[Game On] From Wii Speak to 'Final Fantasy,' E3 Lets Gamers Glimpse at Their Next Obsessions

Diminished Expo-tations
E3 revelations are hit and miss—unless you really dig chopping wood

For gamers, E3—the Electronics Entertainment Expo—is Christmas in July, only you don't have to endure the Family Dinner From Hell while your new toys gather dust under the tree.

Translation: It's geek nirvana.

The annual industry gathering, held last week in LA, isn't the chaotic, nerd version of Sturgis it used to be. It's now limited to stuffy press types like us. And there are no booth babes to chuckle at stuffy press types' stammering. But it's still where companies reveal their biggest—and, occasionally, most terrible—products for the coming year. So now that you're bored with Wii Fit, Halo 3 and, well, whatever's fun on the PlayStation 3—what's next?

The Nintendo Wii announced "Wii Speak," a tiny microphone that finally brings online voice chatting to the console. Wii Speak will be initially utilized in the long-awaited Animal Crossing: City Folk. You remember Animal Crossing—it's The Sims with guitar-playing dogs and backbreaking labor.

Nintendo followed this news with another hardware announcement: the "Motion Plus" attachment for your Wiimote. This device makes your Wiimote . . . more motion-y? We're honestly not sure. What we do know is the built-in accelerometer is supposed to give players a true "1:1 controller experience." This means your slightest movements are reflected onscreen, in true real time.

And how will Nintendo unleash this mind-boggling and groundbreaking console technology? With a Lightsaber game? A white-knuckle flight simulator? Nope—that would be too obviously awesome. Instead, get ready for Wii Sports Resort, an all-inclusive snooze fest that will include Frisbee, water-skiiing and wood chopping. "It's literally a day at the beach," Nintendo proudly announced, at which point we put the Wii Zapper in our mouths and pulled the trigger.

Meanwhile, Microsoft announced a major upheaval of its Xbox Live interface, scrapping the hard-to-navigate tab system with one that looks, ironically, exactly like its rival, iTunes. It also adds cute avatars—à la the Wii's Mii system—so a cartoon version of yourself can hang out with other animated goofballs during game sessions. Sure, Xbox stole all these ideas, but at least they're teaming up with Netflix to bring you downloadable rentals this year. Baby's Day Out and Killing Mrs. Tingle on your Xbox hard drive? Finally!

Also, the next major Final Fantasy sequel (No. 13, if you're counting) is coming to the Xbox 360—a blockbuster franchise exclusive to only Sony and Nintendo consoles in the past. In geek-speak: "Level Up, bitches!"

And speaking of Sony's diminishing standing, the PlayStation 3 brought up the rear with some major disappointments: Their "Home" virtual landscape has major delays. Gaming's artistic triumph, Little Big World, is still delayed until October. The PS3 price had dropped to a totally affordable $400, including 80 GB of storage (rather than the 40 GB suckers paid for initially. And you still can't play your PS2 games on it). The good news? A video rental/purchase service has already launched, so long as you don't mind waiting an hour for a download.

Still, the just-announced God of War 3 should keep PS3 owners happy as Wii owners suddenly realize, "I paid $200 to throw a goddamned Frisbee and chop wood? What the hell is an accelerometer?"  

In short, E3 gave us hope that it's going to be a great year for games—except for, you know, the systems the games are actually played on. 

 
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