E3: Is Nintendo Stuck in the 1990s?
'The Legend of Zelda: The Winder Waker HD' brings a classic title to Wii U.
This year's lineup of Nintendo games at E3 will strike a chord with die-hard Nintendo fans, but may not do much to woo back its dwindling Wii U audience. With only a few exceptions, its games are polished and entertaining, but show little innovation beyond what the company achieved with its big series in the '90s.
Fans began to suspect that this might be a disappointing E3 for Nintendo when it opted out of holding a big press conference like rivals Microsoft and Sony. Instead, the Japanese game and console manufacturer produced an E3 edition of its monthly Direct Stream video feed, which announced only a handful of new titles.
Nintendo's presence on the E3 show floor, however, was expansive, and TechNewsDaily had a chance to go hands-on with a number of its latest titles.
The first title on the roster was "Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze" for the Wii U. The latest entry in the side-scrolling action game series, "Tropical Freeze" sees protagonists Donkey and Diddy Kong defending their homeland from an invading menace.
The colorful 3D models in a 2D world and smooth animations are gorgeous, but the gameplay is almost entirely unchanged since the series debuted on the Super Nintendo in 1994. Although Nintendo is still fine-tuning them, the unwieldy Wii remote and inclusion of motion controls actually make the game more difficult to handle than its predecessor was 19 years ago.
Next on the roster was "Mario Kart 8," which is exactly what it sounds like. The latest entry in the kart racer series stars all of the Super Mario regulars, but offers refinements rather than anything new. The demo highlights the return of motorcycles, a number of old courses, and an anti-gravity feature that allowed racers to travel upside-down and underwater, but these features are all from previous games.
One of the best games at Nintendo's booth was also one of the most telling: "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD." "The Wind Waker" debuted on Nintendo's Gamecube seven years ago, and was beloved by fans for its cartoonish graphics, its huge, explorable sea and its active role for the often-just-kidnapped Princess Zelda.
"The Wind Waker HD" is exactly what it says on the tin: a 1080p version of the classic title for the Wii U. There are no new dungeons to conquer, enemies to defeat or collectibles to find, save for a sail that makes your ship travel across the world faster. The game is pretty and just as much fun as it was before, but Nintendo is banking a lot on nostalgia. [See also: 10 Great Wii U Games]
One bright spot during TechNewsDaily's hands-on tour was "Pikmin 3" — in all fairness, yet another sequel. This quirky series casts players as starship captain Olimar who recruits an alien race known as Pikmin to fight enemies, gather resources and solve environmental puzzles.
The demo introduces the game's unusual control scheme, in which players can highlight groups of Pikmin with the Wii remote, then point at obstacles or enemies and dispatch them. Different groups of Pikmin are suited to different tasks: red ones are immune to fire, for example, while gray ones can break down crystal walls. Commanding large groups still feels unwieldy, but Nintendo is still tweaking the controls.
Of all the games Nintendo displayed, though, "Super Mario 3D World" is arguably both the most polished and the most self-indulgent. Like "New Super Mario Bros. U," a title that launched alongside the Wii U, this cooperative side-scrolling game allows four players to participate in a very traditional Mario adventure: jumping on enemies, collecting coins and trying to reach the top of a flag at the end of each stage.
Players can select from Mario, Luigi, Toad and Princess Peach, but they could do this in 1988's "Super Mario Bros. 2" as well. If there is only one player, he or she can manipulate the camera and navigate the levels in 3D, like in "Super Mario 64." With the exception of a few new power-ups like a cat suit that allows Mario to climb walls and pounce on enemies, everything in the game has been done before, even if it hasn't been done better.
Other Nintendo titles like "Bayonetta 2" and "The Wonderful 101" provide something a little more creative for the flagging Wii U, but Nintendo is only the publisher on those titles, not the developer. The company's days of risk-taking and innovation appear to have mostly drawn to a close, and while its games have never been better from a technical standpoint, an abundance of polish can sometimes provide too much shine and not enough substance.