The future of video gaming crystallized this week at the video game industry’s annual E3 trade show, and, not surprisingly, it’s an expensive one. Here’s a quick rundown of new hardware shown off by Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony. All three had been previously announced, but this is the first time they’ve all been together in one place, playable by large numbers of people.
3DS steals the show: From a technical standpoint, Nintendo’s latest version of its DS handheld – still only in a prototype stage – blew me away. It’s a handheld gaming device that lets you play games in 3D without the use of glasses, people. This thing is going to be huge.
I got my hands on the 3DS, sampled gameplay from “Nintendogs and Cats” and “Pilotwings Resort” and watched tech demos of “Paper Mario,” “Metal Gear Solid” and “Animal Crossing.” In short, the handheld looks well on its way to being amazing. It’s got a bigger top screen than the current model of the DS, and the 3D features kind of blew my mind a little. The only thing that’s a bit tricky is you have to be situated at the correct angle relative to the screen or the image becomes blurrier the more off-center you get. That said, several of the titles I tried appeared to have some wiggle room, making the issue of finding a proper viewing angle one of hitting the sweet zone rather than the sweet spot. This zone should only expand as Nintendo continues to tweak the hardware.
No release date has been announced, but the list of third-party publishers lining up to create games in 3D was impressive. In addition to a “Metal Gear Solid” game, Nintendo said we should expect titles from the “Saint’s Row,” “Resident Evil” and “Dead or Alive” franchises. I mention these not because they’re the best, but because they’re all largely M-rated franchises that might struggle if they were to release for the current DSi. The industry appears to be lining up behind this.
The ability to watch 3D Hollywood movies and use dual cameras on the outside of the device to take 3D photos are merely ridiculous, “But wait, there’s more!”-style bullet points from infomercials of yore. There’s no release date, price or even final hardware specifications yet, but don’t expect the 3DS to come in much under $200.
Will Kinect live up to the hype?: Microsoft undoubtedly spent a lot of money on their bizarre, Cirque du Soleil rollout of Kinect. Formerly known as Project Natal, the new piece of hardware for the Xbox 360 features cameras, mobile sensors and voice recognition and will allow gaming without a controller. Obviously, a controller-free gaming experience has the potential to achieve the kind of popular success the simple-to-use Wii has. But there are a few catches.
For one, Kinect is an add-on, not a console itself. So gamers will have to first own an Xbox 360, and then pick up Kinect. And that combined entry point is sure to surpass the Wii’s launch price of $300. Secondly, most of the games shown so far at E3 are merely slightly tweaked versions of games we already have. I saw at least three “Wii Sports” clones during the show’s first two days. Here’s the thing: “Wii Sports” was revolutionary when it launched back in 2006. Now, though? It’s just another game, and the millions of folks who bought a Wii because they were intrigued by “Wii Sports” aren’t going to blow several hundred more dollars so they can play the same thing all over again. Additionally, not all the controller-free games make sense. Let’s face it. If you’re playing tennis with nothing in your hands, you’re playing handball.
Kinect makes sense as a purchase for current Xbox 360 owners who want new experiences. It’s got a ton of potential as a social networking device or even a business tool. But for gamers to adopt it, it’s going to need a library of great titles that go beyond stuff we’ve already seen. A few of the launch titles, such as a pet-raising sim called “Kinectimals,” show promise but hardly look like sure things yet. So where are the fresh ideas? How about “A Kinecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” or “The French Kinection?”
Kinect will be out in early November, but the price remains a mystery.
Sony keeps Moving: At press time, the PlayStation’s upcoming Move motion control was the only new console hardware I didn’t handle in-person, but it’s also the one I have the most confidence in. Why? Nintendo’s already proved that motion controls can be incredible, and Sony has already done great things with the EyeToy on the PS2 and the Eye on PS3. It’s pretty clear that, for all intents and purposes, this honing of existing technology is going to make Move a sort of Wii HD. Heck, Sony’s even taking a page out of the Nintendo playbook and selling the controller in two parts, with a combined retail price of $80, and that doesn’t include the PlayStation Eye camera.
High price point aside, the slate of games set to work with Move, due out Sept. 19 in the U.S., is robust and impressive, including first-person shooters like “Killzone 3,” the “EyePet” pet-raising sim and a new, Harry Potter-inspired action game called “Sorcery.”
Xbox 360 slims down: In addition to showing off Kinect, Microsoft took the wrapping off a sleeker model of the Xbox 360, which comes with built-in WiFi and a 250 gigabyte-hard drive. It’ll still cost you $300, though. It’s already in stores, so to make room, all the “old” hardware has been discounted $50 or so at most retailers. It might be a good time to pick up that second Arcade unit for another room of the house.