Nintendo raised eyebrows when it bowed out of holding a traditional live press conference in favor of a pre-taped video at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this year. This was doubly shocking because of the importance of this particular E3, where its competitors in the home console market would be pulling out all the stops to showcase their new hardware and games. Nintendo's latest console, the Wii U, stumbled out of the gate and has been under-performing in virtually all regions. If ever there was a time to make a splash, this was it.
Instead, what we got was largely more of the same. Nintendo's presentation had few surprises, and some of the more interesting titles aren't even going to be released until next year. That said, Nintendo's line-up for the latter half of this year is looking pretty strong.
Nintendo has taken New Super Mario Bros. U and replaced Mario with Luigi for this DLC add-on. Whoop-dee-do, right? To be fair, all 80 levels have been redesigned and now the time limit is just 100 seconds. It's not terribly exciting, but if you can't get enough of that 2D Mario platforming action this is for you. It can be downloaded now for US$19.99 or purchased at retail for a limited time beginning this August for $29.99, so at least Nintendo isn't charging full price for it.
Wario returns with 12 wacky mini-games, the lowest number in a WarioWare title yet, and rumor has it this game was originally supposed to be included for free with every Wii U system. The WarioWare series has been hit or miss, and if the early reviews are anything to go by, this is one to avoid.
The Pikmin series, which got its start on the Gamecube, is one of Nintendo's most imaginative game series. In this, the first new game in the real-time strategy series since 2004, players will take control of a family of three astronauts looking for resources for their starving planet. They'll recruit the help of the plucky plant-like Pikmin to tackle obstacles and beasties as they collect fruit, and each of the three explorers can be controlled independently to complete multiple objectives at once. If this one is as good as its predecessors it will be a must-have for Wii U owners. It was initially supposed to be among the very first launch titles, but at least it appears to be coming out soon.
The Mario & Luigi series, which got its start on the GameBoy Advance, returns on the 3DS with Dream Team. It's another action-RPG where the player controls both Mario and Luigi simultaneously, using their individual abilities and team work to explore a puzzle-filled world populated by humorous foes. The battle system, which is more action-based than typical turn-based RPGs, requires quick reflexes to score critical hits or defend against enemy attacks. In this game, Luigi falls asleep on a magical pillow and he becomes the hero of his dreams, helping Mario take on the evil baddies. It looks pretty awesome.
Platinum Games, the developer of Bayonetta, Vanquish, and Metal Gear Solid Rising was hired by Nintendo to make an original IP. The result is The Wonderful 101, an action game starring a hundred masked super heroes that can combine to form devastating attacks against humongous villains threatening the city. It also sports a multiplayer mode for 2 to 5 players. The graphical style is gorgeous and the game play looks fresh, making this one of my most anticipated Wii U titles this fall. Wouldn't it be great if Nintendo worked with more developers to create new IPs like this more often?
Nintendo is releasing Pokemon on 3DS this October. As well as being the first 3DS version in the series, it's the first time the game's visuals have moved entirely to 3D polygon graphics. Some will no doubt lament the retirement of the charming 2D sprites of yesteryear, but it's probably about time the series evolved (no pun intended). The release will almost certainly boost Nintendo's efforts to move 3DS systems this holiday.
An all-new Zelda game for Wii U is likely years away, so Nintendo decided to re-release The Wind Waker to tide fans over. Originally released for the Gamecube in 2003, the game is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and features some slight changes to smooth out the pacing. For example, when sailing the seas Link can use a bigger sail to gain 50 percent more speed. Unfortunately the original's two cut dungeons were remade for successive Zelda titles, so the game won't be as fleshed out as some were hoping for. Still, it is a fantastic entry in the series so if you haven't played it this is one you should definitely pick up.
Nintendo fans were buzzing with rumors of Retro Studios' secret Wii U project: some were hopeful the company would return to the sci-fi Metroid franchise, or create a new IP altogether. Instead, the company has been working on a sequel to the Wii's Donkey Kong Country Returns. It's a 2.5D platformer where 1 or 2 players take control of the big hairy ape and his fuzzy friends on a surprisingly challenging romp. It's not that this is a bad series, but the announcement came as a disappointment, as the Wii U's line-up is already rife with platformers.
Originally this was going to be a 3D remake of the Super Nintendo classic A Link to the Past, but somewhere down the road Nintendo decided to change things up. Effectively, that means the game world is virtually identical to that game, but its dungeons are entirely new. There are also some new game play mechanics, like the ability to stick to walls and move around, allowing Link to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. I'm not thrilled by the somewhat lackluster art direction, which seems a little bland and sticks too closely to the 16-bit original (limitations and all), but it will be a difficult prospect for 3DS owners to resist come November.
Fans that were waiting impatiently for Nintendo to deliver another Mario game in the mold of the glorious Super Mario Galaxy games were offered a decidedly less exciting multiplayer experience in Super Mario 3D World. Up to four players can play simultaneously (locally, not online) as Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Peach, each with their own slightly unique play styles. Indeed, it looks like the company has simply taken the 2D formula from the New Super Mario Bros. series and applied it to the 3D style of Super Mario 3D Land for the Nintendo 3DS. That in itself wouldn't be a bad thing (as I'm sure families will have a blast with it) but it doesn't feel like it's the Mario game Nintendo needs right now, especially when it already has New Super Luigi U this summer.
We went hands-on with the game at E3.
If fans of Super Mario Galaxy were disappointed by the above, Sonic Lost World may be just the thing they need. It looks like Sega has borrowed the gravity-defying elements of that game and applied it to the "gotta go fast" mantra of its mighty blue hedgehog. It looks surprisingly decent, considering the Sonic games have been pretty terrible for the most part over the last few years. It will be available on both Wii U and the 3DS, with exclusive content in each, though don't expect major differences between the two besides the visuals.
Most of the other games Nintendo had to show were titles that had been previously announced or teased in some form, leaving us with few surprises. However, they do represent some of the more exciting software coming to the Wii U and 3DS in 2014 (Nintendo president Iwata is grateful for your patience).
Mario Kart 8's announcement was likely inevitable; the cart racing series sold 25 million copies on the Wii, so it's a cash cow for the company. It's also one of the few Nintendo games that looks noticeably upgraded over previous versions thanks to the Wii U's HD graphics. Up to 12 people can compete in online multiplayer matches, and this time the race courses feature anti-gravity sections reminiscent of Nintendo's other racing game series F-ZERO (which many would like to see again, what with it skipping the Wii generation entirely).
Another one of Nintendo's top-selling franchises is making a return with this 1–4 player fighting game that pits all of Nintendo's most recognizable stars against one another. This time around, the game is being made for both Wii U and 3DS (the first portable entry in the series) and will add new characters to the roster like Capcom's Mega Man. If early reports are true, the two games won't work together, which seems like a missed opportunity for parties or tournaments, but the game is still in development. And hard-core fans will be happy to hear that the frustratingly random "tripping" added in Super Smash Bros. Brawl has been axed.
Platinum Games' second Wii U title won't be coming out until next year, but it's the highly anticipated sequel to their sexy cult action game from the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Since Nintendo is footing the bill and publishing the title itself, this is not only one of its few M-rated games, but an exclusive that could win the hearts of gamers who normally dismiss Nintendo as being just for kids. Hopefully Nintendo has more of these collaborations with talented development studios hidden up its sleeve, because this is exactly the sort of thing the Wii U needs more of to stay relevant in the face of Sony and Microsoft's new consoles. The big question is why Nintendo didn't work out a deal with SEGA (the original publisher) to port the original to the Wii U in the meantime?
Role-playing game fans had a fairly good E3 this year, with new trailers for Square-Enix's Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts 3, both headed to PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. Though we already knew X was in development from a teaser in January, the latest trailer for the game left me salivating for more. It's presumably a sequel to Monolith Software's Xenoblade Chronicles, one of the Wii's best games, and is being given the full HD treatment. And this time instead of footing it across the majestic landscapes you can jump into a giant robot that can fly or transform into a ground-based vehicle. Observant gamers have also noted the game may actually contain an online multiplayer component.
A new installment in the Yoshi's Island series is headed to the 3DS sometime next year. It's not your typical Mario platformer. Here, Yoshi can swallow enemies and turn them into eggs, which can be thrown to complete objectives. Unfortunately the only good game in the series was the original on the Super Nintendo, so it's hard to get excited about this one, and Arzest's track record is somewhat suspect.
These aren't all of the games coming to the Wii U and 3DS, but the rest are mostly cross-platform titles by third party developers. And as far as exclusive content goes, this list seems pretty strong if you're already a Nintendo fan. The question is whether these games will appeal to people who aren't already interested in Nintendo's consoles or games IP. My hunch is that, for the most part, they won't.
Nintendo seems to be having some difficulty transitioning to HD development, with games being delayed for months at a time, so it could be beneficial to them to outsource certain franchises to talented development studios as it has done in the past. Unfortunately, given some of the recent interviews with Shigeru Miyamoto and Satoru Iwata, it seems the company doesn't trust that those types of collaborations can meet its expectations. It would, however, allow them to knock out some of the fans' expected titles like Star Fox and F-ZERO as they did on the Gamecube (the latter being the best entry in the series by far) without straining their internal teams.
I suspect we'll see the Wii U premium drop in price this November to under US$300, and perhaps get a pack-in game (or a voucher for a downloadable title). That, and the slew of titles coming soon, should help bolster the sluggish sales of the Wii U around the world.
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