hand out in front of you and the Kinect will recognise it as the controller. Move your hand, and the on-screen cursor will dutifully follow. Want a friend to play? All they have to do is stand next to you and the camera will recognise a second player, instantly adding them to the gameplay. For games like Kinect Adventures, it means that people can dip-in during their favourite mini-game, and escape afterwards. It’s a completely novel and casual gaming experience.

The system is full of nice touches, too. For instance, in Kinect Sport, the game not only recognises actions relevant to the game, but your whole body’s movement. If you’re playing online, you can wave at the opposition and your character will do the same. If you want to win, whip out the lewd gestures and watch as your opponent gets put off. It’s a priceless feature. The games also use the camera to take pictures of you in-action, so you can view your actions after the match has finished. It’s like an instant-reply, but of you instead of the gameplay.

The real joy, however, comes from games like Dance Central, which can only be played due to the unique technology of the Kinect. The premise is simple: copy the on-screen dance moves to the music. It’s like Guitar Hero, but for your whole body. As the Kinect is the only device on the market that can track your whole bodies movements, head, body, arm and leg movements all come into play. It’s like you’re actually dancing for points, rather than the flailing-arms experience of the Move or Wii.

The Proof is in the Ping Pong
Luckily for us, the two systems have provided us a control for the comparison: table tennis. Available as a launch game for both systems, the humble sport outlines the difference between the two systems.

Move table tennis is a very precise affair. It takes a while to get to grips with and takes into account even the smallest movements of the arm, the most delicate twists of the wrist. It’s a game that people can master with enough practice – giving advanced users a sense of achievement. The Move does best with precision, small movements – hardcore gameplay.
Kinect table tennis, on the contrary, is much more Wii-Sports. Wave your arm and the ball gets hit. Sure, velocity of the shot is detected, and yes, it does detect both fore- and backhands. But, as explained by the Xbox rep, the game doesn’t even detect your hand. It registers our most opposable extremity as an extension of the forearm. The accuracy and precision is just not there, replaced instead with instant, accessible fun.

And what else would you expect from a system with no buttons? It would be impossible to match the twelve input keys of a regular controller, plus analogue sticks, with just body-control.

Conclusion: We’re Copping Out. Sorry.
Luckily for consumers, it seems like the two companies have aimed for completely different markets. Sony have taken the control system of the Wii, and fine-tuned it for hardcore gamers, including added support for three-dimensions. Microsoft, however, have upgraded the Wii’s soul: the fun, party-play potential is extraordinary.

Which is best? It’s impossible to say. Rather ironically, however, the one we won’t be buying – the Kinect – is probably the one that’ll have the biggest impact on gaming in future. The Microsoft device will be well worth the purchase should you have a big living room and often have friends over. It will, almost undoubtedly, produce the finest party games of the current generation.

If you are like us, however, and don’t host regularly, then it’ll be the Sony that moves you the most.

Movement wars: the future of gaming

With the dust settling on last months E3 we thought we would look into our magic ball, and answer the main underlying question. Who will win the “movement wars.” The big three are looking to the casual market and are staking their future on new-fangled movement controls.

Motion-Gaming

We’re going to wade through the PR rhetoric to give you a real taste of what to expect in the coming months.

All three console giants had a impressive E3 with major announcements on new hardware and games that will be ready in time for Christmas (hopefully) and we’ve dubbed it the “movement wars”.

Microsoft splashed the cash, with their Cirque De Soleil show, which tried to capture the imagination of the gaming fraternity, with a fancy stage show to show off the magic of Kinect. Sadly it left a sour taste in our mouth.

The Pre-E3 event came across more than a little bit stage-managed. After all if Kinect is a natural, visceral and fun experience, why would it be necessary to have actors on stage – trying to interpret how fun it is? If it’s that good, the stage show wasn’t necessary to convey this. Normal people having fun would have captured this so much better.

Many of the sceptics were still left with many unanswered questions, is there lag? How much will all this movement fun cost? Is it just for my Mum & Dad? And sadly we still can’t answer these.

We’ve trawled all four corners of the Internet to try determine the press reaction and we’ve read some interesting thoughts. One this is for sure, Microsoft can’t just aim at the causal market and forget about the people who actually own the Xbox at the moment, who in general are the hardcore variety.

Microsoft has certainly taken the biggest risk with their controller-free ethos. I for one am totally convinced. And really keen to try it out and hope it lives up to the massive hype. And If Microsoft sticks to Kinect Arcade games, that won’t cost the world, they could be onto a winner. And they’re best at micro transactions. After announcing that we spend over a billion dollars over Xbox Live content every year.

Nintendo were the first console to target the casual gamers and have had movement controls for a while now. So they left their big E3 announcement to the new 3DS – quite clearly the most technologically advanced handheld that they have ever created and it stole the show.

After all 3D images without glasses, is a man on the moon moment for Nintendo. Especially in light of their shunning of HD gaming with the Wii. I have no doubt that the new 3DS will be the must have gadget this Christmas, if it is out by them. Nintendo have cornered the casual market and that’s a given.

But the question to ask is the casual market worth more than the hardcore one? Obviously Microsoft think it is and have staked a big bet that they can corner both markets – even if they’re poles apart.

Sony made fun of both Nintendo and Microsoft event with cheap shots at their future plans – Sony feel that realism through Move and 3D is the future. But with their Move controller they have cynically copied the Wii remote and this is obvious to any gamer, casual or hardcore.

At least Microsoft and Nintendo are trying to push the boundaries of technology and hardware. Sony have just re-hashed the wand and 3D – marketing as the future of gaming, but it’s common knowledge that 3D is just the same as what we were getting in the early 90?s. 80?s styled glasses in all.

One thing to take from E3 is are the game companies really giving us what we want? Nintendo certainly are – they have stuck to the fun casual market since day 1 and they must be applauded for this. But Sony and Microsoft have been scrapping over the hardcore market for the last 3 years with neither able to call a victory.

So it would seem that they are both looking to steal Nintendo’s monopoly of the casual gamers. However it just looks a little late and cynical.

We will know more in the next 6 months, but the lines have been draw in the sand and the “movement wars” are going to be the most exciting time to be a gamers and that can’t be a bad thing. Who do you think will come out tops? Leave us your thoughts below…

Playstation make their Move

So, the much vaunted Playstation Move was finally unveiled this month at the GDC conference in San Francisco, and Sony are hailing it, somewhat unexpectedly, as the ‘next generation of motion gaming’.  The question is, however, is it little more than a Wii wannabe, and Sony’s attempt to muscle on the market that them bods at Nintendo have cornered so well?

sony-playstation-move-controller

The answer, it would appear at this early juncture (its not actually released until the Autumn in America), is pretty much a yes. But then it was always going to be and, at the end of the day, why shouldn’t they?  Compatible for the PS3, and available at launch as a bundle with game and the Playstation Eye camera-more on that later- for around 100 $ it seems to offer a viable alternative for the hardcore Sony gamers who can’t bear to move to Nintendo or Microsoft (who are releasing a similar gizmo, the Natal, later this year).

The device itself is not unlike the Wii, with a controller and and a second sub-controller for navigating characters around gaming environments.  Visually the most striking aspect of the controller is the blue rubber ball that sits on the end- the lighting up of which the Playstation Eye catches, and captures the players position.  The Eye, essentially a camera that you pop on your TV, ‘detects the precise movement, angle, and absolute position in 3D space’ of the gamer, and in conjunction with the controller allows the user ‘intuitively play the game as if they themselves are within the game.’  The Eye, in certain games, will also film you, and project your image onto characters as a means of increasing the level of immersion with the games.

Reaction to the device in the notoriously harsh gaming world has been somewhat muted; from reading forums and talking to gamers who already own the PS3, there seems to be an air of cynicism about the device.  Wii lovers see it as nothing other than a copycat, trying to nab the attentions of those uninterested in the family/casual gaming ethos that Nintendo has fostered so well.  A lot of Sony devotees, who revel in the complex and made-for-adult games put out by the Japanese company, seem to view it as a sign of Sony dumbing down their product.  Of course, the proof is in the pudding and if Sony can bring out the games to appeal to this demographic then all will be swiftly forgiven.  Sony says there will be 20 games released on the platform in 2010 with deals and support in place from 36 publishers and developers, so this clearly anything but a gimmick for Sony, but a concerted attempt by them to both prolong the lifespan of the PS3, and to enter the lucrative world of motion gaming.  Roll on Autumn.

Analysis: Will the Wii fall foul of its own success?

Hardware sales in Japan have always been a good indicator of Nintendo’s prospects, strong sales in Japan synonymous with Nintendo’s continued success worldwide. Recently however, Sony Japan have slowly but surely been eating into Nintendo’s market share.

During the week ending 15th November 2009, the PS3 sold nearly 40,000 units a piece in Japan while the formerly all-conquering Wii was able to shift just 21,000 (stats courtesy of Media Create). Compare that to statistics from this time last year and they make for a staggering comparison – the Wii comfortably outselling the PS3 by a factor of six to one.

nintendo-wiiWorrying times for Nintendo, particularly because this seismic shift is in part self-perpetuated – a direct consequence of the Wii’s unparalleled success. By creating a system perfectly suited for mass-adoption by a whole new section of the public: the games console virgin.

Consequently Nintendo created a license to print money in the short term, but also presented Sony and Microsoft with the opportunity to appeal to those same console-buying newcomers – a fact not overlooked by Nintendo’s rivals.

‘We have lots of data that suggests that lots of people bought into N64 as their entry level gaming device, and were happy to upgrade to a more powerful machine [the PS2] later in the life cycle when the price point was right for them. I think we’re going to see this later on PS3’ suggested Andrew House, head of PlayStation in Europe when speaking to Edge in June.

Nintendo’s problems are magnified by a series of related issues, for instance, the over-saturation of the Wii’s games catalogue with sub-standard releases. As new Wii owners seek out games it’s unlikely they’ll know what are good and bad games and so may simply chose based on packaging. The ramifications, if consumers purchase a series of poor games, is obvious – the Wii is consigned to the cupboard and in some instances replaced by a competitor’s console.

A lack of ‘triple A’ releases by Nintendo is another issue. 2009 may have seen the release of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Wii Sports Resort and Punch-Out!! But where is the new Zelda, Mario Kart, StarFox, Pokemon, F-Zero, Donkey Kong, Kirby or Metroid? And, where is the online multiplayer? Surely a Wii Sports Resort which could be played online is an advertisers dream, with family’s coming together from all parts of the country, or even world, yet Nintendo have failed to seize the opportunity.

So what is Nintendo’s next move? Rumours abound that a HD ready Wii is in the works and Nintendo have form when it comes to revamping their existing consoles – just look at the DSi XL, already selling over 100,000 units on its maiden week in Japan. At the same time Nintendo are already hyping up E3 2010 as the show that will see any number of console selling titles announced, a new Metroid and Mario already announced and rumours of more Zelda on the way.

Will this be too little too late to stop their market share being stolen by its competitors or does Nintendo have another ace up its sleeve? One thing is for sure, with Sony and Microsoft about to launch further improvements for their systems – in the guise of the PS3 Wand and Microsoft’s Natal – whatever Nintendo has in store had better be good.