Image: Nintendo.

Unlike their rivals, the team at Nintendo had plenty of surprises in store for their E3 2011 conference, and most of them impressed and excited upon reveal. There’s no doubt that when this E3 is looked back upon, the most vivid memories will all be of Nintendo’s show.

I felt the conference began rather slowly with the bits about Zelda‘s 25th Anniversary. Sure, there were a number of announcements, including a Zelda concert series and Four Swords coming to DSiWare, but none of it got me pumped the way an E3 conference should.

This was followed by 3DS game announcements, and that did a lot to draw me in. The biggest surprise was the reveal that Luigi was back for Luigi’s Mansion 2 on the system. Super Mario 3DS got a proper unveiling as well, and that looks like a beautiful blend of Super Mario Bros. 3 with Mario Galaxy. Seeing the progress on Mario Kart 3DS and Kid Icarus: Uprising was nice as well.

Third party 3DS support was also shown, with a sizzle reel containing footage from things like Resident Evil: Revelations, Tetris, Tekken 3D, and Cave Story 3D all impressing.

This was followed by the biggest news of E3 by far, the reveal of Nintendo’s next home system: Wii U. The name itself was received pretty poorly by the enthusiast crowd, but I think we’ll grow used to it quickly enough for it not to matter.

Of course, the controller was the star of the show, although it does exactly what the rumours indicated it would. Wii U’s controller comes equipped with a 6.2″ touch screen, two thumb sticks, a directional pad, four face buttons, and four shoulder buttons, along with a camera, speaker, microphone, and accelerometer.

The Wii U will be able to output to a TV like a normal system, but will also be capable of streaming gameplay to the system’s controller.

The system itself will be capable of HD graphics (on par and ahead of current gen systems, although by how much is still unclear).

Software shown for the system was extremely early, with Reggie repeatedly reminding the audience that this was tech demo stuff only, not actual forthcoming software.

Ideas like moving the menus in sports games and the HUDs in shooters to the controller were suggested. The potential of dividing players between controllers and TV to create new experiences was also explored in demos like a sort-of Mario “tag.”

I was impressed that Nintendo brought out a representative from EA to discuss the new console, it was something new for the company. Although Nintendo’s show didn’t live up to the full pre-conference hype when it came to third party support, this act, along with all the third party ports shown, were strong indicators that third parties will be fully on board Wii U.

Considering the fact that the Wii U won’t be out for a year or more, I thought what was shown was plenty impressive enough. Giving the audience a taste of what to expect from the gameplay innovations offered was exactly what was needed.

My only disappointment was the lack of Wii software shown. With Wii U still a year or so off, it would have been nice to see more than Skyward Sword on the way. It will be rough going that long without all of the currently Japanese and European exclusive Wii games sitting on Nintendo’s shelf.

It’s undeniable that Nintendo “won” this year’s E3. Of course, not all the credit can go to the company, as Sony and Microsoft were so dull in their conferences that they lost this thing all on their own.

Final Score:

Evaluating Nintendo’s E3 2011 Conference