June 12, 2012

E3 2012 – Hands On with Nintendo

E3 2012 nintendo Wii U
Following Nintendo’s E3 2012 Press Conference, there were plenty of voices of concern regarding the showing, particularly a lack of first-party titles associated with a yet to be cemented launch window. And while I was a bit surprised in this regard as well, given how easily a simple series of teaser trailers for Super Smash Bros., or further adventures in the Star Fox and/or Metroid franchises might have worked to lessen skepticism, I’ve become a bit Zen about the issue.

Nintendo’s Press Conference seemed to focus intently on a wider audience beyond those that had gathered in Los Angeles for the event, and if the Publisher’s showing in 2010 taught me anything, it’s that Nintendo has proven with past hardware releases that they can summon titles from the void to suddenly turn the frowns of the hardcore faithful upside down. They’ve done this on the Wii, the 3DS, and the 3DS eShop in recent memory, though there is something to be said for the lack of consistency that sometimes makes their surprise announcements as necessary as a drop of water is to a man lost in the desert.

What seemed most noteworthy this year, aside from the 3DS being pushed off the stage to make space for the Wii U, was Nintendo’s interest in multiple media streams. In many ways, Nintendo’s attempt to reach out through more channels could be blamed for lessening the showmanship people have come to expect from an E3 Press Conference that opens the show every year. On the other hand, if you’re familiar with Nintendo’s rather dinosaur-like approach to social media in the past, their growing interest in reaching out to more people through more channels is something that should be encouraged – we just need to remember that such pursuits involve continual experimentation and don’t always promise ideal results.

And now dear Sugarfiends, it is time to take a walk through the hands on time I managed to scavenge with Nintendo’s first and third party offerings. The list seems a bit light this year, but in earnest, I tried to bring back as much first hand information as possible.

Pikmin 3

E3 2012 nintendo Wii U
My first impression of Pikmin 3 was that the game was looking rather gorgeous for its long absence, with glistening plant life and rich colors that stressed the HD element of Nintendo’s new Wii U hardware. And while getting my hands on the game offered a chance to experience some familiar sensations while also tossing a few of the new rock Pikmin around, it was more interesting watching others reunite with a series we haven’t seen since the GameCube.

Pikmin 3 allows players to choose between using the new tablet controller, or using the Wiimote and Nunchuk, and almost every person I watched at the demo station opted for the more familiar Wiimote controls. The interesting bit of that lean toward the familiar was that the tablet was left propped up to face players, offering a larger area map view of the environment that players could reference while still focusing on the more immediate action taking place on the television screen.

Nintendo’s demo for Pikmin 3 offered two missions – one requiring players to use Pikmin to collect resources, and the other offering a boss battle.

Given the extended vacation of the series, it’s fair to point out that other games have stepped up to fill the void in recent years with similar gameplay, including the cult classic Little King’s Story. And yet, Pikmin was still possessed of that Nintendo charm that made it impossible to simply overlook the title, serving as a rather warm and comforting blanket in a sea of experiences more directly geared toward emphasizing the new Wii U hardware.

New Super Mario Bros. U

E3 2012 nintendo Wii U
In many ways, the three stage demo for the newest New Super Mario Bros. delivered exactly what anyone familiar with the previous Wii release would expect. The obligatory addition in the costume department is the squirrel suit, which enables Mario and company to gain some lift in the air and brings with it some rather odd and disgruntled looking squirrel enemies.

The focus of the demo was on the player assistance that works as one or more players move through the game as they always would, and another uses the Wii U tablet to perform boost mode. Boost mode allows the player holding the Wii U tablet to place blocks anywhere on the screen, which characters can then use as platforms. The Wii U tablet also enables one player to slow down enemies such as goombas, and pop turtles back into their shells temporally. Two blocks could be placed on the screen for one character at any given time, and tapping a block you created a second time transformed it into a coin block that spit a few into Mario’s pocket.

The most immediate advantage of the setup seems to again favour family environments first and foremost, giving more experienced gamers an opportunity to assist new and/or younger players. Nintendo also pointed out that with four on-screen players, a fifth person could potentially create several shades of chaos by being unhelpful toward some players or favouring one over the rest.

I suppose what I found most interesting was the communication this feature seems to necessitate, and my determination to avoid that entirely. During my demo time, my focus was on playing as quickly as ever, making it necessary for my co-pilot to anticipate my actions. Sometimes this worked rather splendidly, and other times it ended in tragedy. When I took my turn on the Wii U tablet, my agenda remained fixed, and there was some brief amusement to be found attempting to keep up with another player, placing blocks where I would expect them to move toward next.

If you considered the Wii version of New Super Mario Bros. most successful in the way it brought friends together in a chaotic and amusing mixer, the Wii U iteration does legitimately stand to deliver an experience on par with that more party minded pursuit.


E3 2012 nintendo Wii U
Despite the familiarity the name implies, NintendoLand can make a pretty confusing first impression. If it physically existed I might still be wandering around the park looking for my head. I’m certain that part of the problem is in being shown half a product, specifically focused on a series of multiplayer-minded activities. But don’t get me wrong, because many of these attractions provided fun on the show floor, I just don’t always have a party going on at my house and Nintendo hasn’t really discussed how NintendoLand will work for someone taking a solitary trip around the park.

My bigger concern was that Nintendo continually compared NintendoLand to Wii Sports, suggesting that the same understanding that came immediately with that first swing of the Wiimote as a tennis racket also exists within these attractions. Now on the one hand, spending time with several of these attractions has convinced me that there is plenty of fun to be had, but on the other side, there is no parallel universe in which that comparison is as true as Nintendo would like it to be.

NintendoLand’s park is an inviting space, which I saw more of during Nintendo’s roundtable presentation, seemingly prepared to take advantage of a new social agenda and usher players toward attractions that make excellent use of the Wii U tablet, but it is several steps away from the utter simplicity that encouraged such a wide audience to embrace the Wii.

However, for that larger Wii audience, NintendoLand offered a glimpse of a wide range of activities, which both demonstrated uses for the Wii U tablet, and that any WiiMote+’s laying around the house are still of use on the console of tomorrow. I’m still largely at a loss for any idea of what the marketing of NintendoLand will look like, but I’m damn curious to see what Nintendo attempts this time around.

Anyway, my time at the Nintendo booth gave me hands on sessions with NintendoLand’s Zelda attraction, Battle Quest, where two players took up Wiimotes and sliced through enemies as we moved along a rail and I aimed the tablet as an archer, lifting and moving the tablet to center my shots and lowering it to restock my ammunition.

I also managed to snag some hands on time with Animal Crossing Sweet Day, which gave me control of two critters, each one controlled by a separate analog stick, and tasked me with chasing other players while they attempted to gather candy. There was actually quite a bit of enjoyment in moving two characters individually via the tablet, allowing me a chance to box in other players.

As for the rest of my stay in NintendoLand, I spent quite a bit of time wishing I could try the F-Zero attraction Nintendo briefly showed during their roundtable presentation, and wondering whatever became of the Metroid themed tech demo from E3 2011.


E3 2012 nintendo Wii U
Despite a reputation for some rather dry Press Conferences in previous years, Ubisoft dominated every stage they graced at E3 2012, and their presence with Nintendo was key toward emphasizing unique third party efforts on the Wii U. With Nintendo’s own lineup leaving those seeking more mature content temporally hanging, ZombiU dragged familiar corpses out to fill that void.

The title certainly brought back fond memories of Resident Evil 2’s chaotic streets at a time when Capcom has clearly moved toward a more action oriented agenda for that long standing zombie franchise. Despite multiple stations at both Nintendo and Ubisoft’s booth, it was never easy getting hands on with the demo.

When I finally did get my mitts on a free tablet controller, I found myself wandering the desolated streets with a pistol in hand, encountering random zombies along the way and attempting to score critical headshots. Rather than simple gratuitous sport, headshots proved essential – I shot one zombie in the chest at least six times and still found him coming back for more.

Zombies can also be shot in the legs, which will cause them to stumble and go down to provide more time for that headshot.

The Wii U tablet found use as a map and scanner for searching the environment, an interactive means of hacking locked doors, and also served as a means of accessing my character’s backpack – doing this changed the perspective on the television screen, showing my character rummaging through the bag and offering a chance for zombies to sneak up on my position. Despite my best efforts to fight them back, I found myself quickly joining the ranks of the undead. Being grabbed by a zombie offers a chance to shake them off, but one bite will serve as your immediate initiation into the club of the dead.

After dying, I found myself suddenly playing a new female character, searching through a building to reach the same street my previous character had died on. And would you believe that my previous character was still there, hunched over and moaning a zombie tune? After shooting him in the head, I even searched his body to reclaim the gear I’d lost when he died.

There’s a lot of clever little ideas like that going on in ZombiU to merit the attention it received on the show floor, and certainly reason enough to keep it on the radar as one of the most interesting launch titles despite the familiarity of its genre.

Rayman Legends

E3 2012 nintendo Wii U
Aside from looking every bit as lovely as last year’s criminally ignored platformer, Rayman’s return continued Ubisoft’s habit of raising the bar for other developers this year, including Nintendo. On the Wii U, Rayman Legends offers the chance to play through the game with Nintendo’s new Wii U Pro Controller while another player assists that session using the Wii U tablet.

The Wii U Pro Controller essentially conforms to a design Microsoft has found success with, and feels just as comfortable as holding a 360 controller. But what really caught my attention was that my play assist session gave a fellow journalist a far greater level of interaction and responsibility versus what I saw with New Super Mario Bros. U.

While I rushed through a stage bursting with familiar color and fluid animations, my co-pilot was responsible for a myriad of tasks that enabled my progression to continue. Vines holding platforms needed to be swiped in order to fall and open the way forward, key enemies needed to be fired at by tapping the tablet in order to prevent them from attacking me, and dangerous spikes needed to be pushed out of my way with precision timing while I performed a dash in order to run along the wall. At one point the screen needed to be tilted ever so carefully so that I might drop Rayman past a plethora of spikes as well.

I asked my fellow journalist whether he’d mind sitting on my couch all day helping me finish the game, and he suggested we’d have to take turns – everybody wants to be Rayman rather than a helper monkey after all. I’m not convinced this is how I’d want to experience the game every time, but Ubisoft has used the Wii U tablet to make a truly co-operative version of Rayman Legends here.

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge

E3 2012 nintendo Wii U
While Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition and Mass Effect 3 (rather than the entire Mass Effect trilogy) seemed like weak attempts to bolster third-party offerings with repackaged releases, Ninja Gaiden 3 was a dead fish in the Nintendo Booth. Even though I feel the 360 and PS3 release took a rather extreme beating from critics earlier this year, the intensely negative reception to Team Ninja’s latest action game would have suggested to me that this is not the best choice for demonstrating third-party commitment to the Wii U – except that in this case, Nintendo is the publisher.

Project P-100

E3 2012 nintendo Wii U
While there wasn’t an opportunity to witness Platinum Games’ surprise announcement title for the Wii U, currently going by the working title Project P-100, I’m excited enough to hear that the developer is working with the new hardware to include it here.

Attacking aliens necessitates players gathering a group of strangely named heroes together, meaning that players will explore stages to find and recuit citizens to increase their team and their morphing powers. Also, seriously, these heroes have strange names, like Vending Machine Man and Toilet Bowl Man.

A quirky title from Platinum Games may not prove to be the most anticipated launch title, but it is certainly nice to see a bit of third-party Japanese bizarre tagging along for the ride.

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