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Nintendo Back In The Game At E3

Los Angeles — Video game giant Nintendo could just be the industry’s big comeback kid. Even Nintendo President Satoru Iwata remarked, “2006 was not an enjoyable E3 for us.”

What a difference two years makes. At this year’s Nintendo press conference at the Electronic Entertainment Expo Business Summit in Los Angeles, Iwata and the rest of Nintendo had reason to be much more upbeat.

Nintendo is poised to become the best-selling hardware console in North America when The NPD Group’s June sales figures come out, with 10 million Wii systems sold in America in the last 19 months. “No one saw this coming,” said Billy Pidgeon, game analyst for research firm IDC. “Nintendo disrupted the market, and it is a very different playing field.”

Much of that reason can be credited to the success of the Nintendo Wii’s ability to reach a mass audience that rivals Sony and Microsoft have thus far been unable to completely un-tap. “Not even Nintendo employees could have imagined that the market would respond,” said Iwata, adding that the credit can also be owed to Nintendo selling, “millions of bathroom scales around the world.”

He was of course referring to the success of Wii Fit, a title that blends game play with fitness. Likewise, the Wii Balance Board, which made Wii Fit possible, will further be utilized in a number of upcoming titles, notably the Ubisoft release Shaun White Snowboarding. This game will be a Wii exclusive and will be by the holiday season.

To date Nintendo reported that nearly 60 million game titles had been sold in the console’s first 19 months. And while the system is still a hot and in-demand system, one aspect that was not addressed was how Nintendo will respond to meet consumer demand. But perhaps keeping the system a “must want,” but can’t-find console is part of what Iwata called the company’s new paradigm.

Another aspect may be the continuing support from third-party developers, including Sega, Electronic Arts and Ubisoft. A total of 19 third-party titles have surpassed sales of 400,000 units, and for gamers the selection of games on the Wii remains vast, with just about 220 titles released to date. From the third-party publishers, gamers can look forward to Star Wars: The Clone Wars (LucasArts), Rayman Raving Rabbits TV Party (Ubisoft) and Call of Duty: World at War (Activision).

The big hardware news from Nintendo was that the system’s innovative Wii remote will get a makeover with a Wii Motion Plus, that will further enhance the controller’s ability including making it a bit more precise. The new Wii Motion Plus will ship later this year as a bundle with Wii Sports Resort, a beach-themed follow-up to the popular Wii launch title.

Additionally, Nintendo is jumping on the music-making bandwagon, or music fakery depending on your point of view, with Wii Music. This is a rhythm-based game that will require no special controllers such as those used in Guitar Hero or Rock Band, but will instead rely on the basic Wii remote and Nunchuck, as well as the Wii Balance Board when playing the drums. The game will include a music video creation tool as well as a drum teaching mode.

The other game news from Nintendo for the Wii was that the popular Nintendo GameCube title Animal Crossing will cross over to the Wii as Animal Crossing City Folk. This new title will let players utilize an in-game auction house to buy and sell items, and even use a WiiSpeak microphone to talk to other players while in the game.

The big news on the handheld front from Nintendo was that the first-ever Grand Theft Auto title, Chinatown Wars, will carjack its way to the Nintendo DS this fall. Other notable titles this fall for the DS will include Guitar Hero on Tour Decades, which will be compatible with Guitar Hero on Tour and allow for sharing of music during network play; Spore Creatures, a handheld version of the highly anticipated PC title; and the latest Pokemon game, titled Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Glory.

But Nintendo, a company that has stressed that it has always been devoted to producing games and game systems — as opposed to the Microsoft or Sony strategy of being entertainment systems — did stress that it is in development to transform the Nintendo DS into a handheld that could be used for checking scores at the ball park, as a travel aid at airports and even as an electronic cookbook. Nintendo has clearly been using its resurgence to get cooking!