E3 2012: Nintendo, Sony Push Game-Centric Strategies

A day after Microsoft previewed its largely media-oriented strategy for what is expected to be the final year of the Xbox 360, the software giant’s chief rivals talked up their own plans for the 2012 holidays. And both Nintendo and Sony are pushing decidedly game-centric strategies.

Nintendo led the way with an interesting 30-minute pre-E3 video in which it showed off changes it has made to its forthcoming Wii U video game console since its first announcement last year at E3 2011. The Wii U will ship with a large gamepad, featuring a second screen that can be used in truly unique ways. In one demo, the Wii U gamepad was placed on the floor, displaying a golf ball; the user swung an invisible golf club, and the ball sped through the air (virtually) on the HDTV, which was connected to the actual console.

The Wii U gamepad also features dual analog sticks (missing from last year’s prototype), an NFC reader and writer, and a TV control button that lets the gamepad function like a giant remote control.

The Wii U will eventually be supported by a social networking service called Miiverse—like “Mii universe”—that will send text messages, screenshots, and even handwritten notes to other users, so you can ask for help in a game or simply hang out, at least virtually.

Nintendo is also apparently making its strongest push yet for hardcore gamers, the types of players who, to date, have gravitated to the Xbox 360 or Sony PlayStation products. It will release an Xbox 360-like Pro controller for the Wii-U that will enable more complex and perhaps more graphic shooter-like titles common on other platforms.

As for Sony, the struggling consumer electronics giant doesn’t have any new video game machines to foist on gamers this year, so it instead continued to promote its current PlayStation 3 console and Vita handheld gaming machine. But there are some changes. A new feature called PS3/PS Vita Cross-Play will allow some games—including PlayStation All-Stars—to work simultaneously across both devices or pick up a game from one platform later on the other. And a curious new add-on called WonderBook somehow combines physical books with augmented reality and … well, it was pretty unclear. And very strange.

Both Sony gaming devices are being bolstered with new titles this year, including a new BlackOps: Declassified title for the Vita that brings Call of Duty goodness to the mobile space. Like Assassin’s Creed: Liberation for Vita, BlackOps: Declassified is a separate game from the console and PC version, however. Sony is also bringing PlayStation 1 classics to the Vita this year.

But no PlayStation game was more eagerly anticipated, perhaps, than Beyond: Two Souls, from Heavy Rain maker Quantic Dream. This interactive gaming title, like a few others shown off during the Sony press conference, highlighted the PlayStation 3's superior graphics, its one true advantage over the Xbox 360, and an important one as this generation of consoles winds down.

Sony did briefly dive into Microsoft territory, noting that its PlayStation Network offered “more services” than any other platform. In addition to Sony’s own video service, PSN provides access to Amazon Instant Video, CinemaNow, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Vudu, MLB.TV, and NHL GameCenter. A small subset of these services is even coming to the portable Vita this year, Sony noted, including YouTube and Hulu Plus.

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