E3 2014: Nintendo Games Preview
Right off the bat, I’m not a Nintendo fangirl. I’m Atari generation, and slightly too old to have Mario and company be “my system”. Therefore, I’m exactly the type of consumer that Nintendo needs to convince to branch beyond the notalgia diehards. And congratulations are in order, because I’m thinking about buying a Wii-U.
I’d written that console off as a Nintendo 1st party graveyard, haunted by the souls of Miis and too many Mario Parties. But while Nintendo’s press reel this yeah bored the crap out of me, the hands-on with three of the games made me a convert. Nintendo’s newest crop of games needs to be played to be understood, because their appeal is in their unique gameplay mechanics.
For many, the upcoming Super Smash Bros is going to mean getting a Wii-U as a sort of nerd tax. Smash Bros is its own ecosystem, with tournaments, a community, and… and I don’t know what else, because I’m absolutely terrible at the games. Because of my lack of Smash Bros skill, I can’t begin to imagine how Smash Bros fans will feel about the addition of Nintendo’s Skylander-like amiibos. With the significantly increased level cap compared to CPU Smash Bros characters, it feels too pay-to-win for my liking. The way the figures interact with the gamepad is neat though.
The game I really wanted to try was Splatoon. Because it’s a new intellectual property for Nintendo! Finally!
Splatoon features playable characters called Inklings who are Mii-like hipsters that turn into squids. The squids can zoom through the ink splatters that the Inklings splash everywhere, refilling their ink tanks. Ink also lets you climb walls and hide for stealth attacks. If you end up in the other team’s ink, however, your movement rate slows to a crawl, like you’re moving through sticky goop.
There are also ink grenades and super weapons that can really turn the tide of a multiplayer match, and a nameless cat referee character. Apparently the most commonly-asked question was “what’s the cat’s name?” I suggested Spittle or Splat Cat. I then suggested a variant costume for Splat Cat to make him DJ Splat Cat, and the Nintendo reps rightly stopped taking me seriously.
While Splatoon still needs some refinements in the gamepad tilt control system, there is an option to jump back to twin stick gameplay if you really can’t adjust. Otherwise, Splatoon is, dare I say, addictive. It’s clever, it’s fast-paced, it’s surprisingly tactical, and people were coming back to the booth again and again, resulting in a grudge match because I got mad at the ganking. That time, my team splattered a trail of inky glory and was triumphant in the second round.
After Splatoon, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to try. The Nintendo press briefing didn’t do a very good job of selling their products… as usual. So I did what most people do with Nintendo games: I started playing the games that featured my favorite characters. I went for Kirby and the Rainbow Curse first.
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is basically a claymation spin on Kirby: Canvas Curse. You tap the stylus on the Wii-U gamepad to make Kirby spin, and navigate him through clay levels using clay ropes you draw to form a path. It plays like Sonic the Hedgehog in places. Other times Kirby can transform into a tank and a submarine. It was cute, but it didn’t blow my mind.
Yoshi’s Woolly World, on the other hand, was a revelation. It’s not just the Little Big Planet rip-off it seemed to be in the online presentation. It’s insanely fun. The pace of play is fast, the action frenetic, and the gameplay actually hinges on everything being made of yarn.
Secret passages unravel before you, Yoshi’s feet can unravel to form propellers, and, of course, Yoshi’s regurgitation powers are put to good use, eating and spitting out yarn balls to knit platforms that aid your progression. Co-op play is even more fun, because you can gulp down and spit out your buddy if you run out of other sources of yarn. Since there are relatively few living room co-op games available these days, I’m always on the lookout for games to play with my husband, and Yoshi’s Woolly World was the turning point that got me thinking that the Wii-U might not be a bad investment.
I didn’t have time to try out Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, but I left the Nintendo booth thinking that the Wii-U might still have some life in it. I’m still not a big fan of the giant gamepad, or stylus-based stuff on a big screen. But Nintendo’s selection of first-party games is finally getting to the point where the purchase of a Wii-U makes sense.
Furthermore, Nintendo nostalgia is still undeniably strong, especially based on my informal twitter survey about what people liked at E3. More importantly, though, the new fast-paced, colorful, silly games Nintendo has unveiled will likely appeal to the kids of the Skylanders generation, and more all-ages titles are desperately needed. Nintendo still has a lot of work to do, but there are clear signs of life in the Wii-U coming out of E3.