E3 2003: Nintendo fails to excite Cube fans
There was plenty for GBA owners and in particular connectivity followers, but otherwise...
If Microsoft's Xbox shindig was a bit disappointing, then Nintendo's soirée at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel was downright boring. Were it not for Shigeru Miyamoto's mucking around, Shinji Mikami joking on tape that he's still not been fired and the welcome sight onstage of Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani then we might have given up and gone home.
As it was, president Satoru Iwata took his time explaining where the GameCube had gone wrong so far, reminding us that sales were down, that there wasn't enough first party software, that major titles had under performed, etc etc, and then flatly failed to produce a killer announcement to restore our faith. The most we saw of Metroid Prime 2, Final Fantasy and co. was a showreel packed with snippets of footage, and other than that the focus was on connectivity between Cube and GBA. In fact, the single biggest commercial announcement was that The Sims Bustin' Out (also on Xbox remember) will include connectivity support with a matching GBA release that lets you move your sims back and forward between the two titles.
That said, there were a few Cube titles that caught our attention; namely Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes, n-Space's Geist and Stage Debut (which, ironically enough, didn't actually get one, despite some interesting-looking images on the press CD that included Pikmin and various other super-deformed weirdos in playgrounds, in classrooms and on stages).
Despite assembling Shigeru Miyamoto, Hideo Kojima and Dennis Dyack (Silicon Knights boss) together onstage, all we got for Twin Snakes was a short trailer that said more about the massive screen's gamma settings than the actual gameplay. As Snake and others waffled over the top about Shadow Moses, Metal Gear and nuclear weapons, a corridor full of Special Forces were obliterated by an unseen foe. Snake himself looks much the same as he does in MGS2: Substance, but there have been some real improvements to the look of the codec (groan), which now resembles one of those futuristic operating systems you see running in action thrillers.
As for Geist, the game is being developed by Florida-based n-Space with creative and technical input from Nintendo (ala Metroid Prime, hopefully), and sees the player possessing other characters in the game world, entering various bodies and utilising their individual physical and mental abilities - not to mention their respective arsenals. Although the visuals looked rather standard (reminding us of Red Faction more than anything), the concept is intriguing.
Moving onto the GBA/GC relationship, Nintendo was pushing connectivity like never before (certainly in Europe), as Miyamoto unveiled another Zelda: Four Swords title. This one looks like it'll be a great party game, with four players both co-operating and competing for rupees, clamouring to be the first into unexplored houses and 2D side-scrolling underground sections, with the gameplay split between Cube and GBA. In the demonstration we saw, four players needed to move to new screens on the GameCube together, but could venture into houses/dungeons/etc individually or as a group on their GBAs. And it seems the Cube has given Nintendo plenty of opportunity to exploit the Zelda III-era visuals - including one section on a bridge with more than 50 Green Knights on-screen at once.
Although Miyamoto didn't show it off himself, he also alluded to another new Zelda Cube/GBA title, Tetra's Trackers, which will be on the show floor tomorrow. However, our press pack tells us that it uses characters from The Wind Waker, and that players are competing to gather stamps from her pirate followers.
Perhaps more interesting to those of us in the auditorium though was Miyamoto's guilty secret - that he's developed a new Pac-Man game for the Cube/GBA link-up, supposedly without telling anyone. He then called Toru Iwatani onto the stage to admit this and beg for permission, which was cute if a little contrived. The game itself looks fairly clever though, with the GBA player controlling Pac-Man himself and the three Cube players handling ghosts, each with a limited field of vision. The idea seems to be to accumulate as many points as possible, then concede control of the GBA to the player who eventually gobbles you up. We'll be spending some more time with it at E3.
All in all though, things began brightly, and the assembled masses seemed very excited, but by the end of the conference they were leaving in droves, and there were only smatterings of applause - a far cry from the thunderous reception that met every uttered word and PowerPoint slide two years ago. There's good news for fans of Cube/GBA connectivity, and good news for GBA owners in general, but it wasn't what was needed to change the GameCube's fortunes.