Not that long ago video game journalists from around the world met up at the sacred grounds of E3 to see what the big gaming companies were going to bestow upon us over the next year. Of course, some of us weren’t able to make the flight and were forced to read reports about those magical previews in a puddle of our own tears and bad decisions.
Thankfully, the good folks at Nintendo decided to make it up to us. With the company shunning the usual big presentations and hype, they merely provided E3ers with a selection of demos to play. Then they were kind enough to take on the road to Canada so that local Nintendo lovers could get a brief glimpse at what the company has in store for us. I, your faithful Nintendo Nerd, was one of the chosen few. I’ve seen the future and Nintendo has some nice stuff planned for all the lucky girls and boys who plan on being distracted by the Big N’s latest creations over the next year. Here’s a rundown of a few highlights.
Super Mario 3D World
Shockingly, Nintendo has decided to bestow the Wii U with a brand spanking new Mario title to call its own. I know, no one saw it coming, but somehow it happened. A handful of levels were on display and as expected, Mario’s legacy has been treated well. However, after the almost art house take on the bumbling plumber in the Wii’s stunning Mario Galaxy series, Super Mario 3D World feels like a slight step back. The game is more indebted to the 3DS’ recent Mario adventure than the Wii series and while that’s slightly disappointing from a design standpoint, the good news is that this sucker looks quite nice. The gameplay combines the old school simplicity of a New Super Mario Bros. game with more contemporary 3D (in terms of space, not eye-straining video format) designs. You can play with up to four characters at once with the cast ripped straight out of Super Mario 2 and all the character-specific powers that implies. There were some new editions, like a Loch Ness Monster-esque Yoshi cousin that takes Mario on a speedy dino-log ride of sorts as well as a new suit that turns Mario n’ co. into cartoon kittens that can climb up walls and indulge in long daytime naps (the second part isn’t true). There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking here and it’s actually a bit of a surprise that the game is coming out for the Wii U rather than the 3DS, but there’s no denying that it has the control precision and cartoony fun we’ve all come to love from Mario’s mascot. Longtime fans won’t be disappointed.
Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze
After reviving the crushing difficulty and endless amusement of Donkey Kong Country with one of the Wii’s finest releases, it appears that the series is officially a mainstay for Nintendo again and I couldn’t be happier. While no Wii U gamepad controls were available yet in the demo, the playable levels went ahead and guaranteed that the series is still in good hands. Like the last incarnation, all of the DKC staples remain from mine cart carnage to barrel blast flight. Things are slightly more ambitions from an animation standpoint, with shifting perspectives and constant background action, but the game doesn’t exactly push the Wii U to the limits of its processing capabilities. Still it certainly goes above and beyond anything that the underpowered Wii could handle. Clearly the designers are sticking to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it model” and classic old school level designs, with more technically and artistically ambitious animation. Would it be nice to see DK get a whole new game unlike anything the character has been given before? Well sure, but it’s also just nice to see the big ol’ burly monkey doing what he does best again and the franchise seems to be in good hands at Retro Studios. Hopefully they’ll keep cranking these games out for the foreseeable future.
Ah yes, Pikmin. The long forgotten Nintendo franchise that fans have been begging to get updated for years. Well, after a long development on the Wii that eventually got pushed back and bumped up for the new system, I finally got a chance to try out the long awaited sequel and the results were pretty great. In the end, it was essentially a demo level that allowed players to taste the touch-screen specific controls, but it was certainly fun. Collecting and whistling-in Pikmin is achieved by drawing circles on the touch screen and it actually proves to be a quick and easy way to keep track of your legion of tiny buddies rather than a next gen gimmick. Replays are also spit out on the controller screen from a top down perspective that actually works quite well for viewing/reviving strategies. Overall, this actually seems like a strong way to revive the series that works better than what would have inevitably been a clunky Wiimote drawing interface. If you’ve desperately been awaiting the return of this series, feel free to draw in a deep breath of relief because the little guys are in good hands. And if you’ve never played or even heard of Pikmin before…well, then you’re about to have yourself a good time at Nintendo’s expense.
The Wonderful 101
Finally, amidst a sea of revived old school gaming franchises, there was one shiny new original game for the Wii U on display and it looked pretty spectacular. The awkwardly titled The Wonderful 101 is a strange anime-inspired game involving some sort of semi-superhero who can command a hundred drone subheroes at once to fight an evil alien force. Attacks are performed and puzzles are solved by combining your little army into massive, swords, whips, fists, and guns. It’s a strange concept, but an incredibly entertaining one that actually uses the touch screen in a useful and creative ways by implementing simple drawing commands to collect and combine your tiny warriors. The visuals a bright, colorful, and vaguely reminiscent of Viewtiful Joe in the best possible sense. The controls are smooth and the action is as laughably exciting as any anime style adventure should be. Again, it’s hard to judge a full game based on a few fleeting minutes of demo playtime, but The Wonderful 101 looks like a dark horse to be one of Nintendo’s top titles of 2013 and a game that actually takes advantage of the Wii U’s unique control scheme. More of these please!
There were a few other titles on display at the Nintendo event (like a pair of Zelda games for both the 3DS and Wii U that are sure to be a blast, but if ever there was a series that can’t be judged on a demo, it’s Zelda) and a couple of notable exceptions (No Smash Bros. or Mario Kart…sigh…), but those four titles were the big ones and delivered the ever-charming Nintendo goods. Based on what I sampled, it looks like Nintendo has plenty of good times in store for loyalists over the next year. Even though it was disappointing that the company isn’t doing radical gameplay reinvention for its marquee franchises based on the new controller like they did for the Wii, it’s worth keeping in mind that all of these games could very well have been initially planned for the Wii before getting a next gen facelift and that the first batch of gamepad-specific titles have yet to be leaked to the public. So while there doesn’t appear to be too much innovation in Nintendo’s future, the company still knows how to do what they do very well and fans can feel free to go ahead and get giddy. There’s good stuff coming from Nintendo and they can’t hit shelves fast enough…