SANTA MONICA, California — Is it bragging if you can back it up?
“This is Nintendo’s moment to lead,” Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said Wednesday (July 11) in a 77-minute presentation at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium that provided new details on major Nintendo games and a few curveballs befitting the Wii’s unconventional approach (see “Microsoft Shows Off Blockbuster Holiday Lineup At E3 Kickoff” ).
The Nintendo presentation even opened with a video of a talking NES, then a reel showing off the Wii’s crossover success, from appearances on “South Park” and “The Colbert Report” to news reports on elderly people bowling. Fils-Aime called this year’s E3 a turning point, “the moment it became finally clear that video games would finally take their place beside movies, TV and music as a staple of leisure entertainment.” He credited much of that success to Nintendo, claiming the company is responsible for more than two-thirds of the industry’s current growth.
Fils-Aime responded to skeptics who claim the Nintendo DS is just a fad. “If I were in their shoes, I’d say the same thing,” he said. But he then followed up by saying the Nintendo DS just passed its 40 million unit sales mark. He said the Wii has been “effectively sold out” for its 33 weeks of release.
The presentation spanned topics of interest to both hard-core and more casual gamers. Fils-Aime announced names and dates for several major Wii titles. Calling “Super Mario Galaxy” the first worthy successor to “Super Mario 64″ and the setter of a new gold standard for the interface of games in any genre, he said the game will be released on November 12. He marked December 3 as the release date for the latest version of the Nintendo mascot-fighting series, “Super Smash Bros. Brawl,” for the Wii. A new “Mario Kart,” featuring online races and battles, will be released in the first quarter of 2008.
Fils-Aime showed off some new toys, too — including two shells, which essentially serve as new housing for the Wii controllers. First he brought out the Wii Wheel, a steering-wheel-shaped shell for the Wii remote. (Video of the game running on a screen behind Fils-Aime showed a traditional “Mario Kart” design, with graphics comparable to the series’ GameCube edition.)
Next he introduced the Wii Zapper, which configures the remote and nunchuck as a two-handed machine-gun-style device. The player’s back hand curls around the nunchuck, thumb resting on the analog stick. Their front hand holds the remote, finger on the trigger. Fils-Aime said Nintendo is working on a new game to use the zapper, although he didn’t reveal which one. He did say, however, that the Nintendo game and zapper will sell for $19.99 later this year. He pointed out other games that will support the device: EA first-person shooter “Medal of Honor,” Capcom shooter “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles” and arcade-style light-gun game “Ghost Squad” from Konami.
The message Nintendo projected is that the company has all angles covered. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata went onstage to talk about how a Japanese DS cookbook has compelled him to cook dinner for his family on his days off. He didn’t announce that the cookbook would come to the U.S. but emphasized that Nintendo would continue to support projects like it to attract non-gamers. The next style of game in this line coming to the U.S. is “Brain Age 2,” due August 20 for the DS. Nintendo will also release “Flash Focus,” a DS program that sharpens visual-recognition skills.
Nintendo’s star designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, usually shows up at Nintendo events to showcase the company’s premier game. He took the stage to say that the game for him this year wouldn’t be “Super Mario Galaxy” or the fall DS title “The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass” — it would be a new project called “Wii Fit.” Behind him a crew set up white step-aerobic boards specially designed to connect wirelessly to the Wii. A demo reel showed people using the devices, with prompts on their TV screens to do yoga, aerobics and other workout routines. Sometimes the prompts were displayed as clinical diagrams; other times Miis led the users. For instance, a woman did hula moves on her board while, onscreen, her Mii rocked around in a hula hoop. The platform, called the Wii Balance Board, detects a player’s balance.
After asking fitness models to demonstrate some of the 40-plus modes offered by “Wii Fit,” Miyamoto asked for Fils-Aime to step onto a board. He complied, and the board ran a check of his balance. It indicated that he leans too far to the right and recommended he develop better posture. Miyamoto explained that “Wii Fit” is designed to help users improve their balance, which is considered to be a sign of fitness. The Wii registered a 27.51 body-mass index, labeling him as overweight. Fils-Aime said: “Just remember that muscle is heavier than fat.” Miyamoto, who had been speaking through a translator up to that point, said in English: “Good excuse.” “Wii Fit” is slated for an early 2008 release.
The conference ended with Fils-Aime beating Miyamoto in a “Wii Fit” soccer-heading contest, after which came the most confident move by Fils-Aime yet: articulating Nintendo’s true ambition.
“There are 24 hours in every day, and only a small amount of time is available for leisure entertainment,” he said. “Minute by minute, we intend to steal more of that time for video games.”