E3 2011 Recap the Hits and Misses – Sony Vita, Wii U, and More

E3 2011 is done and over with, but the fun of speculating about the big reveals of the event and analyzing fine details of systems and games that won’t see the light of day for months, if not years, is just beginning! The Los Angeles Convention Center bore witness to some mostly anticipated announcements and a few real surprises. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights from the show.

Nintendo Wii U Controller

No sense in waiting to get to the biggest news of the event. The Wii U is the official name of Nintendo’s new console, expected to hit stores late 2012, hopefully before the flames of the December 21st apocalypse ignite. Like the Wii unveiling of 2005, the console itself took a backseat to the controller – a large handheld device sporting a 6.2” touchscreen, with dual analog sticks, trigger and shoulder buttons, and face buttons and a D-pad that resemble those of the DS line. For a controller, it has an awful lot of functionality – you can choose to play your game on the controller itself, use it as a motion device – you can apparently even make video calls with it!

Hit: The touchscreen controller is a lot lighter and more comfortable than it looks, and the ability to continue playing a game on your controller if someone else needs the TV is pretty cool. There’s tons of potential here, but…

Miss: Will that potential be fully realized, unlike the Wii? Also, what we don’t know – pricing and online service – are going to be make or break the Wii U, particularly the latter. After all, hordes of Nintendo fans are still trying to cope with the crushing disappointment that was online Super Smash Brothers Brawl.

Nintendo Wii U is Full HD

The Wii U will be 1080p capable, and is rumored to be more powerful than the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. Nintendo remained tight-lipped on the official specs, but AMD is making the GPU, and the CPU is based on technology used in Watson, the genius supercomputer that ran Ken Jennings out of  Alex Trebek’s house a while back.

Hit: More power means more third-party interest, and more incentive for the ‘hardcore’ gaming crowd to come back into the fold. Also, that Zelda tech demo looked fantastic!

Miss: As for the other games announced for the Wii U – it was later revealed that Nintendo used XBOX 360 and PS3 footage in some of their montages, because Wii U footage doesn’t exist yet. Not a good look.

PlayStation Vita

Sony’s Next Generation Portable was officially outed as the PlayStation Vita, a new version of the PSP that features touchscreen controls and dual analog sticks. There will be a 3G compatible version, and is backward compatible with all PSP games. PS3 games might even be ported to the PS Vita, including saving compatibility between both devices. There’s no doubt the PS Vita can handle the bigger games – it’s a very powerful little machine. Also, at $250, and $300 for the 3G version, it’s coming in at less than what was expected. Not that it’s cheap, of course. It should hit stores sometime early 2012.

Hit: A strong line-up of upcoming games, including a BioShock title, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and LittleBigPlanet, makes the machine look good for some quality gaming time.

Miss: There’s just not a lot the Vita is bringing to the table that we haven’t seen before. They’ve been beaten to the punch with touch controls, and while dual analog sticks is nice, word is not all games will even use them.

The New Xbox Live Experience

XBOX Live is getting another redesign, which looks a lot like the early looks of Windows 8. That means clear-cut rectangles are everywhere – but also means things are neatly organized. That’s not important. What’s important is that Bing, YouTube, and live television are all coming to Xbox Live, along with full voice controls. You’ll actually be able to say “Xbox Live Bing Domino’s,” followed by “Xbox Live watch live television.” It all happens sans controller. If that doesn’t sound like a perfect night, I don’t know what does. The update kicks in mid-late 2011.

Hit: Full voice controls figure to be a blast to use, and should make things in the living room a lot easier.

Miss: Not much to hate on here, this seems like a pretty solid move for Microsoft, even if it’s not the most game-changing one.

Sony’s Really, Really Sorry, Guys. Seriously.

Sony Computer Entertainment’s Jack Tretton actually did seem pretty sorry in his E3 speech, apologizing once again for the disastrous hacking and subsequent takedown of the PlayStation Network that dragged on for weeks. Tretton’s speech was delivered with a strong show of emotion, thanking PS3 users for their patience and support, and calling them the “lifeblood of the company.” Granted, Sony needing to apologize so often is akin to a bank needing to apologize profusely for getting robbed, but the show of contrition was still the right thing to do, especially given Sony’s total failure to communicate the severity of the problem to its customers.

Hit: Yeah, Sony’s security could have been better, but it seems odd to completely blame the victim in this case. Regardless, Sony has made some peace offerings, and this apology seems like the right punctuation mark on the ordeal.

Miss: Unfortunately, that punctuation mark might be a comma. New threats against Sony have already been made, and some have been delivered on.

Better With Kinect!

Those three words started popping up a lot in this year’s E3, on some of the biggest titles for the Xbox 360. What does it mean? Depends on the game. Using your Kinect with Mass Effect 3 will allow you to issue voice commands to squad-mates and verbally select conversation choices for Shepherd. EA Sports games will receive the upgrade, including verbal audibles for the Madden franchise. Ghost Recon will allow voice and gesture commands to reconfigure weapons on the fly, and to actually shoot and reload. Sounds like Better With Kinect might mean a little more than just cheap advertising.

Hit: Voice commands to your squad-mates or teammates sounds like it’s going to make for an exciting, immersive gaming experience.

Miss: Firing your weapon in Ghost Recon requires…jazz hands? So much for immersion.

New Friends, Old Favorites Headed to the Wii U

No surprises here, but Nintendo has some new iterations of their best franchises coming to the Wii U. We’ll be seeing Pikmin 3 and a new Super Smash Bros at some point. The surprises came with the suddenly serious looking third-party support Nintendo is amassing. Ninja Gaiden 3 is headed to the Wii U, taking full advantage of the new controller while finally supporting the sharp visuals that Nintendo has been lacking for some time. Assassins’ Creed is said to have a Wii U version in the works, too.

Hit: Nintendo needs some help now that the Wii is slowing down badly. The third-party support could give it a boost.

Miss: Those old favorites? Don’t hold your breath – Nintendo somewhat awkwardly admitted after the presentation that Pikmin 3 and Super Smash Bros are not yet in the works. The development teams haven’t even been put together.

Everyone’s Dancing

The Just Dance series, which has been a hit on the Wii console for the first two games, is now headed to all three platforms. In Just Dance 3, out on October 11th of this year, the Wii will have four-player choreographies, while Xbox 360 owners will score rewards for singing along thanks to the Kinect. Harmonix’ Dance Central series continues with Dance Central 2, out late 2011, which will take advantage of the Kinect again – only this time more than one person can dance at the same time. You can have sweet choreographed dance routines with your best friends all night long. Hey, the Harmonix presenters made it look pretty fun.

Hit: True multiplayer dancing is a guaranteed hit at any party, anywhere, except maybe for a LAN party. Even then, it’s a toss-up.

Miss: PlayStation 3 gets no special goodies in Just Dance 3.

Tomb Raider Rebooted Again

The world seems to be unwilling to let the Tomb Raider franchise die, as yet another revamped version of the long-running series is in the works. This one just might be worth the while, though. Crystal Dynamics seems set on making Lara Croft a (gasp!) real character, who, you know, struggles, and seems remotely human, and minor things like that. This younger, inexperienced version of Lara will be shipwrecked on an island, and will need to fight through her surroundings and figure out how to survive as she goes – with some cringe-inducing encounters along the way. The game should be released mid-late 2012.

Hit: A true, developed Lara Croft character is a fantastic and long overdue idea, and it’s nice to see Crystal Dynamics make it a central goal. In case you don’t think they’re serious, they’ve done away with the scantily-clad real-life models often used to sell the game, too.

Miss: The Tomb Raider revival has been tried with mixed results in the past. We’ll see what happens this time.

Halo 4

What’s there to say? It’s another Halo. It’s the start of a new trilogy, so there’s going to be a lot more Halo, too. Master Chief’s back in action sometime in 2012.

Hit: Great, more Halo!

Miss: Great…more Halo.