Standing back in Nintendo of Canada's "Mario Room" where Neoseeker was again invited to go hands-on with upcoming Wii U and 3DS titles for 2013, it finally hits me that the company will be releasing new games for their Mario, Zelda and even Donkey Kong franchises all over the course of the next few months.
Nintendo of Canada communications manager Matt Ryan explains to Neoseeker that things really started to get cooking for the company this year with the launch of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which itself is expected to be a major 3DS title over the long term. That was followed by New Super Luigi U, and that's not even the end for Mario platformers this year. Now Nintendo ready to start rolling out core titles in earnest, and according to Ryan, the company's one-two punch starts this November with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and then Super Mario 3D World These will be the first-party flagship titles expected to deliver for the company, but aren't we forgetting about no less than TWO new Zelda titles coming out this year as well?
While Ryan has no doubt both The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (due October for the Wii U) and A Link Between Worlds (November for the 3DS) will resonate very strongly with Zelda fans both longtime and new, The Wind Waker HD is admittedly a port of older GameCube release and may find itself appealing to a smaller market. Nintendo would likely exert greater confidence had we been looking at a brand new flagship Zelda title in the vein of the Mario and Donkey Kong games.
The good news is that the fall season is looking pretty swell for Nintendo fans thanks to all these titles. Hopefully you've already caught our E3 coverage of Pikmin 3 (August for the WIi U), The Wonderful 101 (September for the Wii U), and Super Mario 3D World (as well as Mario Kart 8 and Bayonetta 2, which weren't at the post-E3 event we attended because they aren't scheduled for release this year). Fortunately this event was our chance to give you the rundown on many other titles!
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (November 2013)
Since the demo only provided an early shot at the first level of the game, we still didn't get a chance to find out if there was a mysterious fourth character for Tropical Freeze. Recall that DKC2's Dixie was revealed alongside the title at E3 as a third playable character who can join both Donkey and Diddy Kong in 3-player multiplayer. Characters can play separately or team up to share controls for combo moves like getting a jet pack boost from Diddy while he's getting a lift on DK's back.
Meanwhle I had the great honor of being able to jump into two player co-op with a young tot who was already wise to the ways of Kong since the Wii; I'm beginning to see why Nintendo isn't afraid to bet on the DKC franchise when even the young 'uns know their Mario from Donkey Kong. Retro Studios doesn't seem to stray too far from the formula set by Rare all those years ago with the first SNES title, but they aren't holding back at same time. Yours truly happens to feel that the first level of Tropical Freeze was way harder than the ones in Super Mario 3D World! Heck they even tossed in some swimming in the first level in case you REALLY missed all that in DKC Returns.
The game packs visual punch for the WIi U with goofy art direction in keeping with Rare's DKC series as jungle landscapes incorporate both wooden and derelict metal structures, shifting camera angles which often factor into the gameplay itself as you time barrel launches and whatnot, and of course plenty of bananas and KONG letters to collect.
Good gravy will those KONG letters drive you nuts. The young Kong fan agonized over how to get one until a friendly soul let her in on the secret; grab and throw a baddie at the nearby wall so it ricochets off of it into the letter. Course the player then had to come to grips with the fact that ol' DK was prone to throwing things automatically unless you hold down the button until the time was right! *sniff* Kids are learning tricks so fast these days.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (October 2013)
The Nintendo rep on hand to assist this old Zelda hand was quick to point out that you have the option of sailing much faster when you're travelling about the world map aboard the King of Red Lions in Wind Waker HD; just hit the A button and its full steam ahead, though the wind direction will continue to play an important part in navigation like it did in the original GameCube release. Just don't get seasick.
Assuming it wasn't the art direction that made you nauseous instead all those years ago, it should come as no surprise that Wind Waker HD looks a sight better than its GameCube counterpart; it's part of the whole reason for bringing it to the Wii U in the first place after all. The game retains its "toon-shaded" look without the black borders surrounding objects seen in the similar cel-shaded style. Perhaps more importantly, the game retains its panache with attention to details like the way characters animate and react. And those smoke plumes which defeated enemies leave behind still look fantastic.
New to the HD remake is the ability for players to "play online" in a sense; while connected to the Nintendo Network, players can leave behind messages and in-game snapshots in Tingle Bottles (yes, you-know-who returns) throughout the game for other players in their own games to pick up. These messages are your own notes which can contain anything you feel is helpful (or cheeky) enough for the situation, and players can upvote them with Miiverse "Yeah!"s. GamePad support has also been added, serving as a touchscreen inventory, first-person camera for ranged weapons if you so choose, and of course Off-TV Player all in one.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (November 2013)
Unlike Wind Waker HD, A Link Between Worlds isn't a remake but is set in the fondly-remembered world of A Link to the Past. Indeed, the (Light) world map retains much of the layout from the SNES game, but obstacles and enemies have been updated. In both the world map and in dungeons (which feature brand new layouts and challenges in ALBW), you'll make frequent use of Link's new ability to "merge" into walls by transforming into a 2D "graffiti" version of himself.
Once transformed into a 2D drawing, Link can move directly left and right (but not up or down) along walls. This helps Link bypass enemies and reach areas he normally wouldn't on foot, but the ability is limited by his Magic Meter; run out of magic power and he'll immediately transform back to his normal self. Curiously, firing arrows from the bow uses Magic Meter instead of, well, actual arrows. Link also appears to start with the Master Sword, as he can fire magical projectiles from the blade when he is at full health in the demo.
During our time with the ALBW demo, we didn't need to make much use of the 3DS touchscreen outside of its dungeon map, so here's hoping it could be leveraged as part of the 2D drawing gimmick of the game at a later point. The graphics do look very nice on the 3DS screens, capturing the feel of the SNES game with its colorful palette. And Tektites are still annoying as hell.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (August 11th, 2013)
I must admit I am less familiar with the Mario & Luigi series of RPGs but I do know its penchant for tongue-in-cheek writing and quirky game mechanics. The demo unfortunately only showcased a smidgen of the former, while providing a better look at the latter. Mario and Luigi's actions are each controlled by separate buttons on the 3DS, which took some getting used to especially since you also need to manually switch between their jumping and action "modes" whenever appropriate. For those of you enjoying the whole Year of Luigi so far, you'll be pleased to know that since Luigi is usually tailing Mario, getting him to use his own Hammer causes him to wallop Mario from behind into a much flatter form factor.
Battles remain turn-based, and like in Paper Mario reward players who can time the brothers' actions like attacking with the Jump and Hammer. As on the map, each brother is controlled by a different button on both the attack and defense. Despite the turn-based nature, one aspect of the battles I particularly enjoyed was how enemies often moved about the battlefield, attacking from different angles and forcing the player to defend the brothers in different patterns each turn, even if its the same enemy; you have to keep your eyes peeled and react accordingly depending on the attacks you see coming.
Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games (November 2013)
The classic franchises collude and collide once more ahead of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games event in Sochi, Russia. At Nintendo's summer preview event we were treated to both single and multiplayer tracks. In the singleplayer race, your character starts on skis but can switch into other gear throughout the race (like snowboards and bobsleds) by passing through special gates along the track. That means each race can see contestants going for gold in a variety of different gear; the track design is such that some portions are better suited to some than others, so it's up to the player to not just go fast, but aim for the best route based on the gear they have at that moment.
The multiplayer races in the demo lacked this gameplay, and instead locked all players into the same gear for a more traditional challenge. There wasn't any indication from the demo itself that this would be the case for every single type of multiplayer challenge. And in case you were wondering... I did not go fast as Sonic the Hedgehog in multiplayer, let's just leave it at that. :(
Wii Party U (October 2013)
This title proved popular with event attendees thanks to its minigames which made heavy use of the GamePad. One minigame which elicited loads of laughs had all players using the GamePad to sketch a specified object, but the catch was that one of players had a different subject than the others; everyone's sketches are then presented, and the players had to guess which wasn't like the rest. Since no one playing was particularly great at drawing their own subjects on the GamePad, you can imagine the hiliarity that ensued. A similar minigame leveraged the GamePad's camera which was used to take a photo of a player's expression. All the other players then had to guess the emotion/situation that lucky player was trying to convey.
As you can see, these types of minigames don't simply rely on in-game actions but a dynamic that lies outside of the game and within the player group itself. Since the Wii U only supports one GamePad during play at the moment, you're going to need to get used to passing it around.
And the rest
'Course it wouldn't be a visit to Nintendo without us snapping a few shots here and there. Can longtime readers spot whats different?