"Playing is believing." So thundered Reggie Fils-Aime. So, four days later on the plane home, we all agreed.
Pity about the conference, though. "If all you want is next-generation, you're in the wrong place." More like the wrong order. The composition of Nintendo's conference - usually one big, long grandstand - was bizarre. A far cry from the conference of two years ago when Nintendo realised the DS in front of us, and we all spent the week in rapture. Here it was all back to front. Our first glimpse of Mario - Mario - was on a trailer reel. Reggie felt like a caricature.
The stand wasn't much better. As a headline-winner, it more than did its job. There's a video on YouTube showing off the five-hour queue. Inside the giant, sweltering tent of the middle it wasn't quick either - at one point, those of us using PR clout to queue-jump ended up in a queue-jumpers queue. No joke. Plenty of headlines. But in terms of letting people play the games, it was stifling. Converts would've been few, because few of the unconverted would've fancied the queue.
Such was the quality of Nintendo's content, however, that few left in doubt. Some even predicted a changing of the guard. Niggles about Zelda were offset by the wealth of goodwill generated by the DS when Nintendo tried that - with a few hundred handheld pods outside offering Wii a guard of honour. Limited games that showed promise, like Wii Sports, were given the benefit of the doubt. Those that didn't were generally third-party, and who ever expected Tony Hawk's to carry a Nintendo console? The very argument brought blood to the boil. One of our usually affable acquaintances went nuclear at the suggestion it mattered. "Who cares about Red Steel? Of course it's crap!"
Nintendo made their announcements. Audio in the controller, providing a sixth speaker where no one else had thought to - a good idea, ironically lost in the noise of E3. WiiConnect24 - another good idea, bound to a similar fate. The hints of downloadable content and small, original games on Virtual Console downloaded while you slept were also welcome. And telling Nintendo fans they can have people visit their Animal Crossing village without the console even being on was like inviting a guest speaker to preach to the choir and bringing out Jesus.
But this E3 was about playing. It was about generating real enthusiasm, not just expectation. So it began during the conference - right from the off, with Miyamoto conducting an orchestra using the controller. Bold claims about Zelda, now re-engineered to take advantage of Wii, followed - along with a convincing demonstration let down only slightly by the subsequent hands-on whinging. Explanations of Red Steel and others were next, with a four-player demo of Wii Sports: Tennis to conclude.
Those of us going into E3 expecting tech demos, of the style used to show off the DS two years ago, got more than we bargained for. Playable Metroid, Zelda, Mario, Warioware, Monkey Ball and new titles like Excite-Truck vied for our attention. We made it our mission to abuse our position as much as possible, dragging our ad-sales man into the main area on two occasions to try things out. He doesn't even like consoles, but he was convinced. Who needs hyperbole when you've got a mid-thirties salesman talking about playing Wii tennis with his drinking crowd? (Who needs a punch line, either?)
Wii did fall down in several areas, but forgivably so. Red Steel wasn't as bad as some made out, but was a poor choice for the conference - and the gods seemed to think so too, screwing up the main-screen image for the first thirty seconds. But then third-party games rarely do much for Nintendo anyway. And Nintendo claiming they're going to enjoy greater third-party support is like Microsoft claiming it's going to conquer Japan; we'll believe it when we see it, but at least it won't be the end of the world if they don't. And, to be fair, they stand a greater chance - as a number of developers including Rez's Tetsuya Mizuguchi agreed, publishers encouraged by DS will take the risk, while developers freed from the prospect of doing another licensed bore-a-thon will be positively enthusiastic about it, whatever the project. It's a console where a SpongeBob SquarePants pod actually has people in front of it, for heaven's sake. (Admittedly because some of them had nowhere else to stand.)
Much has been made of the lack of a date and price, and you can understand why. If they'd announced one and we hadn't liked it, the E3 showing would've airbrushed the distaste. And if it's out in Q4, the date can't really be wrong. Pick one far away and bring it forward if that's what you're worried about. As it is, we'll all assume a sub-£200 price and a Thanksgiving release date, and any disappointment in the actual announcement will have too much proximity to the launch to be dismissed entirely. It's not the difference between success and failure, but it will dictate the tenor of the news cycle.
But Nintendo's E3 shouldn't be remembered for that. Nor will it be for the name - and surely the show vindicated its approach in announcing it beforehand. Nor will it be remembered for the awful stand, the queue for which during the "trade only" hours at the start of the first day was longer than the trade-only session itself. Granted, apparently all you need to be considered "trade" is a Blogspot account, but it still says something. The queue endured throughout the show. Interest will endure long after it, in spite of it. In other words, the content was a success, but the presentation probably wasn't.
Anybody doubting Nintendo's E3 success need only look to the DS. Virtually trampled by its big brother, we still had time to get excited by another snatch of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and Yoshi, Diddy Kong and Starfox announcements, while the nebulous ranks of DS Lite units played host to an array of never-before-seen games, and there was even room to let slip a few exciting concepts, like DS Air, to the press.
And let's not forget the absence of the GameCube, which managed to make waves on its last hurrah on the folks traipsing across the floor - when the announcement of Super Paper Mario filtered in from the Internet, people whispered excitedly about it, and then the realisation sunk in that Nintendo wasn't showing it. Boo.
Last year, prior to the controller announcement, Nintendo was incredibly unconvincing. And a lot of people, us included, ripped into the ugly duckling with abandon. The turnaround's been extraordinary - partly thanks to the goodwill that DS built, partly thanks to what one journalist described as "the hand of Nintendo", but mainly because playing was, in fact, believing.
Nintendo still doesn't "do" press very well. Its stand was an exclusive anomaly in an inclusive argument. Its Smash Bros. press conference on Wednesday was an embarrassing love-in. Even so, word of mouth out of this E3 will be considerable. And you know what? By the end of the week, we were even getting used to the name. We can't quite believe it either.
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