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E3: Nintendo Roundtable Focuses on 3DS, But Offers Broader Insight
E3: Nintendo Roundtable Focuses on 3DS, But Offers Broader Insight
June 7, 2011 | By Christian Nutt

At Nintendo's E3 roundtable, Nintendo EAD general manager Shigeru Miyamoto used it as an opportunity to talk about the 3DS, rather than the just-announced Wii U -- opening with an Ocarina of Time trailer and closing with Luigi's Mansion 2 -- and very good Q&A.

"Today, I am very tired. And I'm a little worried I may forget what I want to talk to you about," Miyamoto said, before launching into recollections about the development of Nintendo 64 hit The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, soon to launch on the Nintendo 3DS.

For example, he noted that the game's writing is better than he remembered it, but joked that it may be too late to finally compliment the developers for the work they did in 1998.

Another port, Star Fox 64 3D, got attention next. "People refer to Star Fox as a space shooting or dogfighting game, but when I play it, what I find fun is how you fly around or through objects and spaces," said Miyamoto -- something which works well on the 3DS.

He spoke of the divide between gamers who want the stick, in flight games, to have the plane move up or move down. "The people with their hands up in the air are people who grew up on Sega games," Miyamoto joked.

This dilemma also hit Ocarina of Time's slingshot -- so Miyamoto had the developers implement gyro control on both games. "I thought, 'This is my chance to bring the world together!'" he said. Star Fox, however, has hybrid controls -- left-to-right with the stick, not the gyro, to "keep the 3D visuals in focus," as players moving the system that way will distort the visuals.

Next up, Miyamoto segued into a discussion of Maro Kart for 3DS -- noting that the game is "running at 60 frames per second and feels great," and that the Texas-based, Nintendo-owned Retro Studios is "helping out" with courses on the title: "thanks to them, you can play it later this year."

Interestingly, Miyamoto observed that when it comes to the 3DS, "We think that it's fair that people might say, 'I want to play in 2D anyway,' and turn the depth slider off... And that's why the depth slider is there." He did urge the audience to make sure to turn it back on for cinematic moments in Ocarina of Time, however.

Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma came out to discuss The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but the two first traded quips about the Ocarina of Time Water Temple, and the notoriously awkward menu system which made equipping the Iron Boots a "pain in the butt," per Aonuma, continuing a thread from last year's roundtable. "I told him to change the difficulty," said Miyamoto, but Aonuma declined -- just refining the UI instead.

Switching to Skyward Sword, Aonuma demoed the game to showcase gameplay elements he felt journalists might miss playing the game on the show floor -- between the press conference and this event, the company is emphasizing the robustness and variety of the Wii's second Zelda game.

Aonuma joked that in the demo dungeon, he broke the key Link must quest for into five chunks "because it seemed like a good number," acknowledging the arbitrary nature of RPG quests. "But it's fun to search for," Miyamoto remarked. Nintendo makes very video gamey games -- and is secure enough in this to joke about it too, apparently.

An example of the volume of content the team has put into the game was in the "Siren" demo, which shows Link entering an entirely different dimension to solve puzzles -- a "mysterious world," in Aonuma's words. "Last year I mentioned I really wanted to try some different ideas and concepts in Skyward Sword, and now the areas that even lead to the dungeons are there for you to solve," he said.

"Typically when you've been to an area in a Zelda game you solve the puzzles... And then move on... because you've done everything you need to do there. But this time there will be new puzzles to solve... in areas you have been to before," Aonuma said.

"This is a game that you can play for a very long period of time, and it's one where understanding the map of the world is going to make the game much more interesting to play, so we've spent a lot of effort on improving the game's map system as well," Miyamoto observed.

Next up came Yoshiaki Koizumi, the producer of the Super Mario Galaxy games, and now the tentatively-titled Super Mario 3D for the 3DS, which is also being developed in Nintendo's EAD Tokyo studio.

"I wish I could have shown you the real title, but the real title is something we're talking about, and that's all Mr. Miyamoto's fault," Koizumi joked.

"I think you'll notice the environment is very different from what you saw in Galaxy -- it's a return to a traditional world," he said. "In the last games Mario journeyed to space, and it gave me a lot of opportunity to reflect on what a Mario game is all about."

In this game, the team "decided to focus on the elements that make Mario fun, and create the 'most Mario-like' 3D Mario game -- I guess that's one way to put it."

Mario 3D is something of a hybrid, blending 2D side scrolling and 3D gameplay. And since it's a 3DS game, remarked Koizumi, the team could add in hazards that launch directly at the player. "Until now, we couldn't really show things coming out of the background out you -- it was taboo in 2D games."

They also demoed a Zelda 25th Anniversary commemorative level in the game -- at which Miyamoto remarked "Oh, Zelda!" and couldn't resist singing the signature Zelda victory jingle when Mario solved a puzzle.

At the end of the presentation, Miyamoto took control back to discuss Luigi's Mansion 2, which will be out "perhaps... relatively early next year," he said. "I'm sure a lot of you are wondering why when Nintendo would leave Pikmin aside and return to Luigi's Mansion, but the discussion of Pikmin is prohibited today. This is something we made because I wanted to."

The first 3D experiment the company did in the development of the 3DS was using the Gamecube version of Luigi's Mansion, Miyamoto mentioned, and revealed the game is under development by Wii Punch-Out!! developer, Vancouver's Next Level Games.

When the Next Level team turned in a prototype, "the entire company got behind it and said 'Let's make this game,'" he said. Miyamoto has "become responsible for this project," he said, laughing.

The team, which also developed soccer title Super Mario Strikers seems to be turning in a game indistinguishable from a first party Nintendo product -- including adding the sort of small touches Japanese developers focus on, such as using the 3DS' gyro to allow players to peer around while looking through keyholes in the game.

The Q&A

The Q&A began with two guidelines: no Wii U questions and "no Pikmin questions -- that was not a joke."

Wired's Chris Kohler kicked off by asking about the 3DS' lack of casual-focused titles at E3 this year, given the DS' success with titles like Brain Age.

Miyamoto replied, "We actually made Nintendogs before we made Mario -- which is kind of a strange pattern for us." A lot of the casual ideas EAD had "we've already built into the system," he said, such as the Face Raiders and other AR games packed in.

The original Nintendo DS' "new play style" with stylus and touch play caused the company to focus on bringing in new types of games, but in Miyamoto's view, the new system is more about bringing traditional games into 3D for the first time.

"Our development teams, though, myself included, are working on more expanded, casual titles, which we'll be announcing as we are getting closer to bringing them to a final state," he said.

Another journalist asked about the gender split on Nintendo titles -- whether boys and girls play the company's titles differently.

Miyamoto was, at first, stumped -- as was Koizumi. "One thing that I've talked about with Koizumi is that a lot of women do play Mario, but the title Mario Galaxy has a male sound to it. We found that when we created the original Luigi's Mansion, some girls said it was too scary. My basic philosophy is that boys and girls, men and women can enjoy games the same, so when I'm creating a game I don't separate the two -- I just try to create experiences that both can enjoy," Miyamoto said.

"But I can say that when we created the original Star Fox was to take a very male-oriented dream, the ability to fly a jet fighter, and realize that."

"When I was working on Galaxy I wanted to make a really cool game about Mario flying around in space, and that might have been the little boy in me speaking," Koizumi admitted.

Next question: is Skyward Sword the Nintendo's last game for the Wii? "I dunno," said Aonuma, laughing. "Sorry, not the most interesting answer there."

"From my perspective, I feel one of my biggest responsibilities is to be developing for the newest upcoming platforms, so from my team's perspective, it's not the last but perhaps one of the last coming from our teams," said Miyamoto. "And we do have some Wii titles we've not announced at the show on the way."

"Since we do have the 25th Anniversary, I do want to make it the kind of game we can close the Wii chapter on," Aonuma remarked.

"I told Aonuma that if this wasn't the best Zelda ever, we might have to stop making Zelda games," Miyamoto joked. "And I told the Star Fox 64 producer that if we can't re-convince people to play Star Fox games, it might be the last one we make -- so everyone is working very hard," he said, and that didn't sound nearly as funny.

The Wii Vitality Sensor came up -- the pulse monitor peripheral debuted at E3 2009 with no game attached, and no repeat appearance as yet. "Next question," Miyamoto said immediately in English, to laughs. "Development has continued, but what we've found is the device sometimes has a hard time performing consistently in a different variety of situations and conditions... And we don't feel that it's consistent enough to bring to a product yet, but we will continue researching it to see if we can bring it to market at some point."

The final question, from freelancer Heidi Kemps, asked about Mario's Tanooki suit which is reappearing in the new 3DS game. Where the idea of making a tanuki fly came from in the first place?

"It's true that Mario was able to fly in the Tanooki suit in past games... Flying does present some interesting issues in 3D dimensions... Having a character fly in 3D on the smaller 3DS screen would be a little bit difficult," Koizumi said.

"So as to the question about why Mario is able to fly with a tail, I think what we ought to do is call down Takashi Tezuka, who is in the audience, and ask him to answer the question for you," said Miyamoto, pointing at the developer at the back of the room.

It turns out that while it's not exactly appropriate to Japanese mythology, flight came about from iterative development and experimentation. "Actually the idea for the Tanooki suit came originally from wanting to put a tail on Mario... We wanted to put the tail on Mario so he could do the spin move and attack. But once we put the tail on him, we thought, 'Couldn't we do something else with it?' Then we had him flutter ... So he could jump further. But once we did it, it felt so good, we said, 'Let's just make him fly!'"

Miyamoto closed by announcing a new Pikmin game for Wii U -- details here -- because the audience was "all good" and "As requested... you didn't ask about Pikmin."

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DanielThomas MacInnes
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For the past couple of weeks, I've been playing Gameboy Tetris on my Gameboy Advance SP on the bus to and from work. It's still the best video game ever made, and especially because it's designed perfectly for short bursts. You can play a complete game in a minute flat. This was the reason why Gameboy defeated its rivals over the years. I love the Atari Lynx, but one thing it never had was a supply of good, short games.

Today, this idea of old school arcade games is treated like a put-down, as the iPod has replaced teh Wii as the whipping boy. But the fundamentals of the 1980s still apply today. One reason the 3DS is struggling is that it's current library consists of franchise, console titles. These are longer games, more involving and time-consuming. Variety is good, yes. But portable video games need to be quick and to the point. Nintendo understood this lesson once.

One critical question that nobody at the panel discussion had the courage to ask: What happens if the stereoscopic 3-D fad fades away? What if the general public just isn't interested in the idea? What then? What if 3DS sales don't pick up this year? When does 3-D become a liability? And why, exactly, has Nintendo been so obsessed with 3-D technology, anyway? They've been pursuing this idea ever since the Famicom.

Eli Friedberg
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Really? I would think that a game like Street Fighter would be the epitome of quick, pick-up-and-play game design, though perhaps it is more arcadey than Tetris-y. Personally, if I had to guess I'd say the 3DS's problem right now is, if anything, a LACK of those kind of deeper, console-esque experiences. The majority of the 3DS's library right now consists of essentially $40 tech demos. Of course, I don't have one yet, so what do I know.

When it comes to a game that can be played in short bursts for an infinite amount of time, though, I don't think I've encountered another modern title that accomplishes that simple paradigm as magnificently as Canabalt. But as marvelous as that game is, I can't see myself paying $40 for it.

DanielThomas MacInnes
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Oh, I definitely agree with the high prices. My complaints about 3DS are as follows: 1) 3D is a cheap gimmick that wrecks the batteries and my eyes, 2) Too many rehashed sequels and reruns, and 3) everything is too damned expensive. After Sony announced that PS Vita would sell for $250, I expected Nintendo to respond by lowering the price of the 3DS. Fat chance. They're too convinced that 3D is the greatest thing ever.

Street Fighter 4 is probably my favorite 3DS game right now. I'd prefer one of the older titles in the series, like Alpha 3 or Third Strike, but other than that, it's good to have some Street Fighter action on the go. More arcade games is exactly what I want. Arcade games less than 20 years old would be even better.

Also, Minecraft. Nintendo really FUBAR'd by not getting Minecraft.

Eli Friedberg
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I'm not sold on 3D yet, but I haven't discounted it either. Listening to game designers like Miyamoto and Kojima talk about the potentialities of the 3D display for actual gameplay application I've come to believe that maybe it really does have something substantial to offer. As for the library mostly consisting of ports, remakes and sequels, well, that describes the gaming landscape in general at the moment, and I'm sure it will change once developers start to become more comfortable with the hardware. As for the 3DS versus the Vita, I'm actually pretty intrigued by that. If the Vita had sold at a higher price point like the PSP did, then Nintendo's victory would have been a shoo-in. As is, for the first time Sony may actually have a fighting chance. It all depends on what consumers deem more valuable: the 3D display and first-party selection of the 3DS, or the superior horsepower and online functionality of the PSV. I can really see it going either way, though if squeezed I would probably place my money on Nintendo, based on a combination of historical precedent, killer app franchises, and the fact that a large portion of the market Sony is attempting to appeal to with the PSV (Western hardcore gamers) don't much care for handhelds. As far as Minecraft goes, like most third-party Microsoft exclusives, I doubt it will remain exclusive for more than a year or two. It's too popular and potentially profitable a franchise to restrict to one system.

Eli Friedberg
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I hate to be That Guy, because I am a big fan of Nintendo and have been for years, but I felt a bit disappointed by their conference this year (albeit less so than any of the other major companies). Skyward Sword is the first console Zelda I have not been excited for - I have been underwhelmed by every Zelda game since The Wind Waker, and I feel the series desperately needs a radical shakeup to its formula, which Skyward Sword does not appear to be providing. I'm alarmed by the fact that they have made little to no attempt to illuminate just what makes Skyward Sword different from every other post-OoT/MM game in the series, which leads me to suspect that there isn't all that much. Miyamoto himself at the press conference remarked on how Link's Awakening was one of his favorite Zelda games because the team was working on full creativity, filling it with whatever ideas they thought would work. Why exactly can't that be recaptured? When will we see another "experimental" Zelda along the lines of Link's Awakening or Majora's Mask, that genuinely tries to play with and reinterpret the 25-year-old formula instead of merely reiterating it (with more and more filler crammed in)? Perhaps my skepticism is unfounded and Skyward Sword will turn out great, but nothing I've seen of the game so far has sold me, and I'm speaking as someone for whom Zelda was a life-consuming obsession back in elementary school. I'm not kidding when I say I would be happy to see a total franchise reboot, with all the unnecessary baggage (convoluted timeline, slavish adherence to tradition) shed and a new, visionary developer (like, say, Retro?) put at the reins to bring a fresh perspective to the fundamentals of the series and pull it (kicking and screaming, if need be) into the twenty-first century.

As for the Wii U... as of now it's pure potential. Like pretty much any new Nintendo system in the last 10 years, it has the tools to potentially do all sorts of genuinely new and interesting things that the gaming world has never seen before. Then again, so did the Wii, and look how that turned out. Right now Nintendo has no proof of concept for the system besides a handful of tech demos. The fact that their only first-party announcement was of a game that hasn't even yet entered development is pretty telling, as is the fact that their only third-party exclusive reveal was a Lego game - the announcement of the console seems premature, or at least premature to devote the bulk of their conference to.

Which brings me to my last major problem: Nintendo seems to have practically forgotten that they still have a current-gen system on the market, and will for at least another year. For Zelda, Kirby and Rhythm Heaven to be the only noteworthy upcoming titles for the console (and the latter two not even mentioned in the conference) would be bad by any standard, but when the highly acclaimed and hotly anticipated Xenoblade and The Last Story - personally the two games I was most hoping to hear about at this E3 - are not merely shafted, but altogether ignored, well, there really is no excuse whatsoever. What else are Wii owners going to buy in the next 12 months? More copies of Zelda?? Nintendo has long since failed to make owning only a Wii feasible to anyone who considers themselves a gamer, but now they're not even trying. Worse yet is that Nintendo of Europe seems to have picked up on this and will actually be releasing those two games (Xenoblade and Last Story) in its territories (the former has been confirmed, the latter heavily rumored). This means Nintendo of America can't even hide behind the excuse of high localization costs, as another branch is already translating and dubbing both games into English. They would only have to pay for the games' distribution, and take the unprecedented risk of putting out a game that might not sell millions of copies. Really, as someone who has been feverishly anticipating both of those titles since the day they were announced, this is the biggest disappointment of E3 for me.

Fábio Bernardon
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I disagree regarding Zelda. The focus on the map and revisiting locations may be the breath of fresh air the series needs. Makes exploration more worthwhile. I am looking forward to this title.

But I agree about Xenoblade and Last Story. Those titles should be highlighted in the conference since Nintendo has nothing else to cater to the public they hope to bring back with WiiU. Specially with the new console being backward compatible, they would have more titles people would be interested in playing from day 1.

Eli Friedberg
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Again, I am open to the possibility that Skyward Sword may prove me wrong and be a great Zelda game. Maybe I'm just skeptical, though, but I've seen nothing to seriously suggest this. Like I said, I'm of the opinion that the franchise needs a major shakeup, not just a few minor tweaks in the formula. For all intents and purposes it's still stuck in 1998. Don't get me wrong, I adore OoT, but by trying to be OoT rather than trying to be a good Zelda, the subsequent games have doomed themselves to living in its shadow. Nintendo needs to break the shackles of tradition and try something totally, radically new.

And if Nintendo is trying to attract people who bought 360s and PS3s to the Wii U, they're doing a pretty poor job of it so far by announcing ports of games already coming out for those systems and demonstrating any actual games of their own. Abandoning the Wii in the last 12 months of its life isn't going to make things any better. You'd think they'd be more interested in recapturing the interest of people who bought the Wii because they were intrigued by its promises of new technology and unique games rather than the standard PS3/360-playing gamer, because chances are those guys are perfectly happy with what they have. And of course in regards to Last Story and Xenoblade - well. The fact that NoA is not bringing the games out even though they are being localized by NoE goes beyond neglectful and borders on outright spiteful.

warren blyth
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I disagree lightly.

*I think Skyward Sword has been clearly differentiated as the game that will use motion+ for hardcore gaming. At the show they've hammered that you won't just walk up and pound a button to beat characters. you'll have to find their "tell" and sword attack appropriately. I'm guessing you saw this, and thought "refined sword play isn't the innovation I need". maybe you need story? ... but I'd wager Zelda games will always adhere to the fantasy formula of starting as a lowly peasant who builds an arsenal while visiting the same sorts of wild world environments (rocky place. water town. lava joint).

... I'd like to see some games in the Zelda universe that distance us from link and the princess. Wish they'd flesh it out by letting us play as bad guy stooges, or simple shop keepers. Make that interesting. then we'll get excited to see link's return.

* I also think they laid out their press conference very carefully. They wanted to boost up the 3DS, and they wanted to convey the differentiators of WiiU. I doubt they've finalized the guts of the WiiU, so there's no point in focusing on the box.

They hammered the idea that WiiU will bring more monitors into your living room, and these extra HD monitors will let you explore different angles of your entertainment space. That is the core concept.

Many are scoffing at the idea that is is just a DS setup - but they're overlooking the possibilities of 4 lower "DS" touch screens sharing one large upper screen. That is not possible on DS.

- My first thought was "will they ask me to point the wiimote at the tablet if I switch over?". But then I realized you can just touch directly to point. Thus, this new controller will be a great way to revisit/continue the pointer control off wii games. I think that's really smart. Precise pointing is the best part of the Wii (still better at pointing than the PSMove, because it doesn't drift over time).

- And if the resolution is there, many households might buy WiiU tablets to enhance their old TV, instead of spending thousands on a 70" HDtv which they can't fit in the corner anyway. I think that's smart. They'll basically be selling mini HDtvs, which you'd actually want to use for something.

Smart accessorizing, instead of directly competing with Sony or Microsofts large screen focus.

- I think Nintendo did a good job of teasing the possibilities, and encouraging us to imagine further uses. It just seems like everyone immediately stopped imagining, and turned to the internet to complain. Asking people to imagine probably wasn't the best move.

- the big question I hope someone will ask them is : how will they keep PSvita and iPad2 from just ripping off their tablet gaming ideas?

(i guess by launching with it, they make it a reliable accessory, so they can get get developers to design for it... so maybe that is the answer)

(can't comment on xenoblade or last story, because I'm completely unfamiliar with them)

Eli Friedberg
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Refined swordplay is cool, but it's not game-changing. The aspect of the Zelda formula that I think needs to be reworked is the very structure of the games. The rigidly formulaic nature of the games needs to change. The content of each game is incredibly predictable - listing all the elements that are reused in every single game (but don't need to be) would take all afternoon. Storywise, I don't really have a problem with the monomyth structure (and hence I don't think it would work as well to play a character other than Link), and in fact I think there are some really creative ideas here and there within the series mythos, but I do think it could use some greater variety in the way it's told. I can only seal so many generically sinister ancient evils before it becomes passe. Again, look at Link's Awakening and Majora's Mask, which really played around with the plot formula, and to great results.

I'm not so much perturbed by the WiiU itself - like I said, I think it's a promising concept, and translating the principles of the DS into a home console frankly doesn't seem like a bad idea at all to me - and I don't even really hold it against Nintendo that they merely announced the new console without much to show for it, since they more or less did the same thing with the Wii. What I can and will hold against them, however, is the fact that the WiiU took up the majority of the conference, despite having so little tangible material to show for it. Generally speaking, I think making the bulk of an annual press conference focused on a product that's MORE than a year away is not particularly wise. And I think showing the sizzle reel of third-party games at the end (taken from footage of their PS3/360/PC versions) was a bad idea, since it belied the message that the WiiU is meaningfully different from its competitors, which was supposed to be the whole point of the presentation.

I agree that they are asking people to imagine new applications for the technology, and I agree that most people (on the Internet) are instead bitterly rejecting it out of hand. That's got me thinking about how, it seems, the gaming community has become more cynical since five years ago. In 2005 Nintendo could generate hype simply by announcing that they had a new console in the works. Today that's practically unthinkable. When Nintendo announced the Wii's motion controls in 2006, the gaming world was awash with people eager to detail its potential applications. Today, motion control is grumpily dismissed as a pointless gimmick and, when another new technology is announced, we grimace that it will be more of the same. In some ways I think that cynicism is good - it's harder now, compared to then, to hoodwink the gaming community with style devoid of substance - but in other ways it's kind of alarming. The lack of imagination you implied in the gaming community is, I think, very real. We no longer stretch our minds thinking about what outlandish things might be possible with the next generation of technology. We think purely in terms of the familiar. That's upsetting, and in that respect I applaud Nintendo for continuing to genuinely try new things, regardless of what's said about them.

As for Xenoblade and The Last Story: as I said, they are two of the most acclaimed and anticipated JRPGs of this generation. Xenoblade is made by the creators of Xenogears and Xenosaga, and is an open-world RPG with FF12-style combat and an emphasis on exploration. It's received strong reviews in Japan, to the extent of being scored as the best JRPG of this generation by a Japanese review aggregate. It was initially announced for the US two years ago, then never mentioned by NoA again, and has just recently been confirmed for a European release - while NoA has finally removed it from its upcoming release list and continues to act like it doesn't exist. The Last Story is the latest game from Mistwalker Studios and Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy. It's another RPG with real-time combat, as well as an online component and musical score by Nobuo Uematsu. Once again, it has received high scores in Japan and importers have declared it one of the best JRPGs of this generation. This time, Nintendo of America isn't even pretending to care, as they have instead chosen to outright ignore its existence. There are rumors surfacing now that Nintendo of Europe will release it, and again, NoA just doesn't care.

Eric Geer
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"They also demoed a Zelda 25th Anniversary commemorative level in the game -- at which Miyamoto remarked "Oh, Zelda!" and couldn't resist singing the signature Zelda victory jingle when Mario solved a puzzle."

I think there is a mistake in this sentence.

Jonathan Murphy
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I want system specs, price points for the hardware and software. Is the Wii U indie developer friendly? Time will reveal all.