Friday, 25 June 2010

E3: Nintendo 3DS

Ah the DS. So many versions, so little money. As the owner of no less than three versions of the ridiculously successful handheld, the news of yet another iteration did not exactly have me jumping for joy. E3 changed that. The 3DS is not merely a tweaked version of the same console which has been taking the world by storm for the past 6 years; this is a whole new machine. Naturally the 3D graphics are the system’s main selling point. Obviously these are impossible to view without having the actual thing in front of you, but rest assured, those who have gone hands on say it’s truly spectacular. Not only is the level of depth said to be astonishing but it’s all done without the need for glasses! 

But of course, a DS with a few snazzy effects isn’t really enough on its own, which is why Nintendo has really outdone itself to give gamers a reason to buy its latest. What type of things you ask? Well, naturally there’s going to be an entirely new line up of games but the ability to control them has also been improved. Whereas the current DS only features the D-pad – making games likes Super Mario 64 DS trickier to control than its N64 counterpart – the second generation will also include the slide pad, a sort of flat analogue stick which is claimed to be a far superior to that found on the PSP.

The addition of a gyroscope and accelerometer means that the DS will also be able to rival the motion sensing experiences currently so popular on the iPhone. This opens up the opportunity for developers to create some truly innovative games which require little or no button/stylus control. (NB: Monkey Ball is a no-brainer). The camera from the DSi remains, but that too has been built upon. Not only will it be utilised to greater effect in conjunction with the motion sensor (Nintendogs will recognise your face as well as mimic your head movements) but the exterior camera has now been doubled meaning that photos can now be taken and viewed in 3D. A pretty neat gimmick even in itself, but the fact that a demo of an augmented reality game appeared on the show floor suggests that similar experiences are being planned for release.

Although the specifics of the hardware are largely unknown, the graphics speak for themselves. Every demonstration is a feast for the eyes and despite the disagreements regarding how powerful it really is, the general consensus is that it rivals, at minimum, the visuals of the Gamecube. Shockingly, Nintendo have really pushed the hardware which is rather uncharacteristic of them.  Not only is the leap in graphics a welcome surprise, so too is the likelihood of movie playing capabilities. Such a possibility would almost guarantee an increased memory system the likes of which the DS only hinted at. 



The promise of a more easily accessible and satisfying online system as well as a sleep mode akin to (but hopefully more satisfying) than Wii-connect 24, the 3DS promises to be the most exciting thing in gaming since... well, the Wii. The downside? With all these new features, Nintendo may be forced to abandon their usual sales technique and pitch the 3DS at a higher price than the original. Of course this is all speculation, so let’s hope they carry on selling them as cheap as possible. 

Oh and the already impressive line-up from Nintendo as well as overwhelming support from third parties means if you haven’t yet been persuaded to buy one, then check out the following:

Animal Crossing 3DS
Assassin’s Creed: Lost Legacy
Kid Icarus: Rising
Kingdom Hearts 3D
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3DS
Mario Kart 3DS
Metal Gear Solid Snake Eater 3D: The Naked Sample
Nintendogs + Cats
Paper Mario 3DS
Pilotwings Resort
Professor Layton & the Mask of Miracle
Resident Evil: Revelations
The Sims 3 3DS
Star Fox 64 3DS
Super Street Fighter IV 3D

And many, many more. Remember when the Wii came out? Here we go again...

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

E3: Kirby's Epic Yarn

Each year I pray for a new Kirby Wii game and each year my hopes are dashed. Thank God then that at this E3, Nintendo re-embraced the hardcore crowd by unveiling a brand spanking new adventure for the pink puffball. The three and a half year wait since the Wii’s release may just have been worth it as Kirby’s Epic Yarn is arguably one of the most original looking titles on the console. 

Before the naysayers dismiss this as more of the same with better graphics, it’s important to emphasize just how different this new game really is. The original concept was a more traditional affair, a sort of 2.5-D Kirby which I spoke about in a previous post and can be viewed below:

As you can see, while potentially very fun and frantic, it didn’t appear to offer anything radically new which is, I suspect, the reason this approach was ultimately scrapped. Epic Yarn on the other hand is anything but traditional. While it plays as a standard 2D platformer, the real innovation is the way in which the world is represented; both the setting and its inhabitants are rendered entirely in fabric. Not only is it a veritable treat for the eyes with some amazingly fluid and expressive animation, it opens up some incredibly inventive gameplay. In the trailer we see Kirby unzipping backgrounds to expose hidden areas and crumpling up the scenery as he pulls platforms closer. 

For anyone who has never played a Kirby game, I urge you to do so as soon as possible. Like Mario, it is pure platforming joy. I actually returned to Kirby’s Adventure on Virtual Console last night and after 18 years it still works like a dream. Some people are unhappy that Epic Yarn has abandoned his ability to copy enemies’ powers which has always been a staple of the series, but I’m really notthat concerned – and I say that as a Kirby nut. He still retains his transformative skills (a parachute, a spaceship and a car have all been glimpsed) and as the hugely underrated Kirby Power Paintbrush showed, it is possible to change key elements while still remaining faithful to the things that made it so great in the first place.

Greatest Kirby game ever? I’d say so.

Monday, 21 June 2010

E3: Epic Mickey

I knew Mickey was coming to the Wii, but I never expected it to be this big a deal. After a slew of unremarkable attempts to recapture the glory days of the SNES and SEGA, Disney look like they’ve finally come up with a Mickey title that people genuinely care about. As interest has slowly grown over the past year, Epic Mickey was bound to be a big deal at E3, but instead of a new trailer Disney demonstrated a demo with creator Warren Spector explaining in detail the game’s core mechanics. For a Disney freak like me, this was pure joy. 

As much as I enjoy the Kingdom Hearts series, the Disney aspect, while aesthetically pleasing, takes a backseat to the content which is far more Final Fantasy oriented. Epic Mickey on the other hand is 100% homegrown Disney which means this one is for the fans. As the footage revealed, there are going to be an awful lot of references to Disney lore which only the true obsessives like yours truly will understand. In fact, vintage cartoons will play a significant role as Mickey will venture into worlds based on classic shorts such as Clock Cleaners (1937) and the ultimate classic, Steamboat Willie (1928)

Not that this is all just going to be a trip down memory lane. What’s really piquing people’s interest is the ability to affect the progression of the game based on how you play. Mickey, armed with paint and thinner can choose to erase his enemies or turn them into allies and this moral element means that Mickey is no longer the traditional hero. Weaving elements both platform and RPG, this may contain a surprising amount of depth. Not to mention a helluva lot of fun. Mickey is wonderfully animated and the paint effect looks gorgeous; less CG and more like a traditionally animated toon. Few third parties try to push the Wii’s graphical capibilities but Epic Mickey could be an exception.

Of course, this title is a big deal for Disney for several reasons, the most prominent being the renewal of Mickey’s bad boy image. Back in the day, the world’s most famous mouse was a bit of a scamp but his gradual watering down into a corporate image over the years has left him looking a bit... well, 2D. Epic Mickey, with its twisted take on The Wonderful World of Disney hopes to change all that with a black and white star that isn’t so black and white. There’s also the small deal of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Mickey’s forebear who was purchased back from Universal in 2006, but has thus far failed to make a significant appearance. Playing such a big role here may be a great opportunity for Disney to get his name out there and hopefully integrate him into the Disney gang. And of course, Disney Interactive Studios have taken huge strides in the world of gaming over the last couple of years and this could be the hit they’ve been looking for. Without being biased, I think it will be.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

E3: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Let’s get the big one out of the way. The Zelda demonstration was a bit of a mess. Considering the level of excitement for this game, the opening montage wasn’t as over the top as you’d think and very little of the game was actually revealed. Worse, the joy of Miyamoto’s appearance was dampened by dodgy motion controls due to interference from the amount of infra red in the room. Thankfully, all reports from the showfloor speak highly of the improved 1:1 control thanks to the utilisation this time round of Motion Plus. Although the absence of any puzzle solving was a bit of a letdown, this demo did highlight a new focus on combat for the series. 

Now that Link’s sword follows the precise movements of your hand, it has allowed the developers to make the battles more strategic. Rather than hacking and slashing away at your enemies, you’ll now be required to study their position and attack in a specific direction. One video shows Deku Baba plants which must be struck at in a certain way in order to defeat them while another shows a Stalfos blocking against Link’s attacks. This means that a simple shake of the remote will no longer suffice.

And it’s not just limited to the sword. When holding a bomb, Link will either throw or roll it along the ground depending on whether the player uses an over or under arm gesture; the whip can be used to attack and collect out of reach items with a careful flick of the controller; and players can guide a flying beetle to pick up all manner of objects. Even the trusty bow and arrow have been tweaked, with the player now required to pull back the nunchuck to mimick an archers stance.

Visually, it’s shaping up to rival Super Mario Galaxy as the console’s prettiest game. On first glance what appears to be a mature Wind Waker is actually a far more luscious affair, with the world and its inhabitants resembling a watercolour painting. Only it’s moving. Following Twilight Princess back in 2006, many fans had been (quite without reason) to be expecting a similarly grown up look for Skyward Sword and so opinions are divided on this bright, painterly style. Personally, aside from the hazy lava temple glimpsed briefly in the trailer, I’m a big fan of this approach and I expect it to show up some real gems in the coming months.

The big question of course is will it be worth it? Despite a much hyped makeover, the series doesn’t appear to have taken a massive detour. The controls are tighter, the HUD has been streamlined to make weapon selection easier and aesthetic choices like the ability to charge and jump have been implemented, but these are hardly life changing experiences. It certainly doesn’t appear to be reshaping the franchise in the way that the DS games did. That being said, very little in the way of story has been revealed so I’m still holding out hope that it is in this department where the biggest change lies. They've certainly got time now that it's been delayed until next year...

The Good, the Bad and the 3D

Hear that? That’s the sound of Nintendo breathing a huge sigh of relief. After the disappointment of last year’s showing and the threat from not one but two competitors homing in on the motion controls market, E3 2010 needed to be something truly amazing to show that Iwata et al, were still on the ball. Did they pull it off? Most definitely. Even with the pre-show expectations of Zelda and the 3DS ramped up to 11, no one could have anticipated just how superior Nintendo’s conference really was.

It’s safe to say the big N owned E3 this year. Although Microsoft and Sony unveiled their advanced Wii-style machines to expectant crowds, the result was something of a letdown. This is not simply fanboy bias; read any gaming website and the majority of the Xbox crowd seem rather jaded by the former project natal, now rather unimaginatively named Kinect. Despite the obvious technological superiority over the little white remote, the demonstrations were far from innovative. Kinect Sports? Kinectimals? Aside from the obvious plagiarism of Wii Sports and Nintendogs, it’s difficult to see how these games are supposed to appeal to the “hardcore” gamer on which the Xbox relies. After all, if you’re a casual gamer, chances are you already own a Wii. Why fork out all that extra money to buy a console which still comes across as daunting to many non-gamers? Not only is Microsoft’s sudden campaign to chase a wider demographic embarrassingly transparent, it may also be their greatest folly; with no clear aim on how to target or market this to an alternative audience, like a novice fisherman, they appear to be putting this out there and hoping for the best.

So what about Sony’s Move? Well, it’s a far more feasible sell than Kinect and retaining a controller means it can be implemented in a far wider variety of games. That being said, the similarity to the Wii controller and nunchuk is painfully obvious and without a unique SP they too face the challenge of distancing themselves from the competition.

That just leaves Nintendo. Based on the past few years, it would not have been unreasonable to expect a gamut of party based games and a reiteration of the now trite maxim, “anyone can play.” Yet despite all my fears, Nintendo astounded all by re-embracing the hardcore crowd. With only a fleeting reference to the casual gamer in the form of the surprisingly fun-looking Wii Party and the frankly ugly looking Mario Sports Mix, Nintendo was all about the core gamer. 

How much of this was deliberate is hard to say; some people have theorised that the number of news leaks prior to the show was an intentional ploy to build excitement, whilst others have claimed that Nintendo actively pursued the casual crowd in the hope that Sony and Microsoft would follow suit, making the big N’s return to hardcore even more messianic. Such an idea is a bit too omniscient for my liking, but who cares when the reveals are this good? Zelda, Goldeneye re-make, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn and the 3DS, alongside Epic Mickey and Metroid: Other M. Yes folks, dust off that Wii - Nintendo is back!

Over the next few days I’ll be writing about the biggest games of the show and what you can expect over the coming year, so check back regularly. 

Monday, 14 June 2010

What The Cool Kids Are Watching

If recent years are anything to go by, Nintendo will spend most of its presence at E3 2010 waxing lyrical about how bloody brilliant it is. Backslaps will abound as one senior representative after another waltzes out with the usual American confidence and list the sales figures on that week’s most recent DS model. Once they’ve finished telling us how the Wii and DS have appealed to millions of non-gamers, animals and blind people, the real show can begin.

Although last year’s presentation was underwhelming to say the least, 2010 looks set to be radically more exciting. Why? Well, the big N’s three year dominance in the world of motion control is going to face some stiff competition with both Sony and Microsoft unveiling their own waggle devices. Personally I don’t see either company stealing the limelight, simply because the Wii will continue to appeal to an entirely different market. Still, don’t think for a moment that Ninty is going to get complacent; with Wii hardware sales on the inevitable post-peak decline, expect some big announcements.

Like? Well, some things are a given. We’ll see Metroid: Other M again, no doubt an almost final build; Wii Party will be there just a few weeks ahead of its Japanese release and Epic Mickey should be delighting Disney fans with (hopefully) a playable demo. Then of course there’s that vitality sensor which Satoru Iwata unveiled to last year’s rather unenthusiastic and frankly dumfounded crowd. 12 months on and we’re still none the wiser but expect whichever game it’s packaged with to demonstrate the usual Japanese quirkiness. Let’s just hope this doesn’t turn out to be another underused peripheral like that bloody balance board.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest draw for diehard Nintendo groupies will be a new Zelda which is still set for this Christmas. However, A Zelda game without delays is like... well any other Nintendo game without delays, so take that 2010 release date with a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, with this being the first Hyrulian adventure built specifically for the Wii and a much-needed redesign of the Zelda formula, we should anticipate not only the best looking Wii game so far but also the type of grand adventure this console has been crying out for.

And finally we have the 3DS. After numerous iterations of the two screened portable and 6 years of some truly brilliant games, Nintendo is about to reveal to the world its successor. Alongside the obvious appeal of 3D effects, rumours suggest that we can expect a much more powerful system with dual touch screens and a Wii-like motion sensing accelerometer bundled in for good measure. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen, but what is guaranteed will be a brand new library of videogames featuring all the usual suspects.

Now we move on to hopes and predictions. Miyamoto himself has hinted at the vitality sensor being utilised in Zelda and motion plus seems a given, but will Wii speak or the balance board get a look in? It’s highly unlikely, as are any online features but given Nintendo’s recent push to appeal to the much forgotten hardcore crowd, they may just surprise you.

Aside from Smash Bros. Brawl, Kirby has been absent from the current gen line-up which is a huge disappointment to a Kirby nut like myself. Although a title has popped up as a forthcoming game at recent E3 shows, it’s failed to make an appearance. This year it’s supposed to be appearing yet again but given recent comments made by officials that a title is indeed still in production, maybe, just maybe I’ll finally get my dream. Not that I’m expecting a 3D adventure. Chances are it’ll be a sidescroller with 3D backgrounds, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

Since the Metroid trilogy came to a close, Retro have been involved in a secret project and a recent rumour claims that it’s a long awaited reboot of the Donkey Kong series. If this is true then the Wii is well and truly the console to own as platformers are hard to find nowadays.

Pikmin 3 for the Wii seems likely, although don’t rule out a release for the 3DS to show off a new control scheme. Naturally fans will be hoping for the usual Kid Icarus, StarFox and F-zero reinventions but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
As for the 3DS, anything at this point is pure speculation. Many seem to be talking up Mario Sunshine as a possible launch, if not for any other reason than its predecessor, Super Mario 64, debuted with the original DS back in 2004 and if the graphics prove to be gamecube quality there’ll be no trouble in making the conversion. I for one would like to see this but I don’t think it’s very feasible, for the very simple reason that Nintendo is in a much stronger position than it was 6 years ago. Back then, the gamecube was still trailing the PS2 and the Xbox and the unimpressive roster of DS launch titles was systematic of a company without direction. Now they have the freedom to take greater risks, so a Mario remake seems an unnecessarily lazy option to me.

I do however expect a major Mario title, if not for launch then certainly within the first year. In the obligatory trailer showing off upcoming titles, I anticipate a side scroller in the vein of New Super Mario Bros. or Mario Kart. Some people expect Animal Crossing, which doesn’t seem that far-fetched given the four years since it appeared on DS. However, unless they give it a radical makeover, I can’t say that I would be entirely pleased with this as a launch title.

And finally, anyone thinking we’ll see the Wii 2, think again.