Friday, June 13, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

The Wii U as been determined all but dead. Sales are abysmal, third party support is scant, both matters in which would kill any other console. Nintendo’s E3 digital event, marking their second year in bowing out of doing a traditional E3 presentation, had to be set to justify the Wii U as a viable platform not just for existing system owners, but most importantly: untapped audiences as well.

Super Smash Bros has been leading the charge for Nintendo since its announcement 3 years ago. New character reveals were expected, as we’ve seen here with Palutena from Kid Icarus, and a tease at a possible alternate costume for Pit. But what’s most exciting was the introduction of Mii Fighters which can be customized based on three different fighting styles: Brawler, Sword Fighter, and Gunner. It’s a step above the expected effort from Sakuri and his team in allowing character customizations for the series, and allowing players to design fighters to their strengths.

Of course, Smash will be the first title that will feature the Wii U’s NFC capabilities, Amiibo. Sure, it’s neat that the same figure that you use for Mario Kart will work in Smash; but what’s unclear to me is how Amiibo features differentiate themselves from simply picking the character in game, and how the use of the Amiibo figures add to each game differently.

With Bayonetta 2, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and Hyrule Warriors, Nintendo is showing some serious lacking in third party content (perhaps they’re considered second party, but I can’t keep up). We’ve seen each of these titles on at least two different occasions, none of which have had anything to add at this digital event. Why are we seeing yet another gameplay demo of Bayonetta 2? Why aren’t we seeing new gameplay footage of Xenoblade? What makes Hyrule Warriors more than a Dynasty Warriors game skinned in the Zelda universe?

The only title that had a worthy return was Yoshi’s Wolly World, the seemingly final state of the Kirby’s Epic Yarn inspired Yoshi title.

Previously seen games aside, Nintendo debuted some exciting new games at their digital event. Capitan Toad is a full realization of the mini games that were spliced in Super Mario 3D World which operate like cubic puzzles that have players navigate a mining masquerading Toad. It very much works like Nintendo’s take on puzzlers such as Echochrome and Monument Valley.

The much rumored Mario Maker was unveiled, allowing players to design their own levels ala LittleBigPlanet. This is arguably Nintendo’s first Mario platformer that pulls from the ideas of modern day conventions. UGC is quite common among side scrolling platformers, and Nintendo would be wise to give Mario Maker tremendous support post release, supplying players with new level editing tools.

But among all their announcements, Splatoon and the new Legend of Zelda stole the show, and have climbed to two of my most memorable announcements at E3.

The new legend of Zelda appears to be the Zelda title that fans have always wanted. There have been many clamoring for a Skyrim like Zelda game, setting a new adventure in an authentic open world setting. Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma discussed how the franchise has “faked” open world design in the past, and how that differentiates from what they’re planning for the franchise’s next installment.

It goes without mentioning that the new Zelda is one of the most visually striking games at E3, adopting Wind Waker and Skyward Sword inspirations and crystalizing them from the ground up on HD hardware. Just as Mario Kart 8 has become one of this year’s most visually impressive titles, the new Zelda looks to wield an art style so impressive that it negates the limitations of the system that’s powering it.

Splatoon on the other hand has a special place in my heart for various reasons. Splatoon is Nintendo’s take on the shooter genre, a genre in which they’ve never developed in-house, and has stayed away from since Geist on the Gamecube. However Splatoon wouldn’t be a Nintendo title if it were just another hair trigger/direct conflict type of game. Instead of shooting one another, Spatoon arms players with paint guns that’ll be used to mark the entire level in their team’s color. Whoever covers the most real estate wins.

Splatoon is Nintendo-esque in the sense that it takes a genre and makes it accessible in which this case, standard twitch shooters aren’t. But what makes Splatoon the biggest surprise out of Nintendo’s digital event is that it’s an entirely new IP. Nintendo has justified the repeated use of Mario as a Trojan horse for new gameplay ideas in place of completely new IPs because, to be quite frank, Mario sells. This is Nintendo taking a complete risk with a new IP in the shell of a new genre. Bravo Nintendo.

Nintendo’s digital event was exclusively focused on their home console, something that they’ve never done before. They’ve made an extra effort in presenting the Gamepad as integral part of the console. We saw it in the unveiling of the new Wii U title Kirby and the Rainbow Curse and its very DS inspired functionality. Gamepad features have also been baked into other announced titles as well such as assembling levels in Mario Maker, and viewing your team’s painted level progress in Splatoon. Nintendo closes their event with Shigeru Myamoto speaking directly to audiences about the importance of the Gamepad and their priority in making its utilization synonymous with future game design [update: with what looks to be Star Fox running in the background].

Absent from Nintendo’s digital event was Devil’s Third, the new third person action/shooter title from former Team Ninja director Tomonobu Itagaki. Itagaki stated in an IGN interview that his team has done research on contemporary shooters, and it shows. Custom loadouts and killstreak rewards appear in the multiplayer trailer. These modern conventions were accompanied by goofy spin-offs such as chicken chasing and watermelon carrying multiplayer modes. Unfortunately the shooting looks rather stiff which can hamper the multiplayer significantly.

Framerate issues were claimed to be on the stream end instead of the game itself. Nonetheless, the game looks to hover around 30 frames at best with some stiff animations, somewhat unlike that of what was seen in his previous work on the Ninja Gaiden series

One would assume that the Devil’s Third was missing from Nintendo’s digital event because of its sexuality, profanity, and gratuitous violence. However Nintendo’s tone this year was wildly different from that of past E3s with a Robot Chicken powered skits and a second showing of Bayonetta 2.

Nintendo’s digital event was the best Nintendo’s done in years. While void of much third party support, their first party line-up on Wii U was strong with a brief glimpse at the new Zelda and Splatoon as the show’s highlights. However, outside of Bayonetta 2, Nintendo’s event was very Nintendo-esque in tone, bashfully confident and self-aware Robot Chicken bits aside. While Nintendo displayed charm and confidence, I’m not so confident their digital event will grab the attention of consumers who’ve avoided picking up a Wii U. Nintendo is still doing Nintendo, just better, however that might not align with where the larger gaming audience’s focus.

But it certainly did a hell of a job preaching to the choir and rallying existing owners such as myself with a diverse line-up of almost certain to be successful titles. 

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