Nintendo On Unique Wii Controller: 'Playing Is Believing'

At pre-E3 media event, new console is used to play tennis, conduct orchestra, shoot people.

HOLLYWOOD — Nintendo showed a packed Kodak Theatre how a new "Super Mario" adventure and a slew of other titles will be played on its 2006 Wii console at its annual pre-E3 media briefing. But the company declined to set a price for the system or nail down a specific release date.

The Tuesday morning (May 9) event opened with Nintendo design guru Shigeru Miyamoto emerging from backstage in a tux and tails. With the Wii controller in hand, he led a virtual orchestra through the "Zelda" theme song. Atop a podium behind him, Nintendo reps gesticulated their way through sessions of first-person shooter "Red Steel" and driving game "Excite Truck," both of which utilize the Wii controller's motion-detecting abilities (see "GameFile: Secrets Of The Nintendo Wii, 'Grand Theft Auto,' 'Metal Gear,' 'Metroid Prime 3' & More").

"Playing is no longer just about looks. It's about the feel," announced Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo's senior vice president of marketing. "The next leap is not about what you see, because what you see is not always what you get. The next leap is about playing, because playing is believing."

That emphasis on play over graphics could be attributed to the genuinely new ways that the Wii will have gamers controlling their games. But the videos of Wii games running throughout the conference also demonstrated another possible explanation: The system doesn't appear to be outputting graphics significantly superior to the GameCube and definitely not at the high-definition standards of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Still, Nintendo's showing got the usual cheers from the assembled media and industry professionals. The company showed a demo reel that offered the first glimpse of a new "Mario" game running on Wii. The reel also showed Wii-enabled tennis, Ping-Pong, golf and baseball games, all using the remote to swing at the respective ball.

Also on display were Wii versions of "Fire Emblem," "Metroid Prime" and a very non-Nintendo-looking (but Nintendo-published) title called "Disaster: Day of Crisis," which seemed to pit its realistic-looking human protagonist against erupting volcanoes and tidal waves. The company also showed its new "Zelda," the latest of which will launch as "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Version" in both GameCube and Wii versions concurrent with the Wii's launch near the end of the year.

"Mario" was the most cheered game but also one of the least discussed. While "Metroid" and "Zelda" were given live demonstrations, "Super Mario Galaxy" got a short video clip and just a few words. Fils-Aime described some of the ways to control Mario in "Super Mario Galaxy," which showed Mario flying through space, hopping from one small spherical coin-and-block-filled playground to the next.

"Swing your hand to bat away objects," he said. "Grab shooting stars with the [controller's laser] pointer, swim through space and skip along the stratosphere."

Nintendo also proved that its well of unusual ideas for the Wii has yet to run dry. The controller's nunchaku attachment will include its own motion sensor, and the remote includes an internal speaker. The latter feature enables what the company calls "depth of sound," which in "Zelda" causes the creak of a pulled bow and the "thwip" of a released arrow to resound from the controller and then seemingly travel to the target, where the sound of impact is emitted from the TV.

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata also described a feature called "Wii Connect 24" that will allow the system to be connected online even while it is off. "Developers can push a new weapon or vehicle to you even while you sleep," he said. "For beginning gamers, anytime the console is in standby, they may return to find that a friend has visited their village and left a message or a gift."

Iwata said the Wii's ability to serve as a virtual console would still enable the playback of titles from old Nintendo systems. Maybe a game like "Tetris" can be feasible again. But while competitor Microsoft has been showcasing independent developers for months through Xbox Live Arcade, Nintendo offered no details on any similar partnerships or games.

Nintendo representatives made no mention of Sony's Monday announcement that the PS3's controller will also now be motion-sensitive. But they did acknowledge something else gamers have been buzzing about: the Wii name. Fils-Aime joked that the company had heard from those who initially liked the name — "both of you" — but said the name fits because "Wii" is "the sound of inclusion," the message the company is trying to preach as it reaches out to lapsed gamers and beginners.

And when will the Wii be released? Nintendo wouldn't reveal a date or price beyond saying the system would arrive in the fourth quarter of 2006. "We believe it's in our interest to keep the details private just a bit longer," Fils-Aime said.

The Nintendo conference also included announcements of new titles for the company's portable DS system, including new games in the "Diddy Kong Racing," "Starfox" and "Yoshi's Island" series.

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