E3: Nintendo Plays It Safe
Nintendo's new Wii U system finally arrives, and it was worth the wait.
Nintendo opted out of a proper press conference at this year’s E3 convention, deciding instead to focus its attention on its monthly Direct Stream — an online video that details its latest offerings. This video presentation contained some new game announcements, including a new Super Smash Bros., but few surprises or innovative ideas.
Pokémon X/Y,” the latest installment of the popular role-playing game series, got a firm release date. Aspiring monster hunters can acquire the titles (“X” and “Y” are two slightly different versions of the same game) for the 3DS beginning Oct. 12.
For the first new game of the Direct Stream, Nintendo announced “Super Mario 3D World,” a traditional side-scrolling action game for the Wii U. Like most Mario games, this installment will pit plumber Mario and his brother Luigi against colorful, dangerous levels and plant-based enemies.
However, the series will also allow users to play as Toad and the often-captured Princess Peach. Each character possesses slightly different abilities, much as they did the last time all four were playable in a side-scrolling “Mario” game: 1988’s “Super Mario Bros. 2.” The game is due out in December.
A previously announced title, “The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds,” received some time in the spotlight as well. This game will act as a direct sequel to “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” from 1991, espousing similar 2D graphics, an overhead point-of-view and a classic arsenal of weapons, including a sword that shoots beams of light. One new mechanic allows the hero Link to become a two-dimensional painting — useful, no doubt, for evading enemies and solving puzzles.
Since no E3 presentation would be complete without a racing game, the Direct Stream turned its attention to “Mario Kart 8” for the Wii U. If you’ve played any of the games in the series before (and, at this point, who hasn’t?), you’ll know what to expect: Nintendo game cast members race around vibrant tracks on go-karts and motorcycles, lobbing attack items at one another. Racers can also take the game online for competitive multiplayer play.
One of the areas where Nintendo has fallen short in the past is with games from third-party developers. The Direct Stream took time to highlight a number of upcoming non-Nintendo titles, including “Disney Infinity” and “Skylanders Swap Force.” These two kids’ games allow players to buy real-world action figures to unlock the corresponding characters in-game — an expensive purchase, to be sure, but one that will hook more kids into gaming than the more mature Xbox One and PS4 fare.
The Direct Stream also revealed more information about “The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD,” due out this October. This remake of the 2002 classic will change very little about Link’s seafaring adventure, save for increasing the graphical fidelity to a slick 1080p. Users will also be able to send hints and screenshots to one another via messages in bottles that wash up along the game’s manifold shores. [See also: 10 Best Superhero Games Yet]
The “Donkey Kong Country” series also still has some vitality, as Nintendo announced its first Wii U installment: “Tropical Freeze.” This title, slated to be released late this year, appears to play it relatively safe, as it sets series protagonists Donkey, Diddy and Dixie Kong on a quest to save their jungle by traversing a number of lush 2D levels.
For more mature players, Nintendo provided another look at “Bayonetta 2” from Platinum Games and “X” from Monolith Soft. The former featured the hypersexualized witch Bayonetta fighting enormous dragons with her hair, while the latter focused on a spiky-haired protagonist piloting a giant suit of mech armor against colossal dinosaurs. Both games, slated for release in 2014, are from Japan.
Nintendo Direct saved the biggest announcement for last: “Super Smash Bros.” for Wii U and 3DS. The latest installment of Nintendo’s crossover fighting game will include series regulars like Mario, Link, Kirby and Pikachu, in addition to a new character: a villager from “Animal Crossing.” Perhaps most exciting, though, is the addition of Mega Man, a Capcom fan-favorite character who has had very little presence in the gaming sphere over the last two years.
Compared to Sony’s enormous variety of games and Microsoft’s showcase of new technology, Nintendo’s Direct Stream can’t help but feel a little like a “me-too” performance. To be fair, though, nothing looks inherently bad or problematic about its upcoming games.
Nintendo’s upcoming games will please its die-hard fan base, but it showed absolutely nothing new, innovative or unpredictable. Familiarity will eventually breed contempt, and Nintendo may be in trouble if gamers ever tire of its tried-and-true series.