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by Harold Goldberg

SIGNIFICANTLY UPDATED: MAY 13, 2014

May 13 will likely be lucky for author and filmmaker Blake J. Harris. That particular Tuesday is the day Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined A Generation (It Books), his well-researched and compelling narrative history of Sega, Nintendo and Sony’s battles, will be released. I met the affable Harris a few years ago – shortly after All Your Base Are Belong to Us, my own narrative history of games, hit the shelves.

We hit it off immediately. Harris has many fascinating stories to tell, of his collaboration with Seth Rogen and Scott Rudin for the tome’s film version, of the geniuses of videogames, and of the writing process itself. Part One appears today. Part Two will appear on the book’s release date.

Also, Harris will read and answer questions from Console Wars at the Astoria Book Shop on May 15 at 7 p.m. If you get there early, you can play old school games with the author.

Now, on to the interview.

1) What compelled you to write a book on the Console Wars?

My journey down the 16-bit rabbit hole was as unexpected as it proved
to be delightful.

A little over three years ago, my typically terrible-gift-giving
brother surprised me on my 28th birthday with the perfect gift: a Sega
Genesis, which is what we had when we were kids. Holding that
controller in my hands after so years away from videogames brought to
the surface all kinds of memories and then, after the barrage of that
nostalgia hit me, came all kinds of questions. What ever happened to
Sega? How were they even able to compete against Nintendo in the first
place? And ultimately: what the hell was going on behind the scenes
all that time?

To answer these questions and all the others that kept bubbling up I
wanted to read a book on the subject. But, as luck would have it, no
such book existed. Not only did no such book exist, but I quickly
learned that for an industry as gigantic as videogames there was an
alarmingly small number of books about this wonderfully wild world.

Well, after reviewing my old college econ notes on supply and demand,
I began contacting former of employees from Sega and Nintendo to find
out if there was an interesting story here; something exciting and
dramatic with twists and turns that would appeal to gamers and
non-gamers alike. Needless to say, what I soon discovered exceeded
even my wildest expectations.

2) What do we need to know about Tom Kalinske, who’s kind of the
protagonist of Console Wars?

The most important thing to know about Tom Kalinske is that he’s the
man responsible for the childhood of anyone born in the 70s or 80s.
From Barbie and He-Man to Flintstones Chewable Vitamins and Matchbox
cars, his ability to turn unusual ideas into iconic properties is
second to none. And in 1990, when Nintendo had over 90% of the market,
that made him the perfect guy (and perhaps the only guy) capable of
transforming Sega from an industry punchline into a
generation-defining market leader.

3) What did he do right and what did he do wrong?

He did a ton of things of right. Some that many of us might remember
(like launching the famous Sega-Scream-infused Welcome to the Next
Level campaign), some that many of us never knew about (like
brilliantly and unexpectedly getting the Genesis into Wal-mart) and
some that none of us will ever know or fully understand (like how he
convinced a team of rebels that they truly had the golden touch).

What did he do wrong? Like any CEO, a variety of mistakes were made
along the one. Perhaps the most notable (and perhaps inevitably
unavoidable) was to focus on beating Nintendo (and then Sony) when a
more crafty enemy was lurking much closer than he realized.

(more…)

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By Harold Goldberg

A few moments ago, Nintendo officially released some heretofore unannounced plans for this holiday season, a new handheld device called the 2ds.

As part of this announcement, Nintendo had me over to their offices to see the 2DS in action. With a release date of October 12 and a price of $130, the 2DS sports some of the features of the 3DS in a kind of micro-tablet format.

The device I saw kind of looks like a slice of red/black cake, millimeters thin on one end and a bit thicker on the other. It was so new when I saw it that the FCC hadn’t yet given it a go ahead.

With two screens that are smaller than those on the 3DS, it plays 3DS games in 2D. And, like the 3DS, it offers up WiFi access to the Nintendo shop. The single speaker sound isn’t quite as good as the 3DS’s stereo. But it’s clear and generally fine.

Why would Nintendo announce this particular little machine for the holidays? Says Nintendo’s Cindy Gordon, “We wanted everyone to have access to Nintendo games. Some people might not have the income to buy a 3DS, and the 2DS is $40 less. We feel it’s the perfect entry point, and then consumers can move up the (hardware) line.” I then asked when the machine began its development cycle, but was not given a direct answer: Nintendo wanted to stay precisely on message.

So I asked, If parents who are a bit cash poor want a handheld gaming device for their kids, wouldn’t they go to eBay for a used 3DS? (Later, a quick search showed a used 3DS could be had for $120 and up.)

Gordon countered, saying that, Yes, people might do that, but wouldn’t they want a brand new device as an entry point instead?

Nintendo says the 2DS might be right as a child’s first machine (“for young, budding gamers,” says Gordon), and I do agree with that assumption. It’s less complicated that the 3DS with fewer buttons to deal with. For instance, there’s no slider button for the WiFi access.

I believe there’s another reason for Nintendo’s release of the 2DS.  Sony and Microsoft are releasing their new systems in November, and there’s a lot of buzz around them. Nintendo wants to have at least one tangible thing that’s new, something related to hardware that they can tout for the holidays.

Really, it has to do with the console wars. Executives may say publicly that there are no such battles. But that’s a matter of semantics. These companies are very, very competitive. Hence, the thinking would go, a new machine by Nintendo for the holiday season is a salvo that might help the company. So will lowering the price of the Wii U by $50.

While the 2DS is a decent machine, the devil’s advocate in me thinks it might be the next Game Boy Micro, popularity-wise. Yet it also could take off. To help that process, wouldn’t it be a prudent and wise move if the 2DS came with a game made exclusively for it, a mini Zelda game perhaps? That would sell the device, perhaps even to those who have a 3DS.

After all, everything ultimately is about the games themselves.

Harold Goldberg is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.

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It’s really one of our best Full Circle shows yet.

Host Sarah Awad went to XCubicle on Hester Street to find out about the art they sell — and the rumor of cockroaches in a PS3!

Founder Harold Goldberg talks about the subversive nature of Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

And there’s some serious discussion between Sarah and Harold about the Ouya’s potential success or failure.

As always, thanks to the great Victor Kalogiannis for editing the show!

Check it out, right here.

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by Jeremy Voss

The criticism-oriented game enthusiast who keeps a very active game-centric blog called Shouts from the Couch is both enthused with and bemused by Nintendo’s latest offering. He penned this essay just prior to becoming a new father.

Around 10 hours into my playthrough of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – even though I’ve had a very pleasant experience for most of that time – I’m just about ready to break my 3DS in half.

I suppose I should admit that I never actually planned on playing Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon.  It was not on my radar, nor was it in my rental queue, and I never owned a GameCube and so I don’t have any nostalgic remembrances of the first game. (As it happens, as far as my 3DS usage is concerned, I was already pretty heavily invested in Etrian Odyssey IV anyway.)  I suppose I might have felt compelled to pick it up if the gaming press gave it good reviews, but here I’m in the unique position of being on the other side of the fence for the first time, as a contributor of opinion rather than a receiver.

On my blog, I don’t actually write reviews. I do more of a progress report with every few hours of gameplay, so that I can better explain where a game might have gone wrong for me.  Don’t get me wrong – I always intend to finish every game I start.  But as a dude with a day job and a bunch of extra-curricular activities – one of which is about to include taking care of a newborn baby – I don’t generally stick around with a game once it starts to go bad on me.

And so while the first eight hours of LM:DM were pretty goddamned terrific, it is here in these later stages of the game where I’m starting to lose my mind a little bit.  I’m not sure I want to keep pushing through.  I have other things I need to get done before this weekend is over.  My dogs are feeling sad that I’m ignoring them.  This is where my sense of professional obligation ought to be kicking in, and instead I’m here on my computer trying to coyly dance away from the thing I’m supposed to be doing.

Let’s at least start with those aforementioned first eight hours, where everything is quite wonderful.

It is clear from the moment the game launches that a tremendous amount of care and effort have gone into the game’s development; the overall production values are among the best I’ve yet seen on the platform.  The game looks absolutely gorgeous. Every nook and cranny is filled with playful charm and a goofy sense of humor, even as the subtle lighting and physics imbue the world with a spooky reality.  And I don’t believe I’m overstating it when I say that the quality of Luigi’s animations are on par with Pixar.  Every move he makes is believable and relatable and nuanced – even while the game’s sense of humor is relatively broad. And all the while, his movements are actually relaying valuable information to the player in terms of what’s in the room with him.  It is further proof, for better or worse, that nobody develops for Nintendo hardware quite like Nintendo.

There is a story of sorts. The Dark Moon, which keeps the local valley’s ghosts at bay, has been broken into 5 pieces, etc. and the ghosts are on the loose.  But it’s largely a superficial excuse to send Luigi into various haunted locations and perform specific objectives for Professor E. Gadd.  There are five locations, and each location has five levels, even though you’re largely in the same environments each time.  It’s sort of like a Metroidvania-type design, except that you’re whisked out of the environment once you’ve accomplished a certain goal, and when you go back for your next mission, it’s possible that the environment has changed significantly in your absence – largely because of things you’ve already done.   Levels can be replayed in their original state, however, even with your extra-high-powered gear, and each has a three-star scoring system and a hidden Boo ghost encounter.

The core gameplay loops involve exploration, environmental puzzle solving, and ghost wrangling. And as you get deeper into the game, those ghosts become more devious and plentiful. The controls are largely easy to understand, and even though they can be somewhat unwieldy at times, they generally respond quite well. You almost always find yourself doing the thing you’re trying to do.  And since there’s a lot of activity going on at any given moment, that’s very much appreciated.

And yet.

For all the obvious and appreciated care and hard work that went into development,  there are some glaring design flaws that can cause an inordinate amount of frustration.

While each level can be completed in 10 to 20 minutes, there are no checkpoints.  This means that if you die at the very end of a level – and you will – you go back to the very beginning. You will lose all the gold and hidden jewels you may have found; you will have to solve every puzzle again.  And you must finish every combat scenario again, of which there are many.  And unless you find the hidden Ghost Dog Bone in each level, which grants you an instant revive with full health, you will get sent back to the beginning if you snuff it.  The boss at the end of World 3, the clockworks level, is a 12-stage gauntlet. When you die at the 12th stage, and you find yourself returned to the beginning, you will want to murder things.

LM:DM also frustratingly adheres to an apparent fundamental “if/then” principle of gameplay design that dictates that if a game console has tilt controls, then a game is required by law to implement some sort of balance beam section. Has there ever been a fun and not-at-all annoying balance beam section in any game, ever?  Even Uncharted figured it out eventually.  But I’m in the beginning of World 4, which features tons of ice and a mine, and the balance beam section (the third such section in the game) that I just finished (after literally a dozen stupid deaths) nearly drove me insane.

Plus, some of the ghosts can be jerks.  And while that may be largely the point of the challenge, it’s not necessarily endearing.

I hate to close this thing by dwelling in such detail on the frustration I’m feeling with LM:DM, especially when there is so much to love about it, but I can’t help it. I was charmed for a long time and now I’m just angry and frustrated, and if I weren’t feeling professionally obligated to see all there is to see, I’d probably give up at this point.  I mean, I’d like to think it’ll get better in the later levels of Worlds 4 and 5, the Treacherous Mansion which boasts a kind of castle environment. But it seems rather unlikely that the game will suddenly get more forgiving.  And hey, maybe the multiplayer experience is something extraordinary – but, unfortunately, I can’t test it out yet, and to be quite honest I’m not sure I’d be inclined to try it even if I weren’t reviewing it.  (I’m not really a multiplayer kind of guy, is the thing.)

But let’s get to the heart of the matter:  is it worth your hard-earned money?  Despite my current agitation with it, the good stuff here is truly special and does a terrific job of showing off the 3DS’s hardware capabilities.  Perhaps your hand-eye coordination will get you through those challenging ghost combat scenarios with greater ease than what I had to go through, and maybe you’ll take a glass-half-full approach when you get cheaply killed at the very end of a level and have to do the whole thing over again.  Or, perhaps, you’ll end up like me, utterly annoyed that all this inventive level design and endearing animation simply ended in yet another dozen balance-beam deaths.

EPILOGUE: SECOND THOUGHTS?

After I’d written what you just read, I’d more or less given up on LM:DM.  I was stuck and banging my head against the wall, and no amount of self-imposed “professional obligation” was going to make me finish a game that I’d ceased to enjoy playing.

Well, I suppose a little bit of obligation managed to hang around despite my best efforts, because after a few days I did ultimately feel compelled to go back to it and see if, at the very least, I could get past the level I was stuck on.  And so I did some grinding on the first few levels in an attempt to get the last upgrade to the Poltergust 5000, just to see if that would do the trick.  Lo and behold, it did!  I was able to get past that one fight that was killing me over and over again, and so I kept at it.  I was able to finish World 4, and then I started plowing through World 5, and I guess I figured that that last upgrade was really all I needed to keep things moving along.  And for a time, I was glad I kept with it – World 5 has some neat level design, and some clever puzzles, and the obligatory balance beam section took place at the very beginning and somehow I managed to get past it with only two falls into the abyss.  I figured the rest of the game would be a little challenging, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

Nope.  I’m now in the last mission of World 5, and it’s (once again) a gauntlet of ghosts, but now with the added absurdity of a countdown timer.  I made it pretty much right up to the penultimate battle but got killed – rather cheaply, I might add – and now I can either restart the whole thing over again, or get on with the rest of my life.

I still stand by what I wrote.  There’s a lot of great elements to this game, and for the most part it’s a lot of fun.  But the lack of a checkpoint system makes some of these later ghost battles feel like a punishment to be endured, rather than a challenge to be overcome.  I’m willing to concede that I might lack the patience of a younger gamer to help conquer this problem. But I’m also certain what I see as fundamental design flaws will drive a lot of people crazy, not just me.

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Last night, Nintendo’s Wii U, its newest game console, went on sale throughout North America. Many of our critics took the trek to Rockefeller Center to check out the event at Rockefeller Center. Without any fanboyism or favoritism, here are 10 things you’ll like and dislike about the Wii U.

1) Short battery life on GamePad is the worst of any console or handheld. Two hours was my minimum and three was my maximum.

2) The GamePad controller is too complex with buttons galore.

3) Not all apps are available on launch day. Where’s the promised TVii service, Netflix, Amazon and YouTube, for instance?

4) The GamePad is too heavy. It will affect your game play over time.

5) The GamePad takes a long time to recharge.

6) Games take a longer time to load than on the Wii.

7) Not all game music and audio comes through the GamePad when you use it without your TV.

8) It’s harder to set up and get going than was the Wii.

9) Software update takes soooooo long to download, well over an hour.

10) What an arduous process it is to move your old game profile and info – from the Wii to the Wii U.

-Harold Goldberg, Founder

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Last night, the Wii U, Nintendo’s newest game console, went on sale throughout North America. Many of our critics took the trek to Rockefeller Center to check out the event at Rockefeller Center. Without any fanboyism or favoritism, here are 10 things you’ll like and dislike about the Wii U.

1) Games are presented in high definition graphics, a fine step forward.

2) The GamePad functions as a TV remote control and your cable guide appears on it. Its touchscreen can be pretty effective, too.

3) You can play your old Wii games on it. Super Mario Galaxy, baby.

4) Nintendo Land is better than expected because it explains an essential thing: how to use the GamePad. The single player mini games aren’t bad, either.

5) MiiVerse lets you share screenshots from games with friends.

6) You can play games on the GamePad without turning the TV on.

7) It connects to the Web.

8) You could probably stream a webcast via the GamePad camera and WiFi, if Nintendo ever sets that up.

9) It’s a powerful machine that rivals the workhorses PS3 and Xbox 360, something Nintendo needed to do.

10) There are creditable games for adults as well as kids, from ZombiU to Scribblenauts Unlimited.

-Harold Goldberg, Founder

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Should the Wii U have been given a bad rap for seeming too complex? Or should Nintendo’s spin doctors get the blame? Or should journalists themselves be held accountable?

by Harold Goldberg

Yesterday at the Polygon launch party in Tribeca, two threads of conversation manifested themselves throughout the night. The first surrounded the seemingly anthropomorphic incarnation of Hurricane Sandy and the way it sucker punched Manhattan, the rest of New York City and New Jersey. ‘How did it go for you?’ was the question among critics. Much shaking of the head and commiseration occurred.

The other talks centered upon the imminent launch of the Wii U.

Many of our critics were happy to get an early package with the new Nintendo device contained within. Discussion last night ranged from the way it is being marketed to the lack of it being fully functional broadband-wise prior to launch. The lack of certain promised apps and functionality similarly plagued critics who were trying to review the PlayStation Vita before launch. As I recall, it was difficult to sync Kinect, the Xbox add-on controller, prior to launch as well.

My concern about the Wii U has been documented on NPR’s Morning Edition, where I spoke with co-host Renee Montagne. We’ve also dealt with the challenges right here at the Circle site. And yet, when I checked out the machine in the comfort of my own home for the first time a few days ago, my initial impression for the offline experience is that the Wii U comes together nicely via fairly charming tutorials in Nintendo Land, the oft-maligned, upcoming collection of mini games that is packed inside the deluxe version of Nintendo’s successor to the Wii.

That’s just one game. And this is an impression, not a full review. But it speaks to one problem I had: that the Wii U is too busy to understand immediately. Indeed, it may not be so difficult at all. Now seeing what I’ve seen, I believe Nintendo’s marketing machine has made it difficult to understand. All Nintendo representatives had to say to journalists like me is: “If you think the Wii U is too complex as you engage in these demos and see these presentations, wait until you get it home. The tutorials are pretty informative and easy. You’ll get it. We promise.”

They had years to explain this to me and to all of the Circle members in simple, plain language. And they never did. In fact, I don’t believe the commercial below makes the Wii U a breeze to understand. More soon.

Harold Goldberg is the founder and editor in chief of the Circle.

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In a stunningly revealing announcement last week, Nintendo stated that on August 12 it will reduce the price of its 3DS from $250 to $170. Though it was spun as an event as important as the Royal Wedding in a press release, the news reverberated throughout the game industry in a decidedly different way. The price drop was seen as a failure on the part of the Japanese company to sell what originally had been seen by some journalists as the most major of steps forward for video gaming: 3D without glasses.

The reasons for the poor sales of the device are many. Soon after the machine was released in Japan, the terrible earthquake and tsunami hit the country. While I pointed out on NPR’s Morning Edition that manufacture of the 3DS didn’t occur in Japan, people working at Nintendo’s Kyoto HQ were certainly hit by the sad situation, if not directly, then, emotionally.

More, sagging sales of the 3DS had to do with an unreasonably high price. Nintendo had succumbed to the same kind of rampant hubris that had hit many game companies over the years, from the 3DO company in 1993 to, more recently, Sony in 2006 with its overpriced PlayStation 3. Especially in a sluggish world economy with a possible new recession looming in the United States, $250 for a new DS was an outrageous price – even though the 3D on the handheld gaming device was spectacular.

When you could see it. The 3DS has an extraordinarily limited viewing angle. If you don’t look at it straight on, you can’t see depth. Instead, you see a double image. And if you play without moving your neck, your reward is stinging neck pain or a pounding headache. Sony itself had contemplated making a 3D version of its PlayStation Portable, but, according to Sony insiders, decided against it because the technology wasn’t quite there yet. It’s not. That viewing angle is the bugaboo.

And how can you hold to that precise viewing angle when playing shooting games or even platformer games like Mario? Most games are made to be exciting, visceral experiences that take you from the real-life mundanity to a world where everything moves like rides at an amusement park. So holding steady is very difficult, to put it mildly.

The 3DS is best suited to a role playing game like the recently released The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time 3D. In that terrific, artful game, you move at your own pace and talk to townspeople as you level up – until you need to kill an enemy. That’s the time when you turn down the 3D with a small lever and shoot away in more traditional 2D.

Nintendo executives were taken aback by the poor sales of the DS (and the Wii as well) to the point of awed shock. In fact, they agreed to cuts in pay. In addition to getting the 3DS on track, they have a long, hard slog ahead in proselytizing to the world’s gamers that they need the new version of the Wii (which will be coming next year). WiiU is influenced by the iPad. In fact, it looks like an iPad with a console addition. Marketing this will be won’t be as easy as selling the Wii and its wireless, motion controller.

But there’s a zeal for WiiU to succeed because Nintendo’s worldwide president, Satoru Iwata, told audiences at the March Game Developers Conference that games for the iPad and iPhone were being sold too cheaply. Iwata would prefer to keep his $39.99 price for the 3DS games (and $49.99 (or more) for the upcoming version of the Wii).

The 3DS is generally a fine device beyond the 3D aspect. Among other features, it sports wireless functionality and a store in which you can purchase old school Nintendo games. Yet the success of Infinity Blade and Angry Birds for the iPad proves that many games (certainly not all) for the DS are overpriced. If that’s true, and if the 3DS doesn’t sell well at $170, Nintendo executives will be taking more than a pay cut. They’ll be shown the door. After all, it’s one thing to ride the wave of sales for a device like the Wii, which was so easy to play and understand that it sold itself. It’s another thing entirely to take a company on the downswing and make it the next big thing again.

Nintendo isn’t going anywhere. It’s not dying. Yet it’s wounded. Now’s the time for Sony and Microsoft to make their moves in the ever-evolving console wars. And even if one company does win, the winner may no longer take as much as 80 percent of the market as Atari, Nintendo and Sony have in the past. That’s because Apple is so successful with its little downloadable games. Apple’s not going to put the big three out of business. But they are taking a very healthy slice of the pie.

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There’s no doubt about it. Games can and do inspire other art forms. I write excitedly about it in my upcoming videogame book, All Your Base Are Belong to Us. And here’s more vivid proof: the dozen, little one-act Wii Plays currently showing at New York’s Ars Nova theater.

These young playwrights who have done good (through not always very good) work have riffed on games for inspiration. More, everything in the theater is drenched in games. Super Mirage, a Brooklyn band plays music as bouncy as Mario bounding from mushroom to mushroom. At intermission, a blurry, old Pac-Man cartoon loops on a huge screen. It’s a completely convivial atmosphere overall.

The first of the dozen plays shines. Here, actors Donnetta Lavinia Grays and Christopher Jackson are two young ex-lovers, meeting by chance at a coffee shop. They fire tight volleys of insults at each other – with Wii Tennis controllers in hand. But it’s not just about insults. By the time it’s over, you see the characters become introspective, even loving. Grays’ careful, nuanced reactions are particularly brilliant.

Buck Fever is inspired by hunting games, which have been a staple of arcades and consoles games for decades. In fact, Nintendo’s Duck Hunt was released way back in 1985. In Buck Fever, Zach Shaffer as Henry, kind of a lad-era Maxim guy, goes on various deer hunts with a friend. By the end of the play, Henry reveals some secrets, and hunting for him will never be the same again. Shaffer shows his thoughtful range throughout.

Some of the plays aren’t so good. Barbie As The Island Princess makes the iconic doll into a kind of feminist who’s not shy about cursing. Feminist Barbie isn’t a new idea, though. Most recently, for instance, you saw a thinking, feeling Barbie in Toy Story 3. So half the plays are worthy; half are so-so. Still, there are some fine lines in every play.

And for $15, you get to witness the work of some fine young actors and playwrights — in a completely rare event, plays inspired by videogames. The Wii Plays is at Manhattan’s Ars Nova Theater until February 12.

-Harold Goldberg

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Here’s a personal take on the 3DS, with links to a a few (but not all) of the previews I wrote for G4TV:

 

It’s got the Wow Factor, and it’s had it since last year’s E3. Now, thanks to a Nintendo press conference in downtown New York City, it’s got a release date of March 27th and a price of $250.

And, man, did the event have bells and whistles.

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime took the stage to say the 3DS “is not just the introduction of new technology…but an opening of a vast new world.” Gesturing with his hands, he said the 3DS is “a truly unique experience that isn’t available anywhere else.” He said that 30 games would be available for the 3DS during the time between launch and E3. But he didn’t say precisely which games would be launch date games. That, presumably, is the stuff for another press conference or press release.

Fils-Aime hasn’t hit a press conference with this kind of compelling bluster since he introduced the Nintendo Wii. Today, he really sounded like the powerful guy, who, upon his introduction as a Nintendo employee in May 2004, said, “My name is Reggie. I’m about kickin’ ass, I’m about takin’ names, and we’re about makin’ games.”

The press conference was more about makin’ tech. From easy Friend Codes to augmented reality via a half dozen special cards that come with the 3DS, the minutia just kept on coming. There are small things like a telescoping stylus, and bigger things like a pedometer mode that gives you bonus content for games – just by walking and keeping fit. “It’s a game changer,” said Fils-Aime, as he indicated that Nintendo hopes to sell one million 3DS’s by summer.

But Nintendo really needs a huge hit with the 3DS – partially due to the age of the Wii. If the Wii were a person, it would be called long in the tooth and old-ass. In fact, the innards of the Wii included older technology when it hit the market, certainly when compared to the two other consoles. And with the advent of Microsoft’s Kinect, the white box seems outdated.

The 3DS’s PR campaign itself has been fraught with occasional roadblocks. Its introduction was scooped online. And, more recently, Nintendo issued a statement calling for no kids under the age of six to play it because the 3D effect might harm their vision. Most recently, the three-to-five hour battery life has been the subject on much consternation.

Despite that, The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time is wise choice to reboot in 3D as a launch title. According to review aggregate websites, the game is the highest rated of the Zelda offerings. And Nintendo’s core, youngish audience may not have even played the original, now 12 years old. And it’s wondrously amazing to see in 3D. The craggy caves, the leafy trees, the clouds in the blue skies, the kooky characters – all these seem to thrive in a world full of depth that evokes wonder.

Kid Icarus: Uprising, another launch window title, is enthralling, but vertigo-inducing as well. Even though the logic puzzle game seems an odd choice for a 3D game, its amusement park setting might make the experience worthwhile. Even Steel Diver, a deceptively simple submarine shooting game, made me go ‘Wow’ in a mode that included raging storms on the high seas.

Yet it’s worrisome that many of the launch titles are reboots of the originals. Truly, the 3DS still has that Wow Factor. And it’s even more intriguing to note, according to Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto, that the 3DS might eventually be able to record video in 3D.

But that bell and whistle is down the line in the more distant future. Which, if any, of the titles, will make you want to go out and buy this ‘game changer’ in droves on launch day? Nintendogs + Cats, for instance, just didn’t do it in 3D. Although it was cute, it was no cuter than the original.

Madden in 3D looked marginally OK, but not great. Sometimes, I didn’t feel the 3D effect at all. And there’s no multiplayer, either, a big loss for fans of the landmark football series. During the press conference, EA’s Peter Moore stressed (via video) how excited he was to have Madden on the 3DS roster. But clearly, it needed more 3D-ness – and more game-ness.

So will the 3DS truly have a killer app out of the box and even in the first two months of its release? Right now, it could well be Zelda.

And a larger question: In these still-troubled times, is $250 really an affordable price of admission to this new world?

–Harold Goldberg

 

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