Nintendo: Shiny happy people

Like many of the revelations at the show however, these ‘announcements’ pretty much just confirmed what we already knew or suspected.

For a start, why wouldn’t he be happy? The DS and the Wii are, the biggest selling consoles in the world right now. And both have been at the vanguard of Nintendo’s chief corporate goal; expanding the demographic of the video games sector.

Fils-Aime revealed figures that show the video games market up 56 per cent in the US, 42 per cent in the UK and 114 per cent in Japan.

Sales of handheld formats have risen to account for 50 per cent of all unit sales, from 30 per cent in 2002. He went on to show that one in three Nintendo players is female, compared to an industry average of one in five; and that the percentage of Nintendo players aged 25 plus has gone up from 14 (in 2005) to 24.

Away from the numbers, the star attraction of the conference was Wii Fit (due 2008 in Europe), presented by Shigeru Miyamoto himself.

It seems that having whipped our minds into shape via Brain Training, Nintendo is now looking to work on our bodies. Wii Fit is a collection of activities, usually based around aerobics or yoga, designed to help players gently work out. It comes complete with a new peripheral, the Wii Balance Board, which is pressure sensitive and monitors progress according to factors such as BMI (Fils-Aime came in at a built-for-comfort 27.51, incidentally).

The best bit of the demo was Fils-Aime and Miyamoto competing to connect with headers as a series of balls flew towards their on-screen Mii and they swayed and manoeuvred on the board.

At other times everything looked a little too far removed from what we think of as gaming, but if one company can redraw the boundaries of content and audience, it’s Nintendo. Stick Ubisoft’s My Life Coach on DS in the same category. I mean, it sounds daft, it probably shouldn’t work. But…

Back on more familiar turf, the firm showed Mario Galaxy (Q4) and claimed it was the first worthy successor to Mario 64”. And when Mario Kart Wii (early 2008) was shown, Aime held up a new peripheral, the Wii Wheel, which will come bundled with the title.

The ghosts of E3s past, however, were only roused when he announced that it would utilise Nintendo’s wi-fi connection. Whooping ensued. Nothing crazy, but definite whooping. For a wi-fi announcement. Sign of the times, definitely.

Other software highlights included Super Smash Bros Brawl and Metroid Prime 3 on Wii and The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass on the DS.

A third new peripheral was launched in the shape of the Wii Zapper, essentially casing for the Remote and Nunchuck which also acts as a light gun. It makes first person shooter gameplay simpler and will feature soon in conjunction with Capcom’s Resident Evil: Chronicles, Sega’s Ghost Squad and EA’s Medal of Honor.

Nintendo namechecked a lot of third parties and showed a lot of their games. It knows this has been a weakness in the past, and is doing its best to rectify that.

Fils-Aime finished by telling us that this is Nintendo’s time to lead, that it is creating games that are stealing time away from other leisure pursuits.

Like Microsoft, Nintendo is trying to fill the void created by a sluggish Sony by claiming market leadership, not just in terms of unit sales, but in terms of direction and agenda-setting. It’s expanding the market – for everyone. Maybe even for Sony and Microsoft.

A couple of E3s ago, most people’s rather patronising prognosis was that whilst PS3 and Xbox 360 contested the heavyweight crown, Nintendo could bring up the rear as the quirky alternative. Screw quirky. Nintendo is sparring with the best of them.

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