E3 Round-up: West Hall uncovered: Nintendo genius overpowers Sony

Hardware dominated, Nintendo Sony contrast unmissable to all

Posted by Staff
?There?s nothing new here from last year,? one attendee said to us on the first morning of this year?s E3. ?Every game is a 3D affair wherein the main character walks around and hits stuff, then either shoots something or uses magic, it?s just so formulaic,? said another.

The only thing these commentators had in common was the way they finished their sentences. ?Except on the Nintendo stand,? the said with a grin.

And indeed, the West hall really is a place of absolute contrast, perhaps the defining moment in the current crop of hardware and the way it is being put to use by its respective creators and developers.

Of course, this year?s main attraction is the new hardware available to see on the stands of Nintendo and Sony. The queue for hands-on with PSP is currently running at well over an hour, with a similar length queue trundling along to just see a rolling video.

The Sony stand is the dominating feature of the West Hall once again, with the minimalist sprawl engulfing the heart of the floorspace. The vast majority of software on show is third-party, a fact that the company and fans of the PlayStation 2 are keen to attribute to Sony?s absolute industry dominance. However, it is to the hardware manufacturers that we traditionally look for major innovation. It is the first-parties who have the ability to stop the rot in the industry, evinced by endless bottom-line focused, marketing-driven development cycles, and to have the belief in hardware to the extent that if a game will never be able to return its investment through standard game sales, then its collateral kudos will impact enough on the product range as a whole. Gran Turismo 4 aside, this is not evident on the Sony stand.

Understand, a fine range of games is on show, though they are just games, not leaps forward in the race to expand the industries boundaries. As the people we spoke to testified, this situation is compounded by the magic, if bizarre happening on the Nintendo stand, but more of that later.

It is a shame that Gran Turismo 4 is again on the floor at E3, instead of sitting in the drives of PlayStation 2 owners across the globe. Last year saw a frenzy of interest in the game, with some of the biggest queues ever seen at the show forming to play in sit-down, force-feedback mode. Although sublime, the game has been dogged with issues from the outset ? all of which stemming from the resolute belief in perfection rigidly adhered to at Polyphony. It is interesting to note that some of the blind loyalty shown towards some of the major FPS titles, not least Doom III and Half-Life 2, has waned somewhat in recent months. A layer of gloss and mystery has been lost, with disgruntled fans becoming increasingly impatient with cash-rich and arguably complacent development houses. This sits in contrast with the starry-eyed magnetism of the Polyphony racer which may well manage to gain a stronger foothold in the NTSC US region with its fourth incarnation.

One of the great crowd-pleasers on Sony?s stand is Burnout 3, as displayed by the delightfully earnest boys from UK middleware giant Criterion. We had been receiving information from sources about the title over the past month or so as various builds, including ones for retail demonstration and for the official magazines, started to leak out. The main complaints we heard was that the series, universally adored across gaming circles, had been altered beyond recognition. Gone are the ?butt-ache? days of the first two games, as players sat with clenched buttocks, squeezing through the slightest gaps in traffic in order to gradually build up the Burnout boost bar. Burnout 3 is an aggressive, affair, with much more interaction with opposing racers. The crashes remain just as spectacular, though the game will not punish you for minor errors in judgment. If the crash cycle in Burnout was protected by an eggshell, in Burnout 3 it is encased in mattresses. It?s different but importantly, it works. The online multiplayer offering, as well as the impressive boost-in-drift addition, delighted all comers. Burnout 3 is one of our picks of the show.

One of the stinkers on the Sony booth is 25 to Life, a game that has already been dubbed ?Grand Theft Eidos?. With its belief in controlling its own IP as part of a blisteringly efficient developer/publisher strategy, Eidos has never really tried to blatantly cash in on the success of other firms? big name franchises. 25 to Life, as well as the Burnout clone Crash ?N? Burn, will hopefully not herald a new phase in the leading UK publisher?s life.

Across the Hall on the Bandai booth sits the PlayStation 2 game spawned by anime classic Cowboy Bebop. A massive queue to get hands-on with the title (albeit powered in part by the free t-shirt offered) has Bandai officials grinning, and rightly so.

And again into the murk of third-party publisher offerings. After a glittering year last year, Ubi Soft has hit something of a wall, offering little of interest. Even the sheen from Sims in Pornland, also known as Playboy: The Mansion, is dulling, despite adorning the stand with, you know, those kinds of girls. Perhaps this stems from a rather amusing ruse the French publisher accidentally played on the famously chauvinistic gaming press. Having promised journalists from across the world a launch event at the Playboy Mansion, the few lucky enough to get a ticket were treated to an evening in a tent on the lawn of Hef?s bachelor pad of glory.

Another crushing disappointment is the Tecmo stand which is bereft of anything new. After a suspiciously quiet nod from Microsoft at its press conference earlier this week, some kind of announcement was expected ? these hopes were dashed. Tecmo does however continue to run its hourly live soft porn extravaganza. If you thought a 30 stone man in California couldn?t sweat any more, wait until he?s at the Tecmo booth, hollering for a free cap from a Japanese girl in a bikini. It?s as interesting as it is terrifyingly dark?

As you can gather, this year?s West Hall is something of a disappointment. It?s a little depressing to see such a small amount of truly appealing software, games that have been created to actually make a difference as opposed to facilitate a new round of funding or to squeeze a competitor?s per-genre market-share. The antidote to this snowballing feeling is the Nintendo booth, stand 2816 in West Hall.

It?s bright, white, shiny and friendly. Nintendo has hired more staff than ever to make you feel happy and at ease and has now perfected the art of controlling, managing and focusing the fanboy frenzy that engulfs its pods each year.

Signifying its imminent release, Metriod Prime 2, now subtitled Echoes, dominates the entrance and is looking reassuringly well. A hands-on with the game shows new weapons ? a light and dark beam, its restructured ammo system and Samus? expanded level of interaction. It is difficult to rank Nintendo?s offering this year in any meaningful way as everything that has been rolled out for the first time has caused such a stir amongst gamers and industry watchers alike.

Advance Wars: Under Fire, the GameCube-housed dimensional leap in the strategy series, literally has fans of the GBA games agog, as though they are looking at something that is as beautiful as it is impossible. Paper Mario 2, and to a lesser extent, Mario Tennis have the same effect. To see true videogame religion, you need to see the hoards of gamers staring open-mouthed at the new GameCube Zelda trailer running on loop above the floor. Hundreds at any one time stand nailed to the spot, as though staring into the eyes of God in silent, unified disbelief. If there was any doubt that videogame fanaticism was invented by Nintendo, there is no doubt that right now, the Kyoto-based playing card manufacturer leads the way.

This adulation is in contrast to the mayhem caused by the whole corner of the booth fitted out with Konga controllers. Two games are on offer, Donky Konga and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. Konga needs no introduction and is currently causing sore hands and grin-ache en masse on the booth. One of the most rewarding discoveries to be made is playing Donkey Konga in four-player jam mode, with four sets of drums. Each player plays a different section of the beat, with the four combining, performing solos, doubling up and hammering out in unison at various times, always finishing with an eight drum crescendo. It is an absolute joy so see, with gamers of all ages, sexes and races coming together, all sporting massive grins. E3 can be a fairly hostile place, with gratuitous images of sex and violence bombarding the senses, certainly not conducive to top-end mood enjoyment. The area surrounding the Konga area is the diametric opposite of the rest of the show and illustrative of Nintendo?s future intent.

Donkey Konga brings people together, makes them laugh and cheers them up. In terms of what it represents ? Nintendo?s wider strategy of developing peripheral-driven innovation aimed at generating sales through a compulsion to be entertained in an entirely new way ? it might be the most important game in the West Hall.

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat crowns off Konga perfectly, offering a multigame laden 2D platform offering controlled with the drums, a game that sounds impossible to play and yet is the most natural and intuitive piece of software, with a learning curve of about a minute.

And it continues. Whatever Nintendo says, the Game Boy Advance is dead in the water, completely overlooked at this years show, not By Nintendo which has plenty on offer to view, including new Pokemon offerings, the action puzzler Mario Vs Donkey Kong, new F-Zero, new Kirby and Zelda games, but by players, all of who walk straight past the nifty, if aged, portable to see the Nintendo DS. Although not in its final form (a Nintendo representative told us yesterday that various additions, including a stylus port will be included) its power and aesthetic and the fact that is a new high-end piece of Nintendo portable hardware ensure that it steals the limelight conclusively.

The DS simply destroys all expectations, in terms of its technical might, its software, its functionality and design. We were treated to a lengthy behind-closed doors section with the entire suite of available games, a feature about which will follow next week. The best way to describe the line-up is that it works. It works completely, the design, the concept, the way in which the games make you play them, via the alien medium of touching or rubbing a screen. Being gifted a couple of DS styluses and walking out owning a small piece of the machine, is a thrill in itself. We?ll be giving away a whole heap of DS stuff as the countdown to its launch approaches ? stay tuned for updates.

As we leave the West Hall, there is one question that we ask each other. In the first round of next-generation portable gaming, who landed the first blow? Everyone in our group, and everyone we have spoken to since gives it to Nintendo. Although the PSP, the beautiful, high-powered PSP with its massive screen and lifestyle augmentations, is an impressive example of Sony?s market-understanding and engineering prowess, the DS underscores the genius of Nintendo, touching gamers as much as they touch it.

Comments

Singularity 13 May 2004 20:50
1/11
Touching gamers as much as they touch it.

That's like poetry, dude. Nice.
darksideofthemoon 13 May 2004 21:07
2/11
I'm just kinda confused...

I've seen video clips of both the PSP and the DS from Sony's and Nintendo's presentations, and while they are both quite impressive, it seems to me that Sony's handheld trumps the DS, yet there seems to be more praise for Nintendo's hardware. Is it just me?
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Joji 13 May 2004 23:01
3/11
It depends what you want from gaming. Look at the big picture for a second. What Nintendo are doing with the DS is going to change the way we play once more, that can only be good for the industry as a whole. When most first heard about the DS, sceptism was all over the place. Not me though. I have learned not to doubt Nintendo or any other company, the way I once doubted Sony and MS when they entered the market. Nintendo have proved most of us wrong, because if the people like DS you can't really argue with that. It is different, and it works well. Backed by the GBA library and DS games, how can it go wrong?

Yes, PSP is a lovely piece of kit, and yes it can play movies and games, possibly better graphics etc etc, and I want one, but is it really doing anything to evolve an industry that is getting stuck in a rut? Some of it's features are cool, but it's basically a PS2 in your pocket. It's nice and cool, but not changing or shaking up the industry that much, in my view. Sony and MS have played their cards, in pushing things forward with their online services.

Innovation and evolution are needed, if this industry wants to be here in another 10 years and beyond. Nintendo play a vital part in this equation, and they have proved this at E3. Any new and interesting ways to play games should be celebrated, (yes, even the DK drum thing, Eyetoy and the Phantom) I think the fans and sceptics alike have realised this, and the public will too. Hints from Nintendo on The Revolution GC successor front, will no doubt make things more interesting again in the future, along with the not much talked about GBA2. A bright future indeed.

Nintendo are back in the game, and it's good to see after so many previous mess ups, things are looking good once more.
Alan is my first name 14 May 2004 01:54
4/11
It's because Sony is teh suxx0r LOL

Well, actually, look at it this way. Fans like you and I would die to go to E3. We get off on number crunching and graphics and promises of this and that. But those who cover games for a living...those that actually go there are the same people who go there year after year.

To make an analogy, imagine going on a school field trip to the same place every year. Every twelve months you get excited to go and you can't hardly wait to see all the stuff there. But about five trips later, things are becoming a bit routine...it's the same stuff over and over again. Let alone the fact that you're now a bit older and your tastes are a bit more developed.

And here we arive at E3. Game enthusiasts are getting to the point where they see the same stuff every single year. Same games, same graphic updates, same promises, etc. But here you have the DS; the system that promises two screens, touch screen, voice recognition, Nintendo franchises, and wi-fi capabilities. Not only is that unique, but it's unheard of.

The DS is what people who play games for enjoyment want. They don't want anything more that plays their DVDs, they don't want anything that costs hundreds of dollers to play, they want to play good, fun games. That is what Nintendo has shown off the entire show thus far. I think it's completley fair to say Nintendo is the only one of the three major companies in the video game buisness who are truely moving the game industry as a whole in a positive direction.
DoctorDee 14 May 2004 06:07
5/11
darksideofthemoon wrote:

>me that Sony's handheld trumps the DS, yet there
>seems to be more praise for Nintendo's hardware.
>Is it just me?

In a cold, hard number-crunching graphics way, the PSP is tops. But in a touchy-feely talking to the real gamer in you way, the DS is the winner. At least eveyone who has held them both says that.

And the PSP is likely to cost way more, and have nothing but PSOne ports at launch too.
Joji 14 May 2004 10:22
6/11
I agree that DS stole the show and surprised everyone. Sony do want PSP to play movies too, problem here is that they are gonna have a region lock. If this is just for movies I can understand, but if it covers games too a lot of folk won't be happy.

DS will most likely have no region, lock as is the tradition with Nintendo handhelds (or maybe we just haven't reached there yet). This is where the movie thing could shoot Sony in the foot. The very fact that most folk have a multi region dvd player (which Sony also make), and like to import dvds now works against PSP movies. Lock out means we may have to wait ages in the uk/eu, let alone all the BBFC stuff movies will then have to pass, that's too long. I like the idea of FF: AC movie on it, but by the time PSP reaches these shores officially, I'll most likely have seen it, and own a dvd copy.

On the flipside there is a certain something about being able to play movies straight out of your pocket, and perhaps Sony are laying the foundations of the future battle with Apple. All in one media players are gonna be the next big thing after iPod, as I've said before, iPod has the capacity at the moment but no colour screen. I won't be surprised if they upgrade iPod with one at some point. With players from Archos, Thomson, and now Sony in the ring, Apple will be left behind if they don't act soon. I guess Sony will appear more friendly to the movie moguls, since it has the UMD. Also notice the birth of Sony Connect, Sony's own online iTunes like service stateside.

I hope that some clever folk out there can find a way round it's region lock, cause I don't want to have to buy two PSPs just to play import games, just one PSP will be enough pounds I'm sure.

Well done Nintendo, I watched the videos and Advance Wars, Zelda, Metroid etc are looking really good.

I read Edge magazine and I noticed that in the latest E137, at the back as a preview for E138 they have a PSP pic gracing the page, what's interesting is that this was done before E3, instead of putting both PSP and DS mock ups on the page. This says to me that someone picked a camp to focus on beforehand, instead of both. I could be wrong, but it says something to me, like they expected Sony to steal the show. Question is will PSP still be on the front cover of E138 E3 special, or will it be both PSP and DS like it should be, or even just the show stopping DS? Maybe I'm clutching at straws, I don't know.
QuaiD 15 May 2004 00:28
7/11
If by poetry you mean disjointed babble written by people who haven't slept for 72 hours then okay. To me, some of this E3 coveridge was difficult to read to say the least. Was the editor crashed out on a beach or something? And where are the PCP screens on your site?
almondVanHelsing 15 May 2004 12:20
8/11
Then I see a problem for Nintendo.

If DS seems better only after playing it, with stylus or "rubbing a screen", how are they going to sell it?

Put yourself in the this position; you have money for either system, but no chance to play either, you have "mainstream" knowledge of both systems. You see, sleek, black, big screen PSP playing GT4 and MGS. You see 80s' Game and Watch playing Mario 64. Which will you buy?

Again, Nintendo try to appeal to "hardcore" gamers, while Sony appeal to mass market. Dreamcast and PS2 all over again?

I will keep judgement until I can play both, I know enough NS-heads to play DS before I buy, same with Sony fans and PSP. Until then all I see tells me "PS2 in my hand" and "2 screen gimmick like tilt-games".

Also, just occurs to me, how to play game with D-pad, four thumb buttons, 2 shoulder buttons AND stylus? I have only two hands!!
DoctorDee 19 May 2004 11:12
9/11
almondVanHelsing wrote:

>Put yourself in the this position; you have money
>for either system, but no chance to play either,

Then I'd walk into Dixons (big electronic retail chain here in UK), pick both up and play them for a few minutes.

Anyone who buys something meant to be handled without handling it is asking for disappointment.
DoctorDee 19 May 2004 11:19
10/11
QuaiD wrote:

>If by poetry you mean disjointed babble written
>by people who haven't slept for 72 hours then
>okay.

72 hours. We spit on your 72 hours. Stef didn't sleep for 10 days.

>To me, some of this E3 coveridge was
>difficult to read to say the least. Was the
>editor crashed out on a beach or something? And
>where are the PCP screens on your site?

Look, it was EVEN worse before I subbed it. And I was not at the beach, no wireless hotspots. I was at Star*ucks.
kami 23 May 2004 06:49
11/11
almondVanHelsing wrote:

If DS seems
>better only after playing it, with stylus or
>"rubbing a screen", how are they going to sell
>it?
Well part of the hype surrounding the DS as already mentioned is that it opens up new avenues in gaming. Which is not to necessarily say that the DS will definitely be a success (*cough cough* Virtual boy *cough cough*) but it is at least rather innovative.

Again, Nintendo try to appeal to
>"hardcore" gamers, while Sony appeal to mass
>market. Dreamcast and PS2 all over again?
It probably does seem like the PSP will beat the DS. History seems to already declare the PSP the winner, though then again, there are factors that may weigh it down, probably most of all being the battery life.

Also, just occurs
>to me, how to play game with D-pad, four thumb
>buttons, 2 shoulder buttons AND stylus? I have
>only two hands!!
Use your mouth to hold the stylus?

DoctorDee wrote:
> And the PSP is likely to cost way more, and have nothing but PSOne ports at launch too.
As opposed to the Snes ports on the GBA launch...
Plus considering it's supposedly a PS2 in your pocket, it'd probably be more PS2 ports.
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