Nintendo's US boss Reggie Fils-Aime today declared that now is Nintendo's time to lead as he brought to a climax an E3 conference that saw firm release dates for Super Mario Galaxy and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a new Mario Kart game, several new Wii peripherals and a pledge from Nintendo president Satoru Iwata "to destroy the psychological barrier that separates veteran gamers from novice gamers".
But for all the big names (there were enough that a demonstration of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for DS was practically a footnote), the title that's likely to dominate headlines is Wii Fit - arguably a spiritual successor to Wii Sports and the one game shown that's most likely to help level the playing field for games and achieve the mass-market recognition that Nintendo so obviously craves.
Built around a unique, wireless step aerobics platform that measures weight and balance called the Wii Balance Board (price TBC), Wii Fit includes over 40 aerobic, yoga and muscle conditioning activities as well as balance-based games. When you start to play, it measures your centre of gravity and body-mass index (BMI), and allows you to track this information as you return to the game daily through a range of Brain Age-style charts for the whole family. Demonstrations included a one-legged stretch, step aerobics with a rhythm-action element, sideways twists, head tennis (football) and press-ups, with videos pointing to an array of others. The game will be playable at E3 this week, although a release date is yet to be announced.
Mario Kart Wii finally raced out of the shadows of its stable-mates, too, as Nintendo promised a global launch in Q1 2008 with worldwide online play at the centre of its new features. Battle Mode, a staple of Mario Kart games since the SNES, will finally be playable online, too, and Fils-Aime hinted that the number of supported players could be big - although said we'd have to wait to find out more. The game will also offer a "variety of control options" including the Wii Wheel, a plastic steering wheel that allows you to clip the Wiimote to the reverse. Obviously similar to other third-party peripherals, Nintendo's decision to bundle it with Mario Kart demonstrates that they think more of it than some reviewers did of its predecessors.
Before then, gamers will also finally get to take home the big Nintendo titles everyone wants. Metroid Prime is already down for US release on 27th August, but joining it with firm dates on the schedule were Super Smash Bros. Brawl on 3rd December and, before then, Super Mario Galaxy on 12th November. "In one sense, this is the first worthy successor to Mario 64," said Fils-Aime, quietly elbowing away the protests of Super Mario Sunshine.
The first of those big titles, Metroid, will also be supported by the launch of a new peripheral - the Wii Zapper. A lightgun that resembles a machinegun with front and rear handles, the Zapper incorporates the Wiimote and Nunchuk into its design, like Devastator or something. The Wiimote lies across the top of the barrel with an extension of its B-trigger on the front grip for firing, while the Nunchuk locks onto the back grip allowing for movement control. The execs were careful to use the word "zap" rather than "shoot" whenever they referred to it, but did claim that it could do for the first-person shooter genre what the Wiimote did for sports. Third party support will come from Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles (Capcom), Ghost Squad (SEGA) and Medal of Honor (EA), and it will be packaged with Nintendo software and sold separately for USD 19.99.
For once, claims of wide-ranging third party support - so often made by Nintendo, even at the lowest depths of the GameCube trenches - rang relatively true. Fils-Aime said that gamers would find 140 more DS titles on shelves this year in the US, and 100 more Wii games. "The development community realises the opportunity," he declared, generously devoting lots of time to talking up games like WWE Smackdown and EA's MySims Wii/DS product.