by Ken Gagne

Anything can go at E3. After the surprises of this morning's Sony conference, I was ready for anything when Nintendo got their 15 minutes. Though their lineup consisted of the many quality franchises that had the audience, myself included, bursting into wild applause, there was little that was unexpected.

George Harrison, senior vice president of marketing and corporate communications, offered some optimistic numbers, indicating growing sales for the GameCube platform and a strong future for the Game Boy, which has an existing library of 1,000 games and will include 20 games that feature GameCube connectivity by the end of the year. In video form, we were briefly exposed to GameCube games Mario Kart Double Dash; Pikmin 2; Pokemon Colosseum; Billy Hatcher & the Giant Egg; Wario World; and Star Fox; and Game Boy Advance games Pokemon Pinball Ruby & Sapphire; Wario Ware Inc.; Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3; and Donkey Kong Country. Sega's Billy Hatcher was the only third-party game shown, and Wario Ware received a surprising amount of applause, though many of its 200 mini-games apparently borrow from Nintendo's strong heritage, making it familiar to old-school gamers.

Despite Harrison's upbeat mood, Saturo Iwata, president of Nintendo Co. Ltd. since last May, was a bit more pessimistic — or perhaps simply more realistic.  He acknowledged many problems the GameCube has faced: lower-than-expected sales of not only the console, but leading titles such as Super Mario Sunshine and Metroid Prime; an unfortunate reputation with some gamers; and worry from some retailers and licensees. Though Nintendo has increased internal development in Kyoto and opened their first office in Tokyo, I did not feel the rest of the presentation addressed the issues which Iwata had chosen to admit. Regardless, videos of some impressive third-party titles then rolled.

Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike, developed by Factor 5 and published by LucasArts, is another Star Wars flying game, though now includes third-person, foot-based missions, such as Luke Skywalker infiltrating an Imperial base to save Princess Leia. On the moon of Endor, he will ride a speeder bike and perhaps pilot an AT-ST, and when we return to Hoth, he can ride a tauntaun and toss thermal detonators into the bellies of AT-ATs.  Missions from Rogue Leader will be revisited in two-player, split-screen mode.

Another important publisher, Capcom, surfaced with video of Resident Evil 4, which appears to take a turn to the occult. The biological zombies are this time accompanied by less corporeal spirits, one which menaces Leon Kennedy with a scythe. Shinji Makami suggests, "Don't pee your pants."

Will Wright, inventor of The Sims, was present to announce that the best-selling PC game of all time will be adapted to the GameCube and Game Boy and will feature connectivity, though neither version was shown in any formats.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, originally a GBA title, will now become a four-player GameCube game. As four Links compete for rupees, they can disappear from the television and reappear on a player's Game Boy when they move off-screen, such as into a cave or house. The GBA Four Swords cartridge is not needed.

Another connectivity-enabled title, this one developed by Shigeru Miyamoto himself but licensed by Namco, will be a GameCube Pac-Man game in which players alternate being Pac-Man and evading the other three gamers, who control the ghosts. Both this title and Four Swords look like fun multiplayer games, but appear rather simplistic in nature and require much hardware to get the most fun. If priced appropriately, they may be successes.

For details on the Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes video that was shown, see the Gamebits report on the Konami conference.

Other titles were shown: Soul Calibur II; Viewtiful Joe; P.N. 03; The Hobbit; 1080 Avalanche (no longer called White Storm); and F-Zero GX, all for GameCube. Most surprising was a very brief video of an immaterial alien nearly impaling a well-known bounty hunter and thrashing her to the ground. Metroid Prime 2 is official!

Mentioned in the press releases but nowhere else were other mysterious titles: Metroid Mission Zero for Game Boy Advance and The Legend of Zelda: Tetra's Trackers, presumably for GameCube. Also documented was Mario & Luigi, a comic adventure for the two brothers on GBA. Why omit these big-name titles from the conference?

It's the unexpected it seems in which Nintendo must engage. Harrison had assured us that "Donkey Kong will remain a lovable ape; Link will never lose hope; and Mario will never start shooting hookers." But if these games aren't selling, why is Nintendo making sequels to them? What must change? I am happy with the quality and substance of Nintendo's games, but it's more than just Vice City that Sony holds over them. Can Nintendo remain a major player in the hardware market?

This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Gamebits, 13-May-03