Going into this year’s E3, everybody thought they knew what to expect from Nintendo – given that their profits are almost literally in the toilet, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the one-time market leader would rest on its laurels and trot out the same ol’ shtick. Another round of Mario sports titles, another spinoff, continued reliance on the Smash Bros. fanbase, and so forth.
But when Nintendo takes it on the chin, that’s when their true, undisputed strength really shines; their unbridled creativity, and the freedom to let their talented developers do whatever the hell they damn well want.
And from playing their offerings at E3, as well as their Nintendo Direct presentation Tuesday morning, I can tell that Nintendo is indeed in “Panic Mode,” and that’s awesome for these seven reasons.
7) All Smash Bros., All the Time
For the longest time, it seemed like Nintendo seemed to hold the immense fandom for their flagship brawler Super Smash Bros. in a kind of disdain. They almost nixed the appearance of Super Smash Bros. Melee from last year’s EVO fighting game tournament, for Christ’s sake.
Suddenly, it seems as though the dial was completely turned; not only was Smash Bros. the clear focus of Nintendo’s booth at E3 this year, they also held a big invitational tournament for the new Wii U game, highlighting some of the best professional Smash Bros. players on the continent. For once, Nintendo seems keenly aware of the immense fandom surrounding one of their best-selling games, and for the first time, they’ve taken the initiative to feature that fandom on the center stage.
In addition to that, the game is surprisingly… great. The new additions to the character roster are all wacky and inspired choices, and the game is polished to an almost maddening degree of quality. Series devotees who tuned out the casual-centric nature of Super Smash Bros. Brawl are likely to welcome the faster pace and balancing tweaks to the characters. But anyone who doesn’t know what wavedashing is probably isn’t going to notice all the little things done to the game to differentiate it from its predecessors.
While only four-player timed brawls were on display on the show floor, series creator Masahiro Sakurai’s insane devotion to adding as much content as possible to his games (see Kid Icarus: Uprising) makes it likely Super Smash Bros. for Wii U could still surprise me with a robust package of goodies.
6) Bayonetta 2 and Devil’s Third
While Sony and Microsoft are currently in an unending bidding war to win exclusive rights to top-tier development talent on next-gen systems (Titanfall, Destiny, et al), Nintendo is in the odd position of playing the last-gen savior.
Bayonetta 2 and Devil’s Third were two casualties of the previous hardware generation that quickly found themselves without a publisher and homeless, until Nintendo ponied up the dough necessary to bring these games to the public. While Devil’s Third was only mentioned in passing at the end of one of their livestreams, Bayonetta 2 was playable on the show floor.
And talk about a game that demos well. Bayonetta 2, running on crunky-ol’ last-gen hardware, looks and plays as good as any PS4 or Xbox One game at the show.
For those of you that don’t know Bayonetta, shame on you, because it’s a fast-paced, super-stylized, sexy action game with world-class combat that doesn’t just go over the top, it finds another top that’s over that top, and then goes over that.
Warning for some NSFW language and bloodletting in this trailer.
Devil’s Third has been shown off in some capacity over the years, but it’s the latest brainchild of mad Japanese game genius Tomonobu Itagaki, who probably still has some of that original Ninja Gaiden magic left over, so the game is definitely at least worth a look. In both cases, kudos to Nintendo for taking the initiative on these crusty ol’ last-gen games that needed a new home.
5) Xenoblade Chronicles X
One of the biggest head-scratchers of the Wii era was Nintendo’s out-of-left-field purchase of developer Monolith Soft, creators of the original Xenogears and the Xenosaga series.
What the hell was Nintendo doing buying an RPG developer? None of it seemed to coalesce, until Xenoblade Chronicles was released in 2010 in Japan, and 2012 in Europe. Here was a vast and terrific Japanese RPG that willingly embraced the old and the new all at once; a game I so loved that I poured over 180 hours into the damn thing. Giving this game a sequel wasn’t entirely a foregone conclusion despite its quality – the game sold mildly in Japan, and was only available in highly limited quantities in the US – so it’s awesome to know that they’ve realized the potential in the series, and they’re promoting it heavily in E3 as well.
Granted, the E3 kiosk only had a running loop of the trailer, completely unplayable, but that didn’t stop me from staring at it for fifteen minutes longer than I needed to. Just in case you weren’t aware, God do I love Xenoblade Chronicles.
4) Quirky Concepts Like Captain Toad and Yoshi’s Woolly World
One could, if they had no soul, accuse Nintendo of desperately clinging to what’s worked in the past in order to keep themselves afloat – but if it results in things like Captain Toad and Yoshi’s Wooly World, I’m totally fine with this.
Captain Toad is a fully-formed version of the Captain Toad side levels in the exquisite Super Mario 3D World, and feels like Nintendo let their ace development studio in Tokyo go hog-wild with the concept; you control the titular Captain Toad, who may not have Mario and Luigi’s spryness, but makes up for it in gumption. You traverse cube-like levels strewn with traps and dangers, manipulating the environments in clever ways in order to capture all the necessary doodads strewn about the level. While the missions in Super Mario 3D World weren’t particularly daunting, Captain Toad ups the ante significantly – insomuch that this humble writer himself had to eat a few Captain Toad lives to get through what I assume was one of the easier levels on display.
Yoshi’s Woolly World, meanwhile, takes the goddamn adorable yarn-and-crafts aesthetic from the fantastic Kirby’s Epic Yarn and matches it perfectly with the gameplay of the SNES classic Yoshi’s Island. After the disappointment that was Yoshi’s New Island on the 3DS, Yoshi’s Woolly World is a triumphant return to solid platforming form. And the co-op mode works in subtly brilliant ways, too – one Yarn Yoshi can suck up and spit out the other, leading to alternate paths and power ups.
In both cases, these are tried-and-true ideas from previous games that only a company in a fiscal crisis would resort to – but given Nintendo’s extremely talented developers, these efforts are elevated from mere cash-grabs into solidly enjoyable games.
The games themselves aren’t the only signs Nintendo is desperate – in the best possible way. Read on!
Okay, sure, “Amiibo” is a weird name. And the premise is merely an imitation of what’s already being done with Skylanders and Disney Infinity.
The more pressing issue is that the Wii U was launched with Near Field Communications capability right out of the box, and that Nintendo’s strong lineup of character-based Intellectual Property means that this should’ve happened from the start.
And what’s different about Nintendo’s endeavor, and therefore exciting, is the concept that these (rather high-quality, from what was on display at the booth) toys don’t just work with one series of games, like Skylanders or Disney Infinity, but rather a whole gamut of games, past and present. They’ll work with Mario Kart 8, already in stores; they’ll work with Super Smash Bros. in the winter, and whatever else Nintendo cooks up with their roster of iconic characters.
Nintendo makes no secret that licensing their characters for merchandise is a pretty lucrative market, so why not take a piece of that pie themselves?
2) OPEN WORLD ZELDA
Alright, alright – this one wasn’t even at the show, it was only shown very briefly during Tuesday morning’s Nintendo Direct. But this footage was all in-engine, and the promise of a truly open-world Zelda game? It’s like Nintendo has actually been paying attention to the grander scheme of gaming in the universe.
The implications of an open-world Zelda are vast, and of course the game won’t be available in any way until “2015.” But, let’s be honest here, the last time a console Zelda game actually met the first deadline it was assigned, Clinton had just taken his first oath of office.
Still, it bears repeating: AN OPEN-WORLD ZELDA GAME. It’s like Nintendo opened a little door into my heart and stole the key.
And speaking of Nintendo paying attention to the gaming landscape outside of their own offices! One of the few surprises out of Tuesday morning’s Nintendo Direct was Splatoon, a cartoony take on third-person shooters. As wacky as it sounds that Nintendo is making a third-person shooter, Splatoon is the right kind of wacky that only Nintendo could make.
The mechanics aren’t particularly deep or involving, but the game is fast-paced, smooth, and outrageously fun. As a team of four transforming squid-children, your task is to squirt ink out of your paint guns all over the ground, whilst your opponents attempt to do the same albeit with a different color of ink. Whichever team paints the town the most, wins.
Sure, you can still blow your opponents away with a few well-aimed shots of ink or by lobbing an ink grenade, but the real part of the game that shines is the weird squid-changing mechanic; holding the left trigger will turn you into a goofy little squid, allowing you to swim through the ink you’ve sprayed, including up walls, while refilling your ink capacity. You’re a lot faster and harder for enemies to notice in Squid Mode, so the game becomes a quick switch-off between bouts of frantic ink firefighting and squid-sliding.
The game was a blast; hard to say as of yet if it’ll be a totally fleshed-out boxed product or a quirky downloadable game, but either way, Splatoon was my surprise of the show. And it probably wouldn’t have happened if Nintendo were still rolling in success. We would’ve gotten Wii Music 2015 Edition: Conga Pants instead.
Previously by Brian Hanson: