What? Wii U is Evolving! – Commentary on Nintendo’s E3 Presentation
This year, Nintendo did not bring anything really new or revolutionary to the E3 convention. That being said, it didn’t really need to. Its game-changing ideas were revealed in the form of the 3DS and the Wii U before this E3 was even being planned out. The time has come for Nintendo to build up its revolution. Thus, Nintendo’s president Satoru Iwata provided us with a look at the new Pokémon, a new 3D Mario, a Zelda game, Mario Kart, and (the fan favourite) Super Smash Brothers. Mr. Iwata also showed off Wii Party U, and promised Wii Fit U to players before the end of the year.
Nintendo’s presentation at E3 2013 has, thus far, been both conservative and progressive. It has taken few risks, relied on tried, tested and true formulas, and has provided gameplay footage for every game mentioned in its press conference (save Wii Fit U). At the same time that Nintendo is playing a safe hand, it is also playing a very strong one.
What is most important for Nintendo in 2013 is how the developers have been pushing forward its bestselling franchises. If there is a theme to this E3 edition of Nintendo Direct, it is evolution. As if to imply this theme to their audience, Nintendo began their presentation with discussion of Pokémon X and Y, set for release in October 2013.
This edition of Pokémon will include all of the standard additions that new versions receive: new Pokémon, a new world, and a new story. Being developed for the 3DS, it is also the first game in the series to feature 3D graphics. However, this new trailer for Pokémon X and Y shows a real change in the core gameplay. In the past, the games were designed to treat Pokémon as competitive machines built for battles, or non-violent contests. With the new “Pokémon-Amie” system, players will feed, nurture and care for their Pokémon in order to help them grow. Taking a leaf out of Nintendogs’ book (Nintendo DS), the developers have turned your Pokémon into relatable and personal beings with faces, feelings and personalities: they have become more like virtual pets than soldiers.
Next on the roster was Super Mario 3D World, set to release in December 2013. 3D World more closely resembles New Super Mario Bros U (Wii U), with its level, side-scrolling stages, than Super Mario Galaxy (Wii), with its planetary spheres and solo adventuring. It also represents a major step forward for the Super Mario series. You and up to three friends will be set in a three-dimensional playground full of treasures, obstacles, enemies, and colourful platforms. This game appears to offer players multiple paths to the ultimate goal, unlike the strictly linear New Super Mario Bros (Wii) and the mostly-linear Super Mario Galaxy.
Freedom of movement and variety of play seem to be the focus of Super Mario 3D World, as the characters have all been given unique abilities for traversing the stage. Each character was shown to have the same movement styles that they had in Super Mario Bros 2 (NES). Mario is the standard character, Peach floats, Toad runs very fast, and Luigi jumps very far. Players were also shown how to use their abilities to either assist or compete with one another. The ability to freely around is really the essence of the Super Mario franchise. From his first incredible leap in Super Mario Bros. (NES), to his acrobatics in Donkey Kong ‘94 (Game Boy), to his jetpack in Super Mario Sunshine (GameCube), the core gameplay has been about the thrill of free-running adventure.
Even Mario Kart 8 (Spring 2014) advances this philosophy of free movement, as it features an anti-gravity element that allows racers to drive up walls and along the underside of racetracks modeled after Moebius strips. It even keeps the hang-glider mechanic from Mario Kart 7 (3DS), so that racers can climb walls, leap off of them, and soar through the air.
This progressive, yet conservative approach can also be seen in Nintendo’s approach to HD graphics, best exemplified by The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (October 2013) or Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (2013). Both of these games feature relatively simple character models and have little demand for computing power. In these titles, HD graphics are not being used to render a world of incredible, baroque detail as can be seen in Platinum Games’ Bayonetta 2 (2014). The Wii U’s power is instead dedicated to enhancing the textures and colours of these comparatively simpler visuals.
In the case of Wind Waker HD, this means that the once-flat colours and uneven surfaces of the Great Sea feel less like a comic book and more like a real, living world. By smoothing out the colours and the contrast between forms, and by increasing the draw distance, the Wii U has given this world a much greater depth than the GameCube ever could. Filled with grand vistas and warm, solid characters, it looks like a world that you could reach into.
Donkey Kong Country likewise benefits from these subtle upgrades. The Wii instalment of the series, Returns, was already a beautiful game with richly detailed backgrounds. The lush tropical vegetation made Returns feel like a world with a life of its own, but that world generally stayed in the background. Players usually played in the foreground, with only a handful of stages that launched Kong into the background to bypass certain obstacles. The improved power of the Wii U does not make a fundamental change to this gameplay. Instead, it allows this two-dimensional game to take place in a three-dimensional world. Kong still proceeds linearly, from left to right, but now the stages are fully realized in 3D, allowing the path to curve in spirals or twist around the backdrops. These stages are very beautiful, with colourful creatures and landscapes which seem to go on forever.
In addition to their first-party offerings, Nintendo has secured exclusive releases from third parties for the 2013 holiday season, such as The Wonderful 101 from Platinum Games and Sonic: Lost World from Sega. Nintendo also promised a bevy of multiplatform titles optimized for play with the GamePad, including Rayman Legends, Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director’s Cut, and Batman: Arkham Origins. With over three million Wii U’s already sold, these titles will be available to be purchased by an established user base while Sony and Microsoft are still working to build the foundations for their new consoles.
This year, Nintendo promised that its E3 presentation would focus on the games instead of the console. While its competitors have been busy showing off the capabilities of their next-generation machines, Nintendo has given itself the opportunity to build a strong library in time for the holidays. With a few exceptions, this conference has not been the time for surprises, but for building the Wii U brand up with a bigger selection of games. Mr. Iwata has shown that Nintendo and its third-party partners are determined to take their greatest successes yet, and to try new things with them without losing their focus on the essence of gaming, the core that makes these titles enjoyable as games. The potential is there for some of the best experiences, and one of the strongest libraries in any console’s early history: if that potential can be realized, then we will all win.
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