The Legend of Zelda. Donkey Kong Country. Kirby. Mario Sports. Nintendogs. Even Kid Icarus and GoldenEye – no doubt about it, no matter the angle or the context, Nintendo had games, games, games at last month’s E3. And that’s only on the stage floor; once the press conference’s lights had gone down and the crowds had dispersed, there was a second, even more potent tsunami of offerings in video and demo form: Mario Kart, Animal Crossing, Star Fox, Pilotwings, Paper Mario, Professor Layton, Resident Evil, Kingdom Hearts, Metal Gear Solid. It’s almost literally a never-ending parade of videogame goodness, comprised of some of the biggest and best in the industry.
Sony, on the other end of the spectrum, had a plethora of PlayStation-branded initiatives. 3D gaming, motion gaming, portable gaming, premium online gaming – although some rather large and robust titles were on hand at the presser, ranging from Sorcery to The Sly Collection to, most notably, Twisted Metal, they functioned, at least in the context of the media briefing, more as living proof and demonstrations of the company’s expanded portfolio of services rather than real destinations, in and of themselves, for wayward gamers this holiday season.
The irony could not be more palpable. For years now, Nintendo has unleashed its software library to not only prove the viability of the Wii’s motion controls, but to also expound upon them at every turn: Link’s Crossbow Training introduced the Zapper (or is that the other way around?); Mario Kart Wii, a steering wheel peripheral; Wii Fit, the balance board; Wii Sports Resort, Wii Motion Plus. (On tap next is the still-mysterious [and inexplicable] Vitality Sensor.) For Nintendo to abruptly transition from this cavalcade of casual-friendly plastic add-ons to a roster of hardcore-leaning, remarkably motion-less games is stunning, to say the least.
Sony, of course and obviously, has pushed the opposite tack since its very first steps into the videogame industry. Titles like Resident Evil, Final Fantasy VII, and Gran Turismo, among many, many others, established the PlayStation brand, while Onimusha, Grand Theft Auto III, and Ico (again, among several others) almost immediately cemented the PS2’s status as worthy successor and, indeed, expansive expander; even the PS3 was launched with a stable of high-profile, surprisingly original (if not always critically regarded) software, ranging from Resistance to Heavenly Sword to Uncharted. To arrive at a show where peripherals, whether they be 3D glasses or the Move and its family of motion-sensing cousins, constitute the bulk and brunt of Sony’s efforts is extremely interesting, if not outright historic.
(More interesting still is Microsoft’s dramatic submission to the sway of the casual court. With half of its conference devoted to previously-unveiled games, little in the way of new or major announcements, and an overwhelming focus on Kinect and its ability to either engage players in Wii shovelware or users with voice-accentuated movie playback, MS unceremoniously took Nintendo’s former position of sacrificing hardcore zeal for mainstream attention. Its briefing was, in many ways, a nadir for the company, in terms of both the Xbox as well as the 360 eras – although there is little doubt that Halo: Reach, Fable III, and Gears of War 3 will dominate, both commercially and critically, at the end of this year and the beginning of the next.)
In many ways, the market is right back to where it was 15 long years ago: Nintendo, with the upper hand, versus Sony, with a lot to prove, locked in a hotly contested and easily decidable conflict.
It’s just that now the battle lines are more amorphous and the centers of power, reversible.