If you’ll excuse the crass expression, my father always said that “everyone gets a turn in the s**t barrel.” The gaming industry is no different. The en vogue fad right now is to lambast Microsoft and Xbox One, and rightly so — they deserve every minute of it. Before that, it was to attack EA for poor business practices and mistreatment of employees. But last year around this time, it was all the rage to sing the doom and gloom of Nintendo, since they had no third-party support and no triple-A titles. “What fools!” cried the naysayers. “Do they think they can really survive on the likes of Mario, Link, and Donkey Kong forever?
Fast forward to E3 2013, and the most anticipated projects from Nintendo by gamers and the gaming press involve Mario, Link, and Donkey Kong.
Isn’t that ironic, Alanis Morissette?
Nintendo found themselves the holder of a golden ticket at the expense of Microsoft’s blunder, and they attacked hard with a bevy of first-party titles modern and retro gamers had been hungering for since the launch of the Wii U. Nintendo was ready to hold their ground with a relatively safe lineup, many of which had been announced during prior Nintendo Direct specials online, but found themselves in a position to attack throughout E3. And although Nintendo was featuring many more third-party titles than last year, such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut and Bayonetta 2, the focus was on their first-party titles, featuring the newest iterations in the Mario Kart and The Legend of Zelda franchises, as well as a new adventure with everyone’s favorite Italian-American pudgy plumber… and this time he’s bringing some friends along.
Super Mario 3D World takes what players loved about Super Mario 3D Land and brings it to the Wii U, bringing in multiplayer functionality, but it takes a unique twist: Whereas in New Super Mario Bros. U players could choose between Mario, Luigi, and two assistant Toads (not the actual character Toad), in SM3DW character selection harkens back to the classic NES Super Mario Bros. 2, featuring Mario, Luigi, the actual Toad, and Princess Peach. The characters retain their abilities from SMB2, with Luigi able to jump the highest, Toad being the fastest and strongest, and Peach being able to float for a limited time. Each character will have secrets that they can access either quicker or easier than other characters.
Up to four players can play at a time via couch co-op, though there is no word on online multiplayer yet. Multiplayer utilizes group movement, so if one person drops down a pipe, for example, to another part of the level, shortly the rest will join that character automatically. One part of the demo that was particularly interesting involved an orange sea monster that the crew rode down a rushing river, which required teamwork for the four of us to properly harness. Teamwork and communication were the keys to deciding which of several forks in the road we would take and jumping at the right time to make sure we didn’t tumble over the side. It was fun, and high-fives were given all around.
We also had a chance to pick up the Cat Suit. Donning the Cat Suit, Mario & Co. were able to run up walls and scratch attack enemies. My first thought I had was that it operated in much the manner that Furrball did in the NES version of Tiny Toon Adventures with a claw attack. The scratch is just like Mario’s past spin attacks involving capes or raccoon tails, but he juts forward in whatever direction he’s facing as opposed to standing still, requiring a modicum of restraint lest he scratch himself into a pit.
With Peach a playable character, of course I had to ask, what’s the premise? No comment was made, so the mystery remains.
Next I had a go at Mario Kart 8. This game again takes the great mechanics of a 3DS game (this time Mario Kart 7) and brings it to the console, while adding to it the motion controls of Mario Kart Wii. While this will please some, it will assuredly bring weeping and gnashing of teeth to others. Fear not: in Mario Kart 8 you can easily change between the Gamepad’s gyroscopic motion controls, or a more traditional controller approach. In addition, 8‘s motion controls are much smoother and less jerky than Wii‘s could be in some places.
Toadette makes her return to the series, but I raced as my buddy Koopa Troopa. The demo track gave a view of two-player offline racing, but via the Nintendo Network, twelve-player online races will be available. The test track also showed off the returning hang glider extension for karts as well as the new hovercraft extension, allowing for tracks to defy gravity. It also featured the new Fire Flower, which shoots off fireballs for a short distance.
When asked if the twelve characters in the demo would be the roster or if like previous titles there would be unlockables aplenty, Nintendo did not give any official word, but did indicate that it has worked for them in the past, so it might be something to keep an eye out for.
The first-party party kept going as my next title was the recently-announced Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Interestingly enough, though the game will be released exclusively for the Wii U, Tropical Freeze makes use of the Wiimote + Nunchuck combination. According to representatives, Nintendo wanted to make people who had Wiimotes lying around feel like they hadn’t wasted their money on multiple accessories. While I admire the notion behind this, I dread any game that makes me use the Wiimote + Nunchuck pairing, and would have been much happier playing on my Gamepad.
Players who liked the original Donkey Kong Country games will find much to like about Tropical Freeze. There are hidden collectibles all over the island, including gold banana coins, letters in K-O-N-G, and scads of bananas. Viking animals from a cold climate have invaded Donkey Kong Island, and in order to reclaim it, Donkey Kong has to head back to his island and fight the baddies in side scrolling fashion. DK can now interact with parts of the environment, including sailing between tree branches via barrel and pulling up things from the ground. Diddy Kong, of course, is at DK’s side with his barrel-built jet pack, as well as an old friend: Dixie Kong marks her first appearance since Donkey Kong Country 3. There will also be a third sidekick, yet unannounced.
There was a lot going on in this game, which lends itself to a lot of replayability for 100% runs, provided players can get used to the controls.
Super Mario 3D World will release in December of 2013; Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze a month earlier in November. Mario Kart 8 is estimating a Spring 2014 release. In part two of my Nintendo coverage, we’ll talk about first impressions from The Wonderful 101, Bayonetta 2, and some of Nintendo’s 3DS offerings.