Nintendo Shows Off Their Holiday Lineup For 2013
This past Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending Nintendo’s Holiday event for the media, where I got a taste of their upcoming titles. The event was hosted by Nintendo of Canada at The Richmond, a gallery space in downtown Toronto. The gallery was a lofty, airy space, with colourful paper lanterns hanging from the high ceiling. Floor-to-ceiling windows lit the area with natural light, captured by the blank white walls inside. In the centre of the floor was a table with all of Nintendo’s current hardware on display in front of a screen that shuffled between the logos of the games on display.
The games themselves were displayed like paintings, with Wii U’s and high-definition screens arranged around the perimeter of the gallery. When you entered the room the exhibited games stood out right away, as did the indoor balcony at the rear of the venue. Atop the balcony were some seats, where Nintendo of Canada Spokesperson, Matt Ryan, gave interviews. Beneath it, to the left of the entrance, was a cozy and warmly-lit game corner with 3DS games and 2DS consoles nestled together.
It was easy to see why the event had been set up this way. People gathered around the large Wii U units, waiting for their turn to play the games on show. Most of these were for two or more players, and the competitions made for great viewing even if you were not playing. The 3DS family’s corner was focused on solitary adventures; The Legend of Zelda, Pokémon X and Y, and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. One stand held four 2DS systems, linked together for players to challenge each other at Mario Party: Island Tour.
After being greeted at the door and sharing introductions I made my way to the demo units on the floor. Attendants wearing Wii U shirts stood at each booth, guiding players through the controls and tricks of each game and sharing stories of their competitions with each other at Wii Party U, or their adventures in Sonic Lost World. With guidance from these friendly ambassadors, I leapt into the games!
The first game that I got to play was Sonic Lost World for the Wii U. I’ve had a craving for high-speed action lately, and this game really scratched that itch. In the four stages of the demo you get the chance to explore multiple paths, exploring at your own pace or tearing through at breakneck speeds. At its best, Sonic the Hedgehog has always been about pushing the limits of your reflexes and muscle memory, learning the layouts of stages and making snap decisions about where to go next; Lost World has a lot of momentum, always carrying you forward into certain danger and excitement. The controls felt awkward at first, but once I understood them it was easier to control the pace of the game and decide just how fast I wanted to go – which was very fast!
After playing Sonic I rolled over to the Zelda demo. This was a very brief peek into A Link Between Worlds, showing off a small area of the overworld and the first dungeon. The field area is taken straight from the Super Nintendo’s A Link to the Past, and there wasn’t much of interest there. The art and graphics are certainly upgraded from that game, with swaying grass and well-shaded characters, but are as faithful as possible to the original.
The dungeon area was much more fun. There, Link’s power to merge into the wall and become a drawing was really on display. The demo dungeon had simple puzzles that used the wall-drawing power, using it to travel across gaps that you cannot jump across, and slipping between the bars on a window. The art style looked much better in the dungeon than the field as well. The dusky reds of the backgrounds and the bronze in Link’s hair give the ancient dungeon a sad, soft, twilight feeling.
It’s hard to say how A Link Between Worlds will turn out based on this very short demo. Nintendo has released lots of teasers and speak peeks in the past few months, and the demo is old news. The only item of interest is that the wall-drawing power puts a twist on the original game by giving you a new way to move around obstacles.
I got to play a few events from Mario and Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games. There are 16 real Olympic events in the game and eight Dream Events, which add power-ups, arenas, and games that you will not see at Sochi.
The figure skating event was interesting. You move your character around by making the Wiimote gestures shown on the screen. In a doubles skate, your characters will hold hands, and the game asks you to hold the same Wiimote as your partner, holding it and moving it between you. Adorable!
The snowboarding events were the sort of fun that takes a bit of practice to really appreciate. Your characters move clumsily unless you steer carefully; you can grind on rails, tilting the GamePad to keep your balance, and spin in the air by stroking the touch screen after you make a jump. You are rated at the end based on your speed and your tricks, and practice makes perfect.
The street hockey Dream Event was great fun. The arenas have multiple levels and unusual shapes, and brick blocks are scattered around them. Moving around the blocks is made easier by pushing buttons that turn them into coins for a few seconds, and when you collect enough coins a bonus goal appears. Shooting into the bonus goal gives you two goals instead of one, so it’s well worth it to grab those coins.
To my great pleasure, Nintendo had brought a new demo of Super Mario 3D World to the event. This one boasted different stages from the E3 demo, and new power-ups. The variety of stages in this demo felt much more substantial than that first demo. There was a boss battle that players co-operated in; hidden treasures and micro-quests, like rescuing a scared Toad; items that let you torment your partners and encouraged infighting; and enemies that could use the same power-ups as the heroes. Compared to the first demo, this was far more competitive, and a lot more exciting.
I wasn’t expecting it, but Wii Party U was one of my favourite games at the show. There are dozens of addictive mini-games to play with friends or by yourself. Most of the mini-games use the Wii U’s controls in creative and intuitive ways, and there is a huge variety of actions that your Miis take. Between pole vaulting, driving a tank, and throwing ninja stars, there are a ton of ways to get engaged in the action! It may even be more of a workout than Wii Fit…
…Speaking of which, Wii Fit U was set up near the rear of the gallery. Fit includes a host of mini-games based around physical activity, using the Wii Balance Board and GamePad together. One of these mini-games is a rock-climbing adventure. Your Mii character is climbing up a rock wall, and you must use the Wiimote to reach for the next handhold. In another, you are running through a gauntlet of Mario-esque platforms. You make your Mii run by running in place on the Balance Board; they turn when you turn your feet sideways on the Board; they jump when you flex your knees and hop on the Board. In a third mini-game, the GamePad is used as a waiter’s tray that you must balance desserts on. Using the Balance Board, you walk around a crowded restaurant to deliver the treats to your patrons. Nintendo’s motion controls have really matured, and the immersion offered by this game is a lot of fun, whether or not you’re interested in fitness.
In my opinion, the game that stole the show was Shovel Knight, by independent studio Yacht Club Games. Shovel Knight was set up on a Wii U, displaying its retro, 8-bit graphics in crisp clarity. You play as the Shovel Knight, a hero with an oversized, horned helmet and a trusty shovel by their side. The action is simple as you run and jump through stages, smashing opponents with your shovel and digging through dirt to find gems. The backdrops are beautiful, the scenery rich and atmospheric, and the large sprites used for the characters are full of personality. Appropriately, Shovel Knight can be played entirely on the GamePad. As a compact, traditional action-adventure, it really shines. For a first effort by a small studio, it is a treasure!
This Holiday preview was just a sample of what the Wii U and 3DS will have available this season. There are more titles already available and soon to be released by Nintendo and by third-party developers working on their platforms. With a vanguard of games like Wii Party U and Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo’s full lineup should be very impressive, indeed.
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