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Nintendo play it casual

Investigating Ninty at E3

Paradigm shift. Those were the words spoken by Nintendo's CEO Satoru Iwata. That's the main gist of Nintendo's E3 summary, business model and general reason why their games are different to what they were ten years ago. Anyone anticipating a flood of new titles and the dramatic return of former favourites will already be upset with Nintendo's 2008 showing; the only 'real' new title that Nintendo announced was a new Animal Crossing. To potentially add insult to injury, the game doesn't look like it has really progressed much from the Animal Crossing's on DS, GameCube and N64. It uses the new WiiSpeak Microphone peripheral, though.

Ubisoft's new Shaun White Snowboarding was the initial highlight, and its centre stage treatment by Nintendo themselves means they'll probably never make another 1080 game - probably a shame to anyone that loved their N64. This new game incorporates the Balance Board to feel more, you know, snowboardingey. The innovative control method is clearly the star of the show on this one, and Nintendo are definitely trying to show how well they can work with third-party developers after some criticism about poor third-party game sales at the beginning of the year.

Nintendo was still devoting time to promoting Brain Age, New Super Mario Bros, Nintendogs and Mario Kart DS. With good reason, too; these games are apparently 'evergreens' and have consistently sold well for two to three years. What does it mean to other developers? Well, when you consider that Ubisoft's Far Cry 2 and Activision's Call of Duty: World at War both have development times of about two years, it must change the way developers think when Nintendo's Training series trounces them in sales (see Ubisoft's rather dire Coaching series for a mediocre attempt at third-party imitation).

This is the very essence of Nintendo's business strategy, and it shows. Their whole conference was seeped in graphics and presentations that showed old people, girls and parents laughing and having fun with their Nintendo products. The stylised gore-fest MadWorld was absent from the conference, despite it shaping up to be one of the most interesting looking Wii titles in production. MadWorld doesn't fit into the paradigm shift, or Nintendo's new, highly lucrative, casual market. And who can blame them? Microsoft and Sony are desperate for a piece of the casual pie, so it would be a bit hypocritical to chastise Nintendo for actually achieving what the others are struggling for.

Casual gaming is where Nintendo's future lies. It seemed that way at E3 07, and the message has been reiterated and emphasised here. For myself, and most readers at play.tm, that's probably a bit scary; we've grown up with the old Nintendo and, deep down, that's what we'd like to see more of. But eventually we're all going to have to realise that it's simply not going to happen.

Much like a sketch on the BBC's Monkey Dust where the fire brigade is holding a meeting about how they could maximise their profits by appealing to people whose houses weren't on fire, there was lots of rhetorical talk at the conference from Nintendo about ways in which this new casual market could enjoy their gaming devices when they weren't playing games. Cammie Dunaway wondered why her DS wouldn't tell her stuff like where to get her luggage from at airports, for instance. There was talk of using the DS in the kitchen, which is something I can hardly comment on as I own a copy of Cooking Guide. But what's next? They might as well bung a phone in it and go up against Apple.

The epitome of all this is probably WiiMusic, a music game for people who can't play music and who find rhythm games too challenging, culminating in something where you flail the Wiimote around a bit and the game works out what note to play. They tried to make their demonstration as dramatic and engaging as possible, but the whole thing looks like a bit of a tech demo and no actual game. Still, it didn't stop Nintendo with Wii Sports and I doubt it will stop them here.

On the subject of that, there's also a return of the dazzlingly popular Wii Sports in Wii Sports: Beach Resort, which takes advantage of the new WiiMotion Plus attachment, a fascinating new add-on that gives the Wii true motion sensing capability. It's very impressive seeing it at work in Wii Sports and heralds a return of that "ooh" sensation that first hit you when you saw the Wii controller for the first time. This new game features things like throwing frisbee's and sword fighting. I imagine it will shatter sales records.

There's also going to be a GTA game for the DS, as well as a new Guitar Hero: On Tour game. Reggie pointed out that this should be enough to satisfy the 'hardcore' audience. The Mario and Zelda teams were also revealed to be "hard at work" on "new titles". Nothing else was really said about this. It's not really important to Nintendo at the moment, I imagine.

There's a lot to take in from Nintendo's conference, but mostly they're sticking to the strategy that's rocketed them into first place. Nintendo products practically sell themselves, and they truly do have mass-market appeal. Microsoft's new "Miis" are just proof of how desperate everybody else is to covet Nintendo's position. They might be a different Nintendo to how they were ten years ago, but they're still as important to gaming as ever.

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