E3: Nintendo Announces Wii Vitality Sensor, New Mario and Metroid Games

Attempting to snatch the E3 games spotlight back from Microsoft, Nintendo dropped a few head-turners of its own this morning. After a pop-pulsing montage of lifestyle clips strobing from multiple tubes, Nintendo Executive Vice President Cammie Dunaway strode onstage in a stylish white suit to sing about sales data before turning to the show lineup. Nintendo's theme? "Create, surprise."

The Safe Surprise: New Super Mario Bros Wii

"If there's an icon for video games, it's Mario," said Nintendo. Anyone disagree? "Mario 3D was great, but we haven't quite figured out how to move him into the fourth dimension," said Dunaway, teasing the number four as the key to Mario's next surprise: New Super Mario Bros, a co-op side-scroller for up to four players.

The demo looked like Old Super Mario Bros. with a few Super Smash Bros tricks: Grab and carry other players or throw them at enemies (or, if you're feeling naughty, into pits). When people lose a life, they come back inside a bubble: If you're nice, you can let them out. If not, you can leave 'em trapped. The game includes classic warp pipes, hidden areas, and tons of coins to collect (you'll have to fight for 'em, though). There's even a new power suit--give it a shake, and you'll shoot up into sky before slowly drifting down.

Available? Holiday 2009.

The Lifestyle Level-Up: Wii Fit Plus

Next up, Nintendo debuted Wii Fit Plus, an update to the bestselling original with six new strength and yoga activities and the option to queue up exercises in any order. Repeat the ones you find helpful, omit interludes between exercises, target specific body areas for strengthening or toning, keep track of the total calories you've burned--they're clearly emphasizing customizability. New balance games, too, like juggling, skateboarding, and one called "Perfect 10" where you have to swing your hips in different directions to choose number combinations that add up to 10.

Said Dunaway: "Think of it as Brain Age for your backside."

Wii Fit Plus arrives this fall, bundled with the Wii Balance Board, or stand-alone for current board owners.

The Retread: Wii Motion Plus

Nintendo American President Reggie Fils-Aime was up next, saying the company's "primary weapon in all of this is interface." Weapon? A bit aggressive for Nintendo, but then the company needed to be. They couldn't resist a subtle dig at Microsoft, either, saying "On video you can do anything." Indeed.

Unfortunately what followed was mostly a rehash of everything we already knew about Nintendo's Wii Motion Plus add-on for the Wii-remote, with a few Wii Sports Resort reveals (swordfighting, basketball, jet skiing, archery) to illustrate the 1-to-1 control scheme. Applause was tepid.

The demo showing you jumping out of an airplane, Pilotwings-like, was much cooler. You can turn and twist in the air, grab ahold of other Wii skydivers, dive straight down to speed up your descent, then flatten out to grab your pals again. "As you can see, it's a lot of fun," said Fils-Aime, adding somewhat ironically that "Every mistake you make will be faithfully reflected in the game."

Wii Sports Resort launches on July 22nd in the United States.

The Portable Push

What's even bigger than the Wii? The Nintendo DS, and Nintendo devoted plenty of show time talking up handheld (albeit already announced) titles, like an exclusive "special edition" version of Kingdom Hearts, available on September 29th for DS, Zelda: Spirit Tracks, of course, and Mario and Luigi RPG: Bowser's Inside Story. One I'm pretty sure is new: Golden Sun DS, a new Golden Sun RPG, rendered in full 3D, coming 2010.

Other tidbits:

Women's Murder Club: Games of Passion, a murder-mystery game based on the James Patterson novel. Uncover hidden clues, analyze scientific evidence, and interrogate suspects to reveal secret motives.

Cop: The Recruit, in which you play a young New York cop forced undercover, taking on a terrorist leader bent on wiping out the city.

Style Savvy, a fashion sales game that lets you sell more than 10,000 items, customize your shop, compete in runway contests, and shop in other players' boutiques.

FlipNoteStudio, a scratchboard-style movie-making tool, available for Nintendo DSi owners this summer.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again. LittleBigPlanet meets Lemmings? That's almost what it looked like. Set traps, grab power-ups, upload creations to friends locally or via Nintendo Wi-Fi. Available June 8th as a DSi-ware download.

Warioware DIY, a do-it-yourself design tool that lets you cobble together your own games from scratch.

Most important handheld announcement? Probably Facebook for DSi (two platforms down and counting), allowing you to upload photos snapped with the DSi itself. We'll probably remember this E3 as the year social networking (the good and somewhat-less-good bits) invaded your living room.

The Philosophy Lecture

Nintendo Global President Satoru Iwata dropped by for a slightly theory-heavy interlude, responding to the recently intimations by analysts and in the media that Nintendo's star is "beginning to fade."

Nintendo, said Iwata, divides the total population into three groups: (1) Active gamers, (2) those who say they'll never play games, and (3) those who say they might play some day. Where's Nintendo focused? On the number three, i.e. the "maybes."

"For every two people now playing, there's one more waiting to jump in," said Iwata, adding that the company wants to create individual games that can satisfy every kind of game player, while recognizing that the audience is more diverse than ever.

The Quirky Sneak Peek: Wii Vitality Sensor

We got only a glimpse of this, but the Wii Vitality Sensor sounds kinda-sorta intriguing. Think dime-store gimmicky stress-measuring tool, without the gimmicky bits (one would hope, that is). Insert your finger and it recognizes your pulse, which might facilitate other less obvious metrics.

According to Iwata, it's much more than a heartbeat gauge, it's a multi-physiological feedback tool. How nervous are you? How focused on the task at hand? And so on. "These things are normally invisible," he said, implying we'll eventually see games that interact with us at the biological level. Still, we're talking high concept at this point, zero demonstrated application, which makes me wonder why we saw it at all.

The One You've Been Waiting For: Super Mario Galaxy 2

We finally got a glimpse (but alas, just a glimpse) of a new "hardcore" Mario game, and it already looks like Mario Galaxy meets Mario 64. Think 64's more continuous (if delightfully surreal) realms intermixed with Galaxy's smaller, globe-like planetoids. The video displayed Mario running through garden levels, donning a bee suit, skidding across frozen lakes and dashing through snowy settings. The upside, it's a full-blown Mario game. The downside? It looks an awful lot like Mario's Greatest Hits.

The 'Other' One You've Been Waiting For: Metroid--The Other M

For the finale, Fils-Aime played a video that began with a storm-tossed ocean, before pulling up above the clouds to reveal the Team Ninja + Nintendo logo. Ninja Gaiden 2 for Wii? Better. Next: Outer space, whirling asteroids, massive explosions, a full-body-armored female protagonist, and...it's Metroid--The Other M!

Think hybrid platformer with a third-person angle. Metroid Gaiden? Maybe, and wouldn't it be cool if they pulled it off? Coming 2010. Per Fils-Aime, it's "A Metroid game unlike any experienced before," that'll take us deeper into Samus's story and dishes new info about Nintendo's ever-expanding Metroid universe.

And that's it for Nintendo. Not quite as thrilling as Microsoft's show, but an impressively diverse lineup nonetheless.

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