Nintendo Announces 'Wii Music,' Improved Wii Remote At E3

'Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars' announced for the DS.

LOS ANGELES — At the Kodak Theatre on Tuesday morning (July 15), Nintendo hyped its success in "destroying the psychological barriers between gamers and non-gamers." And the company's next step in that is "Wii Music" and a spring 2009 tweak of the Wii remote. The company also snuck in the announcement of a new "Grand Theft Auto" for the Nintendo DS.

"Wii Music" was showcased as the premier Wii game for the holiday season. To demonstrate, a man appeared onstage to bash on virtual drums, using the controllers to emulate drumsticks and the Wii Balance Board for a bass pedal. "Mario" inventor Shigeru Miyamoto produced a Wii remote, held it close to his mouth and essentially played virtual saxophone. Miyamoto described "Wii Music" as one of the fundamental Wii games that was in development at the same time as "Wii Sports," "Wii Play" and "Wii Fit."

The main difference between "Wii Music" and other music games, Miyamoto said, is that Nintendo's game won't require players to press buttons precisely or follow rhythm guides. Instead, the Wii translated player movement and button presses into notes that fit a prearranged song. The game will include about 50 instruments, including piano, violin and guitar — each of them played with the appropriate gestures. The game also includes lessons on how to play the drums and a music-video creation tool.

Nintendo also highlighted the new addition to the Wii controller, Wii Motion Plus, which essentially improves the motion-sensitivity of the controller by allowing 1:1 matching between a player's arm movement and the movement of the character on the screen. The device will come with a spring 2009 game called "Wii Sports: Resort," which includes Frisbee, jet-skiing and a crowd-pleasing bout of sword-dueling. "Wii Motion Plus renders every slight shift of your wrist or arm into the gameplay," said Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime. "As every gamer knows, technical advancements can be empty promises without outstanding software."

Nintendo executives clearly enjoy telling their company's comeback story. "A true paradigm shift has taken place in the global video game market," Nintendo President Satoru Iwata told an audience of several hundred reporters and members of the gaming industry. "Five years ago, in May 2003, I addressed E3 for the first time as the president of Nintendo. I still vividly recall that day, because I knew almost everyone attending held a pessimistic view about Nintendo's future. That period was not enjoyable, but I knew people were just using a common-sense view of the video game market. I must admit that even Nintendo employees could have not imagined that five years later the market would have responded so quickly that we could be selling millions of bathroom scales." (An image of "Wii Fit" appeared on a big screen behind Iwata, getting a lot of laughs.)

In an acknowledgement of Nintendo's most beloved franchises, Iwata mentioned that Nintendo's "Mario" and "Zelda" teams are "both hard at work" on new Wii software.

One of the bigger surprises of the presentation was the announcement of "Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars" coming to the Nintendo DS in the winter.

Nintendo showcased a new "Animal Crossing" game for the Wii, subtitled "City Folk." Like the game's successful predecessors, it presents a low-stress, perpetual landscape of characters that go fishing, trade shells and shop for clothes. It's a game that doesn't have any specific goal or conclusion and instead is meant to be played year-round as the seasons change, holiday events occur, and the computer-controlled animal citizens of the game come and go. The new game also supports a separately sold WiiSpeak microphone that allows people playing the game online (which means all visiting the same "Animal Crossing" town) to talk to each other in a group chat. The game will also allow players to send text messages from the game to cell phones and computers.

Fils-Aime took the stage to hype Nintendo's hardware success. He said the DS is expected to sell 100 million units worldwide by the end of March, and he predicted that Wii will take the lead spot of best-selling console in the world by the end of the week. "We're no closer to being satisfied," he said, adding that tens of millions of people around the world still need to get into gaming.

As with last year, Nintendo's press conference was largely targeted to a mainstream audience. That tone was set early, when Cammie Dunaway, executive vice president for sales and marketing, began the event talking about the Mother's Day card her son sent her. She then offered up the conference's tagline ("We promise to keep the world smiling") and introduced Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, who was using the Wii Balance Board to control a snowboarding game.

A few key 2008 third-party games were shown: "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," which included motion-controlled lightsaber battles; "Rayman Raving Rabbids: TV Party," which is controlled with the Wii Balance Board; and "Call of Duty: World at War," which supports the Wii Zapper gun peripheral.

A new "Guitar Hero" was announced for the DS, subtitled "On Tour Decades," which allows song-sharing between it and the just-released first version of "GH" for the DS. The company showed a portable version of "Spore," which focuses on the creature phase of the ambitious upcoming PC game. And Nintendo announced that, after years of success in Japan, a voice-activated DS cookbook is coming to America in November.

Read about Microsoft's Xbox 360 presentation at E3 here.

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